Tuesday, 17 February 2015

A Week In Stories: February 17

The Dust Cover Dust-Up is done, my favourite books have been revealed for a week now, and I'm left with a bit of a hole in my blog schedule. Thursdays, I've decided, will be taken up by a more regular edition of my old science fiction story reviews. What to do with Tuesdays?  I'm reading up a storm right now, but not really enough to regularly finish four books a week.

Then, prompted by a book, I started to think about stories, and how much I'm a story addict. It doesn't matter what form they come in. Books are my favourite medium, but I also take in TV, movies, roleplaying games, anything that will bootleg a little more story into my life.

So I'm going to try an experiment in writing brief paragraphs about the other stories I've interacted with each week, and any thoughts they might have sparked. It should perhaps go without saying that there may be spoilers, although I'll try not to go overboard.


Safety Not Guaranteed

We actually watched two movies this week. How weird is that? (We were both sick at different points in the week, so there was more sitting around and watching things than normal.) I liked Safety Not Guaranteed. The dialogue was good, the themes about trying to get back the past were interesting. This movie would probably not have worked without Audrey Plaza, but because it had her, it really did. It's surprisingly sweet.

How To Train Your Dragon 

I have just one question. Among these Vikings, why are all the parents Scottish and all the kids American?

Also, Bill and I kept talking for Toothless like he was one of our cats. ("I noms you? Okay, I noms you.")

Overall, this was fine, but not spectacular. I got distracted during the last 15 minutes by some health issues I've been having (sore shoulder), but Bill assures me the good guys won.


The Flash - "The Nuclear Man"

When my husband and I sit down and talk about this show and Arrow, the one thing we often remark on as a strength of both is that they don't drag out secrets. They push the story forward, often in interesting ways, and don't sit on something for a whole season and have a revelation at the end. So in this episode, we not only find out what happened to Ronnie, we find out a whole lot more about the night Barry's mother was killed.

Also, when Joe told Cisco that he thought Dr. Wells was possibly a murderer, Bill and I cheered and high-fived, since we've been saying for a couple of episodes that Joe is too good a detective to not at least explore that. I love Joe. The relationship between Barry and Joe is the best part of the show.

Agent Carter - "A Sin To Err"

Agent Carter has been so much fun to watch. We keep remarking that Peggy doesn't just win fights, she destroys her opposition. There were a couple of moments that stood out for me - the scene in the alley with Sousa (that might also be my crush on Enver Gjokaj talking), and of course Lindsay Fonseca finally getting something to do. I've really enjoyed Peggy's arc, and in general, they've done a masterful job of making the sexism Peggy has to deal with the main focus of the series without making the whole experience less than fun. Bill keeps calling it the anti-Mad Men.

Arrow - "Canaries" 

Laurel is not my favourite character, but it's better than last season. This was mostly her episode, coming to terms with becoming the Black Canary. The writers continue to give Emily Bett Rickards the best lines, even when she's mostly in the background, and she just kills them. I would do a lot to have the ability she has at delivering lines perfectly. Also, this was a great object lesson in how to take a reveal everyone has seen coming and turn it on its head. Thea's reaction to finally finding out Oliver is the Arrow was far more interesting than what we were expecting. They also took that creepy DJ and revealed his secret to everyone else only episodes after they let the audience in on it! This show teaches me so much about how the aftermath of a secret is more interesting than the suspense.


Paper Dolls 

This is a hard game to explain. For one, we're playing without a GM or system. If we came up against a point in the story where we were arguing over what was going to happen next, we would probably pull a tarot card and let that guide where it would go. It hasn't happened yet. The biggest innovation in this one, though, is that, with three players, we're each playing three characters, giving us nine player characters. Each of us is playing three variations on the same person - think Fringe, where there are similarities between dimensions, but also important differences.

This was episode 5, and we're continuing to come up with interesting places to take the story, and unexpected outcomes. In particular for me this episode, one of my characters (named Trix) was bound and determined she was going to break up with her cheating girlfriend, but Melissa played the hell out of the girlfriend, and they are still together in a really unhealthy relationship.

Overall, I am having a blast. I miss having a GM sometimes - having to keep that part of my brain awake sometimes gets in the way of immersion into my characters, which is the most fun part of roleplaying as far as I'm concerned. Sometimes it feels like we're reaching for the heavy emotion in every single scene, and perhaps we need to find a way of leavening that with other types of scenes, for flavour and texture.
Seven Stars of Atlantis

My husband's pulp roleplaying game is drawing to a close, and three out of four characters have possession of a titular Star of Atlantis (huge gems with amazing powers). The fourth is the servant of the gems. He's a little worried about the implications of that, particularly since his girlfriend has possession of one of the stones and could make him do whatever she wants. (I play her. She hasn't yet.) Two big bad guys have two of the stones apiece, now bringing all seven on the table. Plus, we met Edgar Cayce this past session!

But what I want to talk about in this space is how I've just figured out what my character's looking for, now that she's not dying anymore. (Her name is Margot.) For the first two-thirds of the game, she was dying from what she thought was an Egyptian curse, but turned out to be a slow-acting poison. One of the other player characters was recently able to obtain the antidote for her, at the cost of seemingly betraying the group. That's going to lead to an interesting conversation in a couple of weeks, I hope.

When Margot thought it was a curse, she drove away the love of her life (Teddy) quite cruelly, because she feared it would spread to him. She decided that knowing he was hurting but alive was better than if he were there to give her comfort and ended up dying alongside her. Also that if he knew, he'd take the risk and stay by her side, something he has since agreed would have been the case.

It was an arrogant decision, as it took it entirely out of Teddy's hands. They're back together now, but in the meantime, he spent a year trying to hate her, and she spent a year afraid, alone, and in pain.

That's all background. This most recent session, Margot and Rex, the dashing adventure hero and her sometime bodyguard, had their biggest fight yet. (There have been a few. From Margot's perspective, she keeps trying to start to make peace, and then gets furious at him. I'm sure it looks different from the other side.) Margot and Su Li, the friend who got the cure for her, also had a big fight not long before the betrayal.

In both cases, people have remarked that Margot really seems to care what the others think of her. She broods on these fights after they're done more than you might think. After the last session, Bill asked if what was going on was that Margot really was afraid of being a spoiled rich girl, even though that's a title she owns to some degree. I think he's right, but I think it's more. I think the last year, in all its isolation and pain, has given her a real issue where she's afraid she's unlovable.

Part of this is that she's focusing on what people say to her instead of what they do, and so she's missing or misinterpreting whether or not they care about her. When Su Li called Margot a spoiled rich girl in the middle of a party and said she cared about nothing but herself, she's been carrying that hurt around far more than she has noticed that Su Li sacrificed her own freedom to get the antidote. (Mostly she hasn't noticed it because it looked a lot like betraying them and using Teddy's life as leverage to get a Star out of Margot.)

When Rex came thundering up the stairs to find out urgently whether or not his helping Su Li betray Margot and Teddy had gotten Margot the antidote she needed, Margot sees the part where he helped betray them, and then yet again forced her health to be a public issue when she was trying to keep it quiet. (She was going to wait until she knew whether or not the antidote worked before she got Teddy's hopes up. Rex forced it out in the open right away.) She doesn't see the part where he was terribly worried for her life.

And she dwells on the arguments, where Rex tells her she is cruel, selfish, spoiled, frivolous, and disappointing, and doesn't listen when she tells him to stop trying to be her "bodyguard, her father or her owner." He does feel paternal towards her, but she sees it as trying to control her life, and she hates it, and feels powerless because he refuses to listen to anything she says.

It feels like everyone is telling her she's horrible. (Since I play her, I'm a little protective. She is spoiled and arrogant. She's also open-handed, generous, loyal, resourceful, and indomitable. Nobody seems to mention those latter qualities.) This is even more of an issue because she's carrying some lingering hurt because Teddy didn't act the way she thought he would when he found out why she'd driven him away.

This one is completely unrealistic, but I think that in the year she spent alone and in pain, she concocted a fantasy about what would happen if Teddy found out she were dying - that he'd rush to her side, swear undying love, and it would all be terribly romantic. She held on to that to keep her going. Unsurprisingly, it didn't happen quite like that. He knew for a couple of weeks before he told her. He didn't sweep her into his arms and swear undying love. He tried to respect what she wanted and keep his distance, which is not what she actually wanted. She wanted him to be so crazy in love with her that he couldn't stay away. They're back together, but it hasn't been that passionate. Worst of all, she discovered an engagement ring in the bottom of his pack, and now that they're back together, it hasn't made a reappearance.

In this case, it's completely unrealistic. Teddy has his own stuff going down. For a long time, she was in too much pain for romance. Still, there's a lingering disappointment, but more than that, an underlying fear that he doesn't really love her. That Su Li was right, he's sticking around out of a sense of duty. That now that she's not dying, he's stuck with her, but he really rather wishes he wasn't.

Add that to big fights where people keep telling her she's a horrible person - and we go into the last two sessions with Margot feeling like most people hate her, and maybe she's unlovable. I don't know what that'll do to the final showdown, but it might do something.

Also, maybe I overthink my characters.

So, if you made it through all that (and I'll be a little surprised if you did), what stories snuck into your life this week?

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