After finishing reading a lengthy spree of library books, including my first ever Stephen King, I have returned to my own precious books, and to an old favourite: Neuromancer. The cyberpunk classic. It has long been away from my grasping fingers at a friend's house, I have been itching to re-read it. And it's joyous to behold.
I make a conscious effort to read a variety of books, in multiple genres (though I do often stick within SFF), switching authors regularly, the odd non-fiction too; all to make sure that I am exposed to a wide variety of styles and to get out of my comfort zone. Broadening the mind and all that. Overall, it's great, it keeps me learning.
But it was wonderful to curl up with Neuromancer again, a book that has inspired so many other before me, for good reason. If you like cyberpunk at all, I command you to read it, right now. It's weird, inventive, hard to follow at times, atmospheric, and immersive, truly unique storytelling. And it's such a huge part of why I'm writing, and an influence on my current projects. Coming back to that can only be good for my little brain. It's relit some of the fires of my imagination that may have gone out a little when reading books that don't really fall in line with what I've been working on.
So I guess my point is that reading widely is definitely good and great – it exposes you to new ideas, new styles, new ways of doing things. It keeps you guessing, it makes you think critically about what you're reading. And you just might discover a gem that you wouldn't have found if you stuck solely to your preferences. But those favourites are your favourites for a reason, and they're the ones that probably got you going in the first place. Returning to a favourite is helpful as a reminder of that, and sometimes you need that; you can get into a rut.
I've not said anything earth shattering here, I'm sure this is familiar ground for everyone. The value of coming back to a favourite has just been made incredibly apparent to me after having dug myself out of a little creative rut recently, not only with Neuromancer, but some other fine cyberpunk. I'm sure you all know what I'm talking about, given the picture above. Yep, Blade Runner. In preparation for watching the new one, I watched the original, as I am often wont to do. It remains one of my all time favourite films.
And hoo boy, that rape scene gets worse every time I watch it. I really love that film, but I really hate that scene (also the unicorn dream scene, but my feelings are less strong on that one). Returning to a favourite can be hard sometimes, because they don't always hold up in the light of the modern day. Harrison Ford films from the '80s tend to have this problem of consent (or lack thereof) making a lot of pop culture's beloved films a little problematic. See Han Solo creeping on Leia; Indiana Jones forcing Willie Scott into a kiss via whip; and Deckard not letting Rachel leave, forcing a kiss on her, then telling her to kiss him. Pretty creepy horrible behaviour, and it's all framed as being normal or romantic.
Going back to old classics in science fiction often has this problem. Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke books, wonderful as they are, are devoid of any good female characters and filled with rampant casual sexism. Partly this is a product of the time when they were written, it is easy to understand the context there, but it doesn't stop it being occasionally uncomfortable to read. It's also surprising that such imaginations on these speculative giants couldn't see a future world that had women playing a significant part. And it's a shame that Blade Runner can't either. Blade Runner 2049 returns to the source material not only in being a visual masterpiece, but also in perpetuating these attitudes.
For the record, I thought Blade Runner 2049 was great and I'm probably going to watch it again tomorrow because it was such a cinematic treat. But my issues with it do stem around the casting and the portrayal of women. Firstly, like the original film, a lot of the female characters are designed or programmed to service the needs of men, just like the three characters in the original (a sex worker, a secretary to a man, and a stripper). Robin Wright as the police chief is absolutely fantastic, she needed to be in it more, and I liked the antagonist replicant too; these were absolutely steps in the right direction, but other characters dragged it back a little. Secondly, some of the violence against these female characters was a little much at times. It did make sense in the context of the film, but maybe some different casting would have helped to equalise it a little, make it feel a little less woman-hating, given that there wasn't necessarily a story reason for it to be so directed against women. Let's have some equal opportunity violence please! Thirdly, in the future LA, almost everyone is white. The cityscape may include a whole bunch of Asian aesthetics and people... but it is all just in the background. This is a carry over from the original where all that diversity was really shunted behind the white people and their apparently much more important stories. It really would make sense in a crowded future version of Los Angeles, an already culturally diverse city, that we could have some new faces.
A couple of casting changes I would put forward, just as my personal wish list. I am aware I hold no influence over the casting of a film that's already been released. Doona Bae would have been fantastic in the Ryan Gosling role, who was a little flat I thought. Instead of Jared Leto, who should stay away from all movies (though I will begrudgingly admit he was not terrible in Blade Runner 2049) it should have been Tilda Swinton. Interestingly, I read a trivia item about the film, and Denis Villeneuve originally wanted David Bowie for that role. And Swinton, as we know, is Bowie's doppelgänger. God damn she should have been in the film!
I want to stress that I did like the film overall, I just had a couple of issues with it, and it's partly due to it returning to the original film. Blade Runner was made in 1982, the world has changed a little bit since then, and it just would have been nice to see some positive changes reflected in the new film, to accompany the very excellent Robin Wright's police chief character. The rest of the film's return to the visuals of the original was excellent though, and I do recommend watching it in the theatre, as well as the soundtrack, although I have to admit I occasionally missed Vangelis' synth score, which is one of my go-to writing soundtracks, meaning that I'm always returning to a favourite every week.
Don't ever forget that it's possible to like a piece of media while being critical of it. It's really quite necessary to keep that in mind when going back to your favourites, especially if you're showing it to a new audience who will see it without those rose-tinted nostalgia glasses. Your favourites are not immune from criticism, don't let it get to you. They can still be your favourites, that's no problem. Flaws emerge with time, especially as society evolves, it's all part of the ageing process for media.
So, now that I've fixed Blade Runner 2049, it's time to wrap this up. My season of returning to a favourite is continuing as I am watching lots of Star Trek: The Next Generation because for every episode of Star Trek: WAR BLOOD DEATH PAIN MISERY that I watch, I need at least five episodes of good Trek. And I also just got a new book, one I've been meaning to read for ages, which opens the gates for me to return to one of the all time great bad films, one of my favourites, The Room. I think I'm also due a re-read of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? but I must make sure I don't just remain in a bubble of favourites. Gotta broaden that mind too! In the meantime...