Tag Archives: Romance

Unexpected Love: A Review of The Shape of Water

Film poster for The Shape of Water. It shows the two main characters embracing.Content warning: racism, sexism, a few brief scenes involving blood, death of a pet, and sexual harassment. I will only mention the first three items in this list in my review.

The Shape of Water is a dark fantasy romance about a lonely janitor who falls in love with an amphibious humanoid creature who is being held in captivity by the U.S. government. It is set in 1962 in an undisclosed government facility.

This film was directed by Guillermo del Toro and written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor. It won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, as well as other honours at the Golden Globes, British Film Academy Awards, and the Critic’s Choice Awards.

The tags for this post do contain mild spoilers. I will not be discussing them in detail today but wanted to label this correctly for future readers.

Characters

Sally Hawkins as Elisa Eposito
Sally Hawkins as Elisa Eposito

 

Elisa was a mute woman who worked as a cleaner at a secret underground government facility. Her dear friend and chosen family member Giles described her as “the princess without voice.” She has a whimsical personality that found joy in little things like dancing down the hall or gently interacting with everyone she met.

While I can’t go into her backstory without sharing spoilers, I will say that she was someone who was quite alone in the world. She had no genetic relatives to rely upon.

 

Doug Jones as Amphibian Man
Doug Jones as Amphibian Man

 

The Amphibian Man could not speak, but he was intelligent. Very little was shared about his background in this film other than the fact that he was the first of his kind discovered by humans.

 

Richard Jenkins as Giles

 

As mentioned above, Giles was Elisa’s dear neighbor and friend. He’d worked as an adverting illustrator for many years but was struggling to find work as his industry switched from painting to photographs for the imagery in ads.

He was a kind, gentle, creative man who could be a little absent-minded when it came to looking after basic needs like fixing himself dinner. Like Elise, he was quite alone in the world for reasons I’ll leave to future viewers to discover for themselves.

Octavia Spencer as Zelda Fuller 
Octavia Spencer as Zelda Fuller

 

Zelda was Elisa’s co-worker and friend who served as her sign language interpreter at work. Her personality was assertive and opinionated, the opposite of how Elisa generally behaved.

 

Michael Shannon as Richard Strickland
Michael Shannon as Richard Strickland

 

Richard was a United States Colonel in charge of the project to study the “asset,” as they referred to the Amphibian Man. He followed protocol strictly and was obsessed with getting the results his bosses expected.

Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler
Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler

 

Dr. Hoffstetler was the physician who was given the responsibility of figuring out the physiology of the Amphibian Man’s body. The U.S. government hoped to learn how to create astronauts who could better adapt to the rigours of space exploration by learning how this creature was capable of breathing both air and water.

 

David Hewlett as Fleming 
David Hewlett as Fleming

 

Fleming was the laboratory’s head of security. He was a rigid, unfriendly man who expected perfection from himself and everyone around him.

My Review

Prepare yourselves for some gushing. This was such a good story.

There was an immensely satisfying amount of foreshadowing. I’d imagine that anyone who is familiar with the romance or science fiction genres could spot the biggest plot twists coming ahead of time. This wasn’t the sort of film that relied on the audience not knowing what to expect next. It was how the characters reacted to them that was important, and this was something the filmmakers showed beautifully.

The cinematography was beautiful. I was immediately drawn into the plot thanks to how much effort was put into constructing this era. It was also interesting to watch shots that had important things happening in both the foreground and background.  They added so many layers of meaning to the storyline.

Octavia Spencer and Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water.

I did find myself wishing that the racism, sexism, and other types of discrimination in this era was presented in a more nuanced manner. In my experiences with sexism and biphobia, a lot of it can be subtle depending on who is around and what prejudiced folks think they can get away with. People can convey so much with body language and the words they do (or don’t) use that I was surprised by how blatant everything was here.

Perhaps things were radically different in 1962 in this regard. I wasn’t alive then and will defer to people who may say this portrayal is more accurate than I originally thought it was. But I still would have liked to see these topics handled a little more sensitively. (I will also defer to other reviewers to discuss their personal experiences with racism and ableism as it relates to this point).

With that being said, I still really liked seeing how these various types of prejudice were not only expressed but intersected with each other and this is my only criticism of a film I otherwise loved. The storytellers did a good job of showing how someone might be advantaged in one area (e.g. race, social class, or gender) while still oppressed in others (e.g. disability or sexual orientation).

The numerous references to water in this film were well done. They included everything from bathing to hard-boiling eggs, and they were just the tip of the iceberg. One of the things I enjoyed the most as I was watching it was to take note of all of the aquatic-themed moments that needed a little more effort to take notice of. It was satisfying to add them to my list of these references and try to guess where the storytellers would subtly introduce the next one.

This isn’t a criticism in any way, but I did want to make note of the disclaimer about blood in this tale. There were a few scenes that included characters who were bleeding from non-accidental injuries. While the violence that caused these injuries was briefly shown on screen, I always like to warn my readers ahead of time about stuff like this. I’d be happy to discuss it in full, spoiler-y detail in private with anyone who needs to figure out if this is the right thing for them to watch.

I’d heartily recommendThe Shape of Water to anyone who enjoys the romance or speculative fiction genres.

The Shape of Water is available on Netflix and Apple TV.

Choosing to Survive: A Review of Powdered Souls

Title: Powdered Souls, A Short Story: They Decided to Survive (Snow Sub Series Book 1)

Author: Dixon Reuel

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, Romance

Length: 22 pages

Source: I received a free copy from Dixon

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb: People together in close quarters – fraternization naturally follows.

A military VR trainer, wanting to keep her relationship with a fellow scientist hidden, must pass a security inspection in her lab by the vicious Atlas Crusade that has swept to power.

When the leader of the security team demands an unusual VR request in her lab, Prof. Meliss must decide between keeping her lover safe, or secretly undertaking a consciousness swap that could end the Crusade’s five-year long relentless rule. A rule that has co-opted all scientific research to aid their global expansion, rendering Prof. Meliss and Prof. Lauren expendable, as legions of other researches wait to step into their lab if either woman dishonors the great Crusade.

Science and the military aren’t always a good match for each other.

Virtual reality is one of those topics that always makes my ears perk up when I see it mentioned in a science fiction blurb. There are so many different ways to approach this idea that an author can do just about anything with it, and Ms. Reuel came up with a pretty creative take on why the military would be interested in developing a virtual world for their soldiers to explore. Their reason for paying for this research is something best discovered by readers for themselves.

The world building would have benefited from more development. I was confused by how the military seemed to simultaneously know everything that was happening in their research bases and yet also not know simple things about them like what sort of equipment they used or how their experiments were going. It’s totally possibly for a regime to act this way, but it would have been nice to know what the limits of their knowledge was.

Prof. Meliss, the main character, wasn’t given much opportunity to reveal her personality either. I’d struggle to tell you much about her as an individual or explain why she’d gotten into a relationship with her assistant, Dr. Lauren, knowing how dangerous that would be for both of them. A lot of this character development could be coming in future volumes, but it would have been helpful to have a better understanding of who she was and why they were willing to take such huge risks. I always like finding queer couples in science fiction, so I was disappointed with how their arc played out so far.

One of the few things I did learn about Prof. Meliss was that she could think quickly in a crisis. That’s the perfect skill to have when an army has descended onto your base and is breaking down the front door. The most interesting scenes in my opinion were the ones in the beginning that described how she reacted to this invasion.

Since this was both a short story and the first instalment in a series, I was definitely not expecting the character development or world building to be perfectly ironed out. But I would have liked to see at least a few sentences spent explaining how this militaristic society works, why relationships between scientists and their assistants were punished so harshly, and what the military was and wasn’t capable of. Getting thrown into a new world is amusing, but I needed more answers about what was happening before the final scene wrapped up.

With that being said, I saw a lot of promise in this tale. There were hints about how climate change had affected the lives of ordinary people in this futuristic world that I’m incredibly curious to learn more about.

We Need Less Romance in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Genres

I feel a few feathers ruffling already out there in cyberspace, so let me explain.

One of the most bizarre and irritating trends I’ve been noticing in this genre over the last few years has been romantic plots being crookedly tacked onto every kind of story you could possibly imagine in this universe for reasons that defy explanation: zombie; post-apocalyptic; historical; otherworldly; ghost; slasher; psychological horror; speculative; deep space; futuristic.

There have been times when I’ve read something that spent the first 90% of the plot focused on characters painstakingly exploring new planets, outrunning zombies, or figuring out what all of those strange noises were in the old farmhouse the main character and their family have recently moved it.

Suddenly, the last twenty pages of it turned into the main character falling in love and living happily ever after.

Wait, what? Did the author honestly not remember what their character was like for the first 180 pages of their story?

Mixing Genres Isn’t Always Smart

If you read a lot of sweet and gentle romances, imagine how you’d feel if the characters you were beginning to get to know and love suddenly started finding dead bodies on the sidewalk while they were out on dates. It might be a fun twist if it happened once or twice to characters who happened to work as detectives or had other reasons for needing to investigate a decaying corpse while also falling in love, but wouldn’t it be odd if it started happening regularly?

Mixing genres works amazingly well for certain types of tales, and I definitely see the value in it if the storyline can juggle two or more different styles of writing at the same time. However, there’s also something to be said for allowing genres to exist in their own worlds without trying to market to every conceivable audience who might read the blurb and find something interesting about it.

Happily Ever After Is Different for Everyone

I understand the urge to market stories to more than one audience. There have been scifi romances – and even a few regular romances –  that I thought were incredibly well written in the past, but I’m growing tired of the trend of pushing romance into so many SFF books regardless of whether or not their plots actually call for that kind of subplot.

Not every character should end their arc by finding a life partner. In some cases, this flies in the face of everything that character has done and said over the last X number of pages or books.

It bothers me when a book randomly tacks on a relationship or marriage to give the characters a happy ending after they’ve spent most of the storyline pursuing any number of other goals in life, from discovering a cure for a fatal disease to finally defeating the big villain who has  been skulking around and killing any secondary characters who wanders into their path.

Happily ever after might be falling in love for one character after they’ve defeated the villain, but it could also involve:

  • Adopting a dog from the local animal shelter
  • Making peace with their past for good
  • Changing their name and moving to Brazil
  • Buying a new house if the spirits in their old house refuse to move on
  • Learning a second or third language
  • Finally getting a good night’s rest after spending the last 3 books evading henchmen or the undead
  • Inheriting a massive fortune and dedicating their life to donating it to good causes

Or any number of other experiences, goals, or plot twists. The possibilities are endless, and yet endless numbers of books in this genre try to shove everyone into the love and romance box.

Love isn’t the Only Emotion Worth Exploring

One of the things I enjoy the most about the sci-fi genre is when it uses otherworldly experiences to explore universal emotions. A robot or rocket ship on its own is cool, but it’s even better when it shows us the best and worst of human nature.

Here’s the thing, though: love isn’t the only emotion out there. Grief, anger, sadness, doubt, fear, disgust, joy, anticipation, trust, and many other emotions are just as complex and worthy of exploration as love is.

You can learn a lot about a character by discovering how they react when they’re frightened, surprised, lonely, or excited. Falling in love is part of the human experience (for the majority of people), but there are so many other ways to show who someone is, flaws and all, without pushing them into a romance.

Not All Love is Romantic

Finally, not every form of love is romantic. If the SFF genre had shifted to include more explorations of the love between friends, family members, a person and their dog, or a cat and their human,* I would be much more interested in the topic.

Unfortunately, non-romantic forms of love receive much less attention in genre fiction than they should. I actually get excited when I pick up a mystery, horror, or sci-fi novel and realize that the main character’s deepest and most meaningful relationship in their life is with a pet, friend, or family member.

*Because we all know that cats have pet humans, and not the other way around. 😉

Have you noticed the same trend in this genre? What do you think of mixing genres in general? Let’s talk about it on Twitter today!