Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Star Wars: X-Wing: Rogue Squadron

I reviewed this classic Star Wars novel over at Knights Archive . Rogue Squadron was fun, especially for a kid who wants to know what it's like to fly an X-Wing, but sometimes bogged down. It features the first appearance of Corran Horn, who would later go on to be a Jedi. It's easy to forget that Corran is one of the oldest EU characters, debuting in 1996 and starring in adventures to this day.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Correction: Maul Conspires A Bit Late

Star Wars Insider #135 reveals that Darth Maul: Shadow Conspiracy will be released in January 2013, not September 2012 as was previously thought. The Insider also has the scoop on season five of The Clone Wars: the first episode will be titled "Revival", a fitting name for Darth Maul's return. This means that the book will be released later than the season's beginning, so maybe those spoilertastic events that occur at the end of the book are set later in the season than I would have thought.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Encouraging Optimism in the EU

Here's a secret: I haven't written about the newest EU books revealed at SDCC because I'm not particularly interested in reading them. I will, because I have been given the opportunity to, but they don't fall within the particular parameters that make EU books light up my brain with the sense that this will explore an aspect of the Star Wars universe that has not yet been explored.

However, this article over at Popcultureshock encourages fans to try out either Mercy Kill or Scoundrels because they are stand-along novels. They're good for beginning fans. Mercy Kill is ostensibly part of a series, but you don't need to know the other books in order to enjoy it.

I like this sense of optimism, even if I get the sense that the EU is still flinching from the main three constantly being running through the grinder in series like Fate of the Jedi and the upcoming Crucible.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Mass Effect Movie May Actually Exist

G4 has the scoop on the Mass Effect movie: it exists, it's written by the man behind Thor and I Am Legend, and it will feature a male Shepard. All other casting decisions are unknown as yet. I'm firmly of the belief that creating a definitive story destroys part of the appeal of a game as full of choice as Mass Effect, and Thor was a good movie while I Am Legend was not. I'm curious about whether this movie will be the next The Last Airbender, and when somebody will start a petition to make it star a female Shepard. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Random House Fanfic Contest - Pro or Con?

    Could what looks like a positive voice for fandom be a rip-off instead? Recently, the Office of Transformative Works pointed out fans' displeasure with the legalese drafted for Random House's fan fiction contests held at San Diego Comic-Con.  At the convention, fans recorded five minute segments of their own writing. Random House then produced a video praising the event and announcing that it would occur again at Star Wars Celebration VI. It's not only Star Wars fiction that's eligible - a number of Random House properties are eligible for the Grand Prize, while other portions of the contest are open to any fandom at all.

    OTW's blog quoted a tumblr user, who said of the official contest rules that “There’s no language at all to protect you”, and noted that Random House gains the rights to your story for perpetuity. Random House went through some neat legal barrel rolls to make this contest possible at all, and this post aims to see what exactly they do - and fail to do - for the fans.

    Keep in mind that the rules for the Celebration VI contest, if they are going to change at all, have not yet been officially released. The following is based on the SDCC rules. This set of rules states that there will be one Grand Prize winner from a fandom based on a Random House property,  five runner-ups, and one winner from a non-Random House property. It is unknown whether there will be the same opportunities at CVI, which would lead to twelve winners in total. The winners will have their work featured on a Random House Audio Books podcast.

    When I first read Random House’s announcement, I was thrilled. It looked like the highest step fandom has yet taken, the closest we've come to fans being allowed to create licensed products (at which point everything is equal because everything is free of ownership). That’s the nature of the beast.

    The above tumblr post, though, points out some disconcerting aspects of the complete rules, noting that writers who enter are signing away not only their work, but their very right to create that work. 

    Modern copyright law is fickle. What would have been legal in the 1800s is not now. I’ve repeated ad nauseum before that Hamlet is derivative. Sometimes it seems like “original” and “originality” are two completely different things: if a work is popular enough and brings enough new skills and information to a story, it counts as original. There have been periods in history whether authorship alone determined ownership, but today in the United States is not one of them. Fan fiction today requires loopholes.

     Random House starts its conquest of those loopholes by negating a contradiction: using the phrase “original fan fiction”. Later they specify the term and make a neat definition of fan fiction.It is work  "written and created solely by [the fan], but which is based on and derived from the authorship of one or more previously published works of popular literature and/or films (collectively “the Underlying Copyrighted Work”) which are owned solely and exclusively by the author(s) and/or copyright proprietor(s) of such Underlying Copyrighted Work (referred to herein as “the Author”)." I like this. This creates a legal space in which to define and practice fan fiction while acknowledging its derivative status.

    The next sentence, though, could be surprising to an author: " I acknowledge and agree that I may not use the Underlying Copyrighted Work, in any other manner or for any other purpose. Without in any way limiting the foregoing, I acknowledge and agree the Underlying Copyrighted Work is owned exclusively by the Author." This is troubling - and vague - when used in reference to online work. Does the author then lose the right to publish their stories online...even though they had no right to do so in the beginning? I don't think so.

    If they had wanted to crack down on fan writers, they could have done so a long time ago. Plenty of fan writers advertise their work on their facebook pages under real names, although the vast majority prefers to remain anonymous. There's this passage here that sounds like the undersigned is incriminating themselves: "My Work is derived from and legally dependent upon the copyright of the Underlying Copyrighted Work, to which I have no rights, or the license or authorization to create such a derivative work."

    Again, there is the sense that the contest (and the sound booth) is a legal gray area where things that are usually not allowed are temporarily permitted. The contest seems to be saying that performing the work required for admission is illegal. But if that is the case, why permit the contest at all?

    A lot of the more questionable section seem to me to be a necessary way to cover all the bases. Consider the following: "Without limitation, I shall acquire no copyright or other ownership of the Underlying Copyrighted Work as the result of my activities hereunder." Of course no fan writer will be handed the reins to the canon, but this sentence has to be in there just in case someone tries to claim it.

    The sentence most in question is "Entrants will be required to sign a Submission Form/Release acknowledging that the Fan Fiction is derived from and legally dependent upon the copyright of the previously published work upon which it is based (the “Underlying Work”), and therefore Entrant has no legitimate independent rights to either the Underlying Work or the Fan Fiction".

    Winners also "agree to Random House’s use of their name/likeness and Fan Fiction submissions and recordings for commercial purposes without notification or compensation". 

    Some fan writers have stated that they will not put their work out to a publisher unless they have a promise of payment. On the other hand, fan writers are not making any money now. They won’t be making any money then. Unless the sound booth is a trap designed to take names and sue everyone (something any organization could do in a much easier way) there’s nothing to lose. Random House is trying to show its support for fandom, and this way may not be perfect but it’s a good way to do it. The legal document is a compromise.

    I have been writing for nothing but the love of it and the community of the fans for about ten years now. If I had wanted to own my work I would have stopped writing fan fiction a long time ago. My primary goal is for these audio recordings to come out and for enough people to listen to them that somebody who hasn't yet realized that there is fan fiction better than 50 Shades of Gray realizes that. I would like my name displayed beside a story I had written, but I also see no reason for Random House to avoid displaying it. The question is whether the owner of a property has the right to use a fan writer's work in the same way that fan writer uses the property. Random House is only asking permission to use fans' work as fans have used the original.

    Of course, I don't like to think of fan work as theft. Star Wars fan fiction can be as different from the original films or book as Hamlet was from Amleth. Shakespeare just happened to be several hundred years late to perform his works in front of the others who had used his source material.

   Perhaps the argument comes down to the attitudes an author would have. I’ve read a lot of authors saying that they don’t write fan fiction for money - they do it because they love it, and love the communities in which they find it. In a way, Random House’s legalese is a test: are you really willing to do this for free? It’s also entirely unlike the range of rights respectable publishing houses give their authors.

    Random House put in clauses to save themselves. I doubt they’re going to use fan work or the image of an author exhaustively, simply because it isn’t as lucrative as material from established authors, but maybe that’s twisted positive thinking engendered from ideas such as 'fan work isn’t good enough to be worth using, so I’m not afraid to give them my work to use.'

    I'll be doing a lot more thinking about whether I want to participate in this contest, but probably more about what work I want to submit. Legal arrangements like this aren't better than tossing everything into the public domain and letting the next Wicked or Hamlet (or 50 Shades of Gray) emerge, but it's better than nothing, and nothing is what we have right now. I hope that the legal space that Random House has created will be filled with more works in the future, and maybe one day will open up entirely to allow fan writers to profit from their work.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Revisiting Women and SF

I’m currently re-reading Shadow & Claw, a two-part collection of Gene Wolfe novels. This volume is only half of Wolfe’s highly-praised series Book of the New Sun, a science-fiction epic that falls somewhere between Frank Herbert and Jorge Luis Borges in terms of world-building and writing style. None of these authors take time to explain their worlds - just like in the beginning of Star Wars: A New Hope, the reader has to figure it out. This novel lowers like cloud cover, and is one of my strongest recommendations for science fiction writers to see what exactly they should be trying to achieve.  I was also reading this, one of many articles that talk about the Bechdel Test. The Bechdel test is a simple way to show how women can be marginalized in narratives, and how easy it is to overlook that marginalization. The sneaky way media imparts values becomes clear when we notice that narratives treating women as main characters without a sexual component are extraordinary. Let my explanation of Shadow and Claw show what female characters are up against.

    I last read Wolfe's novels when I was probably sixteen, and re-reading it at twenty-three brings up some distracting trends.  Maybe it’s because I’m more aware now or because I’m not as awed by the writing style the second time, but the way Wolfe portrays his women is disturbing.

    Halfway through the novel we have been introduced to five significant female characters: an outlaw woman, a jailed noblewoman, a prostitute, a shopgirl, and a mysterious waif. The main character, a torturer (the gory nature of his job can mostly be ignored for the purpose of this essay: he serves as the student of a magical school) falls in love or lust with the middle three, while the “mysterious” girl declares that she loves him, and competes with the sensual shopgirl for his affections about fifteen pages after she is introduced. The outlaw woman appears in the first few pages and doesn’t come back until much later, but the torturer feels “touched…perhaps it was [another outlaw’s] willingness to die to protect her that made the woman feel precious”.

    Every one of the women is seen as a magnet for the main character’s love. It makes sense that the main character would be lusty: he comes from an all-male cloistered society. The disturbing trend to me is how often he succeeds. Four of the women in the first half of the story offer him physical or sexual contact, and the author makes clear to describe every accidental rend in their clothing. It’s not like this is new, especially for science fiction, but these occurrences are laughably common. The fact that this series is highly literary seems to blind people to the fact that it does not portray women any better than most science fiction.

    That is not to say that a woman as a sexual being is inherently a bad thing. The shopgirl is sensual of her own free will. However, it’s hard to discuss free will when the people under discussion are fictional. The (male) author is in control of them.

    At this point, it’s not the sexuality itself that bothers me. It’s that, in a book filled with spaceships and extinct animals and gardens that are bigger on the inside, it’s the fact that everyone is attracted to the main character that I have the most trouble believing. Just because an author (or a video game writer) has the power to make all the characters of one gender flaunt their sexuality doesn’t mean that they should. I bet that if you think of your group of friends (or, to more closely match the plot of the book, acquaintances you’ve met in the last few months) it isn’t the case that four of them have offered to date or sleep with you. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    Then there’s the possible argument that none of this is supposed to be realistic: science fiction is about escapism, about making ideal worlds and characters. Even a dystopian world is, in a sense, “ideal” since it is designed to fun to read about, and a marked contrast to our world. Maybe for someone attracted to women, all of the women being half-clothed is a great add-on to the escapism. I don’t know. But I do know that, as a straight woman, if all of the men were running around half-clothed I would find it sort of silly. It lacks dignity, and takes away from the gravitas of the story. In the case of Shadow and Claw, the huge amount of inherent gravitas makes the disparity all the more noticeable.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Clone Wars Clips from SDCC Reveal Maul, Mandalorians

I wasn't able to attend San Diego Comic-Con this year, but I really enjoyed a Clone Wars clip provided by IGN. The beginning shows a sinister character that closely mirrors Luke's entrance into Jabba's Palace in Return of the Jedi. Then we're thrown into the action as Obi-Wan dons the classic armor (well, most of it anyway) for a Mandalorian vs Mandalorian battle mid-flight. He's joined by Kate Sackhoff's Bo-Katan, another red-haired warrior, who is going to be getting some face time this season. Her appearance matches the art Dave Filoni posted a few months ago. I look forward to finding out more about her, as well as whether Obi-Wan's going to start flirting with someone from an opposing faction for the third time. With a Jedi Master like this, no wonder Anakin turned out how he did. May I remind you that Anakin and Ahsoka are still sitting in a diner as of last season's finale?

The action is nice, and Bo-Katan notes that the inter-Mandalorian strife is somehow Darth Maul's doing. This brings us a second clip from Entertainment Weekly, which plays out exactly like the text of Shadow Conspiracy. They've done junior novelizations before, so it may be safe to say that if you've been spoiled for the end of Shadow Conspiracy you've been spoiled for the end of the first episode as well. The Zabrak brothers are working together to ruin some droids' day.

It was revealed at SDCC that said first episode will be shown in its entirety at Celebration VI. I'll be there, resisting the urge to MST3K it and curious about the ending.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Update From The Random House Fan Fic Audio Contest

According to Club Jade, the Random House Audio Fan Fiction contest that I covered recently will also be coming to Celebration VI. No word on whether the entries from both conventions will be pooled into one set of winners or whether the events are entirely separate, but now I know I need a 5-minute segment prepared before August 23. This isn't quite a portfolio review, but it's a huge step toward giving fan fiction a better name. Club Jade also has video of Random House's table at San Diego Comic-Con, and the sound booth where the fanfic magic will happen.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Unofficial Clone Wars: The Siren of Dathomir

Joe Hogan is an artist who created his own self-fulfilling prophecy. His blog page I Will Be A Star Wars Artist showcased his talent for art and animation, and his style, which often reminded me of Genndy Tartakovsky's Clone Wars, developed over the years. The blog title became truth when Joe began working on official Star Wars trading cards. He's been a big inspiration to me in how to use fan activities to forward one's career, and now he's taking his art a step further with a motion comic called The Siren of Dathomir.

Siren of Dathomir is a story of the Clone Wars that pits Captain Fordo against a mysterious foe. Featuring some familiar voices (including The Clone Wars' James Arnold Taylor), the motion comic shows off Joe's bold, stream-lined art style. I found the landscapes of Dathomir to be especially pretty.  Check it out on YouTube or right here, and be sure to stay after the credits.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Star Wars: Coruscant Knights 1: Jedi Twilight

It's a lot of fun to revisit old books, stories you may have loved a decade or a school grade ago, and see what new pieces of information you find in them the second (or third, or fourteenth) time around. The best books teach different lessons at different ages, depending on what the reader needs and is looking for or seeing in the world. The best books to revisit also feature characters who feel like old friends or ideal classmates, comforting presences who always feel a little bit the same no matter how much the reader has changed.

The same is true of any loved book, whether it's classic literature or a Star Wars book from the two thousands. This week I revisited Corsuscant Nights: Jedi Twilight for Knights Archive, and found that while I still love a lot of things about it, the re-read value isn't as high as the nostalgia value. We'll always have Coruscant.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Star Wars: Shadow Conspiracy Continues Maul's Story

I don't often keep up with the release schedule for the Star Wars books targeted for kids, but maybe I should: that's where Darth Maul is getting a lot of attention. Amazon has a place to pre-order The Clone Wars: Shadow Conspiracy, the author of which so far appears unlisted. From the preview text, The Shadow Conspiracy features Darth Maul, Savage Oppress, Obi-Wan, Duchess Satine, and Darth Sidious, as well as a very unexpected ending that might actually count as a spoiler for The Clone Wars. So check it out if you dare, and if you're a Maul fan, don't forget to watch for the kids' books too.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Random House Lets Star Wars Fanfic Be Heard

Attendees at San Diego Comic-Con have the chance to record their fan fiction and win a professional recording of their work from Random House. Each fan gets five minutes in which to tell their story, which can be about Star Wars or one of a few other properties owned by Random House, such as Percy Jackson and the Olympians. The con is currently sold out, which means that I won't be scrambling to try to get over there specifically for this.

The PDF of rules attached to the website listed above contains some pretty nifty legalese, first declaring that the works should not " infringe any copyright, trademark, trade secret or other proprietary rights or rights of publicity or privacy (except to the extent that the Fan Fiction is derivative of the Underlying Work, which is the essence of fan fiction)" and then defining fan fiction. Random House holds all the rights to the stories.

I love this. It's a great way to get fan fiction some publicity, as well as to put fanfic authors in touch with the creators and owners of the original material. The fan works will be judged by what is being called the Random House Audio Team, but whom presumably know as much about literature as they do about audio, since the stories will be judged on characterization, wording, and such.

I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for any news on whether this event will also be held at New York Comic-Con.