Friday, May 25, 2018

This Is Not a Review of Deadpool 2

This is not a review of Deadpool 2. Let's call it a rant.


--after reading Caspar Salmon 

This is not a review. Within the first few minutes of Deadpool 2, Vanessa played by the wonderful Morena Baccarin is killed after a happy moment where Wade and Vanessa have decided to make a baby.

My friend, also a woman, turned to me and suggest we just walk out and get a drink instead.
I should have listened to her.

This is not a review of Deadpool 2. There’s plenty to like about this film. Domino is a great addition to the Marvel universe, played by Zazie Beetz, who brought a new energy and vibe to the X-Men, and I hope will become a permanent part of the franchise. Negasonic Teenage Warhead played by Brianna Hildebrand is back with her girlfriend Yukio played by Shioli Kutsuna.

But all these characters serve Deadpool’s ultimate drive, which is about family, offspring, and his dead girlfriend. On top of that freakin’ Cable is trying to kill a kid because of his dead wife and daughter.

If you’ve seen the movie, then you are probably thinking, but it all gets fixed in the end! Time travel!
Nope, doesn’t matter. For a movie that takes some of the meta-fiction Deadpool moments to talk to the audience about lazy writing, Wade’s motivator is trite, tired, and harmful. Why do movies keep killing women as motivation for the guys?

I wasn’t going to write this little rant, and I know I’m just screaming into the void, but after what seemed like successes in the Marvel universe from Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok and Ryan Coogler's Black PantherAvengers: Infinity Wars punched down (read Brandon O’Brien’s write up here), and I just wanted Deadpool 2 to be less lazy. As Caspar Salmon writes about the violence enacted against women in film: “I don’t want to watch any more films in which all the female characters are killed. Imagine you’re looking at a blank page, which is the beginning of your screenplay, the beginning of everybody’s screenplay. You can write anything here, whatever you want. You roll your sleeves up, give a Carrie Bradshaw look into the middle distance, which is where you find all your best ideas, and begin writing. Your film, which is to be staged by a crew, voiced by actors and recorded on film for the purposes of being seen in the world: what will it be? You can write a film that requires the dead bodies of women to be arranged in comical poses, as an arch metaphor for your own tyranny — or you can write something else. You choose.”

Other people have given more nuanced arguments about fridging (let's go all the way back to Feminist Frequency). I'm just the gif of the guy holding the large clock and yelling.  

If I could slide through time like Cable, I would have slid right on out of that theater and gotten a drink with my friend instead.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Thursday Morning Superhero

ComiXology has a big announcement planned for June 1 and it is likely related to a new original comic or comics. It has been dubbed as epic and includes some prominent artists and authors. I am very curious what this announcement entails and will tune in via Twitch as it is the platform they are utilizing. Rumor is it might be related to Fortnite, but it is only a rumor.

Pick of the Week:
Star Wars #48 - This arc has taught me more about the Mon Cala and given me a lot more respect for the great Admiral Ackbar and his people. The wild plan that Leia concocted finally fell apart. The king is dying and the impostor they sent to the senate had his identity blown when we learned that the Empire had already infiltrated a good portion of the Mon Cala. In a desperate attempt to salvage the mission Leia gets a recording of the king moments before he dies that should inspire the Mon Cala to join the rebellion, but the fight against the Empire is never easy. This arc has been a high point in the series and a reminder that there are so many good stories to tell in this universe.

The Rest:
Hit Girl #4 - Mark Millar delivers on the ultra-violence that has been oddly lacking in Kick-Ass, but the visual style is not my scene and I don't feel a connection to any of the characters yet. It isn't that this is a bad book by any means, it just doesn't appeal to me and I planned on dropping it until I learned that Hit Girl is venture to Canada. Joining her in Canada is Jeff Lemire and I can't wait to see what he has planned for this series.

Doctor Aphra #20 - This series took a very interesting turn as we learn about the life in prison Aphra is leading. I have really enjoyed the elaborate space prisons, and the facility Aphra is in is a group of broken space ships that are held together and towed through space. The ship that tows the floating prison uses the prisoners as mercenaries and if they fall too far behind their droid captains they explode. In this issue she starts to set the scene for her eventual escape, and it will be interesting to see how she manages that. It apparently pays to have droid connections.

POSTED BY MIKE N. aka Victor Domashev -- comic guy, proudly raising nerdy kids, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Westworld Wednesday: Gods & Monsters

Welcome back to Westworld Wednesday, a series of essays/ramblings about the themes & philosophies of Westworld. NOTE: while we deal more with themes here, rather than plot, the emphasis is not on what happened this week; HOWEVER, if you are reading this and wish to avoid spoilers, you should be current on the show.

Death's decisions are final

the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out—those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment - John 5:28, 29

Death and taxes, it is said, are the only two certainties in life. No one is a particular fan of either, so far as I have been able to determine. Taxes themselves don't come up much in Westworld; death, on the other hand, is basically a constant, and its decisions, final.

William would know that as well as anyone, having lost everyone close to him. It does raise the question of who, exactly, was close to him in the first place. His wife, perhaps at one point. Everyone else we see him interact with - everyone human, that is - is there to use him, or be used by him.

Even if they are dead. Or supposed to be, as James Delos is. While he possess all the signs of life, lives, breathes, speaks, jacks off, which I don't know why that counts as a point of clarification, but it was in the show, so here we are. William enters the dwelling of his creation, bottle in hand - and offering to cheat the devil - and a smile on his face, no thunder and lightning, no arms raised in defiance of our own erstwhile creator, yelling "give my creation LIFE".

One has to wonder is zombie-Delos knew the being he was trying to cheat was the one who brought him the bottle.

Victor Frankenstein played in the domain of God, and while he was punished in his way, he never quite learned a lesson. William bankrolled others to do the same, and their lessons are... forthcoming? Perhaps? Ford certainly paid for his sins, if sins they indeed are, as did Arnold. Both received a perverse resurrection; Arnold lives on-ish in Bernard, Ford through his young host and, presumably, in the same manner as zombie-Delos (although we have to assume he solved the problem William couldn't - fidelity).

But punishments aren't lessons, and William is a man who has learned his, and doesn't care. In his first visit to Lawrence's home, he murders everyone in sight. In his return, he saves them. He lost his own wife, and while many are quick to point to his quote/unquote good actions as a return to his original white-hatted self, I'm inclined to believe it never actually left. He played a game, a game that was above him, with rules he thought he understood, but had no clue about. He thought he did what people were supposed to do - climbed the corporate ladder, met a nice girl, settled down. 

But then the rules were explained to him, in the middle of another game that he didn't understand at all. The rules were ruthless and cutthroat and meant stomping on those that got in your way - and yourself, if that got in the way. He figured out both games simultaneously, pushing himself down and strangling the voice inside to become the visage of death in both worlds.

But death isn't a living thing, no matter how many lives he directly or indirectly takes, or how many times he brings James Delos back to the brink of life, before snuffing its imperfect form out yet again.

But there is one life he has yet to take, one that means far more to him than he is willing to admit, possibly even to himself. One that no doubt sees him for everything he is, for the pain he has caused in two worlds, and one who follows in his footsteps.

His resurrection will tax him to his limit, and perhaps, mercifully, the toll will be less than his forebears. 


Dean is the author of the 3024AD series of science fiction stories. You can read his other ramblings and musings on a variety of topics (mostly writing) on his blog. When not holed up in his office tweeting obnoxiously writing, he can be found watching or playing sports, or in his natural habitat of a bookstore. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Fireside Chat: Amanda Rose Smith of Serial Box

One of our contributors, Shana, is also the social media manager for Serial Box, a company that creates and distributes serialized audio fiction. Think audiobooks with extra bells and whistles. Shana put me in touch with Amanda Rose Smith (@LadySoundSmith on Twitter), who is the audio producer and composer for most of Serial Box's output, including the new fantasy series Born to the Blade. This series has an impressive pedigree, and boasts a writing team of Michael R. Underwood, Marie Brennan, Malka Older, and Cassandra Khaw. Amanda is an audio pro with literally hundreds of audiobook credits under her belt, and production and composition credits for a number of other projects across many different media. We spoke through the interwebs to discuss some of the ways this type of audio production overlaps and differs from other kinds of production work. — Vance K

VK: Could you give a quick overview of your involvement with Serial Box? I know you composed the Born to the Blade theme, but does it go beyond that?

ARS: Yes, I'm actually the audio producer for just about all the series. So that means I cast (with their final approval) and coordinate the recording and post production. I do all the sound design and themes as well. There are a couple series I didn't do, such as The Witch Who Came in From the Cold and Belgravia, but that's it.

VK: Gotcha. I listened to Born to the Blade Episode 1, and it wasn't exactly what I expected. I don't know why, but the notion of "serialized audio fiction" made me think of old radio shows, with full casts, etc. This was more like an audiobook with sound effects. Is that an accurate description? And for context, I loooove audiobooks.

ARS: Sort of! In the audio world, those old audio dramas are kind of antiquated and I didn't really want to harken back to an older form as much as work towards a newer one. Serial Box calls itself the HBO of reading, and I was thinking of it more as a hybrid between a television series and a book. So my [audio] effects are meant less to give sound to every little thing that might make sound, and more to just subtly make the listening experience a bit more immersive than it would be in a straight audiobook.

VK: Do some of the series feature a full-cast production, or are they exclusively a single narrator?

ARS: Some of them are multicast! Tremontaine has 3 narrators. It's still not like a radio play though, because they tend to narrate different sections from the point of view of different characters, less than speaking directly to each other.

VK: I want to circle back to the "audiobook with sound effects" thing later, but since you mentioned multiple narrators, that leads me to something else. When you're dealing with something that's hours long, are your narrators there with you in-studio, or do they all record separately and then send in the audio? The last time I did a lot of voice over recording, I insisted on bringing them in because — I know many performers have home studios — but I was too nervous as a producer to cede control of the read to someone I hadn't worked with before. What's your approach?

ARS: I do both in different situations. Sometimes I also direct via Skype. If someone is going to record at home, I often do that for the first episode, but we also do comprehensive listen downs and rounds of corrections. So if someone does record at home, self-directed, we make changes as needed if something feels off.

VK: What is that "listen down" like? How many people are involved?

ARS: It varies. Sometimes its just me. Oftentimes, the series producers listen before a piece airs as well. And, depending on the project, I sometimes enlist proofers to listen and note any mistakes. Every episode gets listened to at least twice before airing, which is really important for quality, I think.

VK: How meticulous can you afford to be in line readings and nuances of performance? My work with narration and voice over has extended only to projects that are less than an hour in length, but I'll drill down on almost any single line that isn't as good as I feel it can be. But when you expand out to novel/series-length work, I assume there have to be "we can live with it" moments.

ARS: It does happen sometimes. And certain things are also subjective. It's not always a matter of it being wrong, but of different interpretations. When it comes to straight errors, I'm pretty serious about that, but all the actors we work with are truly fantastic and sometimes their interpretation is something I might not have thought of, but it's still great.

VK: Yeah, that happens a lot. This isn't any kind of revelation, but I feel like the longer the project, the more crucial that trust in the person you've cast becomes. If I'm doing something very brief, I feel like I've got a bag of tricks that can get almost anybody through to a workable final product. But that only holds for so long. What is your casting process, then? Do performers read small samples, do you work off of recommendations, etc?

ARS: I've been working in the audiobook world for about 10 years, so I'm fortunate enough to have a lot of actor contacts. So I draw on them a lot. Generally I get a lot of auditions, pare it down to a few people I think are all great, and then make the final decision from those people with the producers of the series. But trust is SO key. Like, for me, following audition instructions is really important. If you don't do that, how can I trust you to take care of the project?

VK: Right. Circling back, I'm curious what the decision-making process is for how to structure your approach to sound design on a project like Born to the Blade. The canvas seems so vast, you could do an entire start-to-finish sound mix, but instead you pick your spots. What helps govern your approach when the options seem endless?

ARS: Well, obviously time is a factor, as much as I wish it weren't. But it's also an aesthetic choice — for me, it's about supporting the actor's performance, enhancing it, but not competing with it. It's not like a visual medium, where you can design around the dialogue. The whole thing is dialogue. So you have to consider that with the effects, to make sure you aren't covering the performance up. All the information about the story is coming primarily from their words.

VK: Do you have any insight into what's driving the push into serialized fiction at the moment? A couple of years ago John Scalzi started releasing The Human Division as a serial, which harkens back to old...I mean, Dickensian...publishing models, but now the trend seems to have caught on. Is it the influence of podcasting? Something else?

ARS: I think podcasting has a lot to do with it...people are doing a lot of multi-tasking, and I think that these episodes are great for commuting, or doing things around the house. It can be nice to have a bite-sized story rather than a full novel, and also following along with something as its being released, weekly, or monthly, or what have you.

VK: Before moving on, I have to ask — there are people who physically make books who can't stand to read them, there are grips who make movies who can't stand to watch them, etc. — do you get to enjoy podcasts and audiobooks yourself, or does being in the trenches make you want to keep them at arms' length, as a consumer?

ARS: It can be hard. I'm not sure if it's that I want to keep them at arm's length in general, or just that since I spend so much time listening to them that it can be nice to get away. I have about 1000 books under my belt in general, including Serial Box and my other work, I probably end up working on around 75-100 books a year so I don't always want to hear more in my free time, especially since it can be hard not to listen with a work-critical ear. BUT that said, I also really, really enjoy listening to the ones I work on, and sometimes have to re-listen to passages because I was into the story and not paying close-enough attention to the accuracy or what have you. So I really do enjoy listening to them, and I think if for some reason I weren't working on so many I would listen a lot.

VK: That's always a nice feeling. Getting lost in something you helped bring into being.

ARS: Totally!!! I had the Born to the Blade theme stuck in my head for two days, and was really proud of that.

VK: Can we talk about your music? Music started my journey into the arts, and into my career. I started off in a band, we decided to make a music video, made album art, etc., and that got me hired to do graphics, and then video work, etc...So I'm always interested in other artists' journeys. How did your creative/music endeavors intersect with a career in audio production?

ARS: Well, I started off as a classical composition major, specifically interested in film music, and I started engineering originally to record my own music. And then found that I loved that, too. Interestingly enough, my work study was with the office of disability services recording textbooks onto tape for blind and dyslexic students with one of those old little dictation recorders. I'd get their weekly assignments and then read them aloud.

VK: The tools have changed a little bit.

ARS: Heh. For sure. When I was graduating, I realized that as a composer and musician, making a career was...challenging. I come from a poor background and there wasn't anyone able to subsidize a beginning composition career. So given that, I liked recording, I decided to continue school in that vein, and ended up getting a masters in music technology from NYU. Over the years, all the different backgrounds and skills have just kind of...merged interestingly. Recording, composing, and also the out-loud expression of stories. Working for Serial Box has been a particularly cool way to mix all those skill sets.

VK: Between the Born to the Blade theme and the work you have on your website, I'd certainly describe your music as "cinematic." B2tB is as epic and sweeping as you'd expect in a fantasy TV show or movie. Do you bring a sense of genre (of the overall project) to bear when you start composing, or is it rooted in character, story scope, etc?

ARS: Definitely both. Part of what I love about this kind of composition is the opportunity to step into so many different worlds and genres. Just in the themes...Born to the Blade, Remade, Royally Yours, False Idols...they're all totally different styles. I've always been a giant nerd, and most of the other projects I work on are smaller scope, so I was particularly psyched about B2B. I so rarely get to use choirs in my pieces!

VK: When you're digging into pieces that are very different in terms of genre, do you find yourself relying on your training, or do you seek out a lot of examples in that style that you look to for inspiration?

ARS: Both. I always ask the series producer for a few links, even something on YouTube, that they like and that they feel is in the vein of what they want. And if possible, I try to wait until I've finished recording and creating the first episode until I finalize the theme, so I know that it fits with the genre but also the characters and mood and plot trajectory. Music is such an emotional thing, it's hard to explain what something should be in words. Just saying something like "fantasy, epic" means so many different things to so many people.

VK: This is something I struggle with: if you're trying to do a piece that's "like" something a fantasy theme, or like a mystery you try to nail that thing — the best Amanda Rose Smith version of a mystery theme, for instance — or do you also try to subvert expectations in some ways?

ARS: I don't try to subvert anything unless I think that's part of the process. An old professor of mine once said that in a film, the score is like an invisible actor, or the psyche of a character. It doesn't add something that isn't there, but it does illuminate something that someone might not know is there. So that could subvert expectations in some instances, but that's not my goal. So, for Born to the Blade, it's epic, but its also emotional. There's a lot of political stuff there, and stories about cultures that have been subverted by other ones. So I didn't want to only go big and bombastic, but also to inject some emotion into it.

VK: I think you did. If I remember right, you did some academic work on whether regular folks can tell the difference between acoustic and sampled instruments.

ARS: Yes! That's what my master's thesis was on. Of course that was a decade ago now, but still.

VK: How does that inform your approach to recording? I assume you're mixing live and sampled instruments in a lot of your work?

ARS: Well, mostly due to time constraints, these themes have been largely computer only. But when the opportunity arises, I do like to mix the two, even if listeners can't tell the difference. That doesn't mean it's not worthwhile, for the same reason that an actor's interpretation might be worthwhile even if it's not the same as mine would be. Real live musicians bring their own soul to the work. I've heard other people play things that I've written and thought, "Wow! I didn't even know it could sound like that"

VK: Another lovely feeling.

ARS: I wrote my first orchestral piece when I was 17, and though it was pretty terrible in retrospect, I remember that feeling well.

VK: But for all of that, people can't generally tell the difference, is what you're saying?

ARS: Generally not. Even when I did my experiment in 2008, people only guessed right about half the time. Tut there are certain instruments and genres that are harder to do all with computer.

VK: For sure. But regardless of the method of production, I feel like the goal is always to land emotionally with the listener, or viewer. So if you can accomplish that, what does it matter if the strings are synths or not?

ARS: Agreed!

VK: It seems like in a lot of ways your Serial Box gig is kind of a perfect one for you — you get to bring a lot of strengths to bear. Is this sort of a dream project, or is something dangling out there that you think, "One day I'd really love to...?"

ARS: I think that to some degree, just because of my personality type, I'll always have those dangling ideas. But to be honest, it really IS a fantastic gig for that reason. I get to merge a lot of different skill sets, but also the projects are all super high-quality, and the producers I work with really respect me and the skills and ideas I bring to the table. I feel that I'm really allowed to do a lot creatively. In a perfect world, every project would also have unlimited time for completion too! But alas I can't keep the listeners waiting forever.

Check out Born to the Blade here. And take a look at our (very positive) review of the first two episodes here

Posted by Vance K — cult film reviewer and co-editor of nerds of a feather since 2012, folk musician, and Emmy-winning producer.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Born to the Blade: Episodes 1 & 2

I really should have gotten on this serialized fiction bandwagon earlier**. Sure, Charles Dickens was doing it back in the 1800's (pay by the word and leave readers waiting for the newspaper delivery for the next installment? Will Little Dorritt live?) and I can only imagine how much earlier the concept had truly originated, but similar to what Publishing is doing with their novella line - Serial Box isn't so much innovating the form as re-popularizing serialization within the science fiction and fantasy genre (this is something that has long been done in audio / podcast format).

And so it is that, despite having the eleventy thousand page first season of Bookburners (also from Serial Box) on my night stand, I embark on a new serialized adventure: Born to the Blade.


Born to the Blade was created by Michael R. Underwood. You may be familiar with his Genrenauts series of novellas (also serialized. I'm sensing a theme here) originally published by and finished on his own. It is an epic fantasy centering, at least initially, tightly in a neutral city where conflicts are resolved by formal duels by representatives of their respective nations. If that city is functioning in some ways as the United Nations of that world, the domineering Mertikan Empire appears to map to the United States in many ways.

Perhaps I'm reading a touch too much into this, and it may be that "Mertikan" echoes just a bit too close to "American" that I'm reaching for parallels that aren't intended. Certainly, Born to the Blade is not presenting as commentary on America today, but it is also something that won't go away in the back of my mind. We don't read in a vacuum, after all.

The first two episodes of Born to the Blade are written by Michael R. Underwood ("Arrivals") and Marie Brennan ("Fault Lines") and they both serve as introduction as well as hook. There's just enough cliffhanger at the end of each episode that I finish eager and ready for the next.

Thus far into Born to the Blade we are introduced to the politics of the island / city. At this point, Underwood and Brennan have only revealed the outlines of how things fit together. We know there was a rebellion, a captured "Golden Lord", and the Mertikans want him recovered and killed. We see how Kris, a young bladecrafter, is seeking a spot on the Warder's Circle - the first for his home country. We see Michiko work as a junior warder, learning the city, but also clinging to a fragile alliance. "Arrivals" and "Fault Lines" are apt titles for the first two episodes because Underwood and Brennan give us exactly that. They both serve as introduction and they are a fitting start to the serial. The fault lines are clear, the burgeoning conflict beginning to take shape. Our reading appetites are whet.

Given there was already one very significant surprise in the first episode, I have no idea where the writers of Born to the Blade are going to take this story. The one thing I do know is that I'm on board and along for this ride.

**I should also note the existence of Shadow Unit, which was also a serialized bit of fiction that was exceptionally well done, written and published in episodic format as if it were a television show, and featuring some of the finest damn writers this side of anything. That is almost beside the point, except that I want to take any opportunity I have to mention Shadow Unit, even if I am talking about something else. It was the best. I miss it daily. Shadow Unit forever.

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.  

Nanoreviews: Discount Armageddon, The Mongrel Mage, The Red Threads of Fortune

McGuire, Seanan. Discount Armageddon [DAW, 2012]

Discount Armageddon is the first novel of the Incryptids series, which this year is a Hugo Award finalist for Best Series. This is another series I have avoided for no good reason and now that I've read Discount Armageddon, I am reminded that I am frequently a damn fool because McGuire is consistently excellent. Discount Armageddon features "monsters", monster hunters, a strip club, intensely religious talking mice, and a protagonist who is trying to decide if she'd rather be a professional ballroom dancer or keep with her family's tradition and trade of protecting those monsters from others who would do them harm. In short, it is delightful.

Score: 7/10

Modesitt Jr, L.E. The Mongrel Mage [Tor, 2017]

This seems to come up nearly every time I talk about Modesitt's fiction, but reading a Recluce novel is an act of comfort reading. I know exactly what I'm going to get and it's a hearty stew and brew of the detailed day to day life of Beltur, a white mage on the run from the more powerful white mages of Gallos. We see Beltur escape, learn a new trade, and follow the slow burn of daily life while an outside threat grows and grows. Modesitt leans a touch hard on the concept of "mongrel" in the novel, making some aspects a bit too on the nose. For a series known for slow development, The Mongrel Mage is especially so in the early goings.

As much as I love the Recluce novels, I would only recommend The Mongrel Mage to fans of the series. There are references to the few earlier set novels, but knowledge of those books are not necessary. It stands well enough on its own, but I suspect the appeal of The Mongrel Mage lies primarily with those readers who have read all of the Recluce novels and still want more. There are stronger entry points to the series.
Score: 7/10

Yang, JY. The Red Threads of Fortune [ Publishing, 2017]

When The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune were announced, that announcement came with the description that these were twin novellas which could be read in any order and be equally satisfying. While there is no way to go back and read The Red Threads of Fortune without having already read The Black Tides of Heaven, I'm reasonably confident in my opinion that Red Threads is a far richer story coming after Black Tides than it would coming first. Red Threads is set some four years after Black Tides and the necessary early character beats are far more compelling and emotional because of the journey of Black Tides.

If I said The Red Threads of Fortune was simply an excellent novella, I would be doing it a necessary disservice because when I wrote about The Black Tides of Heaven I rated it an exceedingly rare 10/10 and when held to that standard, Red Threads falls just a smidge short. Held to a more reasonable standard (like, against everything else being published), Red Threads is outstanding. This is Mokoya's story, dealing with her grief from the events of Black Tides and she's now a monster hunter - though the events of Black Tides permeates everything. The naga hunt is fantastic, but it is the development and resolution of those character beats that began in Black Tides and changed hard in Red Threads that is why this novella works so well.
Score: 8/10

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Microreview [movie]: Dirty Computer (e)Motion Picture

"I am not the American Nightmare/ I am the American dream"

If you’re like me, when the video for Janelle Monae’s “Make Me Feel” dropped earlier this year, you immediately watched it ten (or who knows, maybe many more than ten) times. If you didn’t, are you even alive? Not only was the song astonishingly good—catchy, gorgeous, reminiscent of Prince in the best of ways—but the video was also a perfect gem of storytelling, visuals, and acting. It caused me to pre-order Dirty Computer so fast that I almost ordered it twice because I couldn’t remember doing it the first time. As I awaited each new video from the album, I noticed recurring themes, images, and faces (Tessa Thompson particularly). So it made sense when I found out that Monae was going to release an entire (e)motion picture to accompany the album. Clearly there was going to be a larger narrative at work here.

The (e)motion picture follows Jane (Janelle Monae) in a future that, while more vibrantly colored, with way better outfits, and occasionally more futuristic than ours, still actively works to harm any person who is in any way “other.” In this case, that means kidnapping and then forcefully reprogramming them to be cogs within the greater machine of society. We start with Jane having been captured, and labelled a “dirty computer,” and about to begin the process of Nevermind which will remove her memories and reprogram her into fitting back into society. There she is greeted by her already reprogrammed lost love, played by Tessa Thompson (as amazing as always). Incorporated throughout the telling of Jane’s reprogramming are her memories, which are being viewed by the technicians who are erasing them from her mind. Each music video that had been previously released and some new ones serve as these memories (which also are sometimes something other than memories, as one of the baffled technicians points out).

While the storyline is somewhat typical dystopic sci-fi, it’s the way that Monae has conceived of her world that makes this film so effective. It’s beautifully filmed and drips with color, light, and joy (at least within the memories). It’s also so wonderfully open and alive in its depiction of sexuality and queerness, that each memory feels like a call to arms to embrace your true self. Plus, like, the music is just freaking fantastic. I’ve been a fan of Monae’s for a long time, and this new album is already my most listened to of hers. I’ve had it on repeat, basically non-stop, since it came out. Each song moves between genres dynamically and the lyrics are excellent throughout. This is a truly multimodal work—it should be listened to, read, and watched.

If there are issues in the film, they mostly come down to needing slightly more space to breathe (it clocks in under an hour in length) and a standard plot progression. But, honestly, those are small gripes—this may not be perfect in a critical sense, but it is perfect in the sense of the emotions felt during it and the way it confronts hatred and othering in such a dynamic, and always refreshingly beautiful way. 

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 10/10

Penalties: -1 for some standard plotting, -1 for it should've been two hours

Bonuses: +1 for Janelle's outfits, +1 for being one of the most vibrantly queer narratives I've seen

Nerd Coefficient: 10/10 

POSTED BY: Chloe, speculative fiction fan in all forms, monster theorist, and Nerds of a Feather blogger since 2016. Find her on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes