Laura Anne Gilman Geeks Out on Muppets, X-Files & Leverage

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Welcome to our weekly Geek Speaks..Fiction series where authors talk about the geekdoms that inspired them.

Our guest today, Laura Anne Gilman is the author of nearly twenty books, including the Nebula award-nominated The Vineart War trilogy.  Her next book project, SILVER ON THE ROAD, is the first in the Devil’s West series from Saga / Simon & Schuster.

I am a child of fandom. Be it the Muppets or Star Wars (my childhood favorites), or X-Files, (my first “adult” fandoms), I’ve been one of the quiet but dedicated fans, who may not wear my heart as cosplay, but was cheering those cosplayers along.

You will never hear me saying “oh, I don’t watch tv.” I think television has been one of the greatest storytelling devices of our lifetime, up there with the commercial printing press and digitally-adjustable font sizes. Is there crap out there? Absolutely. But theres also genius.

And when I look at my own work, I can see their influence, from the very earliest to the most current productions.

  1. The Muppets. There is nothing about the Muppets that I do not still geek over, from the opening number to the guest stars, to the way their scripts managed to remain true to the ‘reality’ of their lives without ever losing the madcap glee of being a muppet. It was my first real experience with an ensemble cast, seeing how disparate stories interweave and overlap, without ever getting tangled. I learned how to snark from Statler and Waldorf – the fine and surprisingly delicate art of cutting without drawing actual blood – and how to love characters that are utterly self-absorbed from Miss Piggy and Fozzie, each in their own delightful way. Farron, the east wind magician in SILVER ON THE ROAD, inherited those balances, and his interactions with Gabriel carry the same real “on the same team but not friends” vibe that the Muppet Show brought out, every single week.

image, courtesy Simon & Schuster. available at Amazon

(Which makes Izzy, Kermit. Poor Izzy.)

  1. M*A*S*H The show that ran longer than the war it depicted – and taught us more. However sexist many of the episodes seem now, they’re still structured on a framework of affection and trauma that was undeniably real. It wasn’t only the dialogue – the physical interactions of the characters, from a touch to a look, taught me everything I needed to know about how dark humor can get, how painful laughter can be, without sliding into cruelty, and how to humanize even the most horrible moment. There were several scenes in SILVER where I hit up Netflix for a few episodes, to remind myself that horror and humor aren’t two sides of the same coin, but two ventricles pumping into the same heart. The fact that that both stories are chunks of painful history is probably not a coincidence.

    image courtesy of Laura Anne Gilman
    image courtesy of Laura Anne Gilman
  1. X Files. Never mind the delightfully spooky stories, or the impossibly tangled subplots – what drove X Files fandom (and my own glee) was the relationship between Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. Yes, that relationship became a romance – but the heart of it was the absolute respect they had for each other’s competence, even (especially) when they disagreed with each other. It was (sadly) a startling thing on television back then; that their bickering and flirting could be based not on physical attraction or emotional dependence, but on intellectual fascination. And that completely informs the growing partnership between Izzy and Gabriel – the partnership based on respect and honest argument. The ways I imprinted on the Mulder/Scully ‘ship…   it cannot be underestimated, in my work.
  1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I shouldn’t have to explain why I love Buffy – whatever it was you needed, BtVS had it: noble vampires, snarky vampires, brave heroines, wise but not infallible mentors, plucky sidekicks, terrifying monsters of both the human and inhuman kind…. But what I loved most about Buffy was how matter-of-fact they were about all of it. In its own way, Buffy was less fantasy than it was magical realism – a blending of the fantastical with the mundane that was more worried about principals than vampires, where cancer was more of a threat than demons and ghouls. That ability to slip between the two, seemingly without effort, strongly influenced how Isobel deals with her own life, from kitchen duty to snakes offering advice….
  1. Leverage. Quite possibly a perfect show, in my opinion. he honest mastermind and his grifter, his hitter, his thief and his hacker, patchwork and perfectly matched to take down the real criminals, who thought they were above the law – it’s a modern distillation of the Western, mixed with the noir caper, seasoned with a touch of Robin Hood. And so perfectly done. Watching this show had two levels of joy – seeing it the first time through via the actors, and then listening to the bonus track, for discussions of the camera angles used, the directing decisions made. If the physical motion of SILVER ON THE ROAD flows, it is due in part to the lessons I learned watching (and rewatching) Leverage.
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