Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Orville Might Be the Best Star Trek Yet

I recently finished watching the second season of The Orville. For those unfamiliar with the show, it's a Star Trek-esque space-based episodic story with some longer arcs in which the crew of a starship encounter adventures as they explore the universe.

Similar to Star Trek in all its iterations, the crew are part of a an interstellar alliance with military rankings and rules. Their mission is both political and scientific. It's a show that gets really mixed reviews. Even people who love it don't seem to love it without criticism. I think I'm the same: I like it, but I can't quite love it.

While I have enjoyed several Star Trek series in my life (the original series, The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager, the old movies, the newer movies), I've never considered myself a deep fan. Watching Orville helped me realize that this is because I don't connect strongly with most of the characters.

They tend to be static--arriving on the scene fully realized and ending the series no significant changes to the core of who they are. The tension on your average Star Trek show is all external.

That's one way The Orville is different. Interpersonal drama is often as important or more important than external conflict in any given episode.  Throughout seasons one and two, we've watched a once-married captain and first officer figure out the parameters of their new relationship. We've watched a married couple become parents and discover deep-seated philosophical differences and cultural dissonances. We've watched several other characters foray into romance with varying results.

Fans might argue that these sorts of character arcs are seen on Star Trek as well, but for me, any such storytelling is solidly in the back seat in those shows. I like this more character-driven exploration of similar themes. These characters grow and change within the series more than I've ever seen on a Star Trek show. For me, that's the major selling point of The Orville: it's Star Trek, with more fully realized people in the roles.

I also enjoy the "ordinary Joe" feel of the characters. Among the people in my life, I can find people who are similar to Lt. Gordon Molloy, pilot and longtime friend of Captain Ed Mercer or Dr. Claire Finn, the ship's doctor who is also a single mother.

Competent and effective, but quirky, too. That's very different than giant icons like Jean-Luc Picard, who while wonderful, was too much a paragon to make stupid choices in love or leadership.

From the early days watching reruns of the original series with my mother, I've always loved the allegorical storytelling bent of Star Trek--exploring human issues with non-human characters offers contrast and comparison that an all-human cast has to work harder to achieve.

The Orville does this, too. There's emotion vs. logic in Isaac, the Kaylon emissary and science officer. There's exploration of the line between cultural respect and individual rights in the gender issues of Moclan, home world of Bortus, the second officer.

The discussion might be a little more subtle than it was when the black and white faced people of Ariannus refused to see each other's values (star bellied sneeches, anyone?), but the tactic is the same. And it's still a good one.

An aspect of The Orville I'm less fond of is the mixing of tones. Traditionally, Star Trek has had lighter toned and heavier toned episodes, but a single episode of The Orville may offer comedy and drama side by side, an effect I sometimes find jarring.

Individual episodes also suffer from inconsistencies and writer convenience sometimes (example: the fabulous warrior women who escaped Moclan to live life on their own terms and were skilled enough to do this suddenly lose all fighting and observation skills and need to be rescued by the crew of The Orville when the attack they've always anticipated finally comes).

All in all, The Orville captures much of what I love about Star Trek while shedding the baggage I didn't love as much. It's a love letter to the place the Star Trek universe holds in our hearts while also being its own creation. Worth watching.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Going Home

Some of the new I liked: a bit of whimsy down an alleyway
As I write this, I'm just returned from a trip to visit my parents who still live in my childhood home of Bellevue, Kentucky, located four blocks from Ohio. It's a small town still, but with easy access to the big city. We used to walk to Reds games and other downtown events rather than pay for parking. In fact, lots of what people think of as "Cincinnati" places are actually not in Ohio, but in Kentucky (like the airport and the Ohio River for starters).

I've been trailing the nostalgia fairy. I imagine her as a mermaid, beautiful on top and a stinky old salmon on the bottom, who will delight you with a beautiful memory one moment, then turn around and swat you in the face with the smelly fish tail of the ugly side of change.

Fairfield Mrkt where Mom used to bank.
Like a lot of small towns, Bellevue has seen a lot of change in recent years, some for the good, and some that make my stomach churn.

Bellevue's avenue seems to be flourishing with independent restaurants and small businesses and that makes me happy. I like seeing Fessler's hoagies and pizza (I knew it as Pasquales, but the food is the same as always) and Schneider's Sweet Shop still serving the delights they've served my whole life from the same locations and that any changes have been expansions and improvements.

It's kind of fun that the storefront that used to house my childhood used bookstore is now a Thai restaurant, the first apartment we lived in is now a pretzel restaurant, and my mom and dad's old bank is now a chi-chi dining place (chi-chi here is defined as too "fancy" to take my blue collar Dad to), still with the bank vault (now a wine cellar). I spent my week's visit eating lunch in childhood haunts that weren't restaurants then.

We've got art galleries, coffee shops, restaurants, craft shops, and funky gift shops in all the old buildings along the avenue and most seem to be doing strong business. That's good to see. Good for the life of a town.

At the same time, swaths of old houses along the riverfront are simply gone, wiped off the map and replaced by tall, expensive, and horrendously ugly condos and apartments that are completely out of character with the look of the town. More are being built as we speak, and they look even uglier and suck up the skyline so us plebeians who have always lived here can no longer see the river. My dad's childhood home was nothing special, but it's just completely gone now, along with all the neighboring houses that used to offer something lower rent for those who needed it.

With them we got a bunch of chain restaurants and a lot more traffic and parking problems.

I don't like rich people generally (in my admittedly limited experience with wealth, rich people do not become rich by being kind, generous, or noble) and I don't really want them to move to Bellevue…but I do want the town to continue to exist and be a safe place for my parents and old friends to live. "And so it goes." Here's hoping Bellevue can keep the heart of what it has always been while staying afloat in the 21st century.

Bellevue houses: lots of brick, with charming details. From the tiny to the giant. I used to dream about owning that top one when I was a kid. 

The first apartment I lived in with Mom and Dad, now a pretzel sandwich place.


Cincy views from around Bellevue


My childhood movie theater.

Van Voast bridge still scares the heck out of me. Worse when a train is running beneath.


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

IWSG: Am I my Characters?


Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! It's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking.

If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

This month's wonderful co-hosts are Erika Beebe, Natalie Aguirre, Jennifer Lane, MJ Fifield, Lisa Buie-Collard, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor!

Be sure to check out their blogs (and others on this great blog hop) when you're finished here! This month's (optional) question: What personal traits have you written into your character(s)?
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I try not to just write characters that are analogues for myself--I'm rather dull, really: reliable, steady, not-that-dramatic. If I took "write what you know" to mean "write characters just like you" no one would want to read my work. Heck, *I* wouldn't even want to read my work.

I like my real life nice and boring and regular, but not my fiction, thanks. How many quiet and reliable schoolteachers who love the man they are married to and do what they say they're going to do on time would you read about?

Yeah, me either.

But I do find that fiction is accidentally confessional from time to time, revealing biases, prejudices, and preferences that I may not even really be aware I have until after I see them reflected in a character. Things that bother me in real life may end up bothering one of my characters, too. It can be a good way to take myself down a peg, too--my favorite person to poke fun at is myself.

Patricia, of the Menopausal Superhero series, is impatient with newbs. She's got her own way of doing things and doesn't like to be slowed down by having to explain herself to others.

There's a bit of me in there, always tempted to look away when they're looking for volunteers, hoping that maybe I can just do the work and not have to help someone else do it at the same time. Impatient with youth and inexperience when it slows me down.

(This is mostly in my teaching life; in my writing life: mentoring and being mentored has been a lot more natural, organic, and useful. The uselessness of most teacher training and evaluation programs could be a whole ranty blog post by itself).

Of course, Patricia isn't nearly as polite as me.

From Going Through the Change, the first in the series:

"Patricia rubbed at her forehead as if she could reach the headache forming somewhere deep behind her right eye. She had worked for this man for how long now, twenty years? A good ten years before that for his predecessor. He knew damn well she preferred to work alone and absolutely detested any kind of group project or partnership. Yet, this was the third time he had assigned her an intern to mentor. Always women, too. Or really, girls. Skinny little milksops with no real backbone. he actually used the word nurturing, like she was a freaking wet nurse. Didn't he remember that she had sent the last one home in tears?"

I also remember that when I got to the end of the first book I ever finished (unpublished, women's issues fiction: His Other Mother), I was surprised to discover that I'd written something very much like a gender-switched relationship dynamic from my first marriage. Oops. I didn't know I was doing it at the time.

Of course, there are small things, like a character who likes a food you like, or prefers the same kind
of pillow, or drives a similar car. Those slip in on me all the time because I need a small detail to add some life to a moment and I understand my own preferences from the inside, so they're easy to use.

But, I don't usually intentionally give my characters my own characteristics. I'm not using my fiction as disguised memoir. My imaginary friends are much more interesting than I am--and I like it that way!