What’s the Big Idea? A Review of HBO’s Westworld

Westworld, HBO’s new science fiction drama that will premiere Sunday, wants to be the big idea. Trade in your zombies and dragons for life-like robots. Tackling notions of morality, artificial intelligence, and entertainment in the premiere alone, Westworld wants to be a show that makes you think. Or perhaps it wants to make you despair.

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Knowing Our Passions: More with Marjorie Liu

Yesterday, we published the first part of my sprawling interview with fantasy novelist and comic book writer Marjorie Liu. She was at New York Comic-Con promoting next month’s release of her first creator-owned comic for Image Monstress.

For the second half of our interview, I ask her about her previous career as a lawyer, how she decided to become a writer, and what it means to be a prominent Asian American in the media.

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Making Monstress: An Exclusive Conversation with Marjorie Liu

I spent this past weekend at New York Comic-Con. When I wasn’t manning the Epic Proportions booth, I was able to sneak away and meet with writer Marjorie Liu. She makes her long-awaited return to comics with Image Comics’ Monstress, reuniting her with X-23 artist Sana Takeda.

In the first part of this exclusive, wide-ranging interview, Marjorie and I discuss the origins of the book, her childhood obsession with the apocalypse, the influence of pre-World War II China, and what it was like reuniting with artist Sana Takeda.

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The World with Pyramids

In a conversation with an acquaintance about The Wind Rises, I told her I was already inclined to love it (and I did) because I was already a big fan of Porco Rosso. Miyazaki is a man in love with airplanes and through both movies he imparts that love to his viewers. Both films are reminders that the real magic (and really all Miyazaki movies do this) is not in the world but in your choices and in your will.

(Contains spoilers for The Wind Rises).

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Breaking Bats and Monkeys

Earlier I wrote about the endless narrative possibilities available in the superhero comics genre. Of course, comics are not the only medium to enjoy the fractal narrative. Philip Marlowe, the Continental Op, and Sherlock Holmes are ageless detectives forever solving crimes in short stories and novels. If Jet Li had so desired it, Tsui Hark would probably have made fifty more Wong Fei-Hong movies. And the Brits have the idea down with James Bond and Doctor Who.

But while the fractals can expand forever, artists given to make their own new stories and interpretations can sometimes make changes that are so drastic that they change the nature of the character the audience has come to know. Artists should of course be able to bend and experiment with characters to find new avenues, but there must be limits, no? Because the danger in the course of bending a character is the potential of breaking it.

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Dicks, Smartasses, and The Magician King

While I read often, I rarely read quickly. I am jealous of my friends who can devour books. I am not that way and am awfully indecisive. My reading habit is to start six or seven books hopping between each and hoping one amongst all of them will stick. And even then, sometimes none of them do. But I’m happy to report that Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and The Magician King were books that I devoured.

This is all to say that I enjoyed those books immensely. And yet one minor passage midway through The Magician King gives me pause and illustrates why I am — in the end and inescapably — a Nerd of Color. Like most things, it has to do with penis, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Wounds, Spoons, and Ridges: The Education of Miles O’Brien

Lieutenant Stiles is a one-off character. He only shows up in “Balance of Terror” to be a bigot and learn the error of doubting Mr. Spock. He’s Federation. He’s Starfleet. But he’s not main cast. So it’s easy to think of him as an aberration. None of the crew — especially Kirk — evince any sympathy for Stiles, and so we don’t have to either. We don’t relate to Stiles.

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Fears and Pointy Ears: Reflecting on Race and Romulans

Balance of Terror” is rightfully considered one of the best episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS), with anti-war and anti-bigotry messages couched in an intense battle of wits and starships. It’s also an important episode for the franchise as whole because it introduces major antagonists for the United Federation of Planets in the unsettling form of the Romulans. In the opening of “Balance of Terror,” we learn that the Federation, despite having warred with them a century earlier, never actually saw what a Romulan looked like. Without knowing the face of the enemy, Kirk and his crew have to entertain the possibility of a spy in the crew. But before they can start accusing one another, a chance visual transmission is intercepted by Uhura, and the crew and audience share in the stunning revelation that the Romulans have pointy ears.

Although Romulans, with this episode, have pretty much been with Star Trek since the beginning, they have also remained — 47 years later — remarkably undefined. As we learn more about Klingons, we learn about their bushido-like code and oligarchical feudal system of government. The Ferengi are commerce-minded chauvinists that don’t like war (though war is good for business). The Cardassians have a Prussian efficiency and ruthlessness that they share with the Romulans, but they go on to demonstrate other aptitudes and capacities through seven seasons of development on Deep Space Nine (DS9). Moreover, those three races change quite a bit in the course of the audience’s time with them. We meet characters that are quite often wrestling with their cultures and governments in rapid flux. Cardassia flirts with a Weimar Republic before the Dominion War. Ferenginar becomes more progressive as Quark’s mom challenges gender norms. Chancellors Gorkon, K’mpec, Gowron, and Martok all evince different personalities and approaches to changing and saving their government and their people without losing identifiable Klingon cultural tics.

But the Romulans? They’re inscrutable, yo.

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The Ideal and the Infinite Batman, or Why Fractal Narratives Matter

I’m supposed to explain how and why I became a nerd, but I’m currently in the middle of James Gleick’s Chaos: Making a New Science so you’re going to have to bear with me wrestling with my own half-baked attempts at understanding what I’m reading and my discomfort at presenting some particular event as the discrete cause of my nerdy predilections. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Detective_Comics_662So here’s a moment: At some point in late 1993 I, or maybe my brother, purchased Detective Comics #662. Batman vs. Firefly. It has a rather evocative Sam Kieth cover of a Batman on fire. Our hero is exhausted because an unknown entity (we later learn to be Bane) has released the entire rogues gallery from Arkham Asylum, and Batman has been ceaselessly fighting to bring his greatest enemies down. But in this issue, we only get to see Batman take down the pyromaniacal Firefly. ‘Tec #662 has a second number designation to it, #8, as in part 8 of a massive 90s Batman crossover event called “Knightfall.”

Perhaps I could have left it there. Batman fights and defeats Firefly. I could have walked away. But I didn’t. I had questions and, suddenly, a quest. If there’s an 8, there must be a 7 and a 9. Who does Batman have to stop next, and who did he stop before?

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