Sunday, April 9, 2017

Hollow Pursuits: A Review Of Ghost In The Shell (2017)



It may have taken me a bit of time, but after seeing Rupert Sanders’s 2017 Ghost In The Shell on Friday I’ve finally come up with what I think is the perfect word to sum up the experience.

Sadness.

Not that the film itself is depressing, per se, but what it says about the producers--and what they think of their audience.

Ghost In The Shell’s Long History

As a matter of full disclosure, I am a pretty hardcore Ghost In The Shell aficionado.  I enjoyed Masamume Shirow’s manga when it first came out, way back in 1989 -- though, not understanding a word of Japanese, I had no idea what was going on.  I saw Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 film opening weekend in the US -- and the same with his sequel, Ghost In The Shell: Innocence.  I’ve seen every episode of each TV incarnation of the franchise: Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex; Ghost In The Shell: 2nd Gig, and Ghost In The Shell: Arise.  I could call myself a completist but I have yet to see the Ghost In The Shell on stage.  And, yes, that’s a real thing (in Tokyo in 2015).

So, suffice it to say, when I heard that my beloved Ghost was going to be Americanized--and be whitewashed by having Scarlett Johansson in the lead--I was more than a bit skeptical.

And, guess, what, I was right: the new Ghost In The Shell is, to be pretty obvious, a shell of not just what it came from but what it could have been.

But that’s not the sad part.

A Quick Guide To Ghost In The Shell

For those unfortunate not to have read or see anything of the original Ghost In The Shell franchise, here’s a quick synopsis of the basics: in the near future when augmentations and enhancements have become commonplace, even to the point of many people having completely artificially bodies (save for their brain) “Major” Motoko Kusanagi is a member of Public Security Section 9: a Japanese anti-terrorist task force specializing in cyber-terrorism.  A full-body cyborg, the Major is possibly one of the most kick-ass anime characters out there--and considering how many anime characters to more than their fare share of ass-kicking that’s saying a lot.

Public Security Section 9 is headed by gruff but brilliant Aramaki and also includes the mostly human Togusa; the (literally) steely-eyed sniper, Saito; Pazu, who may or may not be a former Yakuza; and a few too many others to name.  Finally there’s Batou: who comes pretty close to the Major when it comes to posterior-impacting.

Yet More Whitewashing

Back to the new film, let’s begin by getting the whitewashed elephant out into the open.  When Hollywood is already getting some much deserved flack for consistently casting white actors and actresses in the roles of established non-white characters the decision to put Johansson in Ghost In The Shell was at best foolish at worst completely insulting.

You could almost (almost!) look beyond the decision if the film handled it creatively.  Instead, and I won’t get into spoiler-territory here, the big reveal is even more disturbing.  It’s as if those involved were laughing at anyone who had voiced any concern about the casting.  Even more troubling is that they invented a character, Ladriya (played by Danusia Samal) whose only existence seems to give the cast more diversity.  

Does It Stand Alone?  No

Believe it or not, I actually can screen out the everything that came before 2017’s live action Ghost In The Shell: seeing it without really seeing the manga, the movies, the shows--everything that came before it.  

And, guess what, it still doesn’t work.  

The dialogue is so bad it’s almost a Mystery Science Theater 3000 audition tape.  One particular scene makes me wince in retrospect: a conversation among the Section 9 members that seems to drop the painfully outdated term “cyber” a dozen or so times--it’s as as if the screenwriters Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger were laughing at the source material.

Then there’s the actors actually speaking this dialogue.  Sure, you have some top-notch talent involved--including Japanese legend 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano as Aramaki--but they all seem to be on the verge of looking at the audience with a “can you really believe I’m saying this?” expression.

Scarlett Johansson is pretty, but then she always is, but instead of being a supposedly custom-built killing machine having a crisis of identity she instead always in need of a long nap.  In what were no doubt supposed to be scenes of intense and meaningful self-discovery I kept expecting her to give out a long, deep yawn.

Then there the visuals.  Sure, some of them are pretty, but other films did a much better job of depicting a gritty urban future.  Much has been said of the production values and I do have to give credit to Weta Workshop for some fine SFX but when a painfully trite moment of direction, or an equally painful line of dialogue interrupts, all the pretty pictures are just so much lipstick on a pig.

Then there’s the direction, and while this isn’t the source of my sadness it’s getting damned close.  Practically every seen in the new Ghost In The Shell is a direct copy of a scene from the original animated film, the sequel and even various episodes of the assorted TV series.  Like a scene in the new film?  I’ll bet you hard currency that it’s either based on or maybe even a complete copy from a previous, and so much better, iteration of Ghost In The Shell.  

A homage is one thing--but I’m surprised the director hasn’t been sued for cinematic plagiarism.

And now we get to this reviewer’s above-mentioned one word description of the live-action Ghost In The Shell.

In A Word: Dumb

You can say lots of things about the the manga, the original film, the sequel, the various TV versions and I’ll pretty much agree with you: slow, impenetrable, tedious, confusing … even pretentious.  But one thing you could never say about any of them is that they were stupid.

To put it bluntly: the new live action Ghost In The Shell is painfully stupid.  

In addition to the production’s infuriating disregard for concerns about the whitewashing, and a plot that pretty much mocks anyone who expressed it, the film makes practically no sense.   From the opening cards to the last line the film is clear that it doesn’t just disrespect it’s audience but thinks it’s too stupid to understand what made every incarnation of Ghost In The Shell so fascinating.

Instead of exploring--as the other films and such do--what it means to be ‘human’ (especially if the only thing left of you is your brain), dealing with complex and intriguing ideas like the vanishing mediator and a stand alone complex, metaphysics … and even the afterlife, the new Ghost In The Shell has a frothing villain, Cutter (played by Peter Ferdinando), who shoots characters for no reason except to shout at the audience “I’M EVIL.”

To resort to a rather silly, but apt, cooking metaphor: the new film took everything from every version of Ghost In The Shell, put it into a blender, hit frappe, and then pushed it through a strainer.  Except, instead of getting the juice of what makes Ghost In The Shell so memorable and magnificent they gave us the nasty pulp.

Want further evidence?  Perhaps one of the most beautiful moments in Mamoru Oshii’s original film, and echoed in his Ghost In The Shell: Innocence, is the opening: the elegant technological ballet that’s the creation of a cyborg.  Set to Kenji Kawai supremely beautiful music the scene, to this day, elicits a deep-body shiver of awe.

And then there’s the Americanized version: a pale--okay, let’s call it whitewashed--version set to, of course, a paint-by-numbers Western-type soundtrack.  They do use the original Kenji Kawai music, though--at the end, over the credits … when people are leaving the theater.  

It’s like a final screw-you to the fans.

To be fair, Mamoru Oshii--director of the two anime films--has come out in favor of the new film.  And for those who are total purists I give a gentle reminder that the Japanese love to reinvent their movies and shows--and that every version of Ghost In The Shell has done that, and then some, many times.

I can’t speak for the legendary Oshii but at least when the Japanese relaunch and recreated Ghost they did it always keeping what makes every film and show to great: Intelligence.

Yes, this is a sad film: a testament to how little Hollywood thinks of you.  Clearly, they are saying, you aren’t smart enough to understand Ghost In The Shell.  So here’s some explosions, lots of gunfights, pretty pictures, a bad guy to hate, and a sexy white woman who can drool over.

It Actually Could Have Been Good

What’s even more infuriating is that the film could have been wonderful.  Give the reigns back to Oshii--he’s done live-action before--bring the music of Kenji Kawai to a new audience.  

I’d even accept Scarlett Johansson as the Major … and before you throw those rocks let me explain: in the movies and the series the Major is a full body cyborg, her shell is often referred to as a stock model, chosen not for aesthetics but performance.  There’s even a scene in the original film when she sees what appears to be a doppelganger of herself-- except it’s another person wearing the same style body.  Why not have a scene where she explains that all that’s important is her “ghost,” her consciousness, and that the body is just one that suits her needs?  Hell, in the series she’s even worn male ones.  You could even have a fight with an adversary that’s also wearing a Scarlett Johansson body.

There are all kinds of things this new film could have done.  It could have been as memorable and haunting as the films, full of fascinating concepts, interesting characters, stunning visuals, amazing music … but, no: we have a dumb movie created by people who think that’s what Western audiences are.

Love Your Ghost

If there’s a ray of sunshine in all this is that this film might intrigue a few people, enough to check out the original animated films and the various TV versions.  

If you do I think you’ll be in for a truly special experience.  Just one though: it will make you think.

And, believe me, that’s a wonderful thing.  

Monday, March 20, 2017

Pre-Release Book Announcement: Groundbreaking FIVE TO THE FUTURE SciFi Anthology

Digital Parchment Services (distributed by Futures-Past Editions) and M.Christian are pleased to announce the imminent release of a brand new science fiction anthology edited by M.Christian:
Five To The Future
All New Novelettes of Tomorrow and Beyond

Five to the Future_eBook.jpg

Featuring never-before-published work by Ernest Hogan (Locus Award Finalist), Arthur Byron Cover (Nebula Award Finalist), Emily Devenport (Boomerang Award winner), Cynthia Ward (Asimov’s SF Magazine), and M.Christian (Lambda Award Finalist):
Here’s what editor M.Christian says about this new anthology:

And here we are: a Chicano fiesta of multicultural caliente salsa from Ernest Hogan, a soul-touching tale of furry friends and bittersweet affection by Emily Devenport, a neon-highlighted 80s love letter to a classic anime by Cynthia Ward, a multi-dimensionally kaleidoscopic tale of love beyond reality by Arthur Byron Cover, and even my own modest contribution in four stories as one, about the Soviet-era practice of smuggling Western music impressed onto discarded X-rays.

About the contributors to Five To The Future:

Extensively published in science fiction, fantasy, horror, thrillers, and non-fiction, it is in erotica that M.Christian has become an acknowledged master, with more than 400 sales in such anthologies as Best American Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Bisexual Erotica, Best Fetish Erotica, and in fact too many anthologies, magazines, and sites to name.

But M.Christian has other tricks up his literary sleeve: in addition to writing, he is a prolific and respected anthologist, having edited twenty-five anthologies to date including The Mammoth Book of Future Cops, The Mammoth Book of Tales of the Road (with Maxim Jakubowksi); Confessions, Garden of Perverse, Amazons (with Sage Vivant), and many more.

As a novelist, M.Christian has shown his versatility with books such as the queer vamp novels Running Dry and The Very Bloody Marys; the erotic romance Brushes; the science fiction erotic novel Painted Doll; and the rather controversial gay horror/thrillers Finger’s Breadth and Me2.

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Arthur Byron Cover is a former bookseller, critic, and big mouth. He published several sf novels in another era. He was raised in Tazewell, Virginia, which is in Tazewell County, which was named after a man who opposed the formation of the county until he learned it was going to be named after him. He is one degree of separation from F. Scott Fitzgerald, former President Clinton, Nelson Mandela, and a whole lot of rich and famous people in liberal Hollywood, many still alive. He currently lives with his wife and six pets in the middle of nowhere called Packwood, Washington, where the elk roam and the volcanoes haven’t erupted for thirty years.

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Nine of Emily Devenport’s novels were published in the US by NAL/Roc, under three pen names. She has also been published in the U.K., Italy, China, and Israel. Her novels are Shade, Larissa, Scorpianne, EggHeads, The Kronos Condition, GodHeads, Broken Time (which was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award), Belarus, and Enemies. Her newest novels, The Night Shifters and Spirits of Glory, are in ebook form on Amazon, Smashwords, etc. She is currently working on a novel based on her popular novelette, “The Servant.”

Her short stories were published in Asimov’s SF Magazine, the Full Spectrum anthology, The Mammoth Book of Kaiju, Uncanny, Cicada , Science Fiction World, Clarkesworld, and Aboriginal SF, whose readers voted her a Boomerang Award (which turned out to be an actual boomerang). She blogs at www.emsjoiedeweird.com.

One day Em hopes to become a geologist. She volunteers at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix and works in the Heard Museum bookstore (Books & More). She is married to artist/writer Ernest Hogan, and they live in Arizona, the Geology Capital of the World.

And she really loves cake. You should send her cake. (But not pineapple upside-down cake. That’s fake cake.)

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Ernest Hogan is a six-foot tall Aztec leprechaun who was born in East LA back in the Atomic Age. His mother’s name was Garcia, and his parents weren’t aware of Ernest Hogan, the Father of Ragtime. He grew up in West Covina, considered to be one of the most boring places in California. Monster movies, comic books, and science fiction saved his life. Because he is the author of High Aztech, Smoking Mirror Blues, and Cortez on Jupiter, he is considered to be the Father of Chicano Science Fiction, though there hasn’t been any kind of DNA test. His short fiction has appeared in Amazing Stories, Analog, Science Fiction Age, and many other publications, His story “The Frankenstein Penis,” has been made into student films. He is also an artist and cartoonist. He has been recently been discovered by academia, which may bring about the end of Western Civilization. His “Chicanonautica Manifesto” appeared in Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies. He is married to the writer Emily Devenport.

They live in Arizona, and enjoy exploring the Wild West. He blogs at mondoernesto.com and labloga.blogspot.com. Currently, he’s trying to finish several novels, but keeps getting distracted by all kinds of weird shit.

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Cynthia Ward has published stories in Asimov's Science Fiction, Shattered Prism, Weird Tales, Athena's Daughters (Silence in the Library Publishing), and other anthologies and magazines. Her stories "Norms" and "#rising" made the Tangent Online Recommended Reading List for 2011 and 2014. She edited the anthologies Lost Trails: Forgotten Tales of the Weird West Volumes One and Two for WolfSinger Publications, and has a pair of anthologies forthcoming in collaboration with Charles G. Waugh, the first science fiction professional she ever met. With Nisi Shawl, Cynthia co-created the groundbreaking Writing the Other fiction writers workshop and coauthored the diversity fiction-writing handbook Writing the Other: A Practical Approach (Aqueduct Press).  Her short alternate-history novel, The Adventure of the Incognita Countess, is now available from Aqueduct Press. She lives in Los Angeles, where she is not working on a screenplay.

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Five To The Future will be formally released in April, 2017. Pre-release copies for review are available now by writing M.Christian: mchristianzobop@gmail.com.

ISBN (print): 978-1544125367
PRICE: (print) $14.99/(ebook): $2.99 (free on Amazon Unlimited)
eBook and Trade Paper Editions available April, 2017

Distributed by Futures-Past Editions
https://futurespasteditions.com
Twitter: @futurespasted
Facebook: Futures-Past-Editions

Digital Parchment Services is a complete ebook and print service for literary estates and literary agents. The founders of Digital Parchment Services are pioneers in digital publishing who have collectively published over 2,500 ebooks and PoD paperbacks since 1998.

DPS clients include the estates of multiple Hugo winning author William Rotsler, and science fiction legend Jody Scott; authors such as Locus Award finalist Ernest Hogan, Hugo and Nebula nominee Arthur Byron Cover, prize winning mystery author Jerry Oster, psychologist John Tamiazzo, Ph.D., award winning nutritionist Ann Tyndall; and Best of Collections from Fate Magazine and Amazing Stories.

http://digitalparchmentservices.com
Twitter: @DigiParchment
Facebook: Digital-Parchment-Services

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Announcing The M.Christian Erotic Science Fiction Collection


For the first time, M.Christian’s sexual futurist novels and short story collections are available as both ebooks and special-edition audiobooks!

“Future technology’s ability to alter the very nature of our humanity—and the ways those changes interact with sex—shapes this solid collection of futuristic stories from erotica author M.Christian”
Publisher’s Weekly on Skin Effect

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Since his appearance in the 1994 edition of Best American Erotica, M.Christian has proven himself to be the premier erotic chameleon: being able to seamlessly write for practically any genre and orientation, fetish and interest.  

But it is in the field of erotic science fiction that M.Christian has shown his mastery of both: combining a vivid style, haunting and evocative characters, and carefully crafted structures to not just sexually charge the reader he also examines how human sexuality may evolve in the coming decades—or centuries.

For the first time his premier short story collections and novels are now available as not just as ebooks but—through a special arrangement with Wordwooze Publishing—as audiobooks!

M.Christian’s Erotic Science Fiction Short Story Collections:

Bachelor Machine: Science Fiction Erotica (with an introduction by Cecilia Tan).  
The book that established M.Christian as a voice in the genre.  Received positive reviews from many, including Locus Online.  
Ebook (Renaissance E Books/Sizzler Editions): http://tinyurl.com/gp8cpkt
Audiobook (Wordwooze Publishing): http://tinyurl.com/zw25f7o

Skin Effect: More Science Fiction Erotica (with an introduction by Ernest Hogan).  
The positive-future sequel to Bachelor Machine.  Received positive reviews from the likes of Publisher’s Weekly.  
Ebook (Renaissance E Books/Sizzler Editions): http://tinyurl.com/j9moky8
Audiobook (Wordwooze Publishing): http://tinyurl.com/jzmct5u

M.Christian’s Erotic Science Fiction Novels:

Bionic Lover
A mesmerizing tale of bittersweet desire, lesbian romance, and all-too human frailty
Ebook Print-on-demand (Wordwooze Publishing): http://tinyurl.com/jz54uxr
Audiobook (Wordwooze Publishing): http://tinyurl.com/jsdbzgu

Painted Doll
"A non-stop ride of precise prose and unexpected imagery. Painted Doll is another M. Christian gem; a seamless blend of the erotic with the darkly fantastic. Unpredictable, engaging, and an often startling read."—Marilyn Jaye Lewis, author of Freak Parade
Ebook (Renaissance E Books/Sizzler Editions): http://tinyurl.com/hzx3xyx
Audiobook (Wordwooze Publishing): http://tinyurl.com/j5bvavs

Finger's Breadth
“Finger’s Breadth may well rank as one of the most psychologically astute erotic novels since Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs, and it deserves to be just as widely read.”—Circlet Press
Ebook (Renaissance E Books/Sizzler Editions): http://tinyurl.com/go8m62p
Audiobook (Wordwooze Publishing): http://tinyurl.com/zufwvav

All books are available for review.  Interested?  Write M.Christian at mchristianzobop@gmail.com

M.Christian’s Sexual Futurism In Fact As Well As Fiction:

In addition to writing erotic science fiction, M.Christian is a contributor to the well-respected Future Of Sex (“insights into the fascinating topic of the future of human sex and sexuality”): a publication of the Advanced Human Technologies Group!

M.Christian has written on a staggering array of subjects -- from covering state-of-the-art breakthroughs in sexual technology to speculations on the future of human eroticism -- in over 60 popular articles and essays.

Here’s a link to M.Christian’s work for Future Of Sex: http://futureofsex.net/author/m-christian.

About M.Christian:

Calling M.Christian versatile is a tremendous understatement. Extensively published in science fiction, fantasy, horror, thrillers, and even non-fiction, it is in erotica that M.Christian has become an acknowledged master, with stories in such anthologies as Best American Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Bisexual Erotica, Best Fetish Erotica, and in fact too many anthologies, magazines, and sites to name.  In erotica, M.Christian is known and respected not just for his passion on the page but also his staggering imagination and chameleonic ability to successfully and convincingly write for any and all orientations.

But M.Christian has other tricks up his literary sleeve: in addition to writing, he is a prolific and respected anthologist, having edited 25 anthologies to date including the Best S/M Erotica series; Pirate Booty; My Love For All That Is Bizarre: Sherlock Holmes Erotica; The Burning Pen; The Mammoth Book of Future Cops, and The Mammoth Book of Tales of the Road (with Maxim Jakubowksi); Confessions, Garden of Perverse, and Amazons (with Sage Vivant), and many more.

M.Christian's short fiction has been collected into many bestselling books in a wide variety of genres, including the Lambda Award finalist Dirty Words and other queer collections like Filthy Boys, BodyWork, and his best-of-his-best gay erotica book, Stroke the Fire.  He also has collections of non-fiction (Welcome to Weirdsville, Pornotopia, and How To Write And Sell Erotica); science fiction, fantasy and horror (Love Without Gun Control); and erotic science fiction including Rude Mechanicals, Technorotica, Better Than The Real Thing, and the acclaimed Bachelor Machine.

As a novelist, M.Christian has shown his monumental versatility with books such as the queer vamp novels Running Dry and The Very Bloody Marys; the erotic romance Brushes; the science fiction erotic novel Painted Doll; and the rather controversial gay horror/thrillers Finger's Breadth and Me2.

M.Christian is also the Associate Publisher for Renaissance eBooks, where he strives to be the publisher he'd want to have as a writer, and to help bring quality books (erotica, noir, science fiction, and more) and authors out into the world.

M.Christian’s Social Media:

Twitter: @mchristianzobop