There is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out. Multiple news agencies are reporting that Mad Magazine is ceasing publication after sixty-seven years. I know it’s not directly related to science fiction, but having to say good-bye to Mad Magazine still hurts. So, it’s worth talking about the satire magazine’s relationship with the science fiction genre.
Mad’s wiki article summarizes the magazine’s impact on American culture. In fact, reading Mad was an introduction for many American kids to satire, critical thinking, lampooning, and humor itself. Silly, without being subversive. Criticizing, without being critical. Mad never hesitated to take on important topics, find something funny to say about them, and challenge us to think on a deeper level.
Science fiction, of course, enjoyed Mad’s loving attention almost from the beginning. Throughout it’s publication history, every single important sci-fi film, book, TV show took their turn being roasted. For lonely, sheltered kids who had no exposure to the world of science fiction beyond whatever their parents brought home, Mad Magazine was a gateway drug to the vast universe of stories out there being told.
Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel, Back to the Future, Predator and yes, Stranger Things … we cackled our way through the corny jokes, skewered the plot holes, and ultimately celebrated the victory of another successful science fiction story. We laughed, we kidded, but we loved. In fact, I remember working on a project with a rather talented actor. She said she ‘knew she had made it when she reached the cover of Mad Magazine.’ You can see a picture of Michael Biehn autographing the Mad Magazine that lampooned ‘Aliens’ on the wiki article. ’nuff said.
And look, I get it. I stopped reading Mad years ago. In fact, I think you’re supposed to. It’s sophomoric humor is designed to appeal to the male 12-18 demographic. Gross-out, libidinous humor that’s just this side of acceptable … I graduated from that and moved on, as many others did. In a world of dying print magazines, I guess this was inevitable. It just makes me sad all the same.
Many others are sharing their sadness. Weird Al Yankovic said on Twitter: “I can’t begin to describe the impact it had on me as a young kid – it’s pretty much the reason I turned out weird. Goodbye to one of the all-time greatest American institutions.”
Weird Al echoes the experiences of several generations of creative, funny people. Mad Magazine’s departure will leave a hole in our collective souls for many years to come.
A phrase in William Gibson’s ‘Hinterlands’ that keeps running through my head as I binge-watch Seasons 1 and 2 of ‘Stranger Things’ in preparation for Season 3. It’s ‘schöner machine,’ or ‘beautiful machine.’ Like William Gibson’s ill-fated astronaut, I can’t help but marvel at a beautiful machine, and that’s why I’m totally in love with this amazing Netflix show.
Stranger Things, above all, is a brilliant story. The Duffer Brothers’ ability to combine Eighties zeitgeist with classic science fiction mysteries and still create a completely authentic, autonomous universe is nothing short of remarkable.
The show drips with rich, elegant visuals that invite you to travel back through all the parts of the Eighties you don’t remember. Beautiful cinematography takes you through thick pile carpets, wooden console TVs, wood-paneled walls, and goofy retro bedrooms straight out of Better Homes and Gardens. You can’t help falling in love with the series for the design elements alone.
Verisimilitude is defined as ‘the appearance of being true or real.’ From the studied detail of the film scratches in the title sequence to ST’s epic soundtrack, all you feel is the reality of the universe. But the show doesn’t stop there. No, Stranger Things is a dense, thoughtful, and action-packed journey through one of the most interesting science fiction mysteries of the past decade.
Equal parts funny, scary, touching … you feel every square inch of Joyce’s torment at losing Will. You feel the boys’ love for their stricken friend. You feel Eleven’s conflicted feelings over her captors, her powers, and her new-found family. Even after you escape the primary story arc, there are other places to go. The show explores other parts of the characters’ lives with care and precision. These things are the hallmark of great storytelling, and Stranger Things has that market cornered.
Then you have the kids. God, I hope they turn out okay. I mentioned two years ago that I admire Gaten Matarazzo for how he’s handled his cleidocranial dysplasia. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: In science fiction, there are no weaknesses … there are only strengths you haven’t discovered.
Every actor inhabits a three-dimensional character that feels like someone you know from high school, your neighborhood, or your job. I’m particularly happy about seeing Winona Ryder and Matt Modine on screen again. The growing cast of child actors are incredibly talented. I hope they have long, safe and successful careers ahead of them.
So in short, I’m a fan of Stranger Things in several ways and for several different reasons. I love sci-fi and it doesn’t get much better than this. Not only that, the production of Stranger Things is a classic underdog tale.
We’ve been on a journey since the Duffer Brothers leap-frogged from short-film producers to pro filmmakers to rubbing elbows with M. Night Shyamalan on Wayward Pines to successfully pitching Stranger Things to Netflix via 21 Laps Entertainment. Stranger Things is the answer to every person who says ‘there’s no room for the little guys anymore.’
As Season Three comes out tomorrow morning and I settle in to binge-watch , I want to take a moment and say ‘Yes!’ Stranger Things is a beautiful machine, and until I started watching I had no idea how much I needed one in my life. I’m betting you do, too.
Bummer. The company that runs the Maker Faire abruptly shut down. According to Verge, difficulties with magazines and getting corporate sponsorship contributed to the collapse. They’re still committed to trying again, and that in a nutshell is why one of the central themes of Mesh is: Makers Gonna Make.
Here’s the thing: Maker culture is something that exists outside of a magazine, or an event. Making, creating, building, doing … those are intrinsic human values.
So while Verge seems to think this is a ‘huge blow’ to the Maker culture. I disagree … the maker community still exists, with or without an event. In fact, that desire to create is something that I wanted Mesh to be about, and it’s something I spend a lot of time exploring.
This isn’t an easy path, though. For example, how do you introduce 21st Century kids to concepts like tinkering, electronics, coding? It’s not enough to throw a Youtube channel at them. How will you connect them to the artisans, journeymen, and wrights that shaped human civilization over the past few thousand years? We live in a deeply stratified, specialized world now. It focuses on making as a means to an end, and you rarely hear about the why of making.
So while I see kids being very interested in making things – and all power to them – I feel like they’re missing out on something. There’s a massive history, culture, and heritage that you can’t pick up in a how-to article. Furthermore, maker culture is getting co-opted into a commodity, when one of the central themes of maker culture is that “you are not a commodity.” That mis-alignment, that pressure to make ‘making’ your identity, is turning people off.
Makers are gonna Make. That’s what we do.
So while I’m certain Maker Faires will still be around next year, and ten years from now, I want to talk about how Makers are gonna Make. That’s what we do. It’s not the only thing we do, it’s not the only thing we are, but we are never going to stop making. Creativity brings us joy, and we want to be happy people. So we make.
Mesh, along with the action and adventure, is a celebration of that reality. Roman, our hero, travels through virtual reality to be with those artisans and craftsmen, learning how people made things in the years before the Internet, before cyberspace. He meets some of those old-school nerds, fiercely independent and thoughtful people. They teach him what it means to be someone who can make amazing things, and what that power means.
So to sum up the issue of ‘Maker culture’ and Maker Faire, the answer is pretty simple. The culture tried something, and it worked for a while but then it stopped working. They’ll look at what went wrong, how to avoid that problem in the future, and then they’ll start over. As Henry Ford said, ‘Failure is the chance to begin again, but more intelligently.’
I’m confident that Maker Media will begin again, and we’ll enjoy what the Maker culture turns into next. After all, tomorrow is another day, another chance to fill 24 hours with 1,440 minutes of imagination.
Makers gonna make.
Pleased to say a new short story popped out of me. I submitted ‘They Did the Math’ to Terraform on Saturday, a short story about the discovery of time travel.
Although most people will think ‘Back to the Future,’ let me assure you that I went a different direction. Like the discovery of fire, or atomic weapons, a working time travel technology would have broad implications for humanity and I wanted to explore those ideas.
Now we wait to see if Terraform likes ‘They Did the Math’ enough to buy it. If they don’t, I’ll be submitting it elsewhere. I’ve got a good feeling about this one.
“Who says Loki has to be a guy?” Enjoy these cosplay moments for your Sci-Friday
Monday morning box office numbers are in, and they ain’t pretty. According to Buzzfeed, Variety, Vulture, and Polygon, Dark Phoenix failed to meet opening weekend expectations, falling well short of the expected $40-50M that Disney was estimating. I’m not here to crow about the loss. Rather, I think this means that ‘Dark Phoenix’ is Marvel’s ‘jump the shark’ moment, with long-term implications for the 3-5 year roadmap of science fiction. What does it mean to jump the shark anyway?
See kids, back in the olden days there was this thing called TV, and on this invention they showed shows. One of the most popular shows of all time, ‘Happy Days,’ tried to re-invigorate itself with an episode where Fonzi jumps over a shark on waterskis. The strategy backfired, and simply highlighted how ‘Happy Days’ was over. Now ‘jumping the shark‘ is our metaphor for the implosion of anything popular. (See also: Facebook games, Payless shoes, and Live/Laugh/Love signs)
So when we see something like a major X-Men franchise film fall short of expectations, that’s a clue. Some might be shocked that Marvel movies in a post-Endgame era aren’t the guaranteed cash cow they’re seen to be. To those people I say: gee, who would have seen that coming with six of them opening in the first half of 2019, alone? Please.
Like the detective genre in the thirties, westerns in the fifties, disaster movies in the seventies and action movies in the eighties, we’re in a genre glue. The era of magic punching people is destined to come to an end. Call it ‘Avenger fatigue,’ call it ‘The Superhero Glut,’ people will eventually grow sick of superhero movies and move on to something else. The change is on its way, and ‘Dark Phoenix’ is the proof.
Just once, I wish Hollywood would get the message early and learn how to make graceful exits. After all, we keep seeing genres bled white by greed. It never works out, it always turns into a joke of itself, and it ends up doing your reputation more harm than good. As Harold from Spongebob says: “How many times do we have to teach you this lesson, old man?”
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that this means a huge opportunity for Mesh. No magic punching people, no tired cliches, no boring tropes. Mesh will be ready for a fresh look by sci-fi experiencers looking for a fresh experience. No bloated corporate hype, no overpaid gasbags waxing poetic from the teleprompter. Mesh is a dive back into the old-school, cutting-edge, seat-of-your-pants world of tech, geekery, and adventure. My fingers are crossed that it’ll be hitting the bookshelves just as people become ready to read it.
I’m looking forward to that future.
Happy to say that I finished polishing Mesh a couple of days early. As a result, heart in mouth, I sent it to my best-selling author friend. I heard back from her a few hours ago: