Happy Friday — I hope that you’ve made it through this busy week. Presently, it’s -4° here in Vermont, which has me bundled up in my workplace with an entire pot of hot tea.
This’ll be the first of two posts that will arrive in your inbox today. Later this afternoon, I’ll be reprinting a longer feature that I wrote for Barnes & Noble a couple of years ago about the history of Chinese science fiction, with some light edits and updates.
It’s been a busy week this week, so let’s jump into it: the biggest stories this week were about Gina Carano getting ejected from Star Wars over her social media presence, the cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer coming for Joss Whedon over what sounds like really awful behavior while he was running that show, and how studios have snapped up the rights to two big book series for potential franchises: Redwall and Oz. And of course, there’s the usual reading and link roundups.
The week in SF/F
Gina Carano’s run in Star Wars is over
I covered this in more depth in yesterday’s subscriber post: Gina Carano, who played Cara Dune in The Mandalorian, has been fired/dropped by Lucasfilm after posting an antisemitic post on Instagram, part of a pattern of behavior from her over the last year.
The cost here is high for Carano. Last December, Lucasfilm announced a slew of new shows, including two Mandalorian spinoffs, Ahsoka and Rangers of the New Republic. My assumption at the time was that she would have been one of the “Rangers”, and had a feeling that the reason she wasn’t named as part of the show because of the outcry that she was generating. But now, it looks even worse: she posted herself out of headlining her own show.
More accusations against Joss Whedon
Directing films likeThe Avengers, and The Avengers: Age of Ultron helped turn Joss Whedon from a quirky cult creator of beloved shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly into a household name, one with legions of fans. On paper and in the press, he cut a progressive figure, someone who centered powerful, independent women in his work.
Cracks in that image have emerged and begun to widen. In 2017, his ex-wife Kai Cole wrote an op-ed for TheWrap, writing about a series of affairs that he had while producing Buffy, and that he didn’t practice the ideals that he was known for.
Last year, actor Ray Fisher, who played Cyborg in Justice League (which Whedon took over after Zack Snyder stepped down) went public with accusations of his own, saying that Whedon’s “on-set treatment of the cast and crew of Justice League was gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable.” Fisher’s statement prompted an investigation from WarnerMedia, which ended in December with a statement that “remedial action has been taken.” What that action is is unknown, but Whedon stepped down from his latest show,The Nevers, just days before. Whedon noted at the time that his departure was due to “the physical challenges of making such a huge show during a global pandemic,” but the timing is suspicious.
Now, those cracks have widened further. Actress Charisma Carpenter (who played Cordelia Chase in Buffy and Angel) released a damning statement on Wednesday that shed more light on Whedon’s actions on set, saying that he created a hostile work environment, repeatedly threatened to fire her, and was disparaging to her and her colleagues. She was backed up by fellow Buffy actress Amber Benson, who said “Buffy was a toxic environment and it starts at the top. @AllCharisma is speaking truth and I support her 100%. There was a lot of damage done during that time and many of us are still processing it twenty plus years later.” Eliza Dushku, who’s been a huge supporter of Whedon, also voiced her support.
Michelle Trachtenberg, who played Dawn Summers, wrote “we know what he did. Behind. The. Scenes,” and added in a note saying that at some point, Whedon wasn’t allowed in the same room as her. And Sarah Michelle Gellar, the headlining star of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, issued a statement of her own standing with Carpenter: “While I am proud to have my name associated with Buffy Summers, I don’t want to be forever associated with the name Joss Whedon.”
Whedon has a long history of working in television, and given some of the uncomfortable moments that crop up in Firefly and some of his other projects, I can’t help but think that these accounts will be followed by others. It’s also beyond time for actors like Nathan Fillion and David Boreanaz to come out and say something — and potentially address their own issues that they’ve been tagged with over the years.
It’s upsetting, given the amount of love and influence these shows hold for fans, and knowing that they came from a tainted source brings up uncomfortable questions about their messaging and validity.
Two potential fantasy franchises
There were two big announcement that caught my eye from a couple of streaming services, and I get to beat the drum of IP acquisitions as the basis of some potential future franchises: Warner Bros. and New Line Cinemas is picking up L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, while Netflix will adapt Brian Jacques’ Redwall series.
There’s two things that are similar about each acquisition. Both are long-running, beloved fantasy series: Baum wrote 14 novels, Jacques 22, each set in a much larger world, with a ton of characters and adventures, all of which would prove to be excellent fodder for a streaming adaptation.
New Line has brought on Watchmen’s Nicole Kassell to direct the movie, but reading between the lines it looks as though she’s going to play a big role in shaping the world of the film, and if I had to guess, we’ll see this get built out into a franchise for HBO Max, which could further build out the world. It’s worth reading this piece from Vanity Fair about her, to get an idea of her approach to directing.
Redwall is something I’m particularly excited about: I devoured those books when I was a kid, and I’ve always felt that they would make a good basis for some sort of adaptation. There was a cartoon back in the day, but I never really got around to watching it. This deal is for all 22 books, starting with an animated movie and continuing with an “event series” about Martin the Warrior — presumably covering the events of the books Martin the Warrior and Mossflower. After that, they could easily do a ton of seasons following the other books.
Redwall has the opportunity to do something that most epic fantasy properties haven’t been able to do — steer away from the adult-oriented content in stories like Game of Thrones or The Witcher, and provide something that entire families can enjoy. (Not that there’s anything wrong with adult content — it’s just that adults don’t make up the entire viewing audience for fantasy.)
At the end of the day, they’re two big stories that represent huge worlds of original content for two big streaming – and growing — streaming services. Hopefully, they’ll adapt well and live up to their legacies. At the very least, hopefully they’ll drive new readers to discover them for the first time.
I just picked up Abraham Riesman’s True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee ahead of its publication next week. I’m not terribly far into it just yet, but thus far it’s a very critical look at Lee’s life and legacy. (There’s a link to The New Yorker’s review in Further Reading below that’s worth checking in on.)
Another new arrival has been Annalee Newitz’s latest book, Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age, which I’m a couple of pages into and am enjoying so far.
I’ve also been reading / listening to Micaiah Johnson’s The Space Between Worlds, a holdover from my reading last year. It’s a story about alternate worlds, and a young woman who works for a major corporation by traveling to them. I’m really enjoying it.
Still on the list, Charles Soule’s Light of the Jedi, Kathleen Belew’s Bring the War Home, and Eliot Peper’s Veil, Mike Chen’s We Could Be Heroes, and Stina Leicht’s Persephone Station. Andy Weir’s next novel, Project Hail Mary just arrived as well, and that’s one I’ve been looking forward to.
Butler’s posthumous fame. Ed Park writes a lengthy profile of Octavia Butler / review of a couple of recent books about her for Harper’s Magazine, hitting off of her surge in popularity in the last year as one of her books hit the New York Times bestseller list last year. The review is a solid overview of Butler’s life and work, looking at how she approached tropes and how she pushed herself on in publishing: she was a determined writer.
A decade of publishing’s ups and downs. Kameron Hurley has an excellent piece in Locus about how she’s survived a decade in publishing. She’s encountered a lot: publishers who flake out, who haven’t supported her books, who’ve gotten sold mid-stream, etc. It’s an excellent look at how to adapt and survive — and maybe take the long view as you enter the publishing world.
How I read. For subscribers, I answered a question from Rian van der Merwe about how I go about organizing my schedule and reading.
The Hunt for Jack Ryan’s … Owner. It turns out, nobody really knows. The Hollywood Reporter has a story about a series of ongoing lawsuits about the ownership of Tom Clancy’s iconic character. I love me some legal intrigue, and this one is particularly complicated. It seems like it started out straightforward: Clancy wrote The Hunt for Red October and published the book through the US Naval Institute Press, then wrote additional books, all of which were licensed out to Paramount for film adaptations. There were some issues, then Clancy formed a company to employ himself and his writing, and it gets messier from there. Somewhere along the lines, Paramount decided it could make its own Jack Ryan projects. Meanwhile, Clancy died, and his heirs are trying to figure out which of the spinoff companies actually own the various properties he created – a couple of them own different books, all of which use the same characters. Confused yet? Go ahead and start reading the 85 page court document, which apparently is confusing enough that even the judge couldn’t figure it out.
How Marvel makes the sausage. Business Insider put together an interesting video about Marvel’s process for its films: it’s been using a company called The Third Floor, which roughs out the entire film digitally. It used to be used for big, complicated scenes, but now, it’s a process that’s extended to the entire film, prior to actors coming on set to film their scenes.
BI makes an interesting point here, and it’s something that’s lined up with what the folks at Alcon said about film vs. television (in last week’s roundup): the film industry has changed quite a bit, with so much emphasis placed on the opening weekend, and that this is a way for them to remove some of the uncertainty from the process, allowing them to anticipate how a story might turn out and how it’s shot. Essentially, a tool to do a lot of planning that won’t leave much to chance.
James Gunn, who directed Guardians of the Galaxy, noted on Twitter that the video is a little misleading: he noted that he was part of the process of his films from the beginning, and that every director uses it differently, so it’s not exactly a situation where Marvel designs the film and brings a director to handle the live-action parts.
Reviewing diversely. Foz Meadows has an excellent take on the role and responsibility of reviewing that’s worth a read, based on some recent complaints about a handful of Locus reviews.
Meadows looks at some reviews from Katharine Coldiron, who’s reviewed a handful of books by BIPOC authors, with complaints about storylines, characters for second books, as well as some tilted praise towards the diverse elements within them. I don’t want to add to the pile-on that Coldiron is dealing with, but it’s a good piece of criticism for your straight/white/cis reviewer to internalize: not treating diverse elements as gimmicks on the part of the author. But also, why pick up a second or third book in an ongoing series and then complain that you don’t understand what’s going on? Yudhanjaya Wijeratne summed it up well: “back-handed slaps delivered by people who start from a position of arrogance.”
Stan the man. The New Yorker has a lengthy review of Abraham Riesman’s new biography of Stan Lee, True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee, focusing on Lee’s role within the larger machine that churned out comic books, how his name came to dominate Marvel, and his later, troubled ventures.
Tarot Cards of Tech. This was a random Twitter find for me earlier this week, and while it’s not a long read, it’s something that might be adapted for writers as they’re working on projects or engaging in some form of word-building. The cards are designed for tech designers to think about issues with their products, while in the conception stage. Given that we see plenty of high-profile problems from some books and authors — and these strike me a tool that might be worth adopting to some extent while someone is building a story.
The cards include topics like “The Scandal” with provocative questions like “What’s the worst headline about your product that you can imagine?”, “The Superfan” (How would a community of your most passionate users behave?), “The Forgotten” (When you picture your userbase, who is excluded? If they used your product, what would their experience be like?). Replace “User” for “Reader” and “Product” for “Novel”, and it might be useful. They’re a free download here.
As always, thanks for reading. Let me know what you’ve got on your TBR pile, and what you’ve been reading this week.