Quotes: People Will Fight for the Idea of Decency

This quote from Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade seems pretty apt for the covid-19 pandemic in the west:

“[Companies] started losing when they forgot how to be decent. People will fight for the idea of decency. They will fight for someone who treats them like people. They fight for beliefs far longer and harder than out of fear.”

– Dietz in Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade

So let’s treat each other as people. Because we’re in this together; health care experts don’t talk about herd immunity without reason.

Because we’re only in the beginning of it; even the most optimistic models don’t predict the peak to occur very soon.

And because we’re social critters, descendants of people who liked other people despite their origin or color or dance moves or whatnot. We’re here because we like doing things together. (And I realize how funny that may sound coming from a huge introvert such as myself, but there it is.) At each individual’s preferred amount of togetherness, but together nevertheless.

Hurley, Kameron. The Light Brigade. New York: Saga Press, 2019, p. 141-142.

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A Rich Anglo-Saxon Burial Chamber Found in Essex

A new-ish Anglo-Saxon burial chamber found at Prittlewell in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, in southern England has all of the markings of a valuable find, both in terms of quality and quantity of the grave goods and of historical significance.

The male body was placed within a wooden coffin in a timber room. The burial most likely dates to the late 6th century (575-605 CE). It was first discovered in 2003 in remarkably good condition.

MOLA Prittlewell Burial Chamber Drawing

Artefacts from the burial were studied at Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), and the most impressive items are now on permanent display at Southend Central Museum in Southend-on-Sea. MOLA has also created an interactive website for the find.

Just some of the items discovered include a gold belt buckle, two Frankish gold coins, a beautiful sword, iron-bound buckets, a huge metal cauldron, latticed glass beakers, a tall iron candelabrum, a folding iron stool, a basin and a flagon made from copper alloy, a silver spoon, a painted wooden box, and an Anglo-Saxon lyre.

MOLA Prittlewell Blue Glass Decorated Beaker

Incidentally, the wooden box is so far the only surviving example of painted Anglo-Saxon woodwork!

MOLA Prittlewell Painted Wooden Box

MOLA The Guardian Prittlewell Gold Copper Item Collage

There are two interesting implications for the burial. Firstly, two gold foil crosses were likely placed on the body’s eyes. If the burial can indeed be placed at its earliest possible date, it makes the connection to Christianity remarkable because it would predate Augustine’s mission to convert the British in 597. A royal connection has been surmised (Seaxa, a younger brother of king Sæbert of Essex, whose mother Ricula was Æthelbert of Kent’s sister) but not confirmed.

(King Æthelbert of Kent married a Merovingian Christian princess called Bertha in 580, so Roman Christianity was known to Anglo-Saxons to some degree by the end of the 6th century, but to my knowledge we had previously not known of other converts outside their court prior to 600.)

Secondly, although Essex has earlier been seen as an Anglo-Saxon backwater of sorts, this rich burial chamber suggests otherwise. Indeed, some of the luxury items come from the near-by continental Europe (the Frankish gold coins), but others have much more far-reaching origins (the Byzantine or Syrian copper alloy flagon, for example).

Having studied Anglo-Saxons myself and witnessed Erik’s research on the side, I keep being amazed at how much paraphernalia is extant from the Roman period and early middle ages onwards. Not only that, but how much of it is still being discovered! If you tour any of the major museums of Roman history in Germany, for example, you will see massive (massive!) amounts of metalwork, gold, silver, glass, and pottery. And what’s on display doesn’t even account for the remnants in storage.

People from old cultures had as large incentives as we do today to dress up and surround themselves with ornate household goods—after all, we are humans who like their stuff, right? Their ability to do so naturally depended on the resources available in the area and era, and—despite what most of us seem to have been taught—early history is full of times when our predecessors were able to produce items on a massive scale and the richest in those societies did have the wherewithal to go all out.

Like the Staffordshire helmet, the Prittlewell burial will be of immense importance to our understanding of Anglo-Saxon history and culture. I’m so delighted it was found!

Images by MOLA; collage of the gold and copper alloy items by MOLA via The Guardian.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Second and Last Black Widow Trailer

Under two months to go to the Black Widow movie, and we have a second trailer.

Marvel Studios’ Black Widow | Final Trailer by Marvel Entertainment on YouTube

There are a few more clues of the Taskmaster character. He apparently has taken over the Red Room and somehow brainwashed / controlled a number (a class?) of Widows. Nat is shown connecting with her first found family, with some amusingly (and painfully) familiar bickering at the dining table. Since trailers always lie, I’m hesitant to call the writing good on the basis of what we’ve seen so far, but I’m cautiosly optimistic. Just, please, let it not be utter crap (like so many female-lead superhero movies of yore have been).

Otherwise, from the filming or type of action shown, somehow I get a similar wibe as Winter Soldier. As that’s one of my favorite MCU stories, this is a good thing. 🙂 Also, I’ll be glad to see northern European neoclassical cityscapes; it reminds me of home.

Black Widow opens May 01, 2020.

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LightSail 2 Spacecraft Is Successfully Driven by Solar Sails

Have you guys heard of the LightSail project?

The Planetary Society LightSail 2 Australia New Guinea

Run by The Planetary Society (the world’s largest private non-profit space organization), LightSail is a crowdfunded project that successfully launched a solar sail driven spacecraft into Earth orbit in June 2019 in an effort to lower the cost of space exploration.

While not the first spacecraft to successfully use solar sails, LightSail 2 has managed to slow down the deterioration of its orbit and on occasion to reverse drag created by the atmosphere and correct course. Indeed: one of the mission’s functions is doubling as a probe of far-atmospheric thickness.

LightSail 2 deployed its solar sail in July 2019, and has been sending data down to Earth since then. Access the LightSail project page or LightSail 2 mission control for some interesting browsing.

Really cool, isn’t it?

Image: Australia and New Guinea from LightSail 2 by The Planetary Society (CC BY-NC 3.0)

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

The Letter for the King Trailer

A new Netflix young adult fantasy The Letter for the King has a trailer out:

The Letter for the King | Official Trailer | Netflix on YouTube

The Letter for the King is based on a novel by Dutch author Tonke Dragt and, according to IMDB, filmed in Czech Republic and New Zealand. (I thought I recognized the Southern Alps from Peter Jackson’s LotR films!)

Apart from what Tor.com has to tell, I don’t know anything about the series except that it reminds me of The Shannara Chronicles (both in the good and the bad). Of the writers I know nothing; of the cast, I’ve only seen two of the adults (David Wenham, Andy Serkis), so neither helps me decide whether it might be worth tracking down. Anyone know anything interesting about this project?

The series will be available on Netflix March 20, 2020.

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Quotes: She Gets to Screw It Up

After the release of Terminator: Dark Fate in November of 2019, Emmet Asher-Perrin wrote at Tor.com about the Terminator franchise. This section at the end describes perfectly why the original T (1984—oh gosh!) will always be my favorite of the series and why we need more (super)hero stories with women in the focus:

“The end of The Terminator is maybe more entrancing than any other finale in the franchise for that reason. It has more in common with a horror film than a sci-fi action flick. Sarah Connor, the final girl who has to make it through for so much more than the sake of her own life, crawling away from two glaring red eyes. Her leg is broken, she’s barely fast enough, but she pulls it all together to crush the T-800 into scrap parts. You can see the moment where the unflinching hero of Judgement Day is born, and it’s right when she says ‘You’re terminated, fucker.’ It only took a span of days to rip her normal, unremarkable life apart, but we get the chance to take the entire journey with her, to sit in her emotions and think about how it would feel. It’s just as fast as most ‘Chosen One’ narratives tend to be, but it doesn’t feel rushed because we are with her for every terrifying second of that ride.

“There are a few more heroes who get this treatment, but they are rarely women. Black Widow has a few muddled flashbacks in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Captain Marvel gets flickers of her past in formative moments. Wonder Woman gives us a brief introduction to Diana’s home and the women who raised her. Rey doesn’t get much time to wrestle with her budding Jedi abilities before heading off for training. We get brief hints of where these women came from, of how it feels to take everything onto their shoulders. But Sarah Connor gets to muddle through it. She gets to wear weird tie-dyed t-shirts and shiver when she’s cold and decide whether or not she can accept the idea of time travel and unborn sons and machines that will always find her no matter where she hides. She gets to present herself as wholly unqualified, and she gets to screw it up, and she still makes it out the other side to fight another day.” [original emphasis]

– Emmet Asher-Perrin

We’ve recently watched a few excellent crime procedurals (for example, Vera and The Fall, plus a new Finnish-Spanish production called Paratiisi) where the female protagonists were written with multiple characteristics that television’s stereotypical damaged males have (like a traumatic past, superficial sex / multiple throwaway partners, alcohol use, difficulty maintaining meaningful human relationships or, indeed, behaving professionally towards your colleagues, to mention a few).

Criticism of these kinds of women in stories is often framed in terms of likeability: you can’t like a woman who behaves in “un-feminine” ways. Well, assuming we’re not talking about comfort-watching or reading (which I’d allow some liberties to), do you have to? I’ve never met anyone who liked everyone they ever met.

I’d say it’s lazy storytelling at its core to plop in a feature of a given character or culture or setting without examining its purpose in the story. For example, while I appreciate the performances of Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in the Sherlock series by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, I detest the selfish, egotistical, arrogant, inconsiderate way Moffat and Gatiss have their Holmes behave. (There’s a reason we haven’t rewatched the series.) He if anyone is unlikeable, to put it mildly, but somehow people can only see his genius—even when the original Sherlock Holmes emphatically behaves with kindness.

And while it’s true that none of these “unlikeable” people would be easy to have as friends, it’s also true that none of them is without any redeeming qualities either. The point is, depicting one gender only in a certain light and cutting off other possibilities of being from them is overly limiting, because in the real world possibilities are nigh on infinite.

Depicting a variety of individuals is exactly what makes for instance heist stories like Ocean’s Eight or Jane Austen’s novels so enjoyable and delicious. Flipping details around, reversing patterns, defying expectations—these are exactly what make a story shine. Women are people and people come in a range of shapes, sizes, and mentalities. Just think of the range of abilities and body shapes Olympic athletes represent, for example.

Just like I do not want all men in my fiction to be cookie-cutter copies, I certainly don’t want all women in my fiction to be cast from the same mold. Expecting all or even most members of any group be an amorphous mass is really rather ill-advised, for it ruins many a good tale and taken to extremes would make stories untellable.

To re-phrase Asher-Perrin: what The Terminator really gets right is that Sarah Connor gets to feel her feels, to react, emote, and flail (like Ye Old Female Protagonist)—AND she gets to win the day.

Asher-Perrin, Emmet. “The First Terminator Movie Gave Sarah Connor One of the Most Compelling Origin Stories”. Tor.com, November 01, 2019.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Mulan in Live Action: Final Trailer

Just over a month to go, and the final trailer for live-action Mulan is here:

 

Disney’s Mulan | Final Trailer by Walt Disney Studios on YouTube

More character moments and more action than in the previous two trailers, that’s for sure! There is apparently going to be a woman in a major protagonist role, which is perhaps tiresome, but then again, it’s a Disney production so it’s not likely the story will be something new and astounding. I’d also ditch the most egregious wirework stunts, but that’s another highly personal preference.

An interesting choice was to show Mulan’s parents discussing her choice and have them wrestle with the implications, but I’m guessing there won’t be too much of that in the movie. And it is still incredibly beautiful.

Mulan is released March 27, 2020.

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Black Widow Special Look Trailer

The Black Widow movie is released in just under two and a half months, and a special look trailer is out.

Marvel Studios’ Black Widow | Special Look by Marvel Entertainment on YouTube

We see more action, but still relatively few plot points are added to the first trailer: for example, the character I assume to be the Taskmaster remains officially unnamed in the clip. We do hear that a new class (a “vault”) of widows has been trained, which has lots of spin-off potential.

What I really enjoy the most, though, is that we see at least three women being pals (well, for certain values of pals at least) and kicking ass while at it. Sure, some of the stunts look a bit ludicrous, but show me a superhero movie that doesn’t have overdone action in it. The point is, women get to do it, too, and not just the lone Smurfette pasted in to flash cleavage. These women—like the other characters in the story—are highly trained and they are finally allowed to act it. Fucking finally!

Leverage Sophie It Is On

Black Widow opens May 01, 2020.

Image: screencap from the tv series Leverage (“The Office Job”, season 4 / episode 12) via Oui, Mais Non (insertusernameici) on Tumblr

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Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears: Trailer & Thoughts

In two weeks, Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears opens! Well, at least with certain values of open: It’s released on February 27, 2020, in Australia. Here’s the trailer:

MISS FISHER & THE CRYPT OF TEARS | Official Trailer | 2020 [HD] by Roadshow Films NZ on YouTube

Looks very much like an upgraded version of the tv series, so it should be fun. (Apart from the bad trigger discipline, but I fully admit I’m very sensitive about that.)

I haven’t yet seen confirmed dates for Europe or North America; one site gave March for U.S. and a tv channel March 23 for their streaming date; no sources have confirmed theatrical release details, though. If anyone has seen firm dates, please let us know!

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Living Vicariously through Social Media: Firefall at Yosemite

Each February, if conditions allow the seasonal Horsetail waterfall in Yosemite National Park in California to flow, the waterfall appears to be set ablaze by the setting sun. This event is known as the firefall (apparently as homage to Yosemite Firefall).

Flickr Jay Huang Firefall Yosemite National Park

Just stunning! Why hasn’t anyone put this kind of an effect into a story yet—or have I just missed it? Anyone know???

Image by Jay Huang via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.