Sunday, March 19, 2023

Not Dead Yet

Not Dead Yet is a cross-genre sitcom that combines elements of chick-lit with urban fantasy. Gina Rodriguez plays Nell Serrano, a flustered and frustrated woman trying to return to her newspaper career after devastating divorce. Unfortunately for Nell, the only job available at the paper is writing obituaries. And once she's assigned to write an obit, she starts to see the person's ghost.

Not Dead Yet attempts to reverse the usual trope. Instead of the living helping the dead move on, the dead attempt to help Nell deal with her problems and move on from the traumatic divorce. They help her meet new friends, reconnect with old friends, reenter the dating world and of course, write their obits.

Based on the first five episodes, Not Dead Yet is a mediocre (at best) sitcom. Rodriguez plays Nell essentially the same as she played Jane the Virgin. She's constantly flustered and frustrated. Showing a great deal of talent, but not much range as an actress. The supporting characters are one dimensional and the humor falls flat. (I haven't laughed once.) Hanna Simone, playing Nell's best friend, Sam, Josh Banday, playing their token gay coworker and Lauren Ash, playing their insecure and nutty boss are little more than set dressings. And most of the ghosts have been one-dimensional. Martin Mull's character is the exception. Mull plays Monty as sweet, sentimental, and romantic old man, which is very different from the acerbic characters he usually plays. Unfortunately, he's only in two of these five episodes.

The sitcom format means there's about 22 minutes of program. Combine that with Nell's flustered approach to the world and everything feels rushed. The format also stretches the credibility of the premise a bit. Nell appears to be assigned only one obit per week, which begs the questions: Does only one person die in that city every week? And how good of a writer can she be if she needs a whole week to write two paragraphs?

As chick-lit, it has some potential, though it still needs work. But as an urban fantasy, it's very disappointing.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Seven Devils

Seven Devils is the story of five women fighting for freedom against an oppressive intergalactic empire. Eris, the former heir to the throne, threw away her heritage after being forced to kill most of her brothers to earn it. Clo, a mechanical genius from the slums. Nyx an elite soldier who grew tired of killing. Rhea, a genetically engineered concubine. And Ariadne, a genetically engineered computer genius. 

Together they fight against an oppressive empire and the Artificial Intelligence system that controls the minds of nearly everyone in that empire. 

Most novels with more than two POV characters change POVs too often. This makes the characters feel like 'paper dolls', or plot devices to advance the action. The frequent POV shifts prevents me from connecting with the characters or caring what happens to them.

Seven Devils solves this problem by introducing the characters more gradually. We get several chapters to know Eris and Clo before we're introduced to the other three. More importantly, the early chapters illuminate the history of these two, giving considerable depth to the conflict between them.

The book frequently shifts back to the past to describe the traumatic events that led each of the five main characters to breaking away from their former lives. Each of these flashback chapters adds more depth to the characters and helps explain their attitudes and actions in the novel's present. 

 The Writer's Perspective

A couple of weeks ago, I was discussing supporting characters with a fellow writer in the workshop. One of her supporting characters had acted inconsistently from chapter to chapter. In early chapters, she was hostile to the main character. Yet later, she said she'd always been a supporter of the main character's family. This continuity error resulted from the author not developing the supporting character's background early enough to see the story through their eyes. 

Although most novels would not benefit from the back-and-forth structure of Seven Devils, I think authors need to develop their supporting characters' histories, perspective and motivations early in the writing process, or at least when the character is first introduced. Not only does this give the character depth, it also helps inform how the story progresses. And Seven Devils illustrates one of the ways to do that. 

Seven Devils isn't perfect. Because of the frequent viewpoint changes, the writers frequently remind the reader whose viewpoint their reading. They do this by starting or ending sentences statements like "Eris knew..." And this often feels clumsy or heavy-handed. Also, many parts of the novel (especially the space ships and the weapons) would have benefited from clearer descriptions. But the main characters do engage you, especially Eris and Clo. You want to see them overcome their past and resolve their differences. That makes the novel worth reading, and I'm looking forward to the second book of the series

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Mind Control from Trope to Subgenre

Reading yet another book with mind-controlling villain. It's gotten me thinking about how the mind control trope evolved into an entire subgenre of erotic mind control stories (which includes erotic hypnosis).

Western literature has portrayed various forms of hypnosis and mind control ever since Homer sang of Odysseus' encounter with the sirens – mermaids whose song was so beautiful it drove men mad with desire. Early Christians wrote about demons (incubi and succubi) who visited people in their sleep and filled their dreams with lust. Medieval and Renaissance authors wrote about witches and fairies casting love spells.

In the 17th-19th Centuries, physicians began to recognize hypnosis and trance as real phenomenon, and authors such as Bram Stoker (Dracula) and George du Maurier (Trilby) began incorporating hypnosis into their fiction. Stoker's Dracula mesmerized his victims, and held them enthralled while he fed on them. While George du Maurier's Svengali kept his protégé (a beautiful young woman) entranced.

Dracula, of course, inspired hundreds of vampire films, from Nosferatu to Buffy The Vampire Slayer; many of which show vampires seductively hypnotizing and enthralling members of the opposite sex. The Hammer Studio films are particularly notable for their erotic hypnosis scenes. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave and The Brides of Dracula both portrayed the vampires hypnotizing beautiful women in their bed chambers; and the women clearly became sexually aroused as they fell under the vampires' influence.

In the 1960s and 70s, hypnosis and mind control became one of the most common tropes on television. Batman, Bewitched, Get Smart, Gilligan's Island, Scooby Doo, I Dream of Jeanie, Lost in Space, Josie and the Pussycats, Superfriends, and even Underdog all included episodes with some form of hypnosis or mind control. These shows were less overtly sexual than the Dracula films. But when the hypnotist and subject were opposite genders, the scenes often contained subtle erotic undertones. In Gilligan's Island, for example, a mad scientist invented a ring that turned the wearer into an obedient robot. When Ginger and Mary Ann put on the ring, their blank facial expressions closely resembled that of the entranced women in the vampire films. And they both replied to commands with the phrase, "Yes, Master." just like many vampires' thralls.

At the same time, DC and Marvel comics developed dozens of mind controlling villains such as Emma Frost, Jarvis Tetch, Kilgrave, Poison Ivy, and The Ring Master, each with their own style of mind control. Poison Ivy and Kilgrave, for example, used sex pheromones to compel members of the opposite gender love and obey them. Naturally, these stories inspired the readers and viewers to imagine more explicitly erotic fantasies. 

Although mind control was one of the most prevalent themes in pop culture, it remained a trope (a plot device for comedy, horror, crime, and adventure stories) until the emergence of interest-based internet communities. 

Just like the printing press and the VCR, as soon as the internet became available, people used it to share sexual material. Enthusiasts who grew up on the above pop culture quickly established bulletin boards and chat rooms to discuss erotic fantasies with various forms of mind control. Then they began writing stories.

Today the Erotic Mind Control Story Archive boasts close to 30,000 stories. While the theme of these stories is always some combination of mind control and sex, they also include many sci fi elements, such as magical spells, supernatural creatures, pheromone perfumes, cursed objects, telepathy, and brainwashing machines. This makes erotic mind control fiction a subgenre of fantasy and science fiction. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

My Dad the Bounty Hunter

My Dad the Bounty Hunter is a good, solid, children's show. It's well written, well acted and beautifully animated. But serious sci fi  fans may be disappointed.

Terry, the dad, is the toughest bounty hunter in all the galaxy. But his family has no idea. They think he's a truck driver on Earth. The first episode begins with Terry finishing an easy job and looking forward to a weekend with his kids. 

But the minute the ex wife drops off the kids at his house, he gets called for an emergency job. The kids, upset that he's leaving them again, decide to stowaway in his trunk, surprise him at work and force him to spend time with them. 

Of course they're the ones surprised when they pop out of the trunk and find themselves on Terry's spaceship. Fortunately, Terry tracks his fugitive to an amusement park planet, and the family gets to enjoy a relaxed afternoon before things get crazy.

Make no mistake, this is a kids' show. Sean and Lisa drive the action. Their presence complicates an 'easy' job. But they rise to the occasion, solving problems, rescuing their dad from prison. And when the Lisa discovers the fugitive they're hunting might be a hero, not a villain,  it's the kids who remind their father what it means to 'do the right thing'. 

For serious sci fi fans, there was nothing new or innovative about the show. I'd seen the same character types and plot twists in dozens of shows. But for children new to the genre, the quality writing, acting, and animation should make the show very enjoyable.