I have done a bit of media tie-in work — most recently I wrote stories for Shadowrun and X-Files anthologies — but there are two shows on that I would dearly love to write fiction for (and, frustratingly, there don’t seem to be plans for any yet).
The first show I’ve been avidly watching is Stranger Things. I’ve heard some people dismiss the show unseen because it’s gotten a reputation for being all about ‘80s nostalgia. I was a teenager in the ‘80s, but I did not have a good time in that decade and feel zero nostalgia for it. Nostalgia, to me, is all about reminiscing fondly and wistfully about what seemed to be a simpler, better time. I’ve never felt that way about the ‘80s. And I don’t think Stranger Things does, either.
What it does do is pay intelligent, deliberate homage to a whole lot of the books and movies that came out in the ‘80s. And, yeah, I’m the perfect audience for that, because I escaped my tedious small-town teen life by reading novels, going to the local theater, and playing hours upon hours of D&D with a bunch of nerds. The show plays like a great adaptation of a Stephen King novel (one he never actually wrote) and works with tropes from movies like The Goonies, E.T., Aliens, Ghostbusters, Jaws, Halloween, Close Encounters, The Evil Dead … and Sixteen Candles, Pretty In Pink, and The Breakfast Club. You get a little Twin Peaks and some comic book nods, too.
These aren’t just shallow references dropped in to create false verisimilitude; the Duffer Brothers use them to set and then often subvert the viewer’s expectations. For instance (and this is a slight spoiler), they cast Paul Reiser as Dr. Owens in Season 2. Now, Season 2 incorporates a whole lot of tropes from Aliens … and anyone who’s seen Aliens remembers Reiser’s role as the two-faced sociopath Carter Burke. So we’re completely expecting the kindly (but also a little sinister) Dr. Owens to betray Will and Sheriff Hopper when things go south at Hawkins Lab. We keep waiting and waiting for the betrayal … and it never happens! The Duffer Brothers build tension and work surprises into the script because they lull us into thinking that the scenes will play out in a completely familiar way.
This is another element of why I don’t see Stranger Things as being a nostalgia show. Nostalgia involves pining for a time or place you have lost and can’t return to. We can’t return to the ’80s, but Stranger Things isn’t actually about the ’80s — it’s about ’80s movies, books, etc. And all that isn’t even remotely lost to us — we have better access to it all now than we did back in the day. It used to be if we missed seeing something at the theater, we had to wait months or years for a chopped-up version of the movie to show up on broadcast TV. I can cue up the director’s cut of Aliens right now on my phone via a streaming service, or download a Stephen King book to Kindle, etc.
And if you haven’t seen the dozens of books and movies the show pays homage to? It’s no big deal. The story is tight — none of the wandering around in plot circles we got with the X-Files — and the show has some of the best editing I’ve ever seen. The cast is excellent. It gets pretty dark, though, so it’s really not for people who aren’t fundamentally horror movie fans.
I wish that we got more than 8 or 9 episodes a season. I also wish we weren’t stuck waiting until 2019 for the third season! But speedy productions often come at the expense of quality.
And at least we’re getting a third season of Stranger Things. This is not the case for the other Netflix show I’ve loved: Sense8. I grudgingly started watching Sense8 after a friend pestered me to check it out. It was as if the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski hacked into my brain, figured out everything I loved in a TV show, and then made the show. It’s got psychological horror. It’s a spy thriller. It’s an urban cop drama. It’s a Mexican telenovela. It’s a German gangster tale. It’s a martial arts action show. It’s got romance and mystery. It’s a near-future dystopia. It’s got Bollywood musical numbers! It has all the things, and it’s not perfect, but it’s wonderful. (The show deals with a lot of LGBT themes and has some incredibly sexy scenes. Scenes that ’80s teen Lucy would have never, ever expected to see in a TV show. But I digress.)
I found it addictively watchable, and I’m waiting with bated breath for the next and probably final episode to come out in late 2018. The thing I love about Sense8 from the perspective of a media tie-in writer is that it is so extremely cross-genre: it’s a huge world that the Wachowskis and Straczynski have created, and there are an almost unlimited number of other stories that could be told within it. If we really and truly don’t get more episodes, I hope that someone somewhere greenlights novelizations or anthologies. The show has an ardent fan base, and people want more.
Science fictional shows aside, I love board gaming, and one of my recent favorites is Terraforming Mars (published by Stronghold Games). If you’re an avid board game player, you’ve probably already seen and heard a lot of rave reviews of it. I’ve only had the chance to play it once. It’s a fun, engaging game; as you could guess from the title, your goal is to successfully turn Mars into a habitable planet. It’s complex, and it’s not something you can just casually sit down and play. Plan to spend at least three hours playing the first time you open the box. There’s a whole lot of thoughtful strategy, and in terms of game play and structure it seems a bit like a combination of Settlers of Catan, Race for the Galaxy, and Agricola. The game can be played by 1-5 players ages 12 and up; however, you’ll want to make sure that your 12-year-old is going to enjoy a longer, strategy-heavy game like this. It may be that this game is best for older teens and adults, though the Mars theme is certain to attract younger gamers.