What follows is a long and rambling post about my reading history with War and Peace. It’s basically a book report. This probably doesn’t have value for anyone except me, so you have my apologies in advance and be aware there are spoilers ahead.
In retrospect, it’s not surprising that Georges Melies’ A Trip to the Moon (1902) is the first science fiction film. After all, the sky is the original cinematic experience: the lights go up and come down; the moon and constellations change; the colors shift, fade, and intensify; and the weather provides drama and tension. Staring at the sky in night or day is an emotional, humanizing experience. It emphasizes how small you are in the face of the universe. Thus it only makes sense that one of the first subjects for narrative cinema would be the desire to explore what’s up there.
(Digression: I, like most babies of the 80s and 90s, came to know Melies’ work because of the Smashing Pumpkin’s video for “Tonight, Tonight,” which remains most excellent.)
What I want to think about today, though, isn’t films such as A Trip to the Moon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Contact, or Armageddon, which concern themselves with space in an entirely imaginative or fictional way, but instead with those that attempt to tell the “true” story of human space exploration.
For the sake of conciseness, I’m going to limit myself to The Right Stuff (1983), Apollo 13 (1995), The Dish (2000)*, The Astronaut Wives Club (2015)**, Hidden Figures (2016), First Man (2018)*, and Apollo 11 (2019)**, arguing that while these films are about humans leaving earth, neither the films nor the history they represent successfully abandon earth’s baggage, specifically gender and race.
I was in the mood to read something set in Ireland this morning, and I assume I’m not the only one. Here’s a short list of my favorites.
Elisabeth Lane (who has started a fantastic YouTube romance channel!) initiated a conversation on Twitter recently about the books that converted you to genre romance. Not necessarily the first romances you read, but the ones that convinced you that romance was awesome. I hazarded some guesses when she asked it, but as I pondered her question more, I wondered whether my Ur-romances were books at all.
I was in my late 20s when I started reading romance. Romance novels were so precisely what I needed at that moment, I inhaled them by the bushel. It felt as if I’d been reading around romance my entire life, and now I had finally discovered the good stuff, a genre that could deliver the purest version of what I’d been seeking. But maybe the sense of familiarity, of ah, at last, that I felt when I started reading romance came from the overlap between the tropes in romance and those in movie musicals.
As a child, I’d been as devoted to musicals as I am to genre romance today. Musicals taught me about introspection, harmony, and female friends with whom you can dance in your bloomers if you’re ever carried off by a family of mountain men (see below). They’re unabashedly sentimental, almost always have happy endings, and frequently contain a (or sometimes several) central romance(s).
This list isn’t a best of or even a set of recommendations. It’s skewed by what I watched and listened to as a kid in the early to mid 90s. It’s very white, almost entirely heteronormative, and more than a few of these films are seriously problematic. But putting it together convinced me that my origins as a reader and writer of romance are in Hollywood movie musicals.
This is neither Friday nor is the film in question precisely a romance, but today’s subject is Damien Chazelle’s First Man (2018). I’ve wanted to watch it for months, and I finally had a few free hours to snag it from Redbox.
In the gap between its release and when I managed to see it, First Man received a critical reaction I’d characterize as positive but reserved and “only” four Academy Award nominations. So I went into it a bit apprehensive. If you enjoy what Genevieve Turner and I are doing with Fly Me to the Moon, however, I can almost guarantee you’ll adore First Man. While I have a few complaints, it’s visually stunning and a different take on the astronaut movie subgenre.
First, the fun part: Round Midnight is currently free. Yes, free! So if you haven’t read this duet of retro Christmas/New Year’s Eve romances, now’s the time. You can get it at Amazon, iBooks, B&N, Google Play, and Kobo.
Also, Star Dust won’t be free much longer, so click fast if you don’t have the awakening divorcee and the playboy astronaut next door.
Now onto the disappointments!
2018 was the worst writing year I’ve had since 2011. I barely wrote any new words, I spent most of the year staring at my manuscripts while dread galloped around my mind, and I felt defeated by my desire to be a writer in a way that I haven’t basically ever.
So if you’ve been thinking, “I’d like to hear Emma’s disembodied voice,” you’re in luck: I recently chatted with the lovely ladies at the Wicked Wallflowers Club about Earth Bound, Free Fall, how I spent years not writing my dissertation, politics, and phallic lobster Jell-O. Basically all the normal stuff.
You can listen to it here. But FYI, some of the language probably isn’t safe for work.