Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Look at this dragon and feel dragon fear for the first time.

Dungeons & Dragons, which is a tabletop roleplaying game that I play, makes miniatures to enhance the tabletop experience. I collect said miniatures. That being said, they have now officially licensed a unique "miniature" for a red dragon that is so enormous, it is being called a statue. I thought for a moment that this was just a collector's item. But I soon learned that this unique statue is (in fact) to scale and meant to be used in the tabletop game, should players really need a challenge. I thought to myself, why is it so large? It is several times larger than even the largest dragon present within the lore of the game. Here's a picture of what I'm talking about. Keep in mind, that the minis in the foreground are the size of a quarter.
The red dragon in back is technically the largest dragon characters should
ever face in the game of D&D. The character closest to the camera in blue
is about the size of a quarter. This is supposed to be the biggest dragon, the
biggest threat. But as you can see, it isn't. Interesting right?

So what is going on with the enormous red dragon that is in the above picture, with the silhouette of a 6-foot tall man standing behind it for comparison? Well, it turns out that Dungeons & Dragons has an in-game explanation. The dragon's name is Klauth, and he's so old that he technically should have died of old age (which is usually not a thing that long-lived dragons need to worry about). Being supremely evil, Klauth has resisted death by using black magic on red dragon eggs (he's a cannibal, go figure), and this magic combined with eating his own kind has not only extended his life, but allowed him to swell to sizes previously not encountered by anyone in the realms in which he dwells.

Anyway, this dragon is something I can pre-order now, and I'm strongly considering it. For one it's just an epic piece that I could display in my house. Additionally, it would awe just about anyone that was playing in one of my games if I slapped that thing down on the table and declared, "This is what you see on the mountaintop." That alone might be worth the reactions. There's a few more pics of it below, and please note that it does light up, so I think it has batteries.



Monday, September 21, 2020

Examining J.K. Rowling's views is a good way to understand how to live in a world filled with hatred.


Since Sony had a splashy PlayStation 5 showcase event, and a long rumored video game called Hogwart's Legacy debuted, I decided that I wanted to take a look at the author that has made the most money from writing that the world has ever seen, i.e., J.K. Rowling. Specifically, I wanted to catalogue her transgender hatred/mental meltdown for myself regarding trans people, just so I could wrap my head around her nutso stance a bit (and maybe establish a timeline). And it honestly seems appropriate since Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and the United States is about to become Gilead from Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. So why not look at hatred? It doth seem to be everywhere these days. If you want to take this journey with me, well just read on, friend. Aren't you the lucky one :)?

First off, Rowling positioned herself as a progressive on representation. Okay, then. Do as I say, not as I do, right? For the record, this is not a new thing. There are lots of people who want to establish themselves as progressive so that they can cash in on the liberal money making machine and appease Hollywood types. Honestly, maybe the worst thing about the modern world is that we overshare and over "know" to much about people.

Back in 2007, the original Harry Potter universe ended with Deathly Hallows. Dumbledore absolutely had no signs of being gay in the books. Then she retconned her way to this by announcing that Dumbledore was gay. I guess that is sort of inclusive, right? I honestly don't know what to make of that, and still don't. Okay then.

In 2016, Rowling published The History of Magic in North America by stereotyping Native Americans by associating them with a history of animal and plant magic. I guess Europeans were the only ones smart enough to make wands. It seems kind of shallow to me. Later she writes that wizards who came to America fleeing the authorities ran into the "friendly native" stereotype. That's nice. And then she appropriated the whole skin walker thing so that she could make villains, not really being respectful of Native American beliefs and traditions regarding these things. 

In 2019, Rowling supported Maya Forstater, whose contract position at the Centre for Global Development was not renewed after she used offensive and hateful language against transgender people on social media.

In 2020, Rowling penned a huge essay about her reasons for speaking out on sex and gender issues, and it's long, and a lot of it doesn't make sense to me. You can read it HERE. She espouses debunked lies about the existence of transgender people and supports fellow bigots who she claims have been "canceled" for their beliefs. Okay, then.

Now (present) she's released a book under the pen name Robert Galbraith that perpetuates the stereotype that transwomen are men disguising themselves to prey on cisgender women.

Oh well, I (for one) believe that most of the people in this world are terrible. So I'm particularly suited to not be bothered by a person's art despite the fact that the person who created it sucks. I also don't think that cancel culture really works, because (again) there are too many terrible people. We can't get people to wear masks during a pandemic. Do we really think we can crush the bottom line of Chick-Fil-A? They're doing just fine. So is J.K. Rowling, with her billion dollar empire.

So I'll continue to appreciate the Harry Potter things. I'll still love David Eddings' Belgariad despite the fact that I know he and Leigh Eddings were child abusers, were sent to prison for a year because of it, and then went on to write some lovely novels that I think are amazing.

Will I still watch Woody Allen movies? Yup. Do I still think Gone With the Wind is a book worthy of a Pulitzer Prize? It sure is. Evil, evil, everywhere. Running from it or trying to cancel it is useless. I think learning to live with it is the best that we can do, like living with climate change. It's here and it's upon us and nobody cares. So living with it seems like the only option.

And thus I raise a glass to you, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. You are gone and now evil will take your place far an entire generation, and there's not a damn thing me or anyone else who thinks like me can do about it. Salut. My arms are too short to punch god. We will try to learn to live with all the evil that's coming down the pipe, and take the victories we can until they no longer matter (because at that point I'd imagine we'd be in Civil War). It's not a thing I want, but I can see it coming on the horizon. To twist a Chinese proverb just a little bit for all our benefit, I wish every single one of us lived in less interesting times.

Friday, September 18, 2020

I think Frank Herbert would be proud and excited by the Dennis Villeneuve adaptation of Dune.


Dennis Villeneuve makes good movies. Now, he's bringing Dune to life in a two-part movie adaptation, and I really love it. Dune is a seminal work that has influenced a hundred things that came after it, whether it be Star Wars, Warhammer 40,000, or Robotech. Many of the things that we like in our nerd niches owe a bow here and there to Dune. It even influenced some of my early writing. I remember drafting a novel in college and sharing pages with my critique group. One of them (who went by J.C.) was very critical because I used a Dune-like intro to each of my chapters explaining this or that before the actual text started. J.C. hated that. "It works for Dune, but it doesn't work here. Cut it out." And so I did.

I can't explain for others why Dune is so cool. On paper, the majority of it takes place on a desert planet with no features at all except for sand dunes and some big earth worms. But for me, I've always enjoyed desert adventures and desert things, similar to an early childhood fascination with ancient Egypt. And Dune as a work seems to strike all of those archeology Indiana Jones-esque buttons that make my imagination light on fire. Of course, added to the mix is a kind of magic, both in the form of the Spice Melange and with the orders of the Bene Gesserit, the Mentats, and characters like Doctor Yueh with his Suk training to make sure he is completely loyal (which obviously means that he must be the bad guy, right?) No one makes mention of a wall that is insurmountable in a story if they don't fully intend to make it tumble down at some point.

Another thing that really draws me into the story is being in Paul's head. Honestly, even though he's the Atreides heir and very educated, he knows next to nothing about how the universe works. He also has a relatively solid moral compass, and it's easy inhabiting his thoughts. It is because he knows nothing though that makes the book so good. You learn as he learns, you figure out things as he seems to be figuring them out whether it be the Gom Jabbar or seeing a sand worm for the first time or interacting with the space-faring guild or a Harkonnen. The fact that Herbert had these things in his head is pretty incredible, and he sets the table for his story extremely well by immersing us in political backstabbing theater of the highest order, and then providing us with a protagonist that is not only sympathetic, but has the ability to call upon superhuman powers due to his breeding.

And then of course there is the Spice itself. This thing is as unknowable as The Force is for Star Wars, which is probably where Lucas got the idea to be honest. The Fremen have been around the Spice all of their lives, but they don't know everything that it can do. And layers just keep getting added to those who use the Spice in different ways. In some sense, it is this thing that the author could add a power to later on down the road if they so desired, just saying, "the Spice caused this unknown mutation and it resulted in this and voila...a new thing happened." It's a useful trick for anyone crafting a story, and it keeps the Miracle Exemptions that one requires a reader to absorb to a manageable level so as to maintain the suspension of disbelief.

Anyway, I'm so looking forward to seeing this adaptation of Dune. This is a movie that I will risk going to theaters to see even if Covid is raging the countryside. If you are unfamiliar with the remake or haven't seen the trailer, I'm placing it below.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

I'm enjoying my re-read of the Dragonlance Chronicles from the 1980's.

 


I'm re-reading the Dragonlance books by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. I usually don't go back and re-read things, but nostalgia for the past and seeking out things that provide comfort seem to be the norm during 2020. So why shouldn't I indulge just a little bit? Truthfully though, it has been about thirty or so years since I last read these books, so I'd forgotten just about everything except the biggest plot details and the names of one or two characters (at most). Additionally, I don't think I appreciated the work and creative talent that went into the Dragonlance storyline when I was a teen. But now that I'm much older, I see that they are (in fact) works of great brilliance.

If you don't know, the Dragonlance books are based on a tabletop roleplaying game called Dungeons & Dragons. Now D&D is an incredibly fun game, but it is also really goofy. I like to tell people that a session is kind of like participating in some really bad improv. D&D is a hodgepodge of all the fantasy tropes. It is a huge mixing bowl filled with everything from Oni to hobgoblins to wizards to dragons to gods and to minotaurs. It pulls from every culture indiscriminately, and in many cases, it is the granddaddy of the term "cultural appropriation." You can have ki-rin in the same game session as you have a pyramid based on ancient Egypt. You can have kung-fu in the same story as Gandalf and Sauron. The words "one of these things is not like the other" does not apply to Dungeons and Dragons. Yet, somehow, with all of these goofy potentials, Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis pulled off something remarkable: a beautiful story in a world (Krynn) that essentially has all of these elements and somehow manages to take them seriously and give them respect. That is no small feat.

I half expected to hate these books on a re-read, and find them utterly unreadable. Instead, I'm marveling at how well the authors negotiate the different character classes and manage to integrate the monsters as well as pay homage to a lot of what makes the game of Dungeons and Dragons fun to play. It's all there, down to the spells that Raistlin Majere casts (taken from the Player's Handbook) and to the abilities that several of the characters in the story manifest. The clerics feel like D&D clerics and the equipment they use feels very much akin to how leveling feels like when I play this game. It's a fascinating thing, and yes, they manage to make it just as high fantasy and feel just as epic as anything that Tolkien wrote in The Lord of the Rings.

Honestly, I'm enjoying this re-read quite a bit. In a post Game of Thrones world, I would love to see Dragonlance turned into a high quality movie. The story is definitely there, as are the characters. They are as well-developed as anything that was turned out by George R.R. Martin. I've heard that there are some legal issues to making this kind of thing a reality. However, if it happens in my lifetime, I will gladly give the ones that bring it to the movies a fistful of cash.

My one complaint is that there are no good hardcover editions of the individual Dragonlance books that I can purchase for my shelves. Of course there are electronic books, audiobooks, and special edition omnibuses (which I hate because they are so unwieldy). Omnibus editions really should be restricted to either electronic book or audiobook format. Who wants to try and balance a huge hardcover book in their hands? Not I. And I found some weird overpriced handmade editions on Etsy (how is that even legal?) I didn't buy one...it was just a curiosity and way too expensive.

Anyone else out there a fan of Dragonlance? Are you giving them a re-read or are you reading them for the first time? If it's been a while, but you have a favorite character, please let me know in the comments. I think my favorite character is Tasslehoff Burrfoot. I didn't use to like him, but in this re-read, I can see how brilliant the character is, and it's easily the funnest one, pulling the whole party into his adventures. Plus, the way he sees the world is just too special. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Raised by Wolves wasn't anything like I expected it to be.

 I watched Raised By Wolves this weekend. I thought it was good, but definitely more of a "watch this one time" thing and not something that I'd ever consider re-watching. For one, even though it has this rather high concept science fiction premise--a schism between religious people and atheists results in an apocalyptic nuclear war that renders Earth a smoking ruin--the "on location" filming feels very small with a hut being a central location and then a desert as another. Like...I feel it was filmed very cheaply...that it could literally be filmed in Utah because how much does a mud hut run these days?

Even the costuming is sparse with the religious people dressed like Dungeons & Dragons clerics in white robes with stars on their chests (they worship Sol), and with the children dressed in rags and with the androids wearing onesie neoprene suits. And that never changes, so yeah...wardrobing seems...easy? What do I know of filming? But Prometheus this is not, even if the android designs come straight out of the Alien-verse with the white milk being the android blood and the organs on the inside of the Android being bulbous plastic things surrounded my more milk. As a side note--I always wondered why the androids in the Alien-verse had white milk flowing through them aside from "it looks gross," which may be the entire intent behind the design.

Behind this guy is the android with Superman powers. None of the humans can deal with
this thing as it is too powerful, so they can just run if they want to live. The human running
is wearing the uniform of the religious zealots in this show. It looks like how a cleric might
dress in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign.

There's also this whole "atheists" had a war with "zealots" thing, which seems like a heavy-handed modern commentary that smacks of Fox News's decades long "War on Christmas" segment that you see about every October through December. It's not that I don't appreciate the allegory, but I'm also rather tired of it. Like...it's a dead horse that has been beaten over and over by conservative media pundits and as far as I know...it's baseless. However, this doesn't mean that Raised By Wolves is about Christians. For some reason, the Earth people followed Sol or worshiped Sol, and there seemed to be a lot of unity about the religion as a whole, which also strikes me as odd since there are hundreds of religions on Earth. Yet the one that built the "Arks" (a biblical term that has nothing to do with any being called Sol) is the one with all of the religious people worshiping the same deity, and there were no other religions that apparently escaped Earth's destruction.

So the premise of the show is that humans are at the edge of extinction, unless I've misinterpreted something. The androids of the show are programmed to raise children to be atheists and to create an atheist society to "prevent the war that destroyed the parental civilization." Okay then. But the kids all want to start praying, which is a thing I'm not sure I understand but...okay. And then the religious people on the ark who arrive at this same planet are not morally good. They take things by force from those who can't stop them, they arrived with a rapist who impregnated underage girls while they were in stasis, and they are led by a person referred to as "your eminence" who makes his zealot followers carry him through the desert of this alien planet on a palanquin. They literally have no food, very little water, and it's a sand desert, and they have to carry this guy around like he's some kind of emperor. Like...what the hell? Oh, and you also find out that they created the superhuman android raising the children who destroys the ark...she's called a necromancer...and she apparently has powers that are similar to Superman. Like...the religious people on Earth created these "necromancers" to kill atheists in droves. They're basically god-like in their power. However, they don't worship these god-like necromancers. Rather, they worship a thing called Sol, which (from what I've observed) can do nothing for them. It's just really weird.

Ridley Scott seems to be stuck on asking these questions about the relationship between a creator and their creation. It is an interesting question, but it seems to be getting kind of old. We saw this in Prometheus as Elizabeth Shaw lost her faith when she came face to face with (presumably) the Engineers who created the human race (there are no definitive answers to this question, but it's my hot take). There is also the strong suggestion in Prometheus that the reason the Engineers were going to wipe out the human race with the black goo bombs is because they killed one of the Engineers two-thousand years ago, putting the timeline at about the same period when Jesus Christ would have walked the Earth. So maybe, Jesus was an Engineer? Again, this question is not answered by Scott, and he's probably too afraid to answer it truthfully at the risk of insulting influential Christians and having his career ruined. So instead, we get ambiguousness.

Well, we get this kind of thing again in Raised by Wolves. We have humans and androids doing this kind of "creation" dance. It ultimately comes to a head when the religious people realize that it is one of their own creations that they cannot deal with that is on this planet. Furthermore, it is this self-same creation that will be their complete undoing unless they can find some manner to deal with "superman" with nothing but rocks and sticks.

In the end, Raised by Wolves is more a show that is entertaining for those who like to watch survival porn. In other words, there's a Bear Grylls kind of fascination to watching humans struggle and overcome challenges when forced to live on a deserted alien planet with hostile life forms and an inhospitable environment. But once you get past the whole "Naked and Afraid" appeal of the thing, the five episodes I watched simply traveled between a mud hut in a desert to the actual deep desert with real sand dunes where they find a huge pentagonal-shaped rock. The "eminence" figure of the religious order of Sol proclaims the thing as being "intelligently designed." Well, he dies shortly after when he's set on fire by a heat wave from the object and someone else fills his place as "the eminence." Then they pack up and leave the object. They never gain entrance to it, nothing is ever explained about it, they don't find food or water there. They just go, find it, pray before it (and are warmed by it when the night is cold), and then travel back the way they came through the desert to go and find the androids raising kids in a mud hut again. And that's pretty much it. They just wander through the desert like Moses did when he left Pharoah.

Anyway, like I said earlier in all of this, it's not something I'd re-watch, but it did have entertaining moments.


Wednesday, September 9, 2020

I'm in shock over how extreme our climate is becoming out here in the West.

 An extreme weather event blew through Salt Lake City on Tuesday. The area effected was all the way to northern Utah, with winds reaching 100 miles per hour. On Saturday we were 100 degrees here. Now it's like forty degrees outside. I have always believed that humans are causing the climate to change incredibly fast, but these extreme weather events have even taken me (a natural pessimist and believer that humans are by and large terrible) by surprise. My neighbors to the far west in California are constantly on fire, our air here in Utah is always smoky (during the summer and fall) these days, and our summers are getting extremely hot. I think we had ten days in a row in July with temps over 100 degrees, and in some cases around 110. This. Isn't. Normal. This was the hottest summer Utah has ever experienced since records were kept. What makes it strange is that I believe, next year will also be the hottest summer Utah has ever experienced since records were kept. And so on and so forth. Wildfires explode with such intensity that they've created a new name for them. They call them "gigafires," because they burn down 1000 acres in just a few hours. This didn't used to happen.

Anyway, here are a few pictures from around the valley of things that happened due to the extreme wind storm. Tons of big trees fell in one of the parks not far from my house. However, nothing bad happened to my house. Just a ton of debris in the yard, and my two big planters on my porch that weigh probably 100 pounds each filled with wet soil and plants ended up on the sidewalk (yeah...the wind was that strong). As I'm writing this, there are 100,000 people out of power in the Salt Lake area. I guess I'm one of the lucky ones, especially since temps are plummeting. It's going to be in the low 20's in Park City tonight, which is only 15 miles from me. Again, we were 100 degrees just two days ago.



Anyone else noticing extreme weather? Anyone else even care? If there are climate change deniers who read my blog...are any of you at all worried about the world you are leaving to your children and grandchildren? Another day in paradise I guess.

Friday, September 4, 2020

I really love it when Ridley Scott indulges his bent for science fiction.


Ridley Scott is a great director. Even so, it's questionable whether he gets total creative control over his projects. Other directors who landed in the same boat are famous names like David Lynch, who calls his Dune adaptation done in the eighties as a great sadness in his life (because he was unable to realize his own vision of the book and had to bend to what the studio execs desired). The same can be said of Ridley, who started out with an Alien prequel series known as Prometheus and ended up having to film some hot garbage called Alien: Covenant, because the studio was cratering to fandom demand that the xenomorph be prominently featured.

So now we are stuck with a narrative that doesn't make sense, i.e., Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, none of which directly ties to the fossilized space jockey the crew of the original film found on the moon LV-426. And we probably won't get any answers, because the latter film did poorly, and the studio called 20th Century Fox was acquired by Disney and the franchise of "Alien" doesn't exactly scream "Disney Princess." So...there it is...in a nutshell. Nevermind, that there is apparently a whole movie missing between Covenant and Prometheus that explains exactly why David turned on Elizabeth Shaw, or why she even decided to piece him together, or why David decided to vivisect Shaw (which is apparent from the outtakes) and then create the first face hugger using the fingers of Elizabeth Shaw's own hand. I can't even understand David's logic in doing so, nor how we get from that apparent muckery to a spaceship piloted by a Space Jockey (one of the engineers) apparently loaded with these leathery eggs from a species that the android David apparently made by experimenting with the black goo, even though we saw him annihilate the Engineer homeworld in Covenant. Yeah...none of it makes sense.

However, this doesn't mean that I don't appreciate Ridley Scott's mind. In fact, Prometheus and Covenant both look like notes in a notebook to me...only they filmed it before a cohesive plot could actually be done. Like...it's what writers do before they get beta readers to come in and say, "Hey...none of these things tie together but you've got some really interesting ideas here." Which is to say (as a compliment) that I love it when Ridley Scott decides to indulge his science fiction bone...the one that says, "hey...let's do something that looks really cool!"

So, Ridley Scott is once again doing this kind of thing with a new series called Raised by Wolves that is about a very advanced synthetic lifeform kind of reminiscent of the androids in Alien who are tasked with raising human children on a planet far from Earth. It looks very cool, and I gotta say, I'm interested in seeing where this goes. No doubt, the android will be the bad guy here (as is the case with most synthetic lifeforms in Scott movies). I'm just curious as to what kind of questions he's going to be asking of the audience in thinking about artificial intelligence, and whether or not something synthetic could actually parent and thereby raise humans to treat each other differently than what we see on Earth. If you haven't heard of this series, check out the trailer below.