Category Archives: Q Lovin

The Problem of Thor

There are those who do not watch, there are those who watch only casually, and then there are those who consume to the very depths of their souls.

But whether you make the distinction between geeks and nerds or nerds and dorks, that third category is divided into two types of superfans—and the difference between us what I call the Problem of Thor.

When the first Thor movie came out in 2011, there were two types of people who had problems with it.

Well, that’s not true. There were actually a lot of things about that movie that were, shall we say, problematic. But as far as stupid things, fan-based objections, there seem to be two distinct camps. And one of those camps seems to have only one member:


You see, a lot of the fans of the comics—no, I am being unfair. A lot of assholes who happen to identify as fans of the comics objected to the fact that Heimdall (played by his most excellency Idris Elba) is a Norse God, and Norsemen are explicitly and definitely not black.

I didn’t care about that, though. Partly, this is because I try my best not to be a racist asshole and, considering the Asgardians’ extraterrestrial origins, it’s kind of surprising they don’t have more diversity in their ranks; but mostly, I kept my eyes rolling on the subject of Heimdall because I had a more important issue to worry about: Sif.

Sif, in the Norse mythology, is described as Thor’s wife. She doesn’t seem to be portrayed as any kind of warrior, particularly, that I recall—although I suppose that could be a Christianization, I don’t know. But what disturbed me was her hair-color.

Sif, you see, is blonde.

“No, she’s not!” protest fans of the comics when I bring the matter up. “Just look how she’s drawn! Jamie Alexander is actually pretty much perfect as far as her looks.”

Guess what, though: Marvel did not invent these characters. Yet even people I know who are proficient in Mythologizing don’t seem to mind that those inattentive mud-breeders changed the color of Sif’s fucking hair.

Now, I know, I know, I’m being “difficult”, I’m “whining”, because “Who cares?” and if it stopped there, I would probably shut up and not even have to “grin and bear it”. But it doesn’t stop there, you see, because Sif is not just “a blonde”. Sif is the blonde.

The Goddess Sif is so feathermucking blonde that when Loki steals her hair one time, crops fail. And do you know why crops fail? Because that’s how feathermucking blonde Sif is. Her hair literally symbolizes wheat.

But apparently, I’m the only one dorky enough to care when Norse Myth is being fucked over, and not to care that Marvel’s carefully curated brand should be respected despite getting it wrong the first time.

This is, unfortunately, a lonely attitude to indulge it. As such, your prayers for an end to my suffering are welcome.

Superman Is Real

One of the early Sci-Fi writers (I can’t remember if it was Doc Smith or A.E. van Vogt or whoever it was) talked about growing up thinking of Sci-Fi as a game between the reader and the writer, the writer trying to make their extravagant and outlandish inventions as scientifically grounded as possible, the readers trying to still poke holes in them.

They needn’t have bothered.

So, it’s an apocryphal story—actually not even that, more like anecdotal. All right, all right, it’s something my dad keeps talking about.

A little kid writes a letter to the editors and writers of Superman comics complaining that something or other that Superman did in Issue X violated the law of relativity or something. The editor’s response is simple: “Relativity is just a theory, son—but Superman is real.”

Right? What a douchey thing to say. Of all the self-congratulatory propaganda you could possiby—

Here’s why the editor is right.

Science is not a force of nature. I know it’s sometimes portrayed that way in Sci-Fi and Fantasy stories, as something that can “break down” like a senile mainframe. But science isn’t a physical reality, it’s an intellectual process. Science is the collective human intelligence trying to understand the world around it, to make sense of it in order to better our position within it.

If you see something happen in the actual world and you think “That can’t happen, it’s against the laws of science,” you are guilty of cognitive dissonance. Because if you are unable to accept the evidence of your senses, you cannot science. Because it wouldn’t be true. It wouldn’t fit the facts.

Superman does not, as far as we know, exist in an actual world. He is a fictional character and, as such, he exists in a fictional universe which automatically operates under rules different from the science of our own.

So if you’re looking at something that Superman is doing and you go “That’s not possible!” that, too, my dear boy (or girl, or person—whatever), is cognitive dissonance. Now, it might not necessarily be your fault—it could be indicative of problems in the story’s narrative contract, but that’s a whole other thing.

The point is, the rules of a fictional reality are decided entirely by the author of said fiction. Our “science”, the laws of the forces of nature in our world, don’t apply. This doesn’t mean that science doesn’t apply because again, science is an intellectual process, rather than a set of rules. But it does mean that our world’s science cannot be used as a weapon to discredit fiction.

So instead of thinking “Superman shouldn’t be able to lift that building because it would collapse under its own weight,” I would urge you instead to accept the evidence presented as fact; and if you really must science about it, use your science to figure out how Superman could lift that building. Sci-Fi is a lot more fun if you say yes to it.

The Sportsball Metaphor

In the two-party system of American politics, we like to think of everything as though it’s a team sport. The goal is the presidency and the ball, which must be handled with such specific care, is the electorate.

But much as this might be a good model for how things are (how they are presented) it is a terrible representation of how things ought to be.

So imagine this instead: the players are the politicians (in a true democracy, this should mean that the electorate gets to play, too) and the ball is an issue. Take, for example, because it’s so controversial, abortion. One goal is allowing it, the other is making it punishable. (Prevention is, of course, a whole other ballgame.)

What team you are on depends entirely on how you feel about that particular issue.

But that is not the only ball in play. Say there is another ball—the first was a basketball, this one’s for soccer—only this one represents building a wall between our country and the one next door. One goal represents building it, the other represents doing something more useful with our cash.

The problem is, though, the teams aren’t necessarily the same. One person who hates abortion might crave a wall, but another might be disadvantaged because of it. A third might have no opinion at all—if passed the ball, she might shrug it off and pretend she’s not playing. The same is true of the other side, because there is nothing about these two bills that suggests the one flows from the other, besides a pernicious fiction that one set of priorities is “good” as a whole and the other is “evil”.

We’ve been trying to yoke all of the goals together by party and now we are surprised that more and more players hate our two-party system and are refusing to vote.

What We Know (and What We Don’t) about How the World Works

Our understanding of the world is based our perceptions of it, based on the physical evidence perceived with our senses. Beyond that, we also rely a lot on hearsay about things that accepted science has ascertained, whatever the method to procure it may be.

When you’re reading a story, the conventional expectation is that the events that happen inside the story are going to follow the same rules that are found in the actual world. If they do not, if things are allowed to happen within the story that are not allowed in the actual world (or vice versa, though that is rare) then the story in question is deemed “speculative” for the purpose of communicating with the audience.

We think of speculative fiction as having two distinct traditions and, to a certain extent, we are correct in this assumption. On the one hand, we have “Science Fiction” and on the other we have “Fantasy”. Both present things that do not happen in the world as we know it. But only one of them sets out with the express intent to show things that cannot happen.

The idea behind Science Fiction is expressly to present things that, according to science as we understand it now, could happen (or, in the case of the subgenre of Alternative History, could have happened, had historical circumstances been different). In fact, there have been cases in which a technology originally introduced as science fictional has become a reality; the most famous example is probably Jules Verne, with his submarines and moon rockets.

When someone sets out to write a work of Fantasy, though, there is no expectation of this. While it is possible that Dragons, in some way or other, might have existed at some point in Earth’s past, it would be a stretch to assume any connection between the kind of sympathetic magic often depicted in works of Fantasy, and the actual world we inhabit of agreed-upon science.

I once brought a script I’d written to a conference and showed it to an agent. The script was set in a world in which dragons and robots coexisted, and even—in an extended scene I am especially proud of—fought against each other. I had had some interest from other people who begged off on the basis that the script would be too expensive, but this particular agent said that she didn’t get it. “You’ve got dragons, you’ve got robots,” she decreed. “You don’t mix those. Audiences get confused.”

The idea that Science Fiction and Fantasy can’t coexist in the same story, is based on the theory that the traditions are incompatible. In essence, she was saying that when an audience departs from reality, they can go into one of two worlds, one of which is Science Fictional, the other Fantastical.

But the reality is that both Fantasy and Science Fiction are both extensions of reality. You’re always going to start off from something resembling our world in some way, shape or form. But Science Fiction is expressly not meant to be a different reality with different rules—it is a reality that obeys laws that we don’t have yet. This makes it an extension of our actual world.

Fantasy, on the other hand, is a contradiction of our actual world, presenting as it does things that cannot happen—could not, even in a Science Fictional set-up. So if Fantasy is going to contradict our world anyway, why not have the world it contradicts be a world that features science that we haven’t found yet. Magic (being defined here as anything Fantastical that doesn’t exist in the actual world) is an addition to reality on top of whatever Fictional Science has been provided.

And then of course we oughtn’t forget the fact that Dragons vs. Robots is just objectively cool. What audience in their right mind would turn that down, no matter what the supposed “contradictions”?

Metaphors and Similes

I don’t like the way that people teach about Metaphors vs. Similes. I don’t like the way that the difference is defined.

“A simile,” they say, “Is where you say that the man was like a wolf as he approached the young woman. A metaphor is when you say that the man was a wolf.” As if the mere presence or absence of the word “like” made a difference in the sentence.

But the presence or absence of the word “like” is an accident of language. The real determination must be found in a semiotic distinction.

In semiotics, we define the difference between a “signifier” and what is “signified”, the symbol and what the symbol stands for. What the symbol stands for should be considered the “real” thing, which is signified in a symbol. In this case, the actant in the sentence is a man (“signified”), he is really a man, but he is represented by the symbol of a wolf (“signifier”).

You can leave out the word “like” in this sentence and it really isn’t going to make a damn bit of difference. Not when it comes to how the audience perceives it. Because in both cases, we are introduced to an actant who is a man, and then we are told he is a wolf. We know that no one can be both wolf and man at the same time, so regardless of the presence or absence of that magical word that’s supposed to turn gold into simile, we have to consider the actant as a man who is being compared (the actual meaning of “simile”) to a wolf.

“The man then lunged at her. He was a (like) wolf, tearing at her clothes to get at the flesh beneath.”

Whether or not we include the word, there is really only one way to read that.

So compare this sentence:

“The wolf stepped out of the bushes and spoke to the little girl.”

Let us be very clear about this: wolves, in our external reality, are not capable of speech. Therefore, we must assume while we’re doing a literal reading of this bit of text, that the wolf isn’t actually a wolf, that he is a stand-in for a man who will later devour her until she can be rescued by a woodsman.

However, this reading is not supported by the text, it is merely allowed. Only the signifier is present in the sentence, leaving any theoretical signified object to cast its shadow upon our imaginations. We can read the line as a metaphor, but the text does not compel us to.

That, to me, is the true difference between a metaphor and a simile. A simile tells us exactly what is going on and then provides an image we can compare it to. A metaphor just tells a story and leaves any hidden meaning to our collective imaginations.


“Reality” is a big word. I wouldn’t care to use it lightly. The feelings that we have are real. Our dreams are real, and our fears. Our suspicions are real, and our fantasies. I don’t know that I can say that everything is real. But I will say that anything can be.

This is why we in the multiple-worlds business like the word “actual”. An English-speaker might look at that word and think “That just means the same thing as ‘real’.” But when my American parents first got to Brussels, they got a map with supposedly English-language instructions that claimed to be an “actual map!”

“What?” said my father, “as opposed to an imaginary map?” It was some time before they put it together that the French word “actuel” (As well as the less frequent Dutch “actueel”) means something more like “current” or “up-to-date”.

Because of the connection between this word and the idea of relatively recent events, French and francophile ontologists, narratologists and (presumably) theoretical physicists have adopted the term to refer to events which “actually” happen in the continuity and diegesis the speaker occupies, as opposed to some subjunctive secondary or tertiary creation.

Where this gets messy is when we talk about worlds that are already “imaginary”: things that happen within the world of a story have to be things that “actually” happen there, too, else how could we distinguish between those events and others that are (only) imagined by the characters?

But again, just because something doesn’t actually happen in the actual world, that doesn’t make the event (or its impact on the human psyche) any less real.


I’ve talked about Subjunctive Scenes before, but I’d like to say a few words now about the things that they can do to a person.

A Subjunctive Scene is, by definition, a scene that isn’t “really” happening, a scene that doesn’t take place in a story, but would or could or should or might, if circumstances were different. The contention seems to be that these scenes are to be avoided, but that is only because they are dangerous scenes.

They are to be treated as dangerous because they can result in infection and even inflammation, under certain circumstances. This inflammation can present itself in one of two opposing forms:

Type 1 Subjunctivitis occurs when the audience ignores the impact of the scene completely, claiming that it didn’t matter at all to the narrative because it “didn’t really happen”. This can present as a side-effect among small numbers of the intended audience, in which case it is possible it’s due to a personal misreading of the text as these audience members may be subject to market forces that are statistically negligible, but if too much of the audience sustains this reaction, the efficacy of the device in this instance should be questioned.

Type 2 Subjunctivitis, however, occurs when the audience or readership does not realize that the subjunctive event was fictional, or occurred outside of the agreed-upon diegesis. This can be a risky effect to present—if done well, it can keep the audience engaged and on their toes through the use of “twists” in the tale. But if left unchecked, it can mire readership in a miasma of semantic discontinuity, uncertain of the reality of any of the presented elements.

In some extreme cases, this uncertainty has been known to translate to the actual world of the audience, whereupon they can then no longer even be certain of that.

Imperfect and Subjunctive Scenes

I’d like to talk about two types of scenes that occur in stories (different media may give them different forms) that are different from the types of scenes we are taught to write in writing classes. In writing classes, and even in literature classes, I have always been told that a scene must create a change in the character’s condition. But neither of these types of scenes present such a change—or at least not in the way we have been taught.

I have chosen to name each of these types after grammatical concepts that are not traditionally considered useful in English.

The first type of scene I’m calling “Imperfect” because it’s the tense one would expect to be used in languages like French and Ancient Greek that have two different past tenses. If you’re talking about a “classical” scene in which something specific happens at a specific time, you’d use the other tense (passé composé in French, aorist in Ancient Greek). The imperfect tense would be used for situations that are either repetitive or continuous.

The best way of illustrating this would be by presenting the beginning of a fairy tale. “Once upon a time, there was a boy named Kaylim who lived in the Kenthi Highlands. He didn’t get along with his twin brother Dansiv or with most of the rest of the tribe because of his violent tendencies, so he spent most of his time alone training with the weapons as though he was dancing.”

This works as the set-up for a story—a very short one—even though none of these sentences capture a single moment in time. Instead, they evoke a continuum, one that can be bracketed by saying, “Then one day, the Chief of the Choni agreed to let Dansiv marry his daughter Lodarn and Kaylim was sent ot fetch her for the wedding.”

There are several scenes suggested in this one sentence: a negotiation between the two tribes that leads to a conclusion, the announcement to both brothers, perhaps even an argument as to why Kaylim might not want to go. But though there are many events, each of them is distinct and far more unique than “Every day, Kaylim would retreat to the garden where he kept his flail.” If one were filming that, what specific day would one choose?

This isn’t just about the beginning of a story, though. After critical events, there is usually a plateau of sorts, where a new status quo is reached. “There, in the desert,” for example, “Kaylim wandered day and night, sometimes sleeping during the day so he could travel at night, sometimes deciding that was foolishness, too. But always, he was thirsty, always hoping beyond  hope that the shimmering on the horizon really was a body of water, but even when it was, soon discovering it was shallow and tasted like dust, and he would long for home. Again, we see that the events are repetitive, which enhances the hopelessness of Kaylim’s situation. Now, one could write out blow by blow what happens to Kaylim along the way, but that would become as tedious in the telling as the experience in the living of it; alternatively, one could focus on a single time this happened (the last time would be my preference) and refer every step of the way to all the other times it was hopeless. This would be a particularly appealing way of telling this part of the story if this time, things turned out differently, but an Imperative approach is still the most economical, if word count is, in any way, an issue.

This idea, though, of dwelling on fears in a scene brings me to the other type. I call this type of scene Subjunctive. The Subjunctive isn’t really all that useful anymore in English, either, except in specific cases such as “be that as it may”; where other languages might use it, English falls back on auxiliarly verbs, like would, could, should and may. This is a mood that a verb takes when it’s in a sentence describing something that isn’t really taking place.

“Kaylim thought of all the things he could do as commander of Alceius’s armies: he could return home and prove to his tribe that he wasn’t the disgrace they all thought him to be. But no, that wasn’t an option. If he took command, he would lead this army to conquer Maxillon—he might even win. From there, he could reach out and conquer the entire world—but should he?”

Each of these sentences suggests a scene, but not a scene that we are meant to imagine actually happening. These summaries can even be expanded and enriched with details, as long as it remains clear to the reader by the end of the summar that they are only taking place in the character’s mind.

There are many advantages to the use of Subjunctive scenes, but the attribute I find most fascinating is the way they open up the possibilities for what a single story could be. All authors have to make choices, not just about what details to include and which to omit for sheer lack of space, but even over what will happen over the course of a story. Subjunctive scenes, in addition to enriching the inner life of a character and creating a sense of foreshadowing and even irony in a tale, can be a way for writers to implement alternative strategies in an environment that is as divorced from the world of their story as the story is from the world in which its author lives.

Turn It Up to Three Hundred and Sixty Degrees

This weekend, I attended the fourth VR challenge here in Seattle. It was at a private residence known as the Birdhouse and it was not what I want to be talking about here, specifically. I want to talk about what it’s like to film for VR and to experience content in 360º.

My first experience with this emerging medium was about a year ago when a guy I knew through a friend on Facebook sent out an invitation for people to participate in an experiment shooting a video with a 360 camera. I ended up on the team writing the script and I also acted in it.

*takes ironic bow, realizes how awkward that was, apologizes*

When the idea of 360 was first described to me, my very first thought was “Wow, that sounds exactly like doing theatre in the round, only backwards.” So before I launch into my diatribe on 360, I want to talk a bit about my experience with theatre in the round.

I’ve done a fair amount of acting and neither of the two stages that I have done most of my acting on can be described as “conventional”. One of them, the Hazel Robinson Amphitheater in Asheville, NC, where the Montford Park Players stage their Shakespeare performances every year, is an outdoor venue that has two available levels, so that Shakespeare’s stage directions “enters above” and “enters below” actually make sense on that stage (though I’ve never noticed anybody actually following them). The other theatre in question is Carol Belk on the campus of UNCA, which, as indicated earlier, is in the round.

To be clear for those not familiar with theatre parlance, a theatre in the round is a stage that is completely surrounded by audience. On all sides, the actor is visible to someone, but no one is going to be visible to everyone in the audience from the same side. There is a saying in theatre that you never do the same show twice, between the rotating audience and the minutiae of the performances night to night, but in the case of theatre in the round, no two members of the audience on any given night see the same show, certainly not if they’re on opposite sides of the room.

My favorite example of this from my own experience was when I assistant directed Jose Rivera’s Marisol in 2005. There is a scene in the play where the title character comes upon a man with bandages all over his face and once she’s won his trust, he lets her take the bandages off. If you were seeing this scene from Section 4 at Carol Belk, you would see the bandages coming off and the wonderful (i.e. horrifying) makeup of the burn wounds covering his face. But when I saw it from Section 6 (approximately 150º around) I saw a very different story: first, I saw Marisol’s reaction to the horror, far more satisfying when I could see her face, and then I saw the very edges of the make-up as the unbandaged man told the story of how he’d gotten these scars. I liked it better, but it was pointed out to me later by a friend that from that angle, you could barely see the make-up at all. One side got poetry, the other horror–two very different performances.

Some consider this a challenge when working in the round–they ask themselves how they can avoid it. But if the show is going to be different every night anyway (as is the nature of theatre) then why not embrace the fact that it is the nature of theatre in the round that the audience will get a very different picture of every moment, depending on where they sit?

Now I find myself having the same argument when talking about 360. At the pow-wow Friday night, one of the mentors of the group advised us that “even though you’re shooting in 360, you’re going to want to frame all of your action in 180 degrees, just like a regular movie.”

I call bullshit. I keep seeing footage online nowadays of “360” video and images that I click and drag on for more, only to find that I can’t scroll past 180º and it makes me livid. I find it wasteful. But then they try to say “Well, if you’re at home and you’re sitting on the couch wearing your VR goggles, you’re not going to want to turn all the way around.”

First of all, most of the time, when I look at 360, I’m looking at it on a screen where I can drag the field of view, so I wouldn’t have that problem, but more importantly (and I cannot stress this enough) if you are experienced VR while sitting on the couch, you’re doing it wrong and I will not be made to cater to your comfort or laziness.

If you are shooting a 360 film using only 180 of the available degrees, then WHY BOTHER? This is expensive equipment, this is specific equipment and for the sake of the R&D that’s gone into it, it deserves to have its full potential exploited.

The question is, how do you control where your audience is going to be looking?

Don’t. This is my answer. Your audience is going to look where your audience wants to look. Especially at this stage in the development of the medium and the training of the audience, it’s still new to people, so they’re going to be looking around the moment they put on the goggles, just to take in their surroundings and it is your responsibility as the artist in this exceptional medium to make every direction they look in both exceptional and specific. Just as every person in the audience at a play in the round deserves to see a good show, every one of your three hundred and sixty degrees deserves the attention that will be lavished upon it by appreciative fans. To ignore any of it would be like staging the entire action of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on only one level of Montford’s Amphitheater. Why did you even bother?


When I was writing my first Master’s Thesis, which was on using Semiotics to define the difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy, I found a typo in one draft that caught my attention: I had spelled “Fantasy” with a “c” where the “n” should go. I burst out laughing when I found it. I thought that was a beautiful word, potentially a portmanteau in the making. So I defined it.

It would be easy in the current political climate to find a decisive use for it and turn it to derogatory uses, and I am well aware that this will happen if the term ever takes off, but I still want to root the idea in something real, something that could have its uses in something approaching intellectual pursuits, if not quite (yet) academia.

The definition is as follows: a work of Factasy is a work of fiction that pretends to base itself on actual-world sources. One of my favorite examples is Susanna Clarke’s novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Clarke uses footnotes to quote and reference sources on the study of magic. These sources are so convincing in their detail that it took me a good three hundred pages to remember that there had never, in our actual world, been a Raven King ruling the North of England for several centuries after the Middle Ages.

But on the other hand we have novels like The Da Vinci Code. It was very popular, but I didn’t like it. Part of the reason I didn’t like it was because it seemed to play fast and loose with its sources, which put it on uneasy footing. It’s one thing to have an expert in a field make discoveries over the course of a novel of “facts” that aren’t representative of any reality outside that novel, but the sources in Dan Brown’s most popular novel were confusing enough that I never figured out which sources he made up and which I could track down myself and read, if I took a fancy. And that was very dissatisfying to my reading experience in the long run—perhaps in part because I wanted so much to believe the version of reality that he presented.

So if I were to write up an instruction manual as how to incorporate aspects of Factasy in one’s work of fiction, my first bit of advice would be to be absolutely clear from the beginning on the relationship between the world and the sources. If they are tongue-in-cheek and all-encompassing like Clarke’s, then commit to them fully, but if your main character is a “world-renowned expert” in the field in question, and there is nothing utterly different about the world (i.e. if this is or could be the world we are living in) don’t be casual with the Factastical sources. Be careful. Be respectful of reality.