I Will Sail My Ship Alone

Science fiction grew up in the New Wave era. That’s when editors and writers began to push the genre past its pulpish roots and demand better writing, better stories, better literature overall. Readers responded. SF literature will never return to its past of Flash Gordon rockets and bug-eyed monsters in anything other than nostalgic retrospective, or self-parody. And that’s a good thing.

Science fiction grew up. Took it a while, but it did. Mystery has long been mature since Poe. Horror was born mature. Even romance, sometimes nailed for its frivolity, is/was a mature and serious genre.

Not so westerns. I see a lot of bad elements in this genre, a genre I currently work in and love.  It’s like myth and stereotype are considered the norm. Way too many writers seem to be okay with that.

That really bothers me.

I’m not talking about the writing itself. There is bad writing in every genre. I’m talking about the perpetuation of myth and hoary stereotype as the foundation for the genre itself.  That bothers me because it’s a sign of laziness from the writers and no expectation of anything other than sameness on the part of the reader.

Yeah. That’s upsetting to me. These are people who view Matt Dillon and Kitty Russell as iconic, Americanized and Anglo-perfected figures, instead of the flawed characters John Meston intended them to be: A violent psychopath aborning and a two-dollar ragged-out whore with no future. Two lost people marking time with each other as the land and culture change irrevocably around them. That’s what Gunsmoke was about, envisioned by its creator, John Meston. He went out of his way to challenge every stereotype and myth perpetuated by people like Howard Hawkes and John Ford, along with cartoonish icons like Roy Rogers, the Cisco Kid, Tom Mix, and the LI will sail my ship alone.one Ranger. Kid stuff. Maudlin melodrama. Popcorn.

That took real courage on Meston’s part, his desire to bring a level of adult power to the western genre. I respect that. I respect anyone who is willing to buck the system and challenge trends and expectations.

There are good  writers out there working right now to change the genre. Ed Gorman. Loren D. Estleman. Matt Braun to some extent, though he can be iffy. In the weird west category Jennifer Brozek comes directly to mind as one of my contemporaries. But these people are/were good writers to begin with, so it’s no surprise they write westerns that don’t depend on hoary myth as a backdrop, or mawkishness as a foundation.

As a reader I personally enjoy stories that challenge perception and expectation. Stories that elevate the reader’s experience and broadens their emotional horizon always have my respect. All good stories do that on some level. All good writers do that. Popcorn is fun to munch on, but it’s not good for long term sustenance.

I think the one medium where westerns have gone a long way in growing up are, surprisingly, the movies. There are still western cartoons being produced, or aspects of western cartoons. But there have been many fine adult western movies that push the envelope. I see many more examples of that in movies than I do in current literature.

It’s a shame. I don’t know why western literature can’t seem to grow out of its juvenile past. But I refuse to write pulp, or myth, or stereotype. I know it’s the accepted norm in a lot of western literature.  But I will sail my ship alone.


“Thar She Sinks!”

Moby Dick is the name of this 2010 remake TV series movie. That’s how bad this movie is. They didn’t even get the title of the book right. It’s not “Moby Dick” but “Moby-Dick.” A quibble, you say? Granted. So let’s turn flukes and move on to everything else the movie gets wrong.

1. People in 1850s using modern language and expressions. That’s lazy writing and even lazier research. I don’t even.

2. A sperm whale (Moby-Dick, NOT Moby Dick) that looks nothing like a sperm whale, but has facial features similar to Jason Voorhees from the Friday 13th films. I kid you not. Wrong head size, wrong proportions overall, wrong side flippers, the eyes are the size of huge dinner plates (did the mongrels who made this film even bother to look at ONE f’ing picture of a sperm whale?)and wrong physics of moving through the water. Then again what do you expect from CGI monkeys who are more in love with the computer technology than reality? It’s white, ain’t it and it’s got a big whoppin’ flipper at the end? Blowhole, what fuggin’ blowhole? I guess this whale breathes through his mouth. Move on, technicians!

3. An Ahab that laughs and capers and smiles and jokes and gibbers with hilarity. Oh. You were expecting a grim, cold man wrapped in dark obsession…you know, like the book is supposed to be about? Sorry. This Ahab is a clown by nature. He laughs! He capers! He laughs some more! Deal with it.

4. A Stubbs who is grim and cold and wrapped in dark obsession instead of being the jovial character he was supposed to be. So. Yeah. The ignorant ungulates who made this film switched the emotions of Stubbs and Ahab from the book. I was vaguely surprised they didn’t work in a car chase and a couple of Vampire Hookers from Outer Space, because, you know, I guess they wanted to try and make the film relevant and exciting. Or something.

Look. I could go on listing howler after howler. I don’t like remakes as a rule. But if you’re going to do it, I do mind remakes that have no love or appreciation for the source material. And this film falls in that category. Okay. Enough of what’s wrong with the film. What did they get right?  Well…there was a ship named Peaquod that went a’whalin’ one day on a three hour tour. Other than that….

Seriously. Don’t waste your time with this monstrosity. It’s typical Hollywood mongrelization of a beloved classic. Trust me on this one, you’d be better off watching a bowl of goldfish. That would have more in line with the original novel than this knuckle-dragging and ill-advised remake.

And, yes, I’m being kind in my review of this film. I didn’t even mention the tender home scenes of a misty-eyed Ahab with his wife beside a crackling fire and his loving arm around her waist. Oops.

Believe it or not this is supposed to be a sperm whale. Do you see a sperm whale in this picture?

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