As part of our anniversary fun times, we pulled up a movie on Netflix to watch. We chose Kevin Smith’s new movie Red State, because Kevin Smith is usually good for a laugh at least, and there’d been all that weird stuff about distribution and how he marketed the film.

Two hours later, I was traumatized right out of any romantic mood and had to watch Captain America as a palate cleanser.

First of all, the interns writing summaries on Netflix are FIRED. “Three high school boys answer an online ad from a woman seeking wild sex and find themselves face-to-face with a threatening supernatural force.”

THAT IS NOT WHAT HAPPENS.

There is nothing supernatural in this movie. I kept waiting for it, as everything got so awful and tense–but nope. This is a straight up Hostel-style horror film. And the thing is, I don’t even know what to say about it. What do you say about a movie that is by almost every metric the best and deepest work Smith has done, but simultaneously has no heart or even thesis, for all it seems to be hitting the RELIGION, IT WILL FUCK YOU button?

Quick ACTUAL summary (spoilers, obviously): three high school boys are lured into four-way sex by a woman online. She talks them into it, even though they’re not totally sure they’re down. When they get to her trailer, they basically don’t even notice that she’s sad as fuck and won’t even look them in the eye. She drugs their beer, they pass out, and wake up in cages in the church of the local Fred Phelps clone. The world’s longest sermon commences–and yet, it’s incredibly tense and upsetting because there are boys in cages everywhere, and a gay man tied to a cross wrapped in saran wrap. They kill the gay man for being gay, in an orgy of awful faith (I suspect one woman actually comes) and then turn on the boys, who insist they aren’t gay. Doesn’t matter, apparently–the church got bored with just persecuting queers and has moved on to entraping middle class white straight minors (big mistake, I contend) into multiple partner sex, which is apparently the new theory on what brought down Sodom and Gomorrah. (Ok…)

At this point, the movie lurches to one side and becomes about the ATF showdown–the G-men don’t actually know the churchies are killing people, they just think they’re hoarding guns. (They are.) Due to the local sheriff (who is a secret gay, in an ugly plot thread) being an idiot and shooting one of the high school boys who was on the verge of escaping, the ATF boys are under orders to kill everyone in the whole place, leaving no witnesses, classifying the Christian cult as domestic terrorists. (No, and no.) What ensues is a long drawn out version of rocks fall, everyone dies. (Not everyone, really. But a lot.)

Then deus ex machina happens. (Still not supernatural!) It is stupid, but not as stupid as the apparent “original” ending wherein the Rapture actually occurs and an angel makes everyone’s hearts explode. This is what happens when we write our shit into a corner, yo.

Ok. So. This was all really upsetting and as tense as any horror flick I’ve ever seen. Hats off for that, and for interesting camera work, which Smith isn’t known for. The acting was pretty phenomenal all around. The writing is straightforward, no Smith tics. It’s a tight, tight movie. And yet. I can’t say it’s good, exactly. How many stars? Apple.

No one in this movie is remotely likeable or even makes a lot of sense. Since it’s clearly a movie striving for realism, I have to take issue with two points. One: I do not believe that a church like Fred Phelps Jr’s there actually does ever get bored with persecuting gays and decides that what would really make their Sunday service is a convoluted plan to convince the aforementioned white, straight, middle class minors (the kind whose disappearance brings down media attention) that a fourway is a great way to lose their virginity and then murder them for that. The boys are virgins and the girl-bait knew that. These guys are more into winning souls for Christ, and those souls were still eminently winnable. It’s just sloppy. Even religious nuts have their own logic, and that logic often extends to boys will be boys when it comes to straight sex. I just didn’t buy it. And four in one night? When it’s clear this isn’t the first time they’ve killed a whole bunch of people? How many people have to go missing in a town so small the local paper “prints once a week” before people start getting seriously freaked out? Where do they put all the bodies? If everyone knows this guy is crazy and bad, then why does no one even suspect them of having anything to do with the deaths of local gays?Given that the church was called “Five Points” and their symbol looks a lot like a pentagram with a cross inside, and because of the DAMN NETFLIX SUMMARY, I figured they’d be devil worshippers or something. No dice.

Also they are just about the most murder happy people EVER. Phelps would be all: guys, calm down a little.

It should have been one queer teen. The body count would have been lower, but it makes loads more sense, and gives us one person to empathize with rather than three boys who look A LOT alike and are hard to tell apart. But I honestly can’t imagine Smith ever having a gay protagonist, and given that the gay sheriff is ignorant, selfish, secretive, on the DL, and easily blackmailed, apparently, by the church, even when he just heard a deputy shot and killed on the radio, into not sending backup, even the gays in this movie about homophobic hate come off MISERABLY BAD.

The other thing is–and it’s pretty hard to trip my “the government isn’t that bad” switch these days–I just don’t believe that the ATF has a kill all witnesses policy. I don’t believe that a Christian church, no matter their crimes (and the ATF didn’t even know about those crimes) will ever be classified as domestic terrorists in this Fox News country. Murderers and/or cultists? Maybe. But even Koresh doesn’t get that moniker. Their fear of media attention makes no sense–guess what WILL get attention? GUNNING DOWN TWENTY-FIVE FAMOUS CHRISTIANS. No matter how small the town. This pastor is famous enough to get national media attention just on his own (several times this is pointed out). Gunning him down will get TONS of attention. Fred Phelps will never get called a terrorist. Nor the people who kill abortion providers. Nor those who murder gay and transgendered people. Nope. Not in this country.

I’d like to believe, actually, that the FBI has a “fuck those people” (actual quote) policy on conservative hate groups. (Not to the extent of killing them, but the idea of putting them in Guantanamo, which is what happens, has SERIOUSLY never crossed a G-man’s mind in the good ol USA) Unfortunately, Virginia, it just isn’t so.

And the end…I don’t even know. It’s dumb, but Actual Rapture would have seemed to side the movie with the religious nuts, and I don’t like that either. It’s so obviously a writer not knowing how to get out of a situation. Much like the awkward 101 exposition of the first school scene. We get no catharsis of seeing the murderers of the boys punished in any way–it’s barely clear the ATF ever finds out that it happened.

Smith apparently felt he was free to not make any substantive cuts after screening, due to the “indie” distribution and lack of studio control. Again, I sadly point out that being left to your own devices with no editors or Other Human Eyes on your work is not always good. Structurally, it’s a total mess and the end is just utterly flaccid and unreal.

I’m left not knowing what the point of the movie was. What was it trying to say? Everyone is terrible and will never stop being terrible? I guess? It seems to want to say something about the danger of overwhelming belief, but also at the same time about the government being the enemy. Those don’t rest too easily together, since the latter is the rallying cry of those very fundamentalists, and it ignores altogether that fundamentalists have enormous power in the government right now, so it’s tough to say the gubmint is the enemy of conservative Christian hate groups. The title would seem to indicate some political stance, but I have no idea what it would be. Everyone is so shitty that I’d be hard pressed to even say who the protagonist is.

Smith movies are usually all heart–a geeky, male, sex-crazy, possibly a little sweaty and over eager and convinced of its own awesomeness heart, a Nice Guy heart, but heart all the same. In his need to be respected as a maker of something other than the slacker oeuvre, he’s made a film that succeeds on almost every level technically, but ironically, fails utterly on a spiritual level. It is horror because it makes you feel horrified. But not much else. It has no core, it has nothing clear to say–or it has a college freshman’s “fuck religion and the government too” general malaise to say. Which I suppose has always been Smith’s stock in trade.

I don’t even know. Did anyone else see it? I want to hear what others thought.

Captain America was actually pretty good, though.

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Today is the day when All My Writing comes out.

It usually is. November 1st is A Day in the life of Cat. I’ve always had a book out on 11/1, since 2006. We moved to Peaks Island on 11/1/08. Oh yeah, and we got married on 11/1/09. A bunch of you were there. It was amazing.

And today, the universe would like to tell me that despite all this, I should not be working on my anniversary. Our modem died, I am gulping wireless from the cafe to post about These Many Things, and then I’ll be offline til the new modem comes around Friday, except via my phone.

This means I really need your help, should you be inclined, to get the word out about this stuff because I will not be able to for a few days! As usual, if you post, RT, write a review on Amazon or BN or GoodReads or whathaveyou about my new book, you’ll be entered in a drawing to win a prize package that will include The Folded World, Ventriloquism, my Secret Pseudonym Project (which you will then be obligated to keep secret) a jar of fresh peach-riesling-cardamom jam made by me, and a Skype chat at a time of your choosing. We can talk about whatever you like–you can even pitch me your book if you want to. Leave a comment on this entry with a link to your post!

So! First off! New Novel! The Folded World, the second book in my Prester John series, is out today. It is full of sentient emeralds, ill-fated Crusades, girls with bird wings, demons, monsters, and John Mandeville. I am proud of it; I hope you like it. We will have icons and other extras later in the week–for now, refresh your Prester John memory with my Action Figure Tutorial on medieval history!

Speaking of novels, I was BOWLED OVER to learn this morning that BOTH Fairyland and Deathless are up for the GoodReads Choice Award, in Middle Grade and Fantasy respectively! I’ve never been up for this before so to have two books up there just knocks me out! Please do remember to vote!

In short fiction, my story The Bread We Eat in Dreams is up at Apex in Lynne Thomas’s first issue, along with a good-bye note. I’ll be posting more about Apex later this week as well, what I learned and where I go from here. For now, I’m SUPER excited about my story of demons in rural Maine, with bonus witch burning, wicked school for girls, and Cotton Mather cameo.

The second part of Silently and Very Fast, my AI novella, should be up in a day or two.

Good grief, Charlie Brown. November is off to a start.

And now I go to have my second anniversary with my woolly, wonderful, wild things love justbeast, and await a new modem. Please link around if you can and feel good about it–I’ll see you all tomorrow when I drag myself into town to borrow a cup of wireless from pixelcandy.

Happy book day!

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The Habitation of the Blessed is free for download on the Nook today! (Not the Kindle, sorry, please do not yell at me, there are free Nook apps for just about any smartphone, computer, or platform.)

This is because the sequel, The Folded World, is coming out on Tuesday! (Yes, I know Amazon is selling it now. They are naughty. It is out on Tuesday goddammit.) It has MOAR Gog and Magog, John Mandeville, deformed children, Tower of Babel, and Saladin being reasonably chill about an army of monsters than you can shake a stick at!

Please to enjoy the fruits of my expensive mortgaged education.

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Occupy DS9

I was watching DS9 last night and the episode Past Tense came up.

It’s set in 2024, 13 years from now, which is normally an opportunity for lulz, as predictions of 20 years in the future are often hilariously inept.

But imagine my surprise. It’s actually extremely plausible. The economy is in permanent collapse and all the jobless and hopeless live in enforced Sancturary Districts (which is most people) while the ultra-rich live decadent lives manipulating multinational economies and ignoring the situation. They even did a decent job with fashion–Dax is all steampunked out.

The Sanctuary Districts look eerily like the Occupy Wall Street camps around the country. It’s as if someone decided to Deal with the Problem and just put up walls around them. Which could happen, for serious, if it goes on long enough. If enough of the 1% get fed up with their commutes being disrupted. The tents and young people and the character planning for a demonstration telling everyone to bring their kids and look their best because no one listens to derelicts really struck me hard. Supposedly a series of riots will bring the awfulness to the fore and ignite enough rage to finally solve the social problems in future!America and lay the path for Federation style post-scarcity.

I was impressed. In my cynical current attitude, the only thing I don’t buy is that we’re only 13 years from things turning around.

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With all the discussion of student loan debt lately, I had a curious. I went to look up the current tuition for UCSD, my undergraduate alma mater–part of the UC system, keep in mind, so at least in some part state-subsidized. When I went there it was because I couldn’t afford out of state tuition for UW, which at the time was $11,000 per year.

Holy shit.

It’s not only doubled since I graduated in ’02, but nearly tripled, to a bit over $13,000 per year, up from $5000. $2k more than the out of state tuition I couldn’t afford. (Which is now up to a Lol-arious $27,000 per year at UW.)

I moved out of California in ’01 (yes, that math is weird, I did my senior year at Edinburgh University and took the degree exams there) and have only been back for about 9 months since, during which time (2003) I attended Cal Poly for graduate school (then $2000 per year tuition, now $6606 per year). I have student loans from this, boy howdy, and a lot of it is from those 9 months as–well, let’s just subtract the life story part and say that I was very late in applying and missed the window for grants, I was not yet married nor employed, so I had to take out loans for the whole of my living expenses and tuition. Fun.I am well aware that the California budget looks a lot like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon: the Terminator paints a tunnel on a wall and disappears through it while the rest of the state faceplants. I knew tuition had gone up, but fuck. Even my community college (American River in Sacramento) is up from $13 per unit to $20, which doesn’t sound like that much and isn’t as bad as the rest, but that’s still a 50% increase. Let’s not even talk about what my private school east coast friends paid.

My loans aren’t really that bad, comparatively. I went to community college, then state schools, and my UCSD tuition was taken care of by grants every year. Not covered, naturally–the expense of living in San Diego (which hasn’t had on campus room for the majority of its students and none of its transfer students for years) and San Luis Obispo, liberal arts textbooks, and commuting. I also worked pretty much the whole way through. I did all those things the 53% kids say they did, and I still had to have loans. Still have loans. Will for awhile. Because real life keeps coming along whenever I think I can pay them off.

And I can’t imagine trying to do it now, with even state tuition looking like that, and cost of living astronomically high. I don’t necessarily agree with student debt forgiveness–I took out those loans and I’m responsible for them. But then, I didn’t have to take out high interest loans co-signed by my parents, and I got several grants and scholarships that aren’t widely available anymore. The answer, I’d say, is that college shouldn’t cost so damn much (the tuition is too damn high), especially having experienced the UK system where my peers were paying about 1000 pounds a year for heavily subsidized education that didn’t bankrupt anyone before they could even get a job.

I remember too well how unaffordable and impossible everything seemed when I was 19 and trying to get an apartment in San Diego with a roommate who was not a literal crackhead (ended up with the next best thing, a closeted lesbian fundamentalist Christian with a drinking problem, and still living an hour and a half from campus). I actually cried the first time I went into the housing office and saw the rents posted–having moved from Sacramento where you could still (in 2000) get an ok studio apartment on your own for $400 a month, La Jolla and anything actually on the bus route to campus might as well have been in Shangri-La.

I try to imagine being in college now. I think about what I majored in, which was Classics. Dead languages, yo. EXTREMELY PRACTICAL. And every single person who asked my major followed that up with “How do you expect to make money from that?” so I could not have been totally blind to how not useful that degree was. I had a plan and that plan was to be a professor–my mother was one, it was a world I knew. Of course, these days those very colleges whose tuition makes one choke have cut many of their tenured positions so that they can pay adjunct faculty embarrassingly little. And I did manage, somehow, by the grace of whatever gods there are, to back into a job where I use my degree just about every single day. It DID turn out to be extremely practical, a really excellent education for a genre writer–but that might have gone the other way just as easily, leaving me to work–or as likely in this economy, not work–as a greeter at Wal-Mart. Or, in a better case scenario, an office manager, or the other clerical professions that don’t really care what your degree is in. Maybe a nanny, or a PA. And I may still end up doing that–writing is never safe or sure.

As we start to make tentative plans to have our first child, I find all this terrifying. (Like how I just slip that in there? If you don’t blog it, it isn’t real, but nothing’s happened yet so it feels weird to make a thing of it. The plan is sometime after The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland comes out next year. Fingers crossed.) What would I tell a kid of mine who wanted to major in something impractical like I did? I can say: don’t major in creative writing if you want to be a writer, you have to know something to write about, but what else? Double major in something “useful”? Because what is useful now? Computer Science, I guess, though that’s no guard against unemployment. But servicing and programming the robots is about the only thing I can think of that’s even in the orbit of a safe bet. It’s all luck or connections. Be born connected or have a leprechaun’s luck. MBAs have glutted the market, same with law school grads. You have to have the spare time to work unpaid internships to leverage those degrees. Since you have to go to college to get even low-end jobs now, graduate school is becoming the next “everyone has to” bar, and that costs even more. And you know, there is huge value to finding yourself in school, exploring, not deciding right away, meeting people who are not exactly like you and your parents. I wish there was a less apocalyptically expensive way to do that.

And all the while people bitch about generations, and how they’re entitled, and their delayed adolescence. Which is just so gross. How can adolescence not be delayed when the basic requirements for working and living keep going up? So yeah, I understand the collegiate strain in the Occupy Wall Street crowd–I’m not at all sure how I feel about OWS as a whole, but I get the trapped feeling. It’s less and less possible to escape the trap, and it feels like that’s by design, so that we start out buried in the system, and spend most of our time just trying to get our heads above water.

It’s hard not to feel hopeless. I have to stop reading blogs I used to, just to not want to hide all day long from a whole bunch of things I can’t effect and have no solution to. The whole system that the Boomers have told us would be eternal because it worked for them actually functioned for maybe 20 years, but not only do we keep getting told to behave as though it’s still in place, we still kind of believe it should be and that somehow we’ll go back to it. We never will. I have no idea what kind of SF working world is coming, but something else is, the only question is whether it will be a new set of assumptions that will burn out by the next generation or straight up dystopia, and then how dystopic it aims to be. I read an article saying it’s the end of the industrial age in the West, and maybe it is. Maybe the robber barons bookend that world, and we’re headed out of it. I suppose I did just give a talk about how medieval our lives really are right now.

Maybe it’s not as bad as all that. But I look at that tuition, and I see plans to raise it another 30%, and I wonder how anyone is going to manage 20 years from now. I need a drink.

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