And so my adventure continues. Bright and early, at the ungodly hour of 10 a.m. on Friday morning, my caffeinated self made its way to the first panel of the first full day of Worldcon 2012. Friday is the day that begins to see the convention’s real crowd trickling in, costumed and excited – many of the panels were much fuller, the crowds much more energetic. Bright and early, everything was just beginning.
Violence in Fantasy
The first panel of the morning attempted to answer the question “How much is too much?” when it comes to violence in SFF. Well, it’s hardly a question that applies exclusively to fantasy – these days, it seems like it’s impossible to read a book or watch a movie without something blowing up or somebody shooting something. We need our explosions and special effects in our entertainment. But has that completely de-sensitized us to violence?
The moderator of the panel was the wonderful Mr. Lynch, of Lies of Locke Lamora fame, and he made a point that I believe has come up several times in his stories: that the human body is not easy to kill. It’s inconvenient and annoying and there are a lot of parts, and then you have to get rid of the body. It’s not as easy as television makes it look, where all you have to do is shoot and somebody falls. TV, he argued, makes it look so easy to perpetrate violence. It’s so prevalent in our media because it’s depicted as so simple – which isn’t really the case. And making it more realistic, he suggested, might allow for it not to be quite so ubiquitous. It would also have the benefit of not cheapening human life by depicting it as so easy to just turn off.
Another interesting point raised was the idea that there isn’t enough screaming. There’s lots of blood and shooting, but we don’t see the pain and suffering that’s part of the package, and that’s a necessary part of making violence a meaningful part of a story, something that has an impact on a character.
After the panel, I had a chance to have a quick chat with Mr. Lynch and compliment him on the first two books in his Gentlemen Bastards series. Though he was reticent about the long-awaited third novel in the septology, for which no release date seems to be in sight, he did assure me that it’s less a problem of writer’s block and more a problem of life getting in the way. He also assured me that he has a plan for the other books in the planned series of seven, which, he hopes, won’t take as long to release as this one.
In the afternoon, I attended a couple of back-to-back panels: on Star Wars, which celebrates its 35th birthday this year, and Firefly, which is a decade old in 2012.
Both discussions centered around what it was that made these franchises such cult classics, and how fans experience the series nowadays. It was an interesting discussion, because it highlighted a very distinct difference between the two fandoms: Star Wars, at 35, is experiencing a generational gap between its old and new fans – there are those who saw the movie in theatres in 1977 and then those whose first experience of Star Wars was the new trilogy. Firefly, however, is not yet old enough to have that generational gap – and it certainly doesn’t raise the question of where one starts watching (unless one wants to argue about the order of the first two episodes).
That was the question that took up much of the first panel: where does one start watching Star Wars these days? If you want to introduce your 10-year-old to the galaxy far far away, do you get him to watch The Phantom Menace, because it has flashy special effects and lightsaber fights that’ll get him into the Star Wars universe? Likely, yes. But The Phantom Menace is, by popular agreement, just so bad, so shouldn’t you start with the original trilogy? Except that today’s 10-year-olds, used as they are to special effects, wouldn’t appreciate the beautiful, slow storytelling of the original movies. Also, the new trilogy totally spoils the original trilogy, while the original trilogy spoils the new trilogy. Pick your poison, the conclusion seemed to be.
Another question raised was about the possible future of Star Wars. Are there going to be reboots? Is George Lucas ever going to make three more episodes, as he originally envisioned? (Do we want him to?) Star Wars has, obviously, become such a part of our cultural mentality nowadays – possibly because it was such impressive science fiction when it was made, possibly because it was an optimistic story in a pessimistic time – and do we really want to meddle with that story? We know what happens when you try.
The flip side of the coin is Firefly, which has developed a cult following but which, as we all know, got cancelled after one season and thus never got nearly as big as Star Wars. Do we want a reboot of Firefly as well? The unanimous opinion was no – we can’t envision any other cast than the one we have. There’s also the very valid fear that if Joss Whedon makes more, it’ll take the path Star Wars took, a downhill path. It can’t all be that good. Then again, Joss Whedon did have seven seasons of the story planned out, so maybe he could have pulled it off.
Alas, though, we will never know. Whedon has gone on to bigger (though arguably not better) things like The Avengers, and so it seems we are left lamenting, reminiscing, and analyzing at gatherings like these.