Friday, July 20, 2018

There are a lot of boy and robot team up stories and I wonder if the appeal is control.

I watched Terminator 2 last night with the kids who I am slowly educating on the most relevant movies ever made. As Edward Furlong (playing John Conner) interacted with Schwarzenegger's Terminator Cyberdyne model series T-800 Model 101 (living tissue over robotic inner skeleton) I realized that there are a lot of stories that share this same theme.
We have Lost in Space, with the kid named Will Robinson interacting with Robbie the Robot. In the Netflix reboot, the robot is every bit as kickass as the terminator is in Terminator 2 (the best Terminator movie in my opinion), because it is nigh indestructible, relentless to its mission, and is always there at the beck and call of its master.
Then there's Big Hero Six, a Disney animated movie, in which Baymax (programmed originally to be a medical assistant) also takes on the role of being nigh indestructible, pretty relentless, and at the beck and call of the kid who controls him.
Need another example? How about Real Steel? In this one, the robot doesn't even have a personality as it's completely under the control of the kid. Without the kid, it really is useless. And thinking about this made me realize the allure of robots to boys and men (acknowledging that you really don't see girls and women wanting to interact with robots). So what's it about? My idea is simple. It's about control. It's an instinctual desire...meaning that I don't think that boys necessarily and cognitively process that they want 100% control over something. Rather, it's just something that manifests. "I want complete control over _____." It's a strange almost primordial urge to recognize dominance, and (honestly) now that I realize it, this whole idea is kind of weirding me out.
At my work, I sometimes interact with children with autism. A lot of them do not possess social skills, and they also dislike or refuse to work with people. However, they will interact with a robot that we have that has the ability to talk, move, and make many facial expressions. While interacting with the robot, the children can learn from it. The curriculum is under the control of a teacher who has an iPad, but the robot is also under the control of  the student (who also has an iPad). Oh, and by a huge margin, boys seem to like interacting with the robot over girls (in my admittedly small sample size). Then again, I really haven't seen too many girls with autism (it's mostly boys that seem to get it for some reason).

So why is this happening? No one knows for sure, but I'm starting to think that kids with autism don't want to interact with real humans because (at some level) they know that this human they are interacting with does not belong to them. They do not get to boss around the human. They do not get to control the human. And so, they choose to completely shut down because this "lack of control" is too much to deal with.

As usual with my crackpot theories that I spout off on this blog, I could be completely in the wrong here, but I feel like I'm onto something. What is it about being male that expresses itself in wanting to control a thing of some kind utterly and completely? As evident in this post, I'm not sure what it is. The only thing I am sure of is that females don't seem to have it in as much abundance. Maybe that's one reason why video games and computers tend to have a much larger male base than female. Males are drawn to worlds that they can control utterly and completely down to the smallest hair waving in a phantom wind to however many leafs there are on a tree in a video game.

Any thoughts on this? Has anyone else done some armchair observation and noticed that men seem to have an inner control freak? I wonder if more male authors self-publish than females? Self-publishing gives complete and utter control to the one publishing, and if I'm right, it would mean that this would be very appealing to males in general. All of these questions are too big for my little blog, but I am interested in your viewpoint. And of course, by next week I will have moved onto something else to think on, having given this particular idea more than a few passing thoughts.

Monday, July 16, 2018

I think that the new direction Star Wars is headed will be a place where good and evil are just words and everything depends on a certain point of view.

I watched The Last Jedi again on Sunday night with my father. He hadn't seen it, but has been a fan of the Star Wars franchise for some time. Now that I've had some distance from my initial viewing of it in theaters, and have watched Solo: A Star Wars story and finished watching Star Wars: Rebels, I actually found that I liked The Last Jedi a lot more than I initially did. This was a kind of strange reaction as I think I was kind of immediately outraged that everything was so incredibly different than I expected.

It still isn't a movie that I would ever want to own, primarily because it's not a feel good movie. I also don't own a copy of Schindler's List for anyone that's been wondering about that. But The Last Jedi deserves more credit that the thrashing it has been given by fanboys online. For one, it's well put together. The script is coherent from beginning to end, the dialogue makes sense, and it wastes no time with confusing escapades or dealing with metaphors. Additionally, I'm more appreciative of the way in which Luke and others (Yoda) poke fun at the seriousness with which the Jedi have been treated for decades. The way he tosses the lightsaber over his shoulder, the way Yoda casually berates Luke for not picking up the "page turners" that were the Jedi histories, and the way Snoke berates Kylo Ren about his helmet. "Take that ridiculous thing off."

Favorite lines: Rey telling Luke, "I've seen your daily routine. You're not busy."

It's funny stuff. There's also more hope buried within its carefully constructed script than I originally gave it credit for having. It seemed like Disney just took a jackhammer and wrecking ball to everything. But there's all kinds of kernels hidden in the narrative that point to a new kind of story that can be told...one in which kids who are not a part of the Jedi order learn to use the Force because the Force "doesn't belong to anyone." I liked that line that seemed like it was a throwaway the first time I saw it (when Luke is teaching Rey who is sitting on rock). "The Force doesn't belong to anyone." It's an interesting concept and it pushes the idea that all this training and rules and discipline and everything else were just made up things meant to constrict people who should have felt free to access the Force and use it however they want (if they had the talent).

Even the code breaker says as much in his worldview. "Good guy, bad guy...those are just words." It's weird to think that Star Wars, the iconic franchise of good versus evil, is starting to embrace the idea that "good" and "evil" are just concepts. What is "good" and what is "evil" is entirely dependent on a certain point-of-view. At least, that's what I'm getting as The Last Jedi's most prevalent kernel that underlies the whole movie and story. It's probably the direction that they are going to go in the next movie, and it makes me wonder what it may look like.

George R.R. Martin is also a believer that "good" and "evil" are just words. Instead, it's motivations that matter (and the philosophies and actions that take place behind those motivations). Am I thinking that we may see a Star Wars that resembles something more like what we see in Game of Thrones, only in space? I'm not so sure. But it may end up resembling a universe in which countless stories can be told with they dynamics, say, somewhere between Star Wars and Game of Thrones. It'll be a place where good and evil are just words, and who you side with will depend on the framing provided by the script.

I will not be posting on Wednesday, but I will be back this Friday.

Friday, July 13, 2018

I get to introduce some kids to the Alien universe so let's all celebrate by feasting on some really great fan art.

Because my mind sometimes ruminates on dark thoughts, and also because I've gotten permission from the mom of the two teens that watch movies with me to introduce them to the Alien franchise, I'm posting some of my favorite fan art that has been created over the years to celebrate Alien. Enjoy.
by Rory Kurtz

By Mike Saputo

By Mark Englert

By Thomas Walker

By Louis Solis

Soundtrack artwork from Mondo

By Laurent Durleux

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The female pac-man figure in Catana comics acts like an infant most of the time and it bothers me.

I have a few friends that share Catana comics on Facebook. If you don't know what these are, they are comic strips about what it's like to have a heterosexual millennial relationship in today's world, only drawn with "Pac-Man"-esque faces. When my friend James asked me if I liked them, I realized with a strange sudden-ness that I did not. Of course, he was baffled. "Why not? They are so cute? Are they too saccharin for you?"
I had to think about it. No, they are not too sweet. I think the reason I didn't like them was that the presumption is that this is how a healthy modern relationship is supposed to be, yet the woman element (in particular) is infantilized. In other words, if you step back from it and look at the comic aware of your bias, I think you can see that nearly every panel has the woman acting like an adolescent child. We see it as "cute" and "saccharin" because of the nature of childhood. Of course, we don't actually know what any of these people would look like in a real world because it's a comic book. It's really a perfect storm, because it creates a "Mary Sue" element similar to what the author did in the Twilight books by giving us a protagonist that was so plain anyone could step into the role. In other words, Any one person can immediately step into the "pants" of these characters and assume "hey this is me." That's actually kind of brilliant from a pure marketing "let's make a goose that lays golden eggs" standpoint. So kudos to the author of these strips.

And make no mistake, Catana comics are popular and are only getting more so day after day. I find this phenomenon to be weird, and because I have a curious mind, I want to ask questions. It makes me psychoanalyze the audience of these comics for purely academic reasons. In other words, I'm not trying to be judgmental. People are free to express their love in any way they wish to in my book. But those who might be delighted by these comic strips could possibly fall into a few camps, and I'd like to discuss those in depth below.
The first camp is the atypical straight guy (lone wolf alpha male) that only likes women, period. Here's a person that might love the idea of having a partner who is childish and struggles to put on clothes, who struggles to make choices, who is short, easily confused, and reliant on him to act as the adult in the relationship. These kinds of guys are probably going to love reading Catana comics, because it reinforces a kind of worldview that they find comfortable.

The second camp is the straight woman who secretly desires a level of codependency, which is where the man is not only a lover and boyfriend but takes on several of the responsibilities normally associated with a "daddy." It's actually kind of fascinating, especially in today's world which is filled with all kinds of headwinds from searches for equality to society-wide anxieties that arise from a myriad of issues.

The third camp are going to consist of people who are no longer children but look back at their adolescent years through a lens of relationship envy--envy because it felt cozy because both partners were (effectively) children and didn't worry about bills or any responsibilities. In fact, there are no responsibilities at all in Catana comics. That real-world stuff exists beyond its borders. It's a place where only physical interaction (in the same way that children poke and prod at the world) matters. They only needed to figure out how to tolerate each other's farts and burps and laugh about that the way that children laugh at things.

The fourth (and final) camp belongs to people who suffer from (diagnosable?) chronic anxiety. These comics are like comfort food, indulging an idealized version of a childhood fantasy. It's the ultimate "I want to retreat to my pillow fort now and suck my thumb" expression combined with a desire to be taken care of by someone else.
I think that Catana comics are a perfect product for the times in which we live. The world feels like it is getting worse, unless you are part of the #MAGA crowd (at which point then the world probably feels great). I have many Trump-ian friends, and I don't understand...I don't understand any of it...but whatever. Maybe I wasn't meant to understand, and that isn't the point of this post. My brain just doesn't work that way. But for those who aren't part of that crowd, the world feels hotter and more miserable, more dangerous, more filled with hatred, brimming with intolerance, and with undercurrents that hint at the coming of some truly lasting evils that, to be fair, have always plagued mankind but in this circumstance it just feels different. Into all of this drops a comic strip which promises a return to childhood innocence, where one partner is enough to protect the obviously weaker one, and nothing else dares to intrude upon their idealistic existence. I get why they are popular. However, the reason behind that popularity is why I don't like them. In the end, I wish there were fewer adults in our country who desired an escape into childhood no matter how terrifying the real world has become.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp is yet another hit and it made me think of these eight things.

I saw Ant-Man and The Wasp this weekend. I kinda want to discuss it, so there are spoilers ahead. Go and read someone else's blog if you are not a person that wants to talk "spoiler-y content." Also, there really isn't a single theme here. I'm just gathering all my thoughts together in one place.

Assorted Musings regarding Ant-Man and The Wasp and Marvel movies in general (here we go):

1) Marvel is on a roll. By my list, the last four movies released were Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and now Ant-Man and the Wasp. I love all of these movies that I own the ones that are available and plan to purchase the ones that aren't available (when they do become available). This is an accomplishment that should be applauded/celebrated. I don't know if it's because they seem to have adopted John Hammond's philosophy from Jurassic Park and "spared no expense" or if they've just gotten lucky, but I'm willing to bet that it has something to do with the former. Money seems to be able to buy quality where these kinds of movies are concerned.

2) I liked that Ghost was an antagonist as opposed to a villain. That was a good decision and was a shift from good versus evil.

3) Scott continues to be the dumbest guy in the room in almost any scene. I think this really works for Marvel because being "dumb" in a Marvel movie opens up a whole side wing to things that people find funny. Think of how Thor is essentially the dumb jock and how well Hemsworth plays into that role.

4) Evangeline Lilly stole the show in every scene that she was in. I also think she's in better shape than Paul Rudd, which is impressive because Paul Rudd is ripped for this role.

5) The first stinger that's almost two minutes long seems to be a direct lead-in to time travel? It seems a little ham-fisted that Janet dropped the whole, "Don't get sucked into a time vortex" thing right before Ant-Man went into the quantum realm without it meaning something. What can we take from this? Well I think the quantum realm is the gateway to undoing everything in Avengers: Infinity War. Once Ant-Man gets big again, figures out what happened, and then tells the remaining Avengers about the quantum realm's unique time vortices, I think we have the plot for Avengers 4: End Game (my nod to a thing Doctor Strange said in Avengers: Infinity War). I also think that the quantum realm is immune to the Infinity Gauntlet's powers.

6) Funniest scene in the movie is Luis's monologue following an injection of truth serum. Also music was spot on. The Baba-Yaga joke was funnier because of the music.

7) Who was Sonny Burch working for? He was stealing the lab for his scary boss. I'm betting that it is Doctor Doom.

8) I dropped two jokes to the teenagers and mom that I went to the show with (oh and friend Brad was also there). I'll share them with you here. 1) Does Ant-Man actually pay the ants that work for him or are they unpaid "ant-terns?" 2) Ant-Man and the Wasp is the ant-ecedent to Avengers: Infinity War. And yes, I came up with both of these jokes.

/takes a bow. Y'all have a good Monday.


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

For Independence Day the Insecure Writer's Support group is asking a question about my ultimate writing goals.

It's Wednesday, July 4th, 2018. and it's time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group post. The website said that everyone was supposed to post Tuesday to avoid the holiday, but I figured posting Wednesday would still work. I'll just get less visits (and that's perfectly fine). FYI, I'm going to leave this up until Monday (I'm taking Friday off).

If you are somehow a newbie to the blog fest, you can read about it over HERE at the official website. Below is the Independence Day question:

Independence Day question - What are your ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time (if at all)?

When I return to writing, I want to write better. I've been reading a lot of things lately, and I love how some authors use really colorful metaphors. Tad Williams compared aspen leaves to green coins in one book, and I absolutely loved it. I also love unique perspectives that somehow have you looking forward and backward at the same time. It's easier to show in art, so I'll post some art below for the classic movie Jaws that seems to capture what I'm saying.

Here's the first.
What are the elements at play here? Glasses and skin both red, the tell-tale sunglasses reflecting a huge shark launching itself out of the water. How would I capture this in a story? I'd want a scene to have a strong point of view, but what you don't see (and that I would only hint at) is actually occurring behind that very same point of view.
What are the elements at play in the above illustration? Well Quint is sliding to his doom. If I wanted to capture this in a scene, I'd try to write it from the point of view of the monster, which I think is just as relevant.

Essentially, what I'm saying about my own writing is that I want each scene to carry more weight with fewer words. I suppose that is my goal.

Monday, July 2, 2018

A little Ant-Man and the Wasp humor for a Monday.

Here's a little humor I inflicted on the group mind of my Dungeons and Dragons collective. There are six of us that meet about once a month to play (sometimes more often and sometimes less often). Our scheduled meetings tend to fluctuate with "adulting" responsibilities, vacations, jobs, the rare booty call, and depression/mental health issues. Needless to say, they didn't appreciate my joke. My friend Brad Habegger though thought it was hella funny. My comments are in the green bubble. After my initial text of two dots I waited like five minutes, just so that everyone who received it would be like...wtf? Did Mike just butt-text by accident? They have called me a professional-level troll.
And below is an argument I started on another day. This one was mostly aimed at Matt Callison, a friend who is my age in our D&D group (the rest are younger and one is even a teenager), and who has his finger squarely on the pulse of pop-culture. The initial "insult" in green (mine) was totally aimed at trolling Matt. And I was pleased that it worked. Just to give context...there was no lead up to this...no discussion of the very old t.v. show "Buck Rogers in the 25th century." Essentially, if you hadn't lived through it, you'd have no idea what I was talking about (which was the complete point of the whole exercise to begin with).
"MC" is Matt Callison. Anyway, this was solid entertainment on a workday afternoon.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The problem with dream sequences in books you like is that they are all metaphor and you never get a choice on whether or not you want to go along for the ride.

"Dream of Solomon" by Luca Giordano
I'm a hypocritical writer. I tend to not like dream sequences in books, but I've used them before. I think that I did it in the past because so many other writers of speculative fiction employ dream sequences (or they historically did so) that it seemed like a necessary component of any narrative. You know? Kind of like following a recipe in a Betty Crocker cookbook. Step one: add characters, sprinkle them liberally, make sure that there are female and male characters in equal helpings. Step two: check for diversity. Step three: Add dream sequence, because it's the best way to indulge author narcissism and come across as clever... Sigh. And sometimes they are unavoidable if there's a certain kind of story that you want to tell.

As to the question: why do dream sequences bug me? I haven't been able to answer that until now. And the answer is complex because I have to channel my love/hate relationship with David Lynch movies. See...I love to watch David Lynch, but only when I know my brain is well-rested, and I feel like I can handle an entire show of nothing but metaphor. And with regard to metaphor, I'm talking the kind that made a Star Trek: Next Generation episode famous with lines like "Darmok at Tanagra" and "When the walls fell." These lines made absolutely no sense because they were metaphors that you could only understand if you were part of the same alien race that was speaking them.

This is why I can't just binge-watch Legion or Twin Peaks. I have to work myself up to these kinds of shows and limit how much they toy with my brain. Figuring out what's going on can be exhausting, but in a fun way. Well when books do these dream sequences (and yes I'm speaking with a wide sweeping generalization) they are usually all metaphors. Very rarely does a dream sequence ever end up being a literal scene as in A leads to B leads to C. If that were the case, then why not just write the scene and not even have it be a dream? The very idea of writing a dream triggers something in us all that wants to explore it via metaphor and get all clever with the images.

Anyway, with a book, my problem with a dream sequence is that you don't get a choice. In the real world...I know that Legion or Twin Peaks is going to be a headache. A book can lure you into the story with snappy dialogue and action and then you are suddenly committed to following along on a journey with a character. Then bam! Out of nowhere comes the dreaded "dream sequence" and it's pages long, and it's all metaphor that I'm going to have to try and figure out and then my brain starts to hurt.

I've been reading Tad Williams' classic The Dragonbone Chair, and this thing is full of dream sequences. But you don't get to them right away. But when they come, boy oh boy are you seeing all kinds of cloaked figures, faces that glow but make no sense, mountains of ice and birds that could be stand-ins for people, or they could very well just be birds. There's marks that could be swords or maybe not be swords, etc., and so on and so forth. Don't get me wrong, I love the book. It's quite riveting, but those dream sequences are like a frickin' wall when they pop up, and I think I visibly groan and say something like, "Not another one...." and then find myself paging through it to see just how long the damn thing is before we get back to the main character.

So the dreaded dream sequence; I'm not sure what I plan on doing with it once I return to writing (I'm on an extended hiatus). I think that I'm going to strive to never ever write another one. I don't care if they made me seem clever. They're ridiculous and I don't think another reader out there ever deserves to suffer through another one. And yes, I realize that I've just burned down James Joyce because that man writes ALL in metaphor. But unlike a dream sequence, at least you know that about James Joyce and can choose to pick up Ulysses if you're craving punishment.

That's just my opinion though :).

Monday, June 25, 2018

There are a lot of similarities between the Jurassic Park franchise and the Alien franchise.

There are spoilers in this post for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Regarding the title, it certainly wasn't intended that way, or at least that's what it seems like to me. Alien was this movie put together by a director (Ridley Scott) that wanted to tell a story of people coming across an alien ship marooned on a desolate planet, only to become pawns in a greater plot from a company that wanted to harvest the xenomorph in order to weaponize it. As far as science-fiction goes, this stuff is "bread and butter" for the genre and Alien really did do a great job of giving us some on screen running and screaming that has been duplicated over and over by copycats.

Later on, when Ridley Scott decided that he was going to add to the mythology with Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, he gave us the doomed story of an advanced pre-human civilization dubbed "The Engineers" whose whole shtick was to mess with the genetic code in order to create weaponized life that they could do with as they choose. Of course we know that even advanced peoples apparently are not ready for this particular "Pandora's box" and what the movies show us to an exhausting degree is that no one is ready to deal with the monsters of genetically-engineered life.

Well the Jurassic Park franchise does exactly that too, and I want to point out that it also is based on the whole "people are running around and screaming." I would even go so far as to say that running from monsters and screaming the entire time is the backbone of the franchise. And back to my point...with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which I saw this weekend, the story of genetic engineering taken too far is unavoidable. It practically smacks you in the face. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the same story line as Prometheus, only instead of Alien xenomorphs we have dinosaurs that eat your face. But the same result is that humanity has to deal with a kind of animal that was engineered to wholly wreck an ecosystem that is incapable of dealing with its power.

For what it's worth, I like both franchises, i.e., Jurassic Park and Aliens. But I felt it was worth pointing out that I see a lot of similarities in these movies. Only the setting and the kind of monster are different, but I think the moral is still the same. Having settled this in my head now, I want to ask true die-hard fans of the Alien movies (I know a couple) if they are also die-hard fans of The Jurassic Park movies. I'm wondering if they even on a subconscious level understand that the movies and the stories are the same thing. I'll have to get back to you on that.

Oh and question for those who wish to leave a comment: did you like the movie? It made a whopping $700 million this weekend, so you know it's going to have another sequel. As far as I can tell, the cash machine that is Jurassic Park is the goose that laid the golden egg.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Ron Howard wasn't the right director for a Star Wars movie but that really isn't his fault.

It's official. So if you haven't heard in the news yet, SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY is the first "flop" in the Star Wars franchise. It will still earn money, but compared to all the other Star Wars properties, it falls far short for expectations from a golden egg-producing goose. Personally, I saw the film, and I liked it. And I have my own theory as to why it flopped, but I'm going to air those after I tell you what other people are saying:

REASONS FOR WHY SOLO FLOPPED AT THE BOX OFFICE:

1) It was released at the wrong time.
2) People didn't like The Last Jedi as much as the critics, and hence, they were apathetic.
3) There's viewer fatigue.
4) People didn't want to see another actor take on the iconic role of Han Solo.

And now here's my reason: Ron Howard isn't good at making epic movies that are light on character and big on hair-raising, mouth-dropping moments. Star Wars is supposed to be epic in scope. It's supposed to dazzle and give moments of awe. In Rogue One, there was a moment of awe when the Death Star fired its weapon on a city and the land wave that followed had me awe-struck. Plus it was filmed in such a way as to eclipse a sun.

Ron Howard doesn't do "awe." He does character films, which admittedly Solo is one of these. His strengths are cerebral...getting into the head of characters like in A Beautiful Mind or in Cocoon, which is a slow-burning film that shows old people becoming young again. But Star Wars isn't about character...people don't go to these movies to get into the head of Han Solo. They don't go to the movie to obtain all the feels from Princess Leia's suffering over two hours. People go to a Star Wars movie to experience awe, and Ron Howard was the wrong person to realize this for the franchise.

The moment in the film that had the most "awe" packed into it was probably when the train exploded. And it took out the top of a mountain and was mostly in an uninhabited place so nobody cared. The second moment was when a space monster got sucked into a black hole. But nobody cared at that point either because you know Han Solo survives because he's in later movies. It was just a throwaway monster to use to make the escape from the Kessel Mines kind of interesting.

However, when I think about how Ron Howard put together Solo, I also don't think it's his fault either. It's clear that Disney doesn't understand what makes Star Wars, and that they've gotten lucky thus far by hiring directors who obviously do. With Solo, Ron Howard was probably someone who was enthusiastic to do it even after production hell erupted over directors that were supposed to come in and make the film. Add to this the fact that he had a limited timeline, the budget blew out of control, and there were all kinds of problems that he needed to deal with to get it to the cinema on time. So yeah...it's Ron's fault while simultaneously NOT being his fault.

Unfortunately, because SOLO did poorly, all the other Star Wars stories in the works have now been put on hold. That kinda sucks. At least we have an endless future of Jurassic Park stories to whet our appetites, even if the backbone of that franchise is just humans running and screaming. However, (and just to be fair) Jurassic World did give us running in high heels, so that was new.

A NOTE ON BLOGGING COMMENTS:

Helena Soister alerted me via personal email that none of her comments were being published, and I didn't know this (thank you Helena). I apologize if any of you have been thinking that I ghosted you or something like that. This isn't the case, and you should be able to comment on the blog now going back five days before the "held for moderation" thing happens on older blog posts.

I'm not sure what has changed with Blogger, but I no longer get email notifications that someone has left a comment on my blog. That was a nice feature that Google is either working on or is currently broken until it gets fixed for Blogger. I imagine it's a rather low priority for them.

Helena: I did respond to your email :)

Kevin Long: I sent you an email yesterday (I've actually sent a couple). If you read this, could you check your spam and see if you've received any and get back to me.

Patrick: What ARC of Alan Dean Foster's do you have? You mentioned it the other day.

Other than that, have a nice weekend. I'm reading my first Tad Williams books, and they are pretty good so far. I guess you'll hear more about them in the future. Right now, I'm seeing a strong influence on George R.R. Martin that I never knew about. Go figure, and more on this later.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Surprising Works of Alan Dean Foster are remarkably relevant today

I recently read the following three books: Spellsinger, The Hour at the Gate, and The Day of the Dissonance. I'd never read anything from Alan Dean Foster except for a single Star Wars tale called Splinter of the Mind's Eye. So when I picked up this omnibus called Season of the Spellsong (which contained the above three novels), I had no idea what to expect. Furthermore, I think I did it because the cover art on the omnibus is rather ridiculous. I'll include it below and to the right for reference.


The characters you see here are Jonathan Thomas Merriweather, playing his duar (instrument) that gives him his magic, Clothahump the turtle (who is the most powerful sorcerer in the land), Mudge the Otter (who speaks with a thick English accent), and Flo Quintana, who's a cheerleader at UCLA. It actually sounds ridiculous to just be typing all that, but yeah...those are the main characters. Ones that you don't see (but I'd love to see them realized in art form) are Pog the bat, who serves as an assistant to the turtle sorcerer, and a frog that's a boat captain, and a tiger named Roseroar (that I imagine speaks in the same voice as Captain Phasma from The Last Jedi). Oh and how could I forget the gay unicorn. Yup, in these novels from the 1980's there was a gay unicorn folks. We learned he was gay because some brigands used a virgin lass to lure him out of hiding, but it had no effect on him because he liked boys and not girls. Wrong sex, ya know?

Despite the size of this omnibus, which clocked in at 730 pages, I breezed through it like it was nothing. Alan Dean Foster's writing style and mastery of dialects is hilarity in action. Additionally, the whole thing was chock full of things I'd never seen in books before. There was a double river, one on top of another, that you could sail on. You just had to sink your boat to the lower river (where there was air) and you could pass right along with a river right on top of you. And there was a desert that acted like a huge hourglass that someone turned over twice a year. The only safe place was a city named Redrock at the very center of the desert, surrounded by a huge moat that was so deep you couldn't see the bottom. Twice a year, all the sand in the desert rose as a wave and headed toward that city, only to fall into the moat and reemerge from a crystal tower with a huge hole in it spewing into the sky like a whale's blowhole. Magic kept it from falling back into the city. Instead the sand just kind of reset itself over the desert. It was kind of fascinating stuff.

But the reason why I think these books are more relevant than ever is because of how much foresight Mr. Foster had in acceptance. There are dozens of talking races in this book all sharing one planet from a turtle, to an otter, and yes...even a river dragon that has memorized all the writings of Karl Marx and wants to lead the revolution of the downtrodden masses (in this case mice and rats) to overthrow the oligarchs. It's strange "portal fiction" pulling characters from 1980's America into this kind of crazy setting, echoing Disney's Zootopia moreso than just about anything else. In fact, I'm convinced that Alan Dean Foster could have easily written Zootopia if he'd wanted to.

And the other weird thing about these books is that they aren't written for children. These are adult characters doing adult things. The otter, Mudge, is a lech who'd get slapped for harassment were he employed in an actual workplace. Clothahump is a grumpy old fart who wields serious and dangerous magic. There's blood and war and some terrible things that happen to these characters, only they're rabbits instead of humans. Weird third-person omniscient head-hopping aside (hey it was a thing in these 80's books), this is a world that says, "Diversity is a magical thing if you just start treating people humanely and can ignore the way they look on the outside." But then it backtracks on that message too.

It addresses the desire to be someone else in a remarkable way by giving us a character who is a bat that's in love with a beautiful falcon. But the falcon won't give him the time of day because he's an ugly bat. So he gets transformed by magic into a phoenix and flies off with the falcon, and he's happy. There's no, "be happy with who you are." The message here is, "Who you are may not be sufficient so if you can, get plastic surgery to change it and who knows...maybe your dreams will come true." I've never read a message like that from a book. It totally throws out the mantra of "you are enough" and embraces "change if you can because what you are is ugly." There's a brutal honesty to it that, I gotta say, I kind of liked. It may not be a popular message, but I think it would ring true with a lot of people's personal experience.

And of course, the gay unicorn just had me laughing out loud. I'm going to read more Alan Dean Foster. He's got a weird and creative mind. I just kinda have to wonder though if he's a "furry." I've heard of "furry conventions." It strikes me as something I should look up at some point. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

All of the things you should know before you go and see Incredibles 2.

If you like Easter Eggs in movies, and you intend on watching Incredibles 2, you really should read this post :).

I saw Incredibles 2 this weekend, and I'm listing some things that you should pay attention to from the past so that you can get the most from this movie (if you haven't already seen it). Before you read this list though, it is a bit spoiler-y. However, I don't think it's too bad because it doesn't reveal anything about the plot of the film per se. Without further ado, here are the things that I noted:

1) In the 2005 short, Jack-Jack Attack, the babysitter has many activities that she tries with the baby that are supposed to be healthy and neurologically stimulating. One of these things is having the baby listen to Mozart. As a result, the child makes the babysitter earn her pay by destroying his own house. There's an event that pays homage to this short in Incredibles 2. Hint: "It's Mozart, Dahling."

2) A113. This innocuous seeming letter "A" grouped with the numbers "113" is a reference to the almamater of a bunch of Pixar artists who all went to class together in room A113. I believe it was at the California Institute of the Arts. I know Brad Bird is one of these alumni. Hint for spotting this one is the title of a movie made by Francis Ford Coppola.

3) John Ratzenberger, who played Cliff Clavin in Cheers, voices another character in this Pixar outing. He has voiced one character in every single Pixar film to date, so it's kind of fun to look for him. Hint: It's rather early in the film. Another one to watch out for is Bob Odenkirk who played Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad (if you're a fan). He plays a similar type character in this show, which seems like a stereotype unless you admit to yourself that he actually is really good at this kind of character. If the actor doesn't seem to care about being stereotyped, I see no reason to care either.

4) T.V. shows. At several moments in the movie, you see Johnny Quest and then The Outer Limits. These are two shows that I loved, and I looked it up to see if they were ever on the television at the same time. They were, and it happened in 1965. So that's when The Incredibles takes place: the year 1965. Just an F.Y.I. in case you were wondering at what point the movie is supposed to take place in American history.

5) Craig T. Nelson. He's the voice of Mr. Incredible, but his other role of note is playing the dad in Poltergeist (from the 80's). In that old movie, the family's youngest child is lured into another dimension and they can hear her pleading for help. Well, guess what one of Jack-Jack's powers is? Yup, it's a nod to Poltergeist.

6) Remember the Incredibile (Mr. Incredible's car from the opening action sequence of The Incredibles?) I will only say that James Bond would be proud.

7) There's a character named Evelyn Deavor. If you say it out loud really fast and pronounce the (EVE)"Ehv" part as "Eve" and still pronounce the "l" and the "yn" normally, it takes on a whole new meaning. That's all I'm going to say about that. Hint: It's a name like "Stuart Padasso." Shorten the "Stuart" to "Stew" and you're suddenly saying "Stupid asshole" if you say it really fast.

8) You'll want to stay through the credits because you get three songs (with vocals!) for characters featured in The Incredibles. They're done in the vein of the Spiderman song. You know the one: "Spiderman, Spiderman, does whatever a spider can/ Spins a web any size, catches thieves just like flies/ Look out, here come the Spiderman!"

Friday, June 15, 2018

The universe of the Unbreakable movies is far more compelling and better than the Sixth Sense.

This post assumes that you've all seen the movie, Split, by now and realize it is the second installment (sequel) in the same movie series that contains the movie, Unbreakable.

M. Night Shymalan's greatest film is Unbreakable and not The Sixth Sense. As more and more of the ongoing story (which M. Night did not just "luck out on" but planned via the long game over many years) has its day in the light, I am convinced that Mr. Shyamalan is a genius that just had a bunch of bad beats.

Take for example these points:

1) The Horde character from Split fits perfectly within the Unbreakable universe, not only because (like Mr. Glass) he's the ultimate progression of what happens when you take something to the extreme, but because Elijah's mother in Unbreakable said, "There are two villains typically; one that fights the hero physically (the Horde), and the archenemy who fights the hero with his mind (Mr. Glass).

2) Kevin (the Horde) is actually in the movie Split as a brief cameo/Easter Egg when Bruce Willis goes to the stadium. He brushes up against a mom leading her child away, and he realizes that the kid is being beaten by his mom and that his dad was killed in the same train wreck that he survived due to his super powers. So Kevin was created by Mr. Glass in the same way that Bruce Willis's character was created. Furthermore, in that scene, Bruce Willis stares at the boy so (in fact) they've met before and I bet this will be shown in Mr. Glass when it comes out.

I don't know about you, but it actually feels good to be excited about an M. Night Shyamalan movie again.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Here's four points I want to make about Jurassic Park that make it lightning in a 25-year-old bottle.

I bought the 25th anniversary of Jurassic Park on 4K ultra HD off Amazon a few weeks ago, and I plan on watching it tonight with two teens who have never seen any of the Jurassic Park movies. It should be a lot of fun, as I've been educating them on some of the best offerings from the eighties and the nineties in a weekly "Wednesday" movie format. We eat popcorn, and I provide some insight into the film that we're about to watch to give it a little "educational" edge. The movie itself was a great deal. I got all copies of the Jurassic Park movies in 4K (including Jurassic World), blu-ray copies of the same movies (that I can give out as gifts) and an awesome carrying case that showcases facts about each movie, all for $40.00 (I think this was a super sweet deal).

In thinking about Jurassic Park and what I want to say about it, I've isolated four main points that I want to emphasize when it comes to this movie:

1) Jurassic Park was lightning in a bottle. For shark movies, there is really only one good story and that's Jaws. I think time has pretty much proven this to be correct. Everything else just isn't as good. The same goes for dinosaurs. That one good story was penned by Michael Crichton who was a genius and foresaw how genetic engineering could possibly bring back prehistoric/extinct animals if you could just get the D.N.A. blueprint from something. It's just enough of a stretch to make this tale believable. There's no old world sorcery or time travel element involved. The story just asks you to stretch the science we already know today a little further and bam...you are in Wonderland.

2) Michael Crichton obviously had a thing for theme parks run amok. HBO is currently running the critically acclaimed Westworld, based on a story by Crichton. In a similar vein, Jurassic Park is the same kind of show, taking a theme park and making it all break down in the most catastrophic and dramatic fashion possible.

3) Jurassic Park has many themes to it. One is that humans and greed are at the root of failure when it comes to realizing big ideas. A second (and sometimes overlooked) message of the story is parenting and acknowledging that parents oftentimes don't make the best decisions when it comes to children. They can also get completely overwhelmed by natural circumstances causing events to spiral out of control even in a world full of the modern luxuries and conveniences that we all take for granted. In the end, the character of Dr. Grant is every adult out there who finds himself suddenly caring for smaller humans and just winging it to try and keep them safe.

4) John Williams's musical score is perhaps the best one that he's ever done, and it's perfect to the tiniest degree in adding emotional punch to scenes in the movie. If ever there was a musical score that is a true masterpiece, it is Jurassic Park.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Pixar knows how to handle family dynamics and emotions which is why the Incredibles is better than any Fantastic Four movie.

The Incredibles 2 is coming out this week, and I already have my tickets. If you're a fan of the Fantastic Four comic books though, it's hard to see how well Pixar does with essentially the same characters compared to how poorly conceived and managed the Fantastic Four movies have always been.

In the Incredibles you have:

1) Mr. Incredible. He has super strength and above average resilience to the elements.
2) Mrs. Incredible. She's able to stretch her body to unknown lengths.
3) Violet. She's able to go invisible and create force fields.
4) Dash. He's able to run at super sonic speeds.
5) Jak Jak. This baby has the ability to shapeshift, plus a lot of other things thrown into the mix that we haven't even explored yet.

In the Fantastic Four you have:

1) Mr. Fantastic. Like Elastigirl above, he's able to stretch his body to unknown lengths.
2) Invisible Woman. Like Violet, she has invisibility and the power to create force fields. She also has telekinesis.
3) Human Torch. He's able to turn his body into living fire and he can fly and shoot all kinds of projectiles out of his hands.
4) Thing. He has a body made of rock and he has super strength.

So, as you can see, it's a pretty close matchup between the two franchises. Of course, Fantastic Four did come first, but that really isn't any excuse as to why the Incredibles is so much better at its story on the screen than the Fantastic Four has been. If you've even bothered to watch any of the Fantastic Four incarnations, I think you'd agree with me that they are terrible...basically unwatchable...piles of steaming night soil.

Anyway, why do you suppose that is? Rather, what does the Incredibles do that makes it so much better?

Here's my thoughts:

Pixar is brilliant at breathing life into characters. They know how arguments, love, caring, and all the feels can really spin into a strong story. They focus on the characters and try to build layer upon layer of emotional impact so that you end up feeling it in your heart. The Fantastic Four films focused too much on story and powers and not enough on the relationships between the individual characters on the screen. When I watch the Fantastic Four movies, I see that they have no heart to them.

Fantastic Four as an intellectual property is also kind of ridiculous. Stretching (outside of animation) just never looks good (it's cheesy) and Doctor Doom is a strangely wild creation of a villain, being simultaneously a despot, an evil sorcerer, and a genius.

But all these criticisms aside, I think what does it for me with Incredibles vs the Fantastic Four is the family dynamic. If it isn't spot on then it's not going to be entertaining to watch. And in this arena, Pixar wins hands down.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Everything magical has a kryptonite or your story arc just isn't any fun.

Recently, I started to read The Chronicles of the Deryni by Katherine Kurtz. They are quite entertaining, even with some unexpected head hops, but I'm sure she's really grown as a writer since these early novels popped onto the scene some fifty years ago. Her story plot, for what it's worth, reads in a similar vein to the X-Men.

To be clear, Ms. Kurtz didn't copy them by any means, because all of this stuff must have formulated in her head in the fifties and sixties. But she does use a plot device which (when I look back on it) is used in just about everything that has magic or relies upon a kind of superpower that can do incredible things. That being said, most of us know that magic equates to "fun." But sometimes, you just have to put the lid on all that "magic stuff" or your story unravels because your heroes are too powerful. For Katherine Kurts, this "thing" is called "merasha." It's a poison that affects magic-users, a.k.a. deryni, by stripping them temporarily of their powers and rendering them so sick that they can barely function. Does it sound like something else? You betcha.

So here's a list of things I compiled (aside from merasha) that are used to strip various magic-using or super-powered things of their ability to just solve everything with their special talents.

1) Kryptonite. It comes in all colors but it essentially has one function: to strip Superman down to a normal person so that a villain can beat him down.

2) Dampening collars in Deadpool 2. These are like slave collars, and their only purpose is to strip a mutant down by suppressing the X-gene that is the source of powers for these kinds of superheroes. When one is being worn, one has no powers and can be beat down.

3) Wands in Harry Potter. Strip away the wand and you have a wizard that is helpless and can be beat down. I like this particular device a lot because it seems less of a contrived plot thing and is less offensive and cliché. But if you examine it under the same light, it's exactly the same thing as kryptonite.

4) Ysalamiri. These are furry, lizard-like tree-dwellers in the Star Wars universe that produce a Force-neutral bubble. And (you guessed it), there only purpose is to power down Jedi so that they are helpless and can be beat down.

5) The spell "anti-magic shell" in Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder role-playing games. This spell renders all magic and magic items inert. It's sole purpose to exist is the same as above...to make characters assailable after they've become so powerful that nothing can touch them.

6) Being "worthy." This trope, used to great affect in Thor, is another way to make a character that is otherwise too powerful a schmuck that the universe can pick on.

7) The Omega Particle in Star Trek. This particle was a whole episode in Voyager and its purpose for even existing was to establish that there was a way to destroy subspace so that faster than light travel couldn't work in a sector. FTL travel is a very powerful thing, so there needs to be something to keep it in check if a story plot demands this.

8) Nosebleed in Firestarter. The dad in Firestarter (Stephen King movie with Drew Barrymore) was limited by his nosebleeds in how often he could call upon his power. Otherwise he'd just steamroll over everyone.

I'm sure there are dozens of other examples, but this is all I could think of at the time. It's just interesting how any story featuring magical/powerful beings needs to have some kind of mechanic to limit said beings or the story arc just isn't any fun.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A book title is far more difficult to come up with than a character name.

It is June, and the year is halfway over. To start off the month, it's time to talk about the Insecure Writer's Support Group and to sign-up HERE if you don't know what this is. Once a month, we address a question that is posed on the IWSG website. This month's question is:

What's harder for you to come up with, book titles or character names?

By far (at least for me), it's harder to come up with a book title. Usually, I agonize over it. Then I google it to see what other kinds of things might come up in a search. I look to see if there's strange search results, etc. As for character names, these just seem to flow more naturally from my head. But I have no idea if any of the character names I came up with over the years really irritate anyone out there. And it's my opinion that character names rarely have the same kind of impact as a book title does with regard to any bottom line considerations.

Any of you out there in disagreement? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. :)

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Millennium Falcon has three droid brains in its computer and the idea came from Lewis Carroll.

By now, most of you have probably seen Solo: A Star Wars story. If not, you are all at least probably interested in Han Solo and know some background on the Millennium Falcon. So I feel like I can discuss what happened in the movie (spoiler alert) to some degree without leaving a bunch of you behind in all the geekery.

In the movie L3-37, the droid abolutionist and intimate companion of Lando Calrissian (Lando is pan-sexual) had it/her mind uploaded into the Falcon to take advantage of one of the most complete maps of the universe so that they could escape the Kessel Mines (a point that has been bantered in casual conversation in Star Wars canon for decades). So when C-3PO talks about the Falcon's dialect in the original trilogy, it's probably L3-37 that Threepio is talking to (and this has been pretty much confirmed by the internet).

What I didn't know is this next part, which is something I discovered with a little research elbow greese. R2-D2's internal monologue in the Last Jedi novelization says that the Falcon has three droid brains in its main computer, and this "tidbit" was part of the original canon before Disney took over everything. Furthermore, this "three brains" thing in a computer can be traced back to Lewis Carroll, who was a mathematician and logician and who would have probably programmed computers if they had been available in his era.

The idea behind three sentient processors is that if they disagreed upon an answer, two of them could "outvote" a faulty one, whereas dual processors would simply deadlock and a single processor could possibly hand you the incorrect answer.

It makes me wonder if there's going to be a movie where droids rise up against their slave masters, and they are led by a sentient Millennium Falcon. I wonder if Stephen King would sue for stealing his idea?

Friday, June 1, 2018

It's fascinating to think of how writing evolves over time.

I've been reading a lot of books lately, and then thinking about them in my spare time.

Writing evolves over time. It really does, and it's kind of shocking to take note of how it is evolving over the years. For example, I recently read Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, and I was surprised at how much dialogue was in it. In fact, I thought that I was reading a screenplay because there was so much dialogue and so little description. As for the book itself? It was an entertaining read, but mostly I was looking to prep myself to watch the movie (which I have never seen) and to talk about the book with an author friend that likes old movies and mysteries.

During the seventies and into the eighties, the fantasy genre was ripe with people who wrote in third person omniscient. Re-visiting some of the stories I liked as a kid, I'm bugged by how much head hopping there is (without a scene break), but that's just how they wrote back then. Could you get by with that nowadays? Probably not. The bar (and standards) for the most part keep increasing unless you are an outlier like the author of Fifty Shades of Grey. I kind of wonder which author was the one that broke this trend of head hopping. Was it J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin? Or was it someone else? In any event, I'm sure there was a "key person" much like how Nirvana was the key band that destroyed the big hair bands of the eighties. Post Nirvana, there wasn't any room for those kinds of bands anymore on the music scene.

Fantasy these days is also filled with unique magic systems. Back in the eighties, no one really cared about that kind of thing and magic just happened. In a story, you either had magic or you didn't. I kind of wonder who started that trend as well. Maybe it was David Eddings. As simple as his magic system was, it was different than just about anything else at the time. And it had "actual physics" which is something that other kinds of magic in books simply didn't have, which made it really cool.

Anyway, I guess that I'm just marveling at how writing seems to change. Sixty years ago you could have written a starting line that said, "It was a dark and stormy night," and you would have gotten congratulated for it because it was nice and descriptive. Now you get shamed for it because it is a cliche. A hundred years ago, you could write a story like H.P. Lovecraft...one with no dialogue whatsoever because it's just some dude telling you his account of what happened. Nowadays? Not so much. Just like the price of housing (which keeps climbing), the expectations for what passes as a good sentence and a good story just keep going up and up. 

Ten years ago, I was complimented by someone at a Worker's Compensation Insurance Company for writing the best technical reports and resume's for injured clients that they had seen in the entire State of Idaho. I bet if I were to try my hand at that same writing today, it would be awful and not because my writing is bad. It would be awful because I haven't kept up on what employers are looking for in those kinds of reports and resumes. All of my information is outdated, and because of that, the writing has evolved into something I'm no longer trained to do.

Interesting, right?

No wonder it is so difficult for many to remain at the top of their game when it comes to writing. If a writer doesn't take note of how things are changing and then adjust their style, it's easy to become irrelevant. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Here are four publishing terms that I learned while shopping for some used books.

Lately, I've acquired some new books for my fancy book shelves in my house. As a result, I've had to educate myself on some terms, and I thought I'd share them with you (because I buy used books). And yeah...I know authors don't get any money from the resale of used books, but people who take this stance can bite me. I see nothing wrong in recycling things that no one wants. :)

1) Omnibus: An omnibus is a collection of novels that previously were published as "stand alones" and were collected into one thing for one reason or another. Personally, I love omnibus editions of comic books. These are usually published to the highest standards, have great printing and color, and are very well-made. Novels in an omnibus? Not so much. For one, they are difficult to hold in your hand because each omnibus is going to be like one George R.R. Martin novel of about 2000 pages. Second, they usually have small print and are done on cheap paper because the whole purpose of shoving everything together was to make the publishing part cheaper so as to increase profit.

2) Remainders: A "remainder" is a mark that is placed on the top edge of a printed book that is no longer selling well and whose remaining unsold copies are liquidated by the publisher at greatly reduced prices. The mark is usually done with a stamp or a felt-tipped marker across the top or bottom of the books pages, near the spine. You can actually remove these fairly easy with an extremely fine sand paper, a clamp to hold the book tightly closed, and a little elbow grease.

3) Deckle Edge: A "deckle edge" is a design choice that a publisher makes when binding a book. If you've ever seen a book with uneven pages along the edge, then you've handled a book with a "deckle edge." A lot of people actually prefer a "deckle edge," and it's considered kind of high-end because it harkens back to the 19th century when all books had uneven edges. It's also supposed to be easier to turn the pages of a book with a "deckle edge."

4) Library Binding: A "library binding" is a stiffening process that is a low-cost, in-house way of converting what is essentially a mass-market paperback into one with a thick durable cover so that it can be heavily used and not fall apart.

Maybe these terms will prove useful to you in your future endeavors. If not...well, at least you're informed now :).

Friday, May 25, 2018

Why is self-esteem so important to life?

Unique among animals, humans because of intelligent thought have self-awareness and hence self-esteem. The dictionary defines self-esteem as thus:

self-es·teem
ˈˌself əˈstēm/
noun
noun: self-esteem
confidence in one's own worth or abilities; self-respect.
"assertiveness training for those with low self-esteem"

synonyms: self-respect, pride, dignity, self-regard, faith in oneself;
It's a fairly generic definition, and it seems simple and easy to wrap one's head around. But it's far reaching implications touch upon just about everything you encounter in life. Unhealthy self-esteem can give rise to narcissism, which in its most toxic forms can produce people who are dangerous to a society. Unhealthy self-esteem causes people to embrace drugs and to seek out self-worth by associating with people who value only one thing: sexual currency. Unhealthy self-esteem gives rise to rampant consumerism, bullying, and suicide. Unhealthy self-esteem is at the root of many toxic relationships both in person and on much larger scales even reaching as high up as nation-states. Unhealthy self-esteem causes people to abuse other people, to manipulate, to control and to gaslight, and provides a great petri-dish for hatred to grow and flourish.

The actual words "self esteem" just roll off the tongue. They are easy to say and it lulls people into thinking that it might not be difficult to create healthy self-esteem in another person. But from someone who has seen and been around the damaging effects of low self-esteem in others for a long time, my observation is that it's an incredibly difficult achievement, and it's almost impossible to treat. For example, if a parent loves a child too little, this can cause unhealthy self-esteem. But the adverse, i.e., loving a child too much also causes unhealthy self-esteem because the person is susceptible to "imposter syndrome," wherein they internalize that they are not worthy of the love and gifts they are receiving. This causes a self-destructive personality trait to take hold, as a person tries to live up to the standards they believe that their parent wants them to attain. If they fail, it reinforces that they are causing a loved one pain and they seek out drugs to numb themselves of that emotional pain. This then becomes a dark spiral of anxiety, depression, and bottoming out with regard to feelings of self worth. Circling back, my point is that there's a very narrow line between loving too little and loving too much that creates healthy self-esteem. How the hell are parents supposed to negotiate that line when erring too much to one side or another creates a monster?

I could seriously repeat ad nauseum other examples of how low and unhealthy self-esteem levels cause people to make destructive choices that not only affect themselves, but affect the lives of others in poisonous ways.

But I guess that my ultimate question is why self-esteem is so damned important to human life on Earth? To a logical mind, it should be way down the totem pole of things that are important. But it's right up there with the basic needs of survival on this planet, if "survival" includes any kind of functioning society that encourages happiness and well-being in any way. It blows my mind that these two words...these two things...can derail an entire life of a person in ways that are incomprehensible. I read every day that our country is in trouble. Some call it "Late Capitalism," which I guess has become a kind of buzzword that is searched quite often on "Google." But from this armchair psychologist, I think the United States is suffering because a whole generation or perhaps multiple generations of people are coming of age with unhealthy self-esteem, and it's manifesting in all kinds of toxic ways.

I know this is a weird topic to discuss, but I'm very intrigued by it. I invite you to weigh-in with your thoughts in the comments. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Tonight for movie night I'm watching Flight of the Navigator for the very first time.

This week I'm debuting a new feature on my blog called "Movie Night." Every Wednesday, my friend Geneva and her two children named David (age 13) and Moira (age 17) come over and watch a movie with me on my 4K television set. We cook popcorn, mix sodas, and eat ice cream. But being the nerd that I am, I explain the cultural significance/relevance of the movie (if any), explain why it may be considered "important", and then list any tidbits of information that might prove fun to know in the watching of the film. Last week we watched "E.T." in a stunning 4K cut and I explained to everyone that Steven Spielberg admitted ten years after E.T.'s release, that the story for the movie emerged from complex feelings that he'd internalized about his parent's divorce. Additionally, he wanted the adults to be very intrusive in Elliot's world, so for the first half of the film, the only adult face that we see is that of Elliot's mother. In other words, adults simply do not exist in Elliot's world.

Tonight's movie was chosen by my friend Jake, who has been joining us for the last few weeks. He found out that all of us had not seen a movie called, "Flight of the Navigator," so that's what we're watching. Jake stated that he doesn't do any kind of presentation before the movie, so I took it upon myself to look up things about the show that might prove interesting. Below are three facts that you might find interesting:

1) Flight of the Navigator comes from a time period where it was okay to scare the crap out of kids. In the 80's we had Goonies, Poltergeist, E.T., Neverending Story, Dark Crystal, and the Secret of Nimh. All of these movies (for various reasons) have scenes that are very scary to children. You don't see that so much in today's kid's movies.

2) There is no real villain. The drama comes from a situation. If there is anything that seems malevolent, it's the government entity of N.A.S.A., which kind of echoes Peter Coyote's role as "Keys" in E.T. He wasn't a villain, just a person interested in aliens. But he's seen as an unwelcome intruder in the fantastical world of childhood.

3) The main character, David, is not a special destiny kid. He's a boy with an average, loving family. That's kind of interesting considered how many stories involve "special destiny" and broken families. It's actually considered cliché these days to write a character into a story that has no parents (because it's been done so many times).

Next week's movie on Wednesday is going to be The Maltese Falcon as we start to go retro for a while. I've never seen it, but it's considered one of the great stories of movie history. A talk about The Maltese Falcon cannot possibly happen without a discussion about McGuffins. So I think (next Wednesday) that's where I'll start before launching into what's significant about the movie.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Microsoft is making the world a better place for disabled gamers with an Xbox Adaptive Controller.

I work with people who have many kinds of disabilities, and I recommend all kinds of assistive technology on almost a daily basis that is designed to overcome challenges people may have to living independently. That being said, I think that it's fantastic to see that Xbox is getting an adaptive controller. The official description is as follows (from Microsoft):
"Designed primarily to meet the needs of gamers with limited mobility, the Xbox Adaptive Controller is a unified hub for devices that help make gaming more accessible. Connect external devices such as switches, buttons, mounts, and joysticks to create a custom controller experience that is uniquely yours. Button, thumbstick, and trigger inputs are controlled with assistive devices (sold separately) connected through 3.5 mm jacks and USB ports."

If you want to learn more about it, click HERE and go to the product page.

Description-wise, as you can see the Adaptive Controller features a large white base unit, with a few buttons and large pads and an amazing backside where all kinds of things can be connected. My thought on this is that if you combine this with the button mapping capabilities found in Steam to make any game/program on the pc work with a controller, then it is definitely going to open the door up for so many people to play/experience things they've never been able to do.

Microsoft, you done good.

Friday, May 18, 2018

If I'm interpreting Lando Calrissian's sexuality correctly then the term pansexual may be so broad that everyone on Earth is queer.

So in the news yesterday, among many things, was that Lando Calrissian is pansexual. You may not have noticed it, afterall, it is far less interesting than Stormy Daniels or North Korea. But it's important to the LGBT community because Star Wars has taken no strides at all in introducing queer characters. They simply don't exist within its universe. So back to Lando...this "revelation" (if that's what you want to call it) has been debated among Star Wars geeks for a long time, but he's supposedly attracted to some droids (or can be attracted to droids) even though gender in the Star Wars universe among droids is not discussed at all.

Pansexual as a term is defined as not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity. Fair enough. I thought it meant something entirely different than what I'm reading into with Lando Calrissian. If that is how people are going to define pansexuality, then the character of Nathan (played by Oscar Isaac) in the science-fiction film Ex Machina was pansexual, even though Ava (played by Alicia Vikander) was clearly based on a female anatomy. Ava was (in the end) a robot, which makes Nathan pansexual.

So this gave me a double-take. For example, I happen to find Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon 2 as an attractive character. He's clearly based on a male, but at the end of the day he's a cartoon. So I am attracted to a cartoon. That makes me pansexual. If you've ever looked at a drawing and been turned on by it, then you are attracted to art. That makes you pansexual. If you've ever read a book and been turned on by the words in that book, then that makes you attracted to words. Hence, you are pansexual. Ever used a sex toy to get off with? If you have, it doesn't matter what you were thinking in your headspace. It means that the presence of a toy got you excited and that makes you pansexual.

It's a fascinating way to think of sexuality, but honestly, I think it's so broad at that point as to be meaningless. By this definition, no one on Earth is really straight or gay, but probably would qualify as being pansexual. Ever see a statue that was so lifelike it turned you on? Well welcome to pansexuality. Anyway, it's not that any of this means anything at all at the end of the day. But I'm starting to think that the entire term "pansexuality" is kind of bullshit.

Just sayin'. At least the reviews for "Solo" make the movie look like it's worth watching on opening night, even with its pansexuality confusion.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

In the Heart of the Sea is a page-turning account of a tragedy that I had no idea had even happened.

In the Heart of the Sea was a movie that came out in 2015 starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Holland, and Cillian Murphy. I haven't watched it as (at the time) it honestly didn't seem that interesting. But I recently stumbled across the book by Nathaniel Philbrick, and I started reading it. I had no idea how compelling a read this book would end up being, and I wanted to talk about it a little without really delving into "review" territory.

As far as books go, it's a narrative, which is kind of like a gussied up encyclopedia entry. "This person did this and then this event happened, etc." But it's absolutely chock full of interesting details that I knew nothing about regarding the Essex and the port it sailed from called Nantucket (in 1820). For one, the culture of Nantucket was a kind of fascinating place. If young men were to find a wife to marry, they needed to have a pin that proved they had killed a whale at sea. The only way to get one of these pins was to sail as a "greenhand" on a ship like the Essex on an adventure that could last up to three mind-boggling years. This (of course) made it so that the local economy was run by women who even had a song that expressed how sad they were to see their men go away, but it also expressed how wonderful it was to be free of men for years to come.

And then there were other interesting tidbits too. Some of the women kept plaster sex toys to pleasure themselves while their men were at sea. Additionally, the local economy (though dependent on whale oil) was also one of the healthiest in the world because of the high demand and high price of whale oil. I guess the stuff was used in everything in the days and years before fossil fuels pulled from the ground emerged as a more long-lasting alternative to hunting whales to extinction.

And about that whale hunting...the Nantucket whalers started whaling by killing off whales that were in their immediate vicinity. They called them "right whales" as they were the "right whale to kill." But to this day, that particular kind of whale is still called a "right whale" so that's where the name comes from. Later on, when the first Nantucket whaler killed a much larger sperm whale, well that became the one that everyone wanted. It's oil burned cleaner, brighter, and the animals were so huge that they literally had a cavity in their head filled with 500 gallons of oil. According to the book, you could ladle it out into a bucket, and it was a viscous white color similar to human semen. They called it "spermaceti," which is also where the "sperm whale" got its name.

The Nantucket community was also deeply conservative, and they had no trust of outsiders whatsoever. What they learned about the world, they shared with each other. But knowledge from the outside was always distrusted with a kind of "fake news" mentality. For example, even though there were healthy colonies in places like Tahiti, the Nantucket sailors believed it was a dark and evil place where cannibals lived and homosexuality was rampant. It didn't matter if someone that was not from Nantucket told them the truth of things. If you weren't from Nantucket, you were an outsider, period, and anything you said could not be trusted.

Of course, the thing that most people have heard of regarding The Essex and its ill-fated voyage is that the ship was attacked by an 85-foot enraged bull sperm whale. That part is gloriously detailed in the book, and you are led to believe that it happened because the first mate was patching a smaller whaling boat and using a hammer, which (underwater) might have sounded like the mating click of a sperm whale cow that was ready to get busy. The account of the encounter is that the whale was confused when it first rammed the ship, as it must not have expected to plow into something so hard. It actually knocked itself out for a minute or two before it came to its senses. The men, fearful that by stabbing it, they would enrage it so that it would damage the tiller, did nothing. When it finally came to, it attacked the ship again, this time knocking a hole in it that quickly filled the ship with water. Then it swam away never to be seen again.

The men of the Essex salvaged what they could from their sinking vessel, built up the walls of their whale boats to try and keep the ocean out, and then set sail in three of these boats loaded to the brim with food, water, and live giant tortoises from the Gallapagos Islands (they stopped there to get bunches of them to eat on their journey). They purposely avoided a nearby Tahiti because of "cannibal" rumors and headed for South America in a tremendously long journey that saw most of them dead from starvation and dehydration and where the remainder became cannibals just to keep going. There's a deep irony in that the decision to stay away from lands where "rumored cannibals lived" because it turned them into actual cannibals.

Anyway, In the Heart of the Sea is filled with fascinating details and accounts from men who survived to tell the tale. I suppose there are a lot of lessons to be pulled from its pages, chief among them being poor decision-making and the Captain taking the advice of his men after they lost the Essex. He should have been an authoritarian in that instance and told his crew to make way for Tahiti. But because Pollard was a green captain, he took into consideration all the superstitions and fears of his men and made a bad decision that cost many people their lives.

Now, I'm excited to watch the movie, which came out in 2015. I just hope it's as good as the book, but it probably won't be. Such things rarely are, and Ron Howard (director) is really hit and miss with book adaptations and movies in general.