The Homage is Not Enough: on the Limits of Nostalgia-First Narratives

In the summer of 2016 everyone started telling me that I had to watch a show called Stranger Things. I was reluctant. The reluctance came from the way it was sold: the entire series was one large nostalgia fest for ‘80s Spielberg, Stephen King novels, and Dungeons and Dragons.

It’s not that I don’t like Stephen King or Indiana Jones or battling bugbears. But I had just finished consuming two pieces of media that banked heavily on nostalgia and ham-fisted homages: the show Mr. Robot and the novel Ready Player One.

ready-player-one-back-future
A poster for the upcoming Ready Player One, which this is not a review of.

I had walked away from both Mr. Robot and Ready Player One with a general uneasiness, a queasiness, the stomach ache that comes from too much of any one sweet thing. In the case of both of these, that one thing was the overdose of both

  1. knowing that I had consumed something whose originality was constantly undermined by heavy doses of allusion and homage and
  2. knowing that I had consumed something for which I, a heterosexual white millennial male with an English degree and a penchant for science fiction and a job in digital marketing, was the target demographic.

When I finally did watch Stranger Things, it did not disappoint me in the way that Mr. Robot and Ready Player One both had. Sure, the entire thing has major IT and The Body vibes and there was even a moment where a character is reading Stephen King’s Cujo. The entire thing is, as Stephen King himself said, crowded with Stephen King easter eggs and nods:

But there’s something different about Stranger Things. Something deeper. More tactful, subdued, and thoughtful.

(Stranger Things is not the only nostalgic work that works. FX’s Fargo, crowded with references to O. Henry and Samuel Beckett and, naturally, the Coen Brothers, is a good example of another show that executes where others fail.)

What is it that made Stranger Things work while Ready Player One and Mr. Robot both, in this blogger’s opinion, come up short? It’s a very fine line, but also a bell that, once crossed, is hard to unring, regardless of whom it tolls for. Continue reading “The Homage is Not Enough: on the Limits of Nostalgia-First Narratives”

Advertisements

No, the Alien Covenant Ending Was Not an Obvious Twist. It Was Dramatic Irony.

It was the best of Alien films, it was the worst of Alien films, it was the sequel to Prometheus, it was the prequel to Alien, it was the story of David, it was the story of Lucifer, it had an awesome ending, it had the worst ending ever — in short, Alien: Covenant was so much like the entire Alien series that many of its audiences and critics have insisted on discussing it in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Immediately, let’s note that Alien: Covenant could never accurately be considered the best or the worst Alien film. The only contenders for best Alien film are the original Ridley Scott masterpiece and Aliens, the James Cameron action sequel. The worst, depending on who you ask, is the third or the fourth installment, or, if you’re considering them as contenders, the Alien vs Predator movies.

alien-covenant-poster

Rather than discuss the film as a whole – as there are many critics whose job it is to review films in depth, and many armchair critics whose hobby is the same – I’d like to focus on one small aspect of Alien: Covenant that I think was missed by many of its viewers. The film was derided by various bloggers, commenters, and critics as having an “obvious twist ending.” As you know, based on the headline of this article, my argument is that this should not be called either a twist ending or an obvious twist ending.

I’ve also waited long enough to write this so that a) no one is talking about Alien: Covenant anymore b) I’ve had enough time to consider it to know that this is how I feel, and c) we know how well the film did at the box office (not quite $250 million on a nearly $100 million budget, so not awesome.)

First, let’s recap the Alien: Covenant ending, before debating its flaws and strengths

Before calling it a failure or a success, let’s analyze what actually happens at the end of the film. (Note: if you have somehow read this far without seeing Alien: Covenant, this is your moment to either stop reading or to know that any element of the ending will be “spoiled” from here forward.) Continue reading “No, the Alien Covenant Ending Was Not an Obvious Twist. It Was Dramatic Irony.”

Twelve Questions and Answers About The Moonborn (with No Spoilers)

I’ve received a number of questions about The Moonborn: or, Moby-Dick on the Moon, my novel that came out on Monday, November 14th. While I love getting questions about it, I decided to put together this list for people who might have questions and would like an easy answer.

Note that there are no spoilers, other than in a very general sense.

Is it really about Moby-Dick on the Moon?

Yes. With robots instead of whales. However, you may find that it’s slightly more metafictional than your standard dark and gritty reboot. Or you may not.

Do I need to read Moby-Dick first?

In my opinion, no. The narrator of The Moonborn hasn’t even read Moby-Dick. But I would like to think that you’ll find yourself wanting to read Moby-Dick after The Moonborn.

How do you think Herman Melville would feel about all this?

Flattered, I hope. By the effort, at the very least. Continue reading “Twelve Questions and Answers About The Moonborn (with No Spoilers)”