Saturday, February 06, 2016

Where Do We Go From Here?

Welcome and hello to the eastern edge of the west. If you squint you can glimpse the plains of the fantastic in the shimmer on the horizon. Thanks for stopping by to read a ramble.

2015 was a damn good year for science fiction. We got a new Mad Max film, we got a new Star Wars film, Failure made a new record. Warren Ellis gave us Trees and Injection. Syfy (rebranded once again!) dropped Childhood's End and The Expanse on our TVs. And THAT my friends, is just scratching the surface.

Seemingly, genre is cool again.

Who's to blame for that?

Maybe it's the nerds who support the endless run of superhero movies at the metroplexes. Maybe it's the crop of executives coming up in the studios who remember when science fiction was cool among a smaller set, who grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy and films like Outland and Heavy Metal and TV shows like the Hulk on CBS. Maybe they remember reading about Marvel's plans from the 70s for a Silver Surfer movie, a Spider-Man movie. Maybe it's writers who decided that Superman The Movie and Tim Burton's Batman could've benefitted from slightly better scripts.

Or maybe it's that technology advanced enough that George Lucas decided to make his creatively underachieving prequels. More likely it's the influence of Marvel once again over-saturating the market with big FX-driven, testosterone-laden fight fantasies. It's the other aspects that allow for more story, more development of new characters.

And those characters are played by women. I disdain the 'strong female character' label in favor of 'strong character' but either one works.  In 2015 we got three great characters in science fiction films: Imperator Furiosa, Rey the scavenger and Captain Melissa Lewis.

If you haven't seen Ridley Scott's The Martian, there are spoilers from here on. You've been warned.

Lots and lots has been written about both Furiosa and Rey and maybe there's something written about Captain Lewis that I haven't stumbled across. Maybe it's because she's a supporting character in The Martian that she's been overlooked, but she shouldn't be. Without Captain Lewis, Mark Watney does not make it off Mars alive. Let me emphasize that: Captain Lewis is directly responsible for Watney getting off Mars.

She does not feel guilty for leaving Watney behind when the storm hits, her decision is the right one for everyone else. It's not her fault Watney got hit, either. When she learns he's still alive on Mars she's determined to go back and get him but she wants input from her crew. She's loyal, not guilty. Big difference there. Watney survives on his wits, his education and his disdain of her choice in music.

But because The Martian isn't her story, we don't learn much about her other than she's an excellent leader and her taste in music runs to 1970s disco. In my mind that doesn't make her any less a strong character than Furiosa or Rey, just not as fleshed out. Her will to rescue him is strong and maybe it influences the crew but I doubt it took that much for them to want to go back and rescue their companion. They were all willing to pay the cost.

And Lewis sets everything up exactly the way a leader is supposed to: with each crew member contributing. When the plan goes cockeyed, she takes over; she is the one who goes out to grab Watney. She puts herself at risk not because she feels guilty, but because she's responsible. She's loyal. She's a commander and she's the one who takes the risk. She's the one who grabs him so they can be reeled back in.

She's brilliant in the short time she's allowed to shine.

Everyone could grow up to be like her. Girls could use this supporting character in a very entertaining film to decide that a career as an astronaut might be cool. Guess what? NASA's next class of astronauts is 50% female. And they may be heading to Mars sooner than later.

That's fucking cool. (As an aside, they'd better get equal pay to the men. Make sure that happens, NASA.)

At comic conventions last year I saw an awful lot of Furiosa cosplay. There'll be more this year and Rey will figure MUCH more heavily in the mix, too, because there are more women and girls coming to comicons to cosplay. Will I see more Agent Carters? Probably. Will there be any Captain Lewises? I doubt it. Maybe, but probably not. I hope so, though. She deserves to be cosplayed as much as the other two (well, three including Peggy Carter) because she's as badass as the others. She just didn't get the publicity.

Watch The Martian. Pay attention to the last half, close attention and tell me that Lewis is not a badass. I dare you. Lewis is the reason Watney gets to go home.

This year we're going to see Wonder Woman on the big screen for the first time. Next year, she gets her own movie. That's cool. It's about time. There will be a Captain Marvel film with Carol Danvers as the main character. I would love to see Jessica Chastain in the role. There should be a Black Widow movie. There should be toys of all these characters, especially Rey. The controversy over the deliberate exclusion of Rey action figures and toys is reprehensible. Don't let it happen again.

So with Lewis in mind, and NASA making an effort, will we see an uptick in girls and women working in the field that could define the human race for centuries to come? Your guess is as good as mine. I'm too old and too stupid to be an astronaut. Someone needs to get out there and do cool things. Gentlemen, open your minds and set aside your prejudices. There are women who will kick ass when you give them the chance.

The world doesn't have to rest on your shoulders to do great things. But when it does, I'm hoping you've got strong, capable people around you. If their names are Imperator Furiosa, Rey or Melissa Lewis, you're in good hands.

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