ya

What I’ve Been Watching: The Everybody Dies Edition

I haven’t done a movie review post lately, so this list covers a couple of months of watching. These should all still be available to watch streaming on Netflix and other services. As always, my reviews are mainly about the writing; though of course a film with a great script can still be shot poorly, the writing shines through, while a poorly-written script will still be obvious no matter how much money is thrown into the production. (See below, World War Z.)

Starting with the best:

 

MV5BMTU4NTg4NzgzMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTU1NTMxMDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_

HOW I LIVE NOW, 2013. Saorse Ronan, Tom Holland, George MacKay. Director: Kevin MacDonald

5/5 stars.

Originally a novel by Meg Rosoff, published 2004 (winner: British Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the American Printz Award for young-adult literature). I haven’t read the novel but from what I can tell, the movie doesn’t diverge from it much, only cutting out scenes/people to get it down to a 1h41m runtime.

This is a beautiful, haunting, and — most importantly — organically logical story of a teenage girl who naively chooses to stay in England on the eve of a war rather than go home to her American father and stepmother, who’d sent her away in the first place. It’s the story of kids who are left stranded when their mom gets called away and isn’t able to return, who are separated, conscripted, and ultimately have to fight their way back to each other. It’s about making a family, making choices, taking risks, and doing so while the adults around them either ignore what they need or actively try to hurt them.

The kids can’t possibly make all of the right choices, even though for a moment it seems they’ll be okay in their country home, away from the mess of the world. That summer paradise is ripped away by the advancing army, and serves as a dreamlike reminder of the innocent joy they’ll never have again. Truly, they never will: some of the kids are killed, and the rest are changed forever. Daisy, the MC, isn’t nice or likeable to begin with, but neither is she cruel. She’s an unhappy teenager, simple as that. She grows over the course of the film, becoming a mother and protector, but the change isn’t capricious. She fails in a lot of ways as she learns to get the important things right.

There are consequences to everyone’s actions. The characters have motivation and agency and needs, and while displayed subtly, they’re also obvious in the context of the story. The director manages to keep the pace moving without rushing too fast or dragging behind. There are no montages; there is nothing shown outside of the Daisy’s experience, yet the story is complete and bursting with detail. It’s tight 3rd person, excellently scripted, and I highly recommend it as an example of how YA storytelling should be done. I normally avoid anything with teenage main characters because it doesn’t speak to my life now, and I don’t get terribly nostalgic for my own past since what I have now is so much better. But I’ve seen this twice now, and would watch it again, because it’s not about “teenagers”. It’s about real, textured, people who just happen to be kids.

(more…)

Writer Wednesday: E.C. Myers

Photo courtesy of S. Kuzma Photography

Photo courtesy of S. Kuzma Photography

E.C. Myers is the author of two YA speculative fiction novels – Fair Coin & Quantum Coin – out now from Pyr. When he isn’t writing, he reads, plays video games, watches films, sleeps as little as possible, and spends far too much time on the internet. Luckily, he let me steal him away to answer a few questions …

1. You’re a prolific reviewer of television, film and video games. One of your current projects is The Viewscreen, where you’re rewatching every episode of Star Trek TNG. How does that kind of writing fit in with the rest of your writing career?

Sometimes I worry that writing for The Viewscreen or even my own blog might be too much of a distraction from my fiction career. It may not make the most sense to devote so much of my limited writing time to work that doesn’t pay, but economics aside, I do think it’s valuable. Writing regularly—any kind of writing—helps me grow as a writer, and the regular deadlines are powerful motivation to sit down at the keyboard and work fast. I love stories in all their forms, especially in television and film, and these re-watches are opportunities to examine fiction critically and think about what makes it brilliant, a spectacular failure, or an interesting effort that just falls short of success. I also think it’s important to be able to write many different things, just as it’s important to read widely, and one day perhaps I will be able to support myself from a variety of freelancing projects like these. It’s also a lot of fun, and I enjoy discussing Star Trek with the smart, engaged community at The Viewscreen.

2. You have a wife, a day job, friends, pets, and hobbies – and you still wrote four novels and several short stories. How do you find the time?

I steal the time wherever I can get it: by falling hopelessly behind on my favorite TV shows while dodging spoilers on the internet, watching the stacks of unplayed video games and unread books grow, getting by on four or five hours of sleep a night so I can stay up late and wake up early, writing during my lunch breaks, and unfortunately giving up too many hours I could be spending with family and friends. I don’t feel like I’ve been as productive as I used to be, so I’m experimenting with new writing routines to counterbalance all the recent changes in my life. The changes are all good ones, but they’re also challenges when you’ve become accustomed to working a certain way. I think if something’s important enough to you, you make the time for it no matter what else you have going on.

3. You’re a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. How did you get involved with the group, and how has that influenced you as a writer?

One of the founding members of Altered Fluid, Kris Dikeman, was one of my classmates at Clarion West in 2005. When we both returned home to New York City after the workshop, she graciously introduced me to the group and sponsored me for membership. I went through their rigorous screening process and happily was accepted. Second to Clarion West, Altered Fluid has probably improved my writing the most. Everyone in the group is deeply committed to the craft of writing and has diverse strengths, areas of expertise, and perspectives. The constant demand for new short stories to critique made me more prolific, and it’s very helpful to not only receive critiques from such smart, experienced writers, but to think critically about each others’ stories and hear everyone else’s reactions and suggestions on every piece. I also appreciate what supportive, fun friends they’ve become—we keep each other informed about story markets, share publishing news and advice, help each other with various projects, and we even go on writing dates and retreats together.

4. What short fiction publication are you most proud of, and why?

Every one of them is a victory, but I’m especially proud of “All the Lonely People”, which appeared in Shimmer issue #13 in April 2011. I think it’s one of my best published pieces, but it took a long time for it to find the perfect home; Shimmer is one of my favorite fiction magazines, and I had been trying to break into the market for years, with several close calls. I also had the privilege of reading that story at the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series, which was definitely a highlight of my career so far.

5. You’ve published two YA novels, Fair Coin and Quantum Coin, and have two others you’re revising. What stage of the novel/publishing process do you enjoy the most?

Naturally I am particularly thrilled by the part that puts my books in the hands of readers! But as far as the writing process goes, it’s a toss-up between writing a first draft, when there’s still so much potential, and revision, when the book is creeping closer to what I want it to be. I like revision when I know what to fix and how to fix it. (more…)

More classic scifi: RA Heinlein’s TUNNEL IN THE SKY

20120423-204008.jpg Tomorrow, at dawn, you are going to be shoved through a doorway that opens into a world you have never seen. You do not know if the world you are about the enter will be tropical or arctic, desert or jungle. You may emerge in a dawn-history swamp snarling with giant reptiles; you may slither on the ice of a world gaunt beneath the fading light of an aged and lonely sun…

Published by Charles Scribner’s Sons* in 1955, TUNNEL IN THE SKY is part of Heinlein’s “young adult” series of books. Since the accidental discovery of gate travel, an overpopulated Earth was shipping its hungry citizens off as quickly as it can, colonizing the Universe (or dying, trying). A degree in an off-planet career path, like colonial lawyer or emergency doctor or expeditionary leader, would mean the difference between being a subordinate, a working-class member of the group, or someone trusted with a leadership position.The bulk of the characters in the book are 17 or 18 years old, with a few in their early twenties and a few more about 15. The only adults are shown, briefly, at the bookends of the story. A group of 100 or so students, from three high schools and one college, are about to take the final exam in their Outworld survival course. With no one to guide them, they’re on their own – and the price for failure is death.

Instead of surviving for ten days and being called home, the kids find themselves waiting … and waiting … and waiting. Eventually they gather together to make a new society for themselves, since the old one seems to have forgotten all about them. Though there are elements of Lord of the Flies, this is a kid-friendly book, and Heinlein keeps the death and gore down to a warning level. You see enough to take their predicament seriously, but not enough to turn this into horror. In fact the narrator, Rod, has an easy-going way of talking and thinking that keeps the story from becoming too scary and helps propel it into an adventure story. Think Swiss Family Robinson, instead.

How does the book, 57 years old, come across to a modern reader? (more…)

You Should Read: MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

Synopsis: A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here—one of whom was his own grandfather— were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive. – Quirk Books

Yes, sometimes I read YA fiction. I don’t judge a book on whether it’s YA or not, though if I hear described first as “young adult” before hearing the plot I may not be interested. There’s too many books for whom the genre is the point of buying it, and I prefer books with strong characters, gripping language, and interesting new ideas. Which is to say that I’ll read YA if it’s just as good without the label.

When I bought Miss Peregrin’s, I didn’t know that it was marketed for younger people, only that it involved strange children and orphans and monsters. My kind of book! It turned out to be a wonderfully fast read – I started and finished it inside of three hours, though I didn’t do anything else but read during that time. Oddly, the publisher says the book contains 352 pages, while my ebook version only contained 225. I have to admit that after the ending I did a little Googling to make sure that my version wasn’t missing something. As far as I can tell, I have the full book, even down to the author’s notes at the end, but if that’s where the story is supposed to stop … well, we’ll get to that in a minute.

First the pluses: Weird, Cthonic cannibal monsters! Children trapped in time, aging without aging, and all possessing of mystical powers! It’s like X-men, in 1940, without the spandex outfits! (more…)