Defining What Netflix Will Be, or Eight Reasons to Give Sense8 a full 3rd Season

19477719_10155330533657095_1420082545618168163_oAs most people know, on June 1st, Netflix decided not to renew Sense8.  Fans of the Wachowski Sisters + J Michael Straczynski show, a show that weaves a global narrative to tell a very human story of eight people sharing their minds, knowledge, and empathy, were devastated that the story would not have a third season.  Many knew that it only had one more season of story, but Netflix decided not to renew.  Then the fanbase rallied and wrote and tweeted and called out! and helped show-writers garner a 2 hour special for Sense8!  Amazing!

I am so happy that we get 2 hours to wrap up Sense8, and don’t take this blogpost here as less than gratitude for that 2 hours.  But I’d like to make a bigger case for you–a case you haven’t heard–about giving Sense8 a whole season based on what might be good for Netflix, not just for fans.

While there has been speculation as to why the show was not renewed, that’s speculation.  Netflix spends a lot of money trying to find hit series, and sometimes a good series doesn’t find the right market.  When the cancellation happened, there was plenty of anger towards Netflix, and, in the moment, I even threatened to dump Netflix.  But I love Stranger Things, and I watch Star Trek, Daredevil, Luke Cage, etc.  It would be hard for me to dump Netflix for good.  I know, they’re counting on that–they’ve made us LOVE this service. Okay.

Instead of eight negative reasons to renew Sense8, I want to give 8 positive reasons to renew Sense8 for a whole last season.  I want to give them something they can go to the marketing table with and say—“Let’s do one more season.” (Please especially consider #7)

Ultimately, right decisions aren’t made because of negative consequences but because the positive consequences are stronger.  We aren’t charitable because of Fear of Hell or Fear of Bad Publicity.  We are charitable because we want to help.

Why Netflix Would Want to Complete a Third Season of Sense8

1. NETFLIX IS COMMITTED TO COMPLETION: Sense8 has exactly ONE more season.  It’s a three season arc.  You renew that last season, you are a hero, and the story is complete, and people bingewatch the three seasons for years afterwards on Netflix.  They will come to Netflix for those three seasons.  You’re not having to commit to an unknown number of seasons, or risking anything AFTER this season.  You already committed two seasons and they were amazing, and fans loved them, and they are almost home-free.  You create NEW fans by following through on your series.  But MORE people will become afraid to watch or commit to a new series if the series could be cancelled before it’s finished.  The more unfinished series, the more Netflix becomes untrustworthy for a new viewer.  The positive spin: you complete series, and they can be assured that when they watch a series on Netflix, especially with the millions of fans this series has created, that it will have closure–that series runners will know ahead of time that their series must establish closure.  This one is close to being finished.

2.  NETFLIX EDUCATES ITS VIEWERSHIP ABOUT VIEWERSHIP.  You teach Netflix viewers about Viewership using Sense8.  Part of the shock of this announcement was that viewers thought that their fan base was enough.  We don’t get to watch the Viewership numbers like you do, so we can’t tell when to rally, or how we’re doing, or if we’re about to fall.  It’s a bit unfair to a very large group of fans to say that their numbers are not enough.  What kinds of viewership help make your decisions?  Do you need a certain number every week?  And how do you calculate when you drop 10 episodes over a weekend?  How many times should we view it?  How many tweets do you need?  How many blogposts analyzing the show?  If you give us those numbers, WE CAN HELP SAVE THE SHOWS WE LOVE.  I guarantee that the fanbase for Sense8 is the most dedicated fan base you’ve ever had (more on that below).  But telling us to love a show and then, when it’s not good enough, taking it from us without telling us how to celebrate and support it correctly can be very bad in the long run–it leaves a bad taste in fans’ mouths.  Netflix needs to teach its viewers what matters to save a show–how can we love a show enough to keep it if we don’t know what you need?  If not, fans won’t try a show till a second season is guaranteed…or may just not try it unless you do what you did with The Crown, and guarantee 6 seasons to tell that arc.

Continue reading

Better Beasts makes the Sunburst Award Longlist

sunburst_logo_wideI’m late to announce this, but no less thrilled.  On May 29, 2017, the Sunburst Award Society revealed their longlist for novels/short stories in the running for the Sunburst Award.  The Angels of Our Better Beasts was on it.  Well, I was completely taken by surprise, and deeply honored at the same time.  A friend told me “Congratulations!” and I had to ask why.  I quickly went to the website to see.  The list is full of amazing works by writers in Canada–and there I was among them.  The Sunburst Award is given for “excellence in Canadian literature of the Fantastic.”  Five judges read all the submissions and make their longlist.  Later they will make a short-list of about five works per category, and in September, they will announce winners.  I’m so stoked even to make the longlist with my debut book, that I’m going to revel in this for a long time!  I want to buy all the other books in the Adult Fiction section and read them!  And put them on a little shelf in this order, because I’m cheesy that way.  And because, if you like great lit of the fantastic, you’ll love what’s on this list Sunburst has made for us.  Thank you, Sunburst Award Society, for making lists like this, for loving literature of the fantastic, and especially, right now, for choosing my book for your longlist.  It means a lot to me as both a writer and a Canadian.

The List:

 

 

 

The Book of Birmingham: Adding Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to the Bible

Minister Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching at an eventI would like to see Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (1963) added to all new Bibles.

I don’t propose this lightly.  Three times in the Bible, in three different places, listeners (and they wouldn’t have been readers) are exhorted not to add to, or take away, from specific books.  One is about Revelation, one is specifically to the Israelites in Deuteronomy to listen to the law, and the other is in Proverbs: “Every word of God is true….do not add to his words, lest you be proved a liar.”  I think it’s safe to say that I won’t propose adding any new words of God to the Bible.  I’m advocating something less radical.  If we can have letters from Paul, we can have letters from Martin.

Continue reading

Write with Me at The BRAINERY workshop!

brainerybanner-800x253

Would you like to write a few stories this summer and work with me for ten weeks?  The Brainery Workshop has several spots still open to work with me or Valerie Valdes in times that are convenient for you!

EVERYTHING IS ONLINE.  So you can participate no matter WHERE you are in the world, as long as you have a good internet connection.

We get together once a week and work on your stories.  We also go through Ursula K. LeGuin’s workshop guide, Steering the Craft, and we use the Jeff VanderMeer and Jeremey Zerfoss’ Wonderbook.  We’ll also be reading stories from Lightspeed and other magazines.

Come join a small group online—using GoToMeeting and WetInk–to create a great place for writing!

Want to know more?:  Follow this link to the BRAINERY WORKSHOP.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Religion in Science Fiction (from io9)

Back in 2009, Charlie Jane Anders published a nifty blogpost on io9 in the midst of the BSG finale, last of the LOST episodes, and after the aftermath of Heroes, about how NOT to put religion in your science fiction.  Things she was tired of seeing, but also things she believed you might also be tired of seeing.  The blog post still feels relevant, though you can argue her points.  It challenges us to come up with ways to avoid putting faith in science fiction badly.  Try putting one of your “deadly sins” of putting religion in science fiction (or fantasy) in the comments section here–and let’s see if we can come up with our own version of this list.

—————————————————————————————————

The 7 Deadly Sins of Religion in Science Fiction.  

Religion is a huge part of science fiction – and it makes the genre better and more fascinating, as Battlestar Galactica proved. But there are seven mistakes SF should avoid in portraying the spiritual realm.

BSG wouldn’t have been nearly as epic if it hadn’t included spiritual themes from the beginning. The inclusion of religious elements added a way bigger scope and grandeur to the story of humanity’s last remnants struggling to survive – and it was realistic, since you’d expect people to be asking the big theological questions in that situation.

In general, religion and spiritual topics are a huge part of science fiction – if you’re really determined to avoid them altogether, you’re probably stuck with a few golden age novels, and a handful of Lost In Space reruns. But just like other science fiction elements, like first contact, time travel and space battles, science fictional religion can be done well – or it can be cheesy and weird.

Here are seven mistakes science fiction sometimes makes in handling religion (and I freely admit I was influenced to think about this by all the comments on Annalee’s final BSG recap and some of our other posts):

1. The cargo cult. Yes, I know, the gods really must be crazy. But I’m really sick of stories about primitive peoples who discover high technology and start worshipping it. Or the descendants of high-tech people, who have become primitive and started worshipping their ancestors’ technology. Like the Ewoks worshipping C-3PO, or the desert people worshipping the spacesuit in Doctor Who‘s “Planet Of Fire.” There’s usually an undertone of “See? This proves religion is teh stupid.” Also horrible: robots worshipping the people who made them, or aliens worshipping humans. Or aliens worshipping Ferengi.

The 7 Deadly Sins Of Religion In Science FictionEXPAND

2. The cheap Jesus. There’s nothing wrong with having a messianic figure in your science fiction – I’m not trying to take all the fun out of everything here – but don’t just pull the Jesus imagery out of thin air and expect it to mean something. Yes, I’m looking at you, crucified Neo. And I’m looking at you, Jesus H. Baltar. (And even though I love the ending of Doctor Who‘s “Last Of The Time Lords,” I’m also looking at you, floaty cruciform Doctor.) The indispensible TVTropes website has a great list of “random religious symbolism tossed in for no reason” moments.

3. The dumb space gods. Whenever we actually meet a god or gods in science fiction, it’s almost always a letdown. (There are exceptions – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine managed to have our heroes meet the timeless Prophets inside the wormhole, without ever losing their mystique.) Usually, though, when we meet a god or a godlike alien, it’s a cheesy old guy with a funny beard. Or it’s Jodie Foster’s condescending dad.

For the other 4 deadly sins…. seek out this link:  http://io9.com/5185748/the-7-deadly-sins-of-religion-in-scien

A Flood of Great Writing Techniques in Noah: (Re)-Writing/Expanding Sacred Stories

Russell Crowe as NoahLet me praise Aronofsky’s Noah for its fleshing out of an iconic thin narrative of Noah in the Bible and making it a story.

The story of Noah in the Bible is relatively sparse.  Noah never says anything.  God does all the talking.  In the movie, well, God may be doing some communicating, but since the narrative is told more from the ground, from Noah and his family’s perspective, Noah is the main character, making choices.

Making choices.  I think that’s an important thing to highlight.  One of the strange ironies of religious life, it seems, is that the closer we get to our God, whomever that may be, the seemingly fewer choices we get–until we are the Hand of God, the Feet of God, the Puppet of God.  I don’t think this is really the case.  But depiction in movies and books sometimes have us think characters who are devoted to their god cease to think and act based completely on the commands of God.  One should add “the interpretation of what they believe to be” between “on” and “the” in that last sentence. Because in many cases, believers have to do a lot of interpreting.

The movie holds out that question to answer.  Certainly Noah has to decide HOW he is hearing God.  He gets parts right—there is going to be a flood.  God wants him to build an ark.  The animals are going to come and get on board the boat.  After that, though, Noah is subject to some speculation and extrapolation when he can’t really hear a clear answer from God.

Aronofsky is not afraid to make God a real entity; he is not afraid to represent things in the Bible as they seem to be—the angels cast out of heaven, the unbelievably old people like Methusaleh–close to 1000 years old when the film begins.  These are fantasy elements, but Aronofsky plays them straight because believers believe them as fact.

(Full disclosure: As a Christian myself, I tend to believe most of the Bible stories as fact–since all the fantastical elements are explainable through communication and interaction with a god that I don’t fully understand or comprehend. Gods have powers.  They can do whatever they want and it happens…so angels from heaven, eternal people, giant massive floods–I’m okay with that.  It is my belief.)

Some Christians did not appreciate Noah.  At least that’s what I heard.  Over here the Gospel Coalition, Trevin Wax does a good run down of comparing Christians who loved the film with those who hated it–and why.

I loved the Christianity Today response especially–thoughtful and positive. Not what I expected, but very happy.

My point: Depicting someone’s sacred scripture is never easy.  When you are given such meagre bits of story that have been idealized, and in some sense, covered up, when the original sounds like a fable or a fairy tale to begin with, where characters are not that well-drawn, you invite interpretation and imagination.  Always a good thing. But a dangerous thing.  Where your imagination filled in Noah’s story with THIS, mine filled it in with THAT.  And as we’ve talked about here before, interpretation differences fuel arguments when it comes to scripture especially.

What does Noah do right, though, as a film of a sacred story?

Continue reading

Bajorans and the Evolving Trek View of Faith

I have to admire Star Trek for the way they evolved on matters of faith, by showing the complexity and the cultural aspects of faith, and how religion impacted society, at least in one series.

Star Trek hasn’t always been like this. Faith and Religion seem to be the target of early Gene Roddenberry design. In TOS and STNG, faith and spirituality were often shown to be merely a way to manipulate the masses (hello, Karl Marx). Both Kirk and Picard showed the natives that their gods were machines (“The Return of the Archons”) and (“The World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”), usually, or fickle higher powers prone to jealousy (“Who Mourns for Adonis”, and “The Apple” come to mind from TOS), or merely keeping people young and stupid for the whim of the gods (STNG “Who Watches the Watchers?” ) or (VOY: “The Caretaker”). Worse was when a believer realized that his/her faith was empty (VOY: “This Mortal Coil”, or VOY: “Emanations”).

In STNG, Q also represented the gods at their most amoral and irresponsible. A whole slew of gods that were bored but fascinated with humans (HUMANS are the object of everyone’s curiosity… what, no god wanted to explore Betazoid culture? ) What a scary concept for a higher power.

But Deep Space Nine seemed to want to explore religion and faith a bit more deeply. True, the requisite aliens were present in the Wormhole next to Bajor, but Roddenberry wasn’t beyond saying that gods could be higher forms of life that we don’t understand. Certainly I agree.  My concept of God is that he is a much higher form of life—an alien, yes, but still God. But unlike Q, the gods of Bajor, the Prophets, care for the people of Bajor. They are higher life inside the wormhole and emotionally attached to a humanoid species.

Bajorans themselves are almost all religious, having to deal with the reality of gods who live in the wormhole. The gods intervene in history; they send little Orbs that light up and give you prophecies, and Bajoran faith has completely mixed with politics in a way that is eerily similar and yet very different than American culture today. The US may not have preachers as politicians, but they have politicians who think they are preachers, and who create laws as if God himself were speaking to them. At least Bajor is up front: it’s the Pope in charge of the world, thank you very much.

I give DS9 a lot of stones for making this faith and religion complex.

What I think is useful for our purposes here at Tess 18: Wrestling with Gods are the following ideas, I humbly submit to you for your thoughts:

  1. Bajoran believers are very different. There are those who are fundamentalists, those that embrace new theologies, those that take on whatever religious fervor will bring them to power, those that are seekers, those that are skeptics, and those that believe deeply despite great reasons not to believe.

When we write believers, we need to determine how much a believer they are and what kind of believer they are. What do they believe? How has it influenced them? Are they part-time believers? Or are they in all the way, letting their faith guide their judgment?

  1. The believers are not all good or bad. Kai Winn, in particular, is shown as a pretty power-hungry believer, and it helps to play fundamentalist when it brings her power, but she actually believes. She devotes herself to the gods of Bajor, in hopes that they will say something to her, do anything with her, and when she is ignored by the gods, she determines her own path—in the end to bring them down and punish them for abandoning her. Kira Nereis, a main character on Deep Space Nine is a believer, but helps run the station with Starfleet, a whole gang of skeptics, but her faith is so much a part of her that it influences her decisions. Not always for the better. When her faith comes in conflict with her life on board DS9, she can sometimes be swayed by faith first; she has made some poor decisions, too, but it’s her character flaws that make her real.

When we write believers, they should be complex people. Their faith shouldn’t prescribe a mono-personality of enflamed fundie-ism out to destroy diversity, nor should it be Polly Goodheart who never had a bad thought or deed. It’s the war inside of ourselves, that inner conflict, that fascinates George R.R. Martin—and religion or faith is an influence on that conflict but it doesn’t end that conflict. I still could sympathize with Kai Winn, even to the last episode—she was a believer scorned by the gods, and she acted accordingly.

  1. The religion was a complex part of their culture. Bajoran culture and civil society was built with a religion in mind. So was the US, so was Canada, so were Middle Eastern countries, European countries—while they may not show it as much as a fundamentalist nation might, they still were influenced heavily by faith and religion. Look at the coinage, the heraldry, the history. Bajorans felt like their leaders had a divine connection to the Prophets—and that the Prophets were a part of that decision making process.

When we write cultures that have a faith (or multiple faiths), thinking about how that culture has affected society is important. How have laws changed? How is power determined or passed from one group to another? How does worship and citizenship intertwine?

  1. People could question their faith or religion, could lose faith, but not lose the values associated with that faith, or could improve the faith for everyone.

Characters could fall in and out of faith with the Prophets or with their religion, but didn’t always change fundamentally as people. Commander Sisko didn’t change character as he moved from skeptic to believer, as he moved from seeing the Prophets as “wormhole aliens” to seeing them as a guiding, shaping part of his life. Their influence on him may have risen, but his fundamental character remained the same. He wasn’t “brainwashed” and didn’t lose reason just because he gained faith.

Simultaneously, Vedic Bureil might instigate some new ideas about faith or worship based on his new understandings of the religion or the Prophets—so the religion or faith was able to grow, or change. People have an impact on faith and religion—sometimes just one person can have that impact. In the episode “Accession” where a voyager is found and revealed as the true “Emissary”, the whole culture changed for a short time. Instead of people following their own paths with guidance from the Prophets, they followed their clans’ or family’s paths before them. The Prophets had to intervene with Commander Sisko to support Sisko’s Emissary status.

Frequently, characters questioned the faith or religion of the Bajorans. Case in point, the “Destiny” episode, where a doom prophecy looked as if it were about to be fulfilled and awful things were about to happen, but instead the reading of the prophecy turned out to be in error, and science investigation actually helped do something beneficial. The prophecy came true, but in ways no one expected. The episode causes Kira to question her faith—when her faith comes in conflict with her commander. While Star Trek often asks every culture to question their faith eventually, (and often destroys a planet’s faith or culture in the process) DS9 asks the viewer, and the Bajorans, to question carefully, and with respect.

  1. Star Trek DS9 writers respected the religion of the culture. Bajorans were not written as idiots, or unsympathetically. Not all episodes went to the formulaic and stereotypical science vs. religion route (“In the Hands of the Prophets”)—which, this episode, to its credit, does so much better than the evening news which tries to put people into categories of science-hating believers and science-loving atheists.

Writers do this by having the sympathetic characters show us how to respect the culture. They don’t just nod, or give lip service to the culture. Many of the main characters have encounters with the Orbs, or with different religious figures; there is respect on the Starfleet side towards Bajorans’ faith and faith leaders. Often, there is respect coming from the Bajorans to Starfleet, though it is more rare.

When we write characters whose religions or cultures clash, we can write in such a way that gives away our inner feelings about that religion. We can be sarcastic in our word choices, have other characters disrespect them, make their dialogue one-dimensional, or their characters flat. Or we can make them complex, and show that others with equally interesting faiths can interact with them without prejudice. Your inner feelings about faith and religion will always surface in your work unless you try very hard to make the narrative neutral (or give us a reason that the narrative has such opinions).

The Bajoran Way: be true to the culture, be kind to the believers, be honest about the impacts.

Following DS9’s way of talking about religious culture means making religious characters complex, sympathetic, interactive, wildly different in their fervor and belief and giving the story a chance to show a neutral or respective way to view religion. Let the reader decide if the religion is interesting. Let the reader decide if the character is good or bad or complex based on what he or she does. Try not to bias the reader about faith in general, but let the faith reveal itself to be positive or negative in each character, or each culture. There were Bajorans who died for their faith to create positive things, and those who sacrificed their lives for the same faith to create what ended up to be negative things. It’s the difference between martyr and suicide bomber—though often both believe they are savior.

________

Great books and further online discussions on this very topic are:

Star Trek and Sacred Ground: Explorations of Star Trek, Religion, and American Culture by Jennifer E. Porter and Darcee L. McLaren

Deep Space and Sacred Time: Star Trek in the American Mythos by Jan Lundeen and Jon Wagner

What Makes a God?  Wormhole Aliens and Bajoran Religion on Transpositions.

Back Through the Wormhole, Part V: What does God Need With a Space Station on Asking the Wrong Questions

What are your thoughts?  Let us know in the comments below.