The Full Lid 7th December 2018

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Welcome to The Full Lid! Pop culture enthusiasm! Genre commentary! Occasional Jeff Winger moments! I'm Alasdair, your host. Some of you may know me from my work at Escape Artists, the podcast company I co-own.  When I don't do that, I'm a tabletop RPG designer. When I don't do that, I'm a pop culture analyst. When I don't do that, I do this. I like being busy. You may be able to tell.

So, welcome to my newsletter! This week!


The NaNoWriMo Bully Problem
Content by 
Under The Hood
Where I Published This Week
Die Issue 1
Signing Off

-The archive for the newsletter is here.
-This is my Twitter and the Instagram Marguerite and I share.
And finally, if you feel like leaving a tip, my Ko-Fi is always open.

Now, let's see what's under the Lid.

The NaNoWriMo Bully Problem

There's a lot going on in genre at the moment, much of it bad, all of it interesting, some of it ultimately hopeful. The thing I want to focus in on here though is the post-NaNoWriMo bullying. And make no mistake, this is bullying. Every year, without fail, one or more pro authors will go out of their way to play the 'every month is NaNoWriMo for me' card. Or the 'If you stick to this arbitrary deadline you can never write outside it' card. Or the 'Every terrible zero draft will be thrown at agents straight away HA HA' card.

Except those cards don't exist. Here's why first and then we'll talk about why they always get played anyway.

'Every Month is NaNoWriMo For Me'
Great! I applaud your resolve and focus. I applaud the resolve and focus of people working full time, people splitting their time between family and a day job and writing, people who are carers, who work weird shifts and many other groups rather more. When NaNo and its satellite events are on, they have the opportunity to change that. If they don't finish, they started and that's a win and something to work from. And to be applauded, I would have thought.

'If you stick to this arbitrary deadline...'
...Why? No one, on EARTH, who produced a NaNoWriMo draft thinks it's finished. It was written in 30 days! Some of it's in crayon! Mine bloody is! The point is not to cram everything you've got into this finite bucket of time. The point is to use the ticking clock to force you to get over yourself and get something down. Some of us work best with a little adrenaline and a bloody nose, something I'm amazed NaNo's loudest detractors can't relate to. 

'Every terrible draft will go to agents straight away'
No. They won't. Some agents get some, some don't. And even if you are, somehow, concussed enough to send in your NaNo draft, the chances of it actually selling are infinitesimally small. Agents don't want to see your sketches, they want to see your WORK. Almost all NaNo authors know that. I'm mystified so many pros apparently don't.

NaNoWriMo is a project designed to help people who don't normally have the time to write to find that time. It's a project designed to lower the ladder, to open the gate. It's a project which is, fundamentally, a means of enabling and assisting art and helping people who couldn't normally do it, do it. That's GREAT. 

And its greeted with bullying. Every time. 

I think I know why too. Because somehow, in the year of our lord 20Star Wars, there is still this muddle headed, backwards facing belief that genre is a finite club house and one that is tolerated rather than accepted. That means that once you're in the club house, there's a pressure to not only hold your spot but look down on anyone else trying to get in, Especially folks who, from your perspective, are trying something that looks suspiciously like a short cut. The fear of losing your spot is real.God knows I've lost jobs this year because someone else is cheaper, or faster, or closer to London. 

But you don't stand up by putting your boot in someone's face. You stand up by helping those around you stand, trusting they'll help you too.  If we want community to be something we have not something we pay lip service to, then we need to start building it. And not just with the people we like, or know already. Genre fiction is for everyone or it's for nothing. And nothing is exactly what busting on an initiative, and the writers who use it, for cheap laughs is worth. 

Besides, if you've got time to do that, don't you have time to be writing?
Bello Collective have been quietly doing excellent podcasting criticism and advocacy for a while. This, by them, is the best Best Of Podcasting list you'll read this year.

And of course, here's my Ko-Fi.

Under the Hood

You're going to hear a lot about the 2018 version of Robin Hood and pretty much all of it is going to be bad. This is the film that's going to fill the same hole as Epic Bants King Arthur a couple of years ago. Modern sensibilities, classic story, no audience. There are some good points in that criticism too and this, by the always great Beth Elderkin, makes every problem explicit and explains why it doesn't work. By the way, anything she writes is worth your time.


I really liked it! Here's why!

Take a look at that still. This is the Third Crusade re imagined as whatever ungodly number the current war(s) in the Middle East are. Yes that's armor. Yes it is meant to look like a flak vest. Yes this is a metaphor. No at no point is this war presented as anything resembling the slightest iota of a good idea in any way shape or form.  That point is fired home, repeatedly, in the opening action sequence. Locking character to movement, it follows Robin's unit as they're pinned down by John's men. The English are upright, uncertain loaded down under heavy bows and armor. Their opponents move over the ground like water, hitting faster and harder and still losing through brute force and volume. Character encoded into violence in that exact way Titans tries to do and so very often fails. 

Then there's how Robin's past, re-imagined through this modern lens, is the foundation for the movie. He meets John in battle, has his defining moment of PTSD and is exiled. All of which leads him to learn what he needs to do to outwork and outfight the Sherriff's men. Or, to put it another way, a close-minded upper class English soldier realizes that in order to save the day for everyone? He needs to embrace cultural diversity.

Mic, or perhaps bow, dropped.

The movie is at it's best when it plays with this idea. Casting Tim Minchin,the world's most melodic atheist, as Friar Tuck is flat out brilliant. Firstly, Minchin is fantastic in the role, playing Tuck as a gentle, kind intellectual who loves the idea of the church but has increasing doubts about the organization. As a resting Catholic, that's pretty resonant. It's also part of a line of recent portrayals of Tuck which emphasize his compassion over his occupation. More importantly, Minchin and that opening scene are strong notes in the movie's meta-textual lute solo. This is a story about a soldier back from the Middle East, about what happens when cultures mix and how much stronger we are for it. It's also a story about how politicians are endemically untrustworthy.

Ben Mendelsohn must have a clause in his contract certifying that he gets to wear a really badass coat. After his glorious, sneering turn in Rogue One he's back here as a trench coat-clad Sheriff who plays like a cross between a fully conscious John Lydon and a competent Nigel Farage. Some of the movie's best scenes are him and Taran Egerton, playing Billionaire Tory Playboy Robin of Loxley, plotting horrible things to do. Egerton is fantastic as the louche, brutal, ever so slightly panicked deep cover vigilante and Mendelsohn's relentless intensity means every time he speaks you listen. And check for the nearest exit. 

All of this is top fun and there's a lot more of it. There's a fantastic, panicked heist which Rob barely escapes from and a closing fight that's one part Occupy and one part Les Miserables with a little light Ocean's Eleven thrown in. Egerton is always enthusiastic and frequently great. Foxx's John never gets out of second gear but is never unwatchable. Mendelsohn dares you to look away and you don't. It's all good.

But not all the movie is as lucky. Eve Hewson is great as Marian for the two acts the movie bothers to do anything with her. Jamie Dornan continues his bid to have the 21st Century version of Stewart Townsend's career by being given an impossible role that's minimized almost out of existence. There's a just massively shoddy carriage chase that is a triumph of early '00s CGI backgrounds in the worst way. Even Robin gets a little lost in the final mix, as the film strives to pick up a deeply lazy trope it has no business enabling in the service of a sequel that will never come.

And yet, while the end result falls over the finish line rather than runs, there's still something here. This is an honest, open attempt to do something different and new. It may not have found its audience but I will always be there for stories that swing and miss, rather than stories that never swing at all.

Robin Hood is, mostly, still on general release. If you can, you should see it.
In the last week of December, 2028, humanity forgot about more than a century of pop culture. You've probably never thought about it, and never found it strange — but the reason is an artificial intelligence called Earworm. From @tomscott

Where I Published This Week

The always essential Ditch Diggers returns with an interview with Chuck Wendig. Yes they talk about Marvel and the situation is the definition of not good. Also there are jokes and advice!

Die Issue 1

Die issue 1 came out this week. It's from Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans and Clayton Cowles with design work by Rian Hughes and edits by Chrissy Williams. It's fiercely good and remarkably close to home.

Firstly because of the cast. This is a story about bored rural teenagers playing an RPG because they aren't old enough to get into the pubs and there's nothing else to do. A group of uniquely familiar, damaged kids who just want to do something that isn't waiting for University, debt and the job market. This was how I got into tabletop RPGs. These were the people I got into tabletop RPGs with. This was me.

Look really closely in the gutter between Chuck the endlessly chirpy comedian and Matthew the clever, quietly depressed outsider and you'll see me. A little too clever, a little too self-aware not able to leave a joke alone and  about to dive headlong into the worst experience of my childhood. This page got me. This entire book got me but this opening salvo of amiable and imminently curdled rural teenagers will stay with me for some time.

Secondly because what happens to them is a piece of perfect English Forteana. This is the Cottingley Fairies with a body count. This is a time slip without any of the comforting discrediting evidence. These kids go out into the woods that always ring this country, the woods that echo with Godbears, border Rendlesham and powered Holdstock's work and they don't come back for a long time. When they do, the only thing they can do is wish they didn't. The process of grieving, the tired repetition of phrasing and the jet black jokes about avoiding certain relatives all ring true and all hit hard. This is where Stephanie Hans comes into her own for the first time too, rendering the careworn modern cast with remarkable subtlety and attention to human nuance. 

Hans givs the book its most terrifying moments too. A blood-stained D20 in a velvet box. The final page, The dice-shaped world. The barely contained sense of joy on the final double page spread with all the horror that entails. Best of all though is her understanding of motion and how it ties to emotional response. The most disturbing page in the issue sees one character do nothing but stalk outside and grab a rock to try and murder the die. It's pouring with rain, at night and yet Hans captures the adrenaline-staccato pace, the force with which the rock is grabbed and the tears mixing with rain when it becomes clear just how temporary this catharsis would be. Character driven by emotion driven by motion. All of which drives the plot too.

That's the last thing that got me. The plot is both an elaborate and very dark joke touched on in Gillen's back-matter essay and also a deeply compelling and horrific idea. What happened if you could go back? What if the door to Narnia never closed? Adulthood and childhood, innocence and terror, good and evil all shaken up and thrown across a table with no idea of what's going to come up first. 

Die issue 1 is available now through your local comic shop or Comixology. Gillen, Hans, Cowles on lettering, Hughes' design and Williams' edits are all note perfect. This one's special. Go get it.


Signing Off

Existential RPG horror! NaNoWriMo as a force for good despite how it's painted! An interesting and mostly good movie!  A whole entire Kickstarter! Quite a week.

Thanks as ever for reading. If you liked it, check the archive. out or say hi on Twitter or Instagram. And if you're feeling like throwing me a tip, firstly thank you and secondly my Ko-Fi is here. 

Lots of stuff between us and the end of the year but we'll get there. Help each other out, drink some water, relax when you can. You deserve it. And you know what? So do I. Because this?Is a Full Lid.
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Agathon Towers · Cheapside Road · Reading, Berkshire RG1 7AG · United Kingdom

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