Episode 22: Transcript
Our Opinions Are Correct, Episode 22
Transcription by Keffy
Charlie Jane: [00:00:00] Welcome to Our Opinions Are Correct, a podcast about the meaning of science fiction. I’m Charlie Jane Anders. I’m a science fiction writer who thinks about science a lot.
Annalee: [00:00:08] And I’m Annalee Newitz. I’m a science journalist who writes sf.
Charlie Jane: [00:00:11] Today we’re going to be talking about hope. It’s the start of a new year. It’s 2019 and we’re all just looking forward with possibly just a little bit of apprehension, but also hope, that we’re going to get through this and that the world is possibly going to be a better place in the future. How does science fiction, how does science fiction and fantasy give us hope for the future? How does it enable us to have hope in dark times? And what is hopepunk, the new subgenre that we’ve been hearing a lot about? We’re going to be talking about that and we hope that you’re subscribing to our Patreon.
[00:00:45] Intro music plays: Drums with a bass drop and more science fictional bells and percussion.
Annalee: [00:01:11] As you said in the intro, people have been talking a lot about hopepunk on the internet of late, and that is partly because of a couple of articles that have come out about it. There was one that I read in Vox by Aja Romano. There’s been some others. And so there’s a lot of new terms being thrown around to describe this new movement of hopepunk. So, Charlie, give us the whole downlow on like, where the term came from, all the different pieces of it and where we are now?
Charlie Jane: [00:01:39] Yeah, so the term hopepunk was coined by a writer named Alexandra Rowland. I first heard of it back in May-ish when there was a panel about it at the Nebula Awards and also there was a panel at a small convention called Fourth Street Fantasy, and it’s basically trying to say that we need science fiction that gives us hope or science fiction and fantasy that give us hope, that show us that we can fight against oppression and that the world doesn’t have to be dark and miserable and grim forever. It’s sort of setting itself up in opposition to grimdark, which is this movement of primarily fantasy, but also some scifi, where everything is dark and terrible and the world is awful, and it’s sort of typified by Game of Thrones as seen in this clip where the show gets its title from.
GoT: [00:02:25] When you play the game of thrones you win or you die. There is no middle ground.
Charlie Jane: [00:02:31] And that was Cersei explaining that like, basically the world is a dark and terrible place and you either have to crush your enemies or be crushed, and those are the two choices. Game of Thrones kind of backs that up a lot of the time. There’s not easy choices in Game of Thrones. Everything is brutal and bloody, people get maimed all the time. People get sexually assaulted on a regular basis. Weddings are often likely to turn into massacres. I don’t think there’s been a happy wedding on that show.
Annalee: [00:02:58] No.
Charlie Jane: [00:02:59] And battles are sort of gruesome and nasty and huge and sprawling. So, hopepunk is sort of in opposition to that, and at the Fourth Street Fantasy panel about this, people kind of defined it in terms of fighting. One of the things that people said on that panel is, “Hopepunk means that you go back to Omelas with pitchforks and torches,” referring to the story by Ursula K. LeGuin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” where in her story, it’s a choice between accepting the injustice of a society that’s built on one child being tortured, versus walking away. And, it’s like, there’s at third choice, which hopepunk prescribes, of going back to Omelas and burning it all down.
Annalee: [00:03:40] Which doesn’t sound totally hopeful, burning it all down.
Charlie Jane: [00:03:43] Well, pitchforks and torches doesn’t necessarily mean burning it all down. But it means you’re not going to settle. You’re not going to accept that we have to keep it this way. We can do better. We don’t have to have injustice. We don’t have to either walk away from it or accept it, we can fight it. And so that’s kind of the germ of hopepunk, is that it’s actually—it’s not shiny and happy necessarily, but it is saying that we can do better. And more recently, there was the article that everybody’s been talking about on Vox.com, which kind of talked about it in the context of cuteness and niceness, but also Alexandra Rowland herself wrote an essay for a website called Festive Ninja where she kind of specifically starts out by saying that it’s not about being nice, and that in fact niceness is antithetical to hopepunk, and it’s about endless struggle and accepting that we may never win the fight against oppression. That we’re never going to achieve a total victory, and that it’s not utopian because utopias tend to be static and tend to be like an end state. And really, hopepunk calls for endless struggle and endless fighting and just not giving up. It’s kind of anti the idea of people being good or evil. Everybody is flawed and we just have to do the best we can.
Annalee: [00:04:54] I was thinking when you mentioned Game of Thrones that to me, the opposite is kind of Lord of the Rings, right? Because there’s struggling. There’s the sense of hope? Is that kind of what people are looking for, or is that something else?
Charlie Jane: [00:05:07] No, in fact, Alexandra Rowland in her essay specifically says that she’s against The Lord of the Rings paradigm, which she defines as, “noblebright” where basically in Lord of the Rings, it’s about some people being good and some people being evil and if you can just put the good people in charge, like if Aragorn can be king, he will rule wisely and everything will be fine, and we’ll have a happy world. And, she pushes back against that and says, actually that’s not what hopepunk is about. It’s about the idea that there are no good people necessarily, or nobody is intrinsically good and we just have to do the best we can, and we’re never going to just put the right person in charge and then everything’s going to be fine. There’s no noble savior who’s going to save us.
Annalee: [00:05:49] Right, so that actually kind of sheds a little light for me on The Hunger Games ending, which is very much—it sounds like it’s very much in the hopepunk model because it’s about how just unseating the bad guy doesn’t solve the problem, and in fact we’re kind of left wondering, is Katniss really—she isn’t the answer. We know she’s not the answer. And so it kind of leaves us with that sense that actually this is a structural problem, it’s not about killing the evil witch. It’s—you’ve got to do more than that.
Charlie Jane: [00:06:20] Yeah, you have to actually uproot oppression at the roots which is a difficult job. Not just sort of like, make cosmetic changes or put a new figurehead in charge or meet the new boss same as the old boss kind of thing. We can all agree that -punk as a suffix for subgenres is, maybe played out.
Annalee: [00:06:39] It’s super played out, and I have to say, when I read Aja Romano’s article on Vox, which is actually a great article. I think she does a great job, kind of laying out the territory, and this is not her fault, she didn’t come up with the term hopepunk, but I was like… Why do we have to call it hopepunk? And I was like, can’t it be anything else? I think people want to have the -punk suffix because of what you were saying about how it’s about struggle, and so it’s supposed to be kind of badass, it’s not like, you know, cutesy hope, or happy hope. It’s like the grim hope of struggle. It’s, you know…
Charlie Jane: [00:07:10] Yeah. But it’s true that we’ve been kind of drowning in dark grimness and awfulness. For a while, every superhero had to be dark and gritty and like, I am the night and all that stuff. And, you know, then there was that thing a year or two ago where the Deadpool movie did so much better than the latest dark gritty X-Men movie because it was like, we just want to see a superhero having fun and being goofy, and you know, severed limbs that are entertaining and silly, and whatever.
Annalee: [00:07:41] It’s funny because I don’t think of Deadpool as being hopepunk at all because it’s such a cynical, cynical character.
Charlie Jane: [00:07:47] Right.
Annalee: [00:07:47] And it’s a cynical world. It’s like, there is no hope at all, there’s the hope of a good quip, but there’s no hope for fixing anything really. It was funny because the -punk part of hopepunk as like, a kind of corrective to grimdark. I still am struggling with that, because part of what has been so tiresome about the influx of grimdark stories, whether it’s on TV, with things like Riverdale, or if it’s at the movies. Where it’s like, the whole point of grimdark is to take something that was a little bit apple-cheeked and make it dark and also… let’s be honest. Part of it is about making it macho and you know, edgy. And I was like, you know, I wouldn’t mind if we had a hopeful streak in science fiction that was kind of reinventing that apple-cheeked sweetness, like there’s nothing wrong with that. And like I said, I do think there’s a certain amount of gendering that’s going on, where we think of things that are brightly colored and sweet and cute as being kind of girly, so it’s like, oh, well, who watches My Little Pony. But My Little Pony is a great example of hopepunk that’s like, sparkly. And so I think, maybe, for me, hopeful science fiction can be about that sort of punk aspect, that Hunger Games-y thing, but also maybe, trying to rethink just how we tell stories. The tone of the story itself. Not that it has to be like frickin’ dancing elves or whatever. I don’t want something unrealistic and dumb, but I wouldn’t mind like, I love the show She-Ra, where there’s a lot of sparkle, but there’s darkness. It’s not a happy world, but they’re still not afraid to have like floofy hair and sparkle ponies. There’s literally a sparkle pony, which is kind of delightful.
Charlie Jane: [00:09:35] There’s like—there’s a flying horse or whatever.
Annalee: [00:09:38] I’ve been complaining, obviously, about the punk thing, and complaining about how it has to be all struggle. And so, now I have another complaint, but I’m going to phrase it in the form of a question. So, my question is, is it wrong for us to be thinking of hopeful science fiction as a subgenre when it’s really more like hope is a theme in a whole bunch of subgenres.
Charlie Jane: [00:10:03] It’s sort of similar to when people try to make climate fiction into a genre, when in fact—
Annalee: [00:10:07] Yes.
Charlie Jane: [00:10:07] —thinking about climate disaster is something that you do in a variety of different genres and a variety of different types of stories and it’s a motif, it’s a theme, it’s a topic. But, I mean, to me, what makes something a subgenre is usually that there’s a particular type of setting. There’s a particular type of characters that you interact with. There’s, you know, certain narrative trappings.
Annalee: [00:10:26] Sometimes there’s even—yes, certain tropes. Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:10:28] Like, space opera, you have space ships, you have aliens, you have rayguns, you have, like, somewhat fanciful technology and it’s like, zippy adventures. It’s almost constraining the idea of hopeful science fiction to call it a genre or to call it a movement or to call it anything like that when really what we’re saying is, we would like more science fiction and fantasy across every genre, across every milieu that gives us more of a sense of hope. And I think that really what we want is stories that leave us with a sense, like, that we come away from the story, when we return to the real world, such as it is, with the sense that we can do something. That we can be the hero of our own story. That we can stand up and do something about, like, the oppressive structures around us. And I think that that’s something that ideally, any genre could do. And I’m even going to say heretically, perhaps, that you could have a grimdark fantasy story that’s also hopeful.
Annalee: [00:11:22] Ooh, that’s an interesting idea.
Charlie Jane: [00:11:24] You know, and that those two things aren’t actually mutually exclusive if you…
Annalee: [00:11:27] Yeah, because grimdark is stylistic. It is also not a genre. It’s a style, you can make anything grimdark.
Charlie Jane: [00:11:35] Yeah, but grimdark fantasy is a genre, I think specifically—
Annalee: [00:11:37] I guess, yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:11:38] Because it’s kind of the epic fantasy setting but with, you know, everything being bloody and dark and gruesome. It’s sort of a version of epic fantasy, I guess. Or high fantasy.
Annalee: [00:11:48] That leads to my next question. So, if it’s true that hopeful writing, hopeful storytelling kind of defies genre. It doesn’t have to be part of any particular genre, what—what do you think the different is, or maybe the similarities are between hopeful science fiction versus hopeful fantasy.
Charlie Jane: [00:12:05] Obviously, when we talk about hope in science fiction, we’re talking about mostly the future. We’re talking about our future, or some version of the future in which we would like to believe that things are going to get better or that we can continue to fight for things to get better. And it’s usually about imagining technological and social change that is pushing the world in the direction of progress, and it’s this idea of progress, which is obviously a slippery one, because often, in the past, what people have defined as progress was actually just new ways of screwing everybody over, but…
Annalee: [00:12:38] And there could be hopeful science fiction that wasn’t to your taste, right? Like it could be a hopeful libertarian future, which doesn’t really work for me, but if you’re a libertarian, that’s great. Or like, a hopeful social future, which the libertarians are like, throwing in the trash with like, great haste.
Charlie Jane: [00:12:54] I mean, I think Ayn Rand is probably hopepunk, too, to some people, you know?
Annalee: [00:12:59] Yeah, but that’s what I’m getting at, yeah. And then you could get really dark with that and you could be like, well, you could have have right wing racewar hopepunk, which is really creepy, right? And which we don’t want to think of as hopeful, but for some people that’s a dark hope, that they have. And so…
Charlie Jane: [00:13:13] Now I’m just stuck on the idea that Ayn Rand invented hopepunk, actually. That would be kind of, anyway.
[00:13:17] But yeah, I mean, whereas in fantasy, I think that, obviously, it’s usually not our world, or even if it is our world, it’s a version of our world with magic. And usually it’s not so much about the future. The cliché is to say that fantasy is more about the past because often it takes place in a mythologized version of the past. But it’s more about the idea that we can struggle against the dark lord or whatever. Or Sauron, or whoever you want to bring up, that we can struggle against the dark side, or the evil version of magic, or the oppressive monsters. We can fight them, and it’s much more just about endless struggle, I guess, but with…
Annalee: [00:13:59] So, it’s not so much about change, it’s about the struggle itself.
Charlie Jane: [00:14:01] I mean, I guess that’s a really good question. There is certainly a lot of great fantasy right now that is about change. I mean, if you consider the Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin to be fantasy, that’s definitely about change.
Annalee: [00:14:11] To be fair, like, those novels have a strong science fiction component.
Charlie Jane: [00:14:15] Yeah, they do.
Annalee: [00:14:15] And so that’s… I mean, it’s interesting to think, like, oh, that’s about change and she wound up using some of the trappings of science fiction to tell that story.
Charlie Jane: [00:14:23] That’s interesting, yeah.
Annalee: [00:14:23] Okay, so, here’s another question, which is, do you see a difference between hope and optimism. Because we talk about optimistic science fiction sometimes. Certainly Neal Stephenson was really pushing for this idea that we need more optimistic science fiction several years ago. He edited an anthology called Hieroglyph that you and I are both in, which is full of stories that were intentionally optimistic. My question is, those stories didn’t feel like hopepunk to me. It felt like optimism was something different.
Charlie Jane: [00:14:55] In terms of just like, different states of mind, I think hope and optimism are different. Because optimism kind of implies that things are going to get better and if you’re an optimist, you believe that things will get better. That the future will be better.
Annalee: [00:15:09] It’s inevitable.
Charlie Jane: [00:15:09] Or you believe that there is a better future out there that we can get to. Again, it’s that notion of progress, it’s that notion of, you know, we’re going ot invent better technology, we’re going to have better science, we’re going to learn better. Our society is going to advance and things are going to be in some way happier in the future. Whereas hope, I don’t think there’s any necessarily conviction that things are going to get better. It’s more just that you hope they’ll get better. You think that they might get better. You think that we can try to make them better. Hope is, in some sense, the opposite of despair, so it’s the idea that there is a point to continuing to try to make things better and that we can keep working at it and that there’s a possibility of doing something better. But it doesn’t feel as certain to me as optimism.
[00:15:54] The thing about optimism that I always think about is that—when you talk about optimism, when you really break it down into thinking about what are people saying when they’re being optimistic, what they’re really saying is that they believe in the perfectibility of human nature, or that human beings can be good, and that we are capable of great altruism. Optimism often boils down to having faith in a certain version of human nature.
Annalee: [00:16:16] It’s like when people say, like, well, I believe that people are fundamentally good.
Charlie Jane: [00:16:19] If you believe in like, for example, the Star Trek future, or other kind of somewhat utopian versions of the future, that’s optimistic. And part of why it’s optimistic is because people have gotten better and we’ve learned to use our more advanced science and technology in ways that are less destructive, and we’ve learned to cooperate more, and we’ve become more socialist, or more altruistic in various ways.
Annalee: [00:16:42] More egalitarian.
Charlie Jane: [00:16:43] More egalitarian. Yeah, and so… to some extent it’s hard to separate optimism from a belief about human nature, whereas, I think you can be hopeful and still have a fairly dim view of human nature.
Annalee: [00:16:54] Hmm.
Charlie Jane: [00:16:54] You can believe that people are often selfish and terrible and awful, and that even people that we admire have a dark side and are capable of really, really shitty behavior. But… we still think that there are ways to get to a better future, or that—
Annalee: [00:17:11] It’s still worth it.
Charlie Jane: [00:17:11] It’s still worth fighting.
Annalee: [00:17:12] So, the way that you’re describing it really was making me think that hope is more active, that there’s something about it that’s like, a call to action.
Charlie Jane: [00:17:19] Yeah.
Annalee: [00:17:19] Whereas you could be an optimist and be basically like, almost indifferent to engaging with any kind of struggle. You’d be like, “Well, it’s all gonna turn out fine.”
Charlie Jane: [00:17:30] Yeah.
Annalee: [00:17:31] You know, I believe that humans are basically good so, I don’t need to join in the fight because inevitably it will all turn out. As you said, in Star Trek, there’s this kind of inevitability to the timeline. Like, well, we’ll have a dark time, but then—we will all collectively embrace our inner egalitarian and occasionally there’ll be a bad guy, but usually the bad guys are like some genetically engineered mutant version of humans, not one of us.
Charlie Jane: [00:17:55] And in optimism, often, the inevitability of things becoming better does come out of, we’re going to make scientific and technological advances, and those, by their very nature, will make everything better. I have a perfect clip that illustrates what I’m saying about hope, which comes from the most recent episode of Doctor Who. It’s not really spoilery, but it’s an amazing little snippet from a speech that Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor gives, and… Let’s listen to that.
Doctor Who: [00:18:19] No matter how many times you try, no matter how long you wait, I’ll always be in your way. Backed up by the best of humanity.
Annalee: [00:18:28] She gives so many inspirational speeches.
Charlie Jane: [00:18:30] I love how inspirational she is.
Annalee: [00:18:30] I actually love that about her.
Charlie Jane: [00:18:33] When you watch that scene, it’s just so stirring and beautiful. What’s great about that clip is that she’s not saying, “We’re going to defeat you” to the monster of the week, which I won’t say what monster it is, because it’s a spoiler. This is from the New Year’s Day episode that just aired like, the other day. She’s not saying we’re going to defeat you, once and for all, she’s saying, you’re going to keep coming back and we’re going to keep fighting you, and I’ll always be here and I won’t be alone. I’ll be with the best of humanity… will be behind me. There’s no triumph, there’s no final victory. There’s just, I’m going to always be here every time you try to do something bad, I’m going to be here to stop you.
Annalee: [00:19:09] Yeah, so, it’s kind of in defiance against that—what was it called? The bright?
Charlie Jane: [00:19:14] Noblebright?
Annalee: [00:19:14] Yeah, it’s defiance against noblebright, which to me sounds like a toothpaste brand, or something like that.
Charlie Jane: [00:19:21] Noblebright toothpaste…
Annalee: [00:19:22] Yeah, you…
Charlie Jane: [00:19:24] Gets your enamel enamelly-er.
Annalee: [00:19:27] It deposes evil wizards that, you know, operate through surveillance. Yeah, I like that idea, that it’s—in a sense, I guess, noblebright goes with optimism, in a way, because it’s—
Charlie Jane: [00:19:37] In a weird way, yeah. It does.
Annalee: [00:19:37] It’s all about, how, well, inevitably somebody nice will come along because we’re basically nice. And so then it’ll be fine, because we’ll have a good king or a good leader. It’ll be great. Even though, for example, Wakanda, from Black Panther is ruled by a noble family that inherits power. Which, I think, most egalitarians are not into, but it’s fine. Because… Black Panther is a good guy, and so we don’t have to worry that Wakanda is a monarchy and has never had open elections because luckily the king is a nice guy.
Charlie Jane: [00:20:14] They have trial by combat, they’ve got it covered.
Annalee: [00:20:16] Right, that’s what they have instead of elections.
Charlie Jane: [00:20:18] Anybody can challenge the king. Anybody can challenge the king, it’s all good.
Annalee: [00:20:20] Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:20:20] And we see, in Black Panther, what it would look like if they had a bad king, or a quote-unquote “bad” king. Which, obviously, that’s up for debate. The thing about all of this is that hope is an emotion, it’s a state of mind. It’s not a trope in itself. There are tropes associated with it. But it is—it’s a state of mind, and it’s something that’s often hard. Like, I feel like despair is easy. It’s easy to fall into despair. It doesn’t take any work to just literally fall into despair, you just fall over. Whereas hope requires a certain effort, a certain exercise of will almost, to say, no, I’m not going to give up. I’m going to believe in this. And I think, to write a hopeful story in 2019 requires a certain amount of, unless it’s just pure escapism, which we can talk about in a minute, it requires a certain amount of like, really digging down and thinking about like, what cause is there for hope in a world where terrible things happen. And I think that that’s an exercise that’s actually worth doing.
Annalee: [00:21:16] Yeah, I always think about that scene in the first Matrix movie where Trinity is—it’s the very first scene. She’s basically racing away from the bad guys and, you know, she has super powers because she’s in the Matrix, and she flies through a window and she’s kind of crunched on the floor, and the bad guys are coming, and she says to herself, “Get up, Trinity, get up.”
[00:21:38] And it’s, you know, it’s a little moment, but I feel like that’s the hopepunk moment.
Charlie Jane: [00:21:42] Yeah.
Annalee: [00:21:42 It’s like, how you—you don’t just get up, right? You actually have to talk yourself into it, because it’s like, you’ve just gone through a bunch of windows. The bad guys are gaining on you, like, you’re crunched on the floor. You feel like garbage, and it’s like, but no, get up. Keep getting up.
Charlie Jane: [00:21:57] What are the works of science fiction and fantasy that are giving you hope right now?
Annalee: [00:22:02] Right this second?
Charlie Jane: [00:22:02] Right this second. Early 2019. What’s making you feel hope?
Annalee: [00:22:05] Well, I mentioned She-Ra earlier when I was saying that I’d like to have more sparkly things.
Charlie Jane: [00:22:09] Yeah! And you know, She-Ra—it’s right there in the theme song. This idea that we’re going to keep fighting, and we’re gonna do it, and we’re—our friends are with us. In fact, we have a clip!
Annalee: [00:22:18] Let’s listen.
[00:22:18] She-Ra Theme Song plays: “We’re right beside you, ready to fight. We’re gonna win in the end! We must be strong, we must be brave…”
Charlie Jane: [00:22:30] WOOOOO!
Annalee: [00:22:30] I love that….
Charlie Jane: [00:22:30] We’re gonna win in the end!
Annalee: [00:22:30] I love that theme song because it’s so non-ironic.
Charlie Jane: [00:22:35] Yeah.
Annalee: [00:22:35] And yet, really sweet.
Charlie Jane: [00:22:38] You wanna pump your fist. You’re like—
Annalee: [00:22:40] And I do think it’s a hopeful show for the—again, for the reasons I mentioned. That there is a genuinely dark force that is this kind of authoritarian…
Charlie Jane: [00:22:48] Hordak….
Annalee: [00:22:48] The Horde, that’s this authoritarian dictatorship aided by magic. But also, aided by an actual military that kills people. And She-Ra is the goddess incarnation of a regular foot soldier who has defected from the Horde and is trying to raise, basically a counter-army of princesses. Which is also delightful. I love the idea that it’s like a team of princesses that are fighting, so…
Charlie Jane: [00:23:12] Plus Bow!
Annalee: [00:23:12] Plus Bow, who is ambiguously sexual, I would say. He’s kind of gay. He’s kind of just bi. I don’t know, he’s in love with a pirate guy.
Charlie Jane: [00:23:21] We haven’t watched the rest of the season yet, so we don’t know.
Annalee: [00:23:23] We don’t know, yeah, don’t tell us. Steven Universe, and we’re going to have an episode about Steven Universe later in this season, so we can talk more about that later, but similar to She-Ra, it has the kind of candy-colored world. There’s a lot of darkness but also there’s always hope.
[00:23:38] One of the other things that always gives me hope are basically, I would just say, the novels of Octavia Butler, because she often returns to the theme of the difficulty of hope in her books, because there’s characters who are struggling both with fantastical authoritarians, aliens. Or, they’re struggling with mutants who can control their minds in some cases. In other cases, they’re struggling with things like slavery. One of her most famous novels, Kindred, is about a black woman in the 1970s who travels back through time to the slave era, and she realizes that she’s there because she has to rescue—and this is not really a spoiler, this is the setup of the novel. She realizes that she has to rescue her ancestor who’s in danger of dying, and of course, if he dies, then she won’t exist. And he’s a white guy. And so that is the kind of complexity of hope that I love. Where she’s having to help this guy, who’s a terrible person and is enslaving her ancestors. But at the same time, she’s connected to him. And that’s the thing that Octavia Butler comes back to again and again, is that there are these connections between us that are both oppressive and dark but also are the pathway toward hope and toward healing. And so, it just depends on how you manage that connection, if you can.
[00:25:05] And, you know, things get bloody. Things get really dark in her work, but there’s always some kind of incredible compromise that we see and it’s not—nothing comes out perfect. But people in the end don’t die in huge numbers, so that to me, is… I feel like, that is a win.
[00:25:23] And the other thing that made me really happy recently, and we recommended this on our Patreon, is the movie Into the Spiderverse. I mean, partly it’s because it, again, it kind offits into my wish for things that are a little more sparkly and colorful. It’s animated, and the animation style was developed just for this film. It’s very abstract and sequential-art-y, but also, I love the message of the film which is that these five different spider people from different universes wind up getting together through technology. Through, whatever handwavium type thing that’s happening.
Charlie Jane: [00:25:56] Yeah, there’s like a… thing. There’s a machine.
Annalee: [00:25:58] There’s a machine. Kingpin has a thing. The whole story of spiderman which is usually a story about having Great Power and Great Responsibility and having to like break up with your girlfriend and just be Alone. That’s not in this movie. In fact, Miles Morales, who’s the new Spiderman. His origin story is an origin of friendship and alliances with spidey-people who are really different. One of them is a spider. Who… has pig powers. That’s…
Charlie Jane: [00:26:29] Yeah, spider pig! Or… no, not… Spiderham.
Annalee: [00:26:31] Spider ham!
Charlie Jane: [00:26:32] Peter Porker. Spiderham.
Annalee: [00:26:34] So he’s a spider that was bitten by a radioactive pig.
Charlie Jane: [00:26:38] Yeah.
Annalee: [00:26:38] So he has the powers of a pig… you know, there’s also Spider Gwen. There’s also Noir Spiderman who’s you know… black and white.
Charlie Jane: [00:26:48] So awesome.
Annalee: [00:26:48] He’s sort of like the masculinity of old, kind of. And then there’s the far-future Mira Spidergirl who has a spider robot.
Charlie Jane: [00:26:57] She’s like the anime Spidergirl, yeah.
Annalee: [00:26:58] She’s the anime Spidergirl, which my 11 year old niece really liked, because she’s super into anime. She was like, yay, there’s an anime spider. That was—like, literally made her evening.
[00:27:08] My point is that these are stories about alliances and I take so much hope from stories about unlikely friendships and alliances. I mean, that’s why I’m a sucker for The Fellowship of the Ring. Not so crazy about the other two movies in that trilogy, but I love the characters coming together and having to overcome their distrust which is its own kind of work. It’s like what we were talking about with… hope takes work.
Charlie Jane: [00:27:35] Yeah.
Annalee: [00:27:35] Yeah, and maintaining those alliances takes work. Okay, so. I talked for a really long time. What is giving you hope?
Charlie Jane: [00:27:43] Recently, I was recovering from minor surgery and I watched like a whole season and a half of The Flash, the CW show, which I’ve never—
Annalee: [00:27:50] Oh yeah, you told me you were doing that and I was—I was a little dubious, so how… that turned out well, apparently.
Charlie Jane: [00:27:53] I… I’ve watched some of the other shows in that sort of universe, like Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow. Flash is super fun. It’s very hopeful. It’s very much like, again, a team of heroes, a team of friends who all work together and are nice to each other and support each other and occasionally really dark, terrible things happen, but they just keep pulling together and working it out. And really, the relationships between the characters are what make that show so beautiful. Like, I feel like there’s just camaraderie and sweetness and kindness. And like, actually Legends of Tomorrow, which I’m totally up to date on so I haven’t been binging that, but it’s—Legends of Tomorrow is so fun and so cheerful and like, a lot of those superhero shows on the CW are very uplifting. And speaking of the CW, they did a reboot of Charmed.
Annalee: [00:28:40] Oh, yes.
Charlie Jane: [00:28:40] Which, you know, we watched at least the first three or four episodes of so far, and—
Annalee: [00:28:45] Love it.
Charlie Jane: [00:28:45] —again, it’s got camaraderie, it’s got these three sisters kind of teaming up to fight demons, but also, it’s kind of weirdly political. One of the characters is a Women’s Studies professor, and in the first episode, they kill a demon that’s a sexual harasser demon, basically.
Annalee: [00:29:02] Yeah! I was like, so excited about that. He’s a sexual harasser scientist who’s harassing women in his lab, and I was like, “Wow, this is the real life that’s unfolding around me every day.”
Charlie Jane: [00:29:12] Yeah…
Annalee: [00:29:13] Also, the sisters in Charmed… in the original TV show, it’s three white ladies, and now two of them are Latina and one is Black, and it’s really nice. And that, actually, it isn’t just like they’re paying lip service. They kind of deal with that. They talk about their identities actually matter to their characters.
Charlie Jane: [00:29:29] Yeah, and it’s just super uplifting, at least what I’ve seen so far, and it’s super fun and it feels political in a way that’s very kind of happy and upbeat. Supergirl is still making me really happy, and you know…
Annalee: [00:29:42] You are such a sucker for Supergirl.
Charlie Jane: [00:29:44] I love Supergirl. Oh my God, that show… Especially this season, because Supergirl has been doing a whole storyline that’s basically about the alt-right.
Annalee: [00:29:51] Oh…
Charlie Jane: [00:29:51] And there’s like… instead of having an alien villain who’s come to earth to kill everybody, the baddie in this season is basically this movement of humans who are xenophobic against aliens like Supergirl. And, they want to kill all the aliens, and a lot of it directly parallels to the rhetoric and tactics and attitudes of the alt-right, and kind of the new xenophobic right. Directly commenting on that, and it actually wrestles a lot with the issue of whether you engage with them. Whether you try to treat them as legitimate and argue with them, or whether you ignore them, and how do you deal with it? It’s actually really interesting. It’s something that I have been really enjoying.
[00:30:31] A novel that has characters who work together who are super nice and awesome is The Wrong Stars by Tim Pratt, which I loved recently.
Annalee: [00:30:38] Yeah, that’s such a great book.
Charlie Jane: [00:30:38] That’s such a fun space opera book. And one of the things that actually was giving me a lot of hope and excitement and happy feelings about our possible future—the other day was a short story called, “How Robot and Crow saved East St. Louis” which was by an author named, oh, Annalee Newitz! That’s right. Yeah, how did that story come about?
Annalee: [00:30:58] Wow, that was like, a really great intro, Charlie, thanks. That reminded me of like when my parents at Hannukah would be like, who got you some presents? “Thaaaanks.”
[00:31:10] Yeah, so, a short story I wrote came out in Slate a few days ago—
Charlie Jane: [00:31:13] It made me so happy.
Annalee: [00:31:13] And it’s actually dealing with a lot of the hopepunk themes that we’ve been talking about, which I wasn’t—I didn’t set out to do that. I did want to write a hopeful story, and it’s about a robot who is designed by the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control to do health surveillance in St. Louis. And so, it’s kind of going around and trying to make sure that there’s no plague outbreaks, basically, happening. This is in the future when flu outbreaks are really deadly and they’re happening all the time. Well, but then the CDC loses its funding, so the robot is kind of cut loose and it has to figure out what it’s going to do. And, among many things that it does is it decides to learn crow language and hang out with crows. And this leads to it ultimately discovering another plague outbreak and by teaming up with a teenage girl who’s really obsessed with biology, Robot and the crow manage to have an adventure which does have a happy ending. I’m not going to spoil it for you, too much.
[00:32:17] Again, for me, the fun and the hope in this story comes from the alliance between really unlikely characters. A robot, a crow, and a human. How do they cope with a world where lack of government funding for health care and public health is putting huge numbers of people at risk for mass death. So, it’s not a happy world. And it’s good that the government has done this.
[00:32:46] One of the things that was really cool was that Slate got a AI programmer named Janelle Shane to write a response, and she talks about all the ways in which the robot character in the story is not very realistic. And then the—but that’s really interesting, because what she calls attention to in the story are all of the ways in which I’m having kind of a speculative fantasy about what it would be like to actually have a really good AI, like an AI that was a hopeful AI instead of a depressing authoritarian AI like the sort of algorthms on Facebook. It’s like, the opposite of the algorithms on Facebook. How do you build that? And so that’s kind of the fantasy of the story. How would you have a hopeful approach to AI, and to fighting for the future of humanity?
[00:33:33] So, that story’s free on Slate, if you want to check it out. Thanks for asking about it, Charlie.
Charlie Jane: [00:33:36] Yeah, it made me so happy. No, I’ve been like talking about it nonstop since I read it. And it definitely, like I said on Twitter, it feels like kind of an anti-Wall-E story. In the movie Wall-E the robot’s left alone and humans have kind of abandoned it, and it’s just kind of like sad and the human race is kind of pointless and not worth saving, almost. And in this it feels like the human race is worth saving. And the robot isn’t alone even though it’s been abandoned.
Annalee: [00:34:01] It’s in the Wall-E tradition, because of course Wall-E becomes friends with a cockroach in that movie.
Charlie Jane: [00:34:06] But where’s the cockroach for the rest of the film. The cockroach doesn’t actually get to, like…
Annalee: [00:34:09] They don’t get to actually become buddies, whereas—
Charlie Jane: [00:34:10] They don’t team up.
Annalee: [00:34:12] Yeah, Robot and the crow in this story really do team up. And robot kind of deciphers crow language, which we all want to do. Well, at least some of us do. I love crows, so I was like, basically I spend all day long staring at crows, wishing I could talk to them. And I just assume that they’re all making fun of me, which is probably true.
Charlie Jane: [00:34:28] So, my final thought, I guess, for this episode is that I always say that writing a dystopia is a hopeful act because it’s about imagining how we could survive a dystopia. And ditto for apocalypses, and ditto for a lot of other dark subject matter. And I think that actually, the darker the subject matter, the more it matters that you have hope in there. What’s your final thought?
Annalee: [00:34:48] I feel a little bit more ambivalently about writing dystopias. I don’t think that is always a hopeful act. I think that sometimes writers, including myself, just want to hurt you when they write things. I’ve definitely, especially earlier in my career, I wrote things that I wanted readers to feel pain, and I didn’t want them to have hope. I wanted them to just know I was really upset! And there’s a lot of stories that I still really love that are like that. I do think that, however, there is a way to write a dark story that is hopeful, and I think there’s a way of having a story that looks pretty and sparkly and that celebrates a kind of softer approach. I hate to use the word softer, but… that celebrates a more friendship-based, egalitarian approach to fixing problems. I think there’s ways of making that really tough and really realistic, that—just because something looks sparkly, doesn’t mean it has to be fakery or that it’s covering up some essential problem. And I think that’s what’s great about things like Steven Universe and She-Ra is that they give us a lesson in having something that seems cute and happy, but also, really asks hard questions and it really punches you in the chest with sadness sometimes, and darkness, and…
[00:36:03] So, really, this is just an invitation for people to be writing and reading more sparkly things that are hopeful. Or dark things that help us on that difficult journey to a better world.
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Charlie Jane: [00:36:26] Now for a segment that we call, “What I’m Obsessed With.” Annalee, what are you obsessed with this week?
Annalee: [00:36:31] Okay, I just watched this movie from 2007 called Rise: Blood Hunter. So you know it’s going to be good immediately because it has a colon in the title, right? It doesn’t just Rise Blood Hunter, it’s Rise COLON Blood Hunter. Which, I guess means, it’s like, an order. Like, rise up? Anyway.
Charlie Jane: [00:36:50] That would be Rise, COMMA, Blood Hunter.
Annalee: [00:36:52] Right. I don’t know what this is. It’s starring Lucy Liu as a woman who works at LA Weekly, back when LA Weekly was an alternative publication.
Charlie Jane: [00:37:03] Oh, that makes me so sad.
Annalee: [00:37:04] Yeah, and she is doing investigative work on some kind of death metal thing, but it’s really vampires? We don’t really understand? Somehow Michael Chiklis is also involved. He’s a cop who’s somehow investigating the same thing. It’s basically—Lucy Liu, of course, gets too deep into it. She’s turned into a vampire, and then there’s like… long, gratuitous vampire blood sex threesome scenes.
Charlie Jane: [00:37:04] Wait, why is that gratuitous? That sounds very important to the story.
Annalee: [00:37:37] It’s gratuitous, trust me. I watched the Unrated version, so… and it’s a lot. And it’s like, it’s gloriously bad and it’s also a little squicky, like, trigger warning for sure if you’re going to check this movie out. It also has a cameo from Marilyn Manson randomly. It has Topher from Dollhouse, in it. It’s like, everyone is in this frickin’ movie, Lucy Liu is the frickin’ star and utters the immortal line, “You’re the only man who tried to put my pants back on me.”
Charlie Jane: [00:38:08] Oh, God.
Annalee: [00:38:09] Like, that’s the kind of movie it is.
Charlie Jane: [00:38:12] Oh, man.
Annalee: [00:38:12] You can tell that Lucy Liu is literally dialing it in. She’s like, oh, okay, I’m gonna do this. The director, Sebastian Gutierrez is famous for making one of the worst movies in the world called Gothika.
Charlie Jane: [00:38:25] Oh, Gothika.
Annalee: [00:38:25] Yeah, which was a great—Halle Berry is in that being tormented. This is another one of kind of gothic torment movie. It pretty much makes no sense. Basically it’s just Lucy Liu doing revenge killings. There’s a lot of random flashbacks that you would never know were flashbacks except that Lucy Liu has long hair in the past and short hair in the present. So you can keep it straight if you need to. There’s also, like, random lesbian scenes, we don’t know why…
Charlie Jane: [00:38:54] Yay!
Annalee: Charlie Jane: [00:38:54] There’s—I’d say, just a lot of revenge killing, and also fragile vampires. Like, for some reason, the vampires can’t die, but it’s easy to kick them and knock them out, which allows them to have lots of scenes of unconscious Lucy Liu being tormented.
Charlie Jane: [00:39:08] Oh no.
Annalee: [00:39:08] That one of the things, I was like, I don’t know.
Charlie Jane: [00:39:11] That doesn’t sound good.
Annalee: [00:39:11] Overall, it meets the criteria of a so-bad-it’s-good movie on almost every axis. Like, having really high-powered actors in this incredibly garbage plot. It’s incoherent. It has random sex and nudity for no reason. Lots of people being hung from the ceiling for no reason. Characters who are introduced and disappear. We don’t know why they’re there. It’s like, oh, it’s some old important vampire guy. Okay, forget about him. We only needed him for this scene with the hanging upside down naked girl. Oh, and crossbows. Lucy Liu’s weapon is a crossbow.
Charlie Jane: [00:39:44] Of course it is.
Annalee: [00:39:44] Which, she only has five arrows, but somehow they last for the whole movie until the very end.
Charlie Jane: [00:39:49] But does this movie have—
Annalee: [00:39:50] She retrieves them, I guess.
Charlie Jane: [00:39:54] I guess. So, does this movie have municipal Darwinism, though?
Annalee: [00:39:57] Not as good as Mortal Engines, which has municipal Darwinism, but it is set in LA, so there is a certain amount of urban…
Charlie Jane: [00:40:04] I feel like being in LA automatically makes it about municipal Darwinism.
Annalee: [00:40:08] Yeah… I feel like. There’s sort of urban red alert, and it is actually shot in LA. You’ll recognize LA in it. I was just blown away. I can’t believe this movie exists and that we don’t know more about it. So, I am obsessed with that movie. Rise, COLON, Blood Hunter.
Charlie Jane: [00:40:25] My new catchphrase is municipal Darwinism from the Mortal Engines movie because it’s just—you can use it in so many circumstances.
Annalee: [00:40:31] It’s really true. I mean, we’re living through municipal Darwinism.
Charlie Jane: [00:40:35] We are, actually.
Annalee: [00:40:36] What are you, other than municipal Darwinism, what are you obsessed with?
Charlie Jane: [00:40:39] So, my current obsession is a novel that I’m just finishing up reading called The Gilded Wolves, but Roshani Chokshi. And it takes place in Paris in 1889, and it’s about this group of, like, thieves who are stealing magical objects from the aristrocrats of Paris’s magical society and they’re led by this guy named Severan, who is like a disgraced aristocrat who runs a fabulous hotel, and one of the thieves is this girl from India who is like, a caberet performer but she performs in a mask so nobody knows who she really is. And she’s also a pastry chef.
Annalee: [00:41:14] And a thief?
Charlie Jane: [00:41:14] And a thief. And like…
Annalee: [00:41:15] I love her.
Charlie Jane: [00:41:16] Yeah, I know. Oh my God.
Annalee: [00:41:17] I love her so much.
Charlie Jane: [00:41:17] This novel is just—it’s non-stop fun. Every time you think that Roshani Chokshi can’t come up with more wild and glamorous and beautiful stuff, she just comes up with twenty more things. It’s just—it’s just non-stop fun, and it’s just super exciting and I don’t want it to end.
Annalee: [00:41:32] Is it hopeful?
Charlie Jane: [00:41:33] It is actually quite hopeful. I haven’t gotten to the end of the book yet, but I’m close to the end now. It’s got this sort of beautiful, escapist, but it’s also about this group of friends who are all there for each other. And they’re all kind of supporting each other. It’s a YA book. I think it’s right on the edge, like anybody could read it.
Annalee: [00:41:47] Yeah, like YA for all ages.
Charlie Jane: [00:41:50] Yeah, and it’s just—it’s so much fun and the world is so fascinating and all the magical stuff is really interesting because there’s lots of layers to that as well, and it gets into all this weird theological territory and there’s just—and it’s got this undercurrent going through it about colonialism and about post-colonization and a lot of the characters are people of color who are dealing with the fallout of colonialism in one way or another and that’s kind of a running theme.
Annalee: [00:42:16] And it sounds like they’re stealing magical artifacts back—
Charlie Jane: [00:42:20] Yeah, kind of.
Annalee: [00:42:20] —that have been maybe taken from them. Which is another, kind of. That’s a bit of a post-colonial theme. Not that there’s magic, but—
Charlie Jane: [00:42:26] In a way, yeah.
Annalee: [00:42:26] —like that, during colonialism many sacred artifacts were taken from colonized peoples and put into museums.
Charlie Jane: [00:42:33] There is a little bit of that. It’s also got like a lot of magical Oceans 11 kind of stuff where it’s like, we’re going to break into the magic vault, and you’re going to disguise yourself as like a gardener, and you’re going to descend from the ceiling, and you’re going to do a ballet dance and then… It’s just got everything.
Annalee: [00:42:48] Also, I just want to return to the important thing of pastry chef, caberet performer, magic stealer.
Charlie Jane: [00:42:56] Yeah.
Annalee: [00:42:56] That’s… wow.
Charlie Jane: [00:42:58] And it’s just—the whole novel is just non-stop fun and zaniness. I don’t know. I love it so much.
Annalee: [00:43:06] All right, cool.
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Charlie Jane: [00:43:11] Thanks for listening to Our Opinions Are Correct. Please follow us on Twitter at @OOACpod, and you can find this podcast whereever you can find any podcast. Like, at Apple Podcasts. Libsyn, anywhere. Please subscribe to us. Please leave a review, if you like us. Also, we have a Patreon. It’s patreon.com/ouropinionsarecorrect. If you could give us like a dollar or a Galactic Unit, or a ZarpCoin or a Blarblooden.
Annalee: [00:43:38] Or a million dollars.
Charlie Jane: [00:43:39] Or, you know, possibly like, our own planet, you know. That would be really awesome.
Annalee: [00:43:43] I mean, or a Kuiper Belt object.
Charlie Jane: [00:43:45] If you give us our own planet, please give us a way to get there because there’s no point in owning a planet that we can’t ever actually reach. Like, I did that once, it wasn’t really that great.
Annalee: [00:43:53] Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:43:53] I was like, I could point up and be, that, right there, that’s my planet.
Annalee: [00:43:57] Yeah, and you can’t even be sure really, who’s already there. Yes.
Charlie Jane: [00:44:00] Yeah, like, it’s hard to, you know. It’s hard to stake your claim. So, yeah, give us a way to get to our planet if you’re giving us a planet. And, thanks to Veronica Simonetti for being our engineer and just generally—
Annalee: [00:44:09] At Women’s Audio Mission.
Charlie Jane: [00:44:09] At Women’s Audio Mission, for being our engineer, and just generally being the greatest. Thanks to Chris Palmer for the music, and thanks to you for listening.
Annalee: [00:44:17] Bye now!
Charlie Jane: [00:44:17] Bye!
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