Wednesday, March 20, 2019

I'm a little disappointed that Captain Marvel has an Achilles Heel.

I wrote in an earlier post that there were no counters to Captain Marvel's powers in her movie. Well I learned from IGN recently that it's true, Captain Marvel appears to be unstoppable. However, in that same article, Kevin Feige assures us all that Carol Danvers will in fact have an "Achilles heel." So basically, she's just like Superman now. Why am I disappointed? I guess I was getting on the train boarded by George R.R. Martin who wrote:

"The movie is hugely entertaining. I look forward to seeing how the Marvel teams uses the captain in the forthcoming Avengers movie. Once she comes fully into her powers, she is far and away the most powerful character in the MCU. She could eat Iron Man for lunch and have Thor for dessert, with a side of Doctor Strange. Thanos is in trouble now."

Well, I guess Thanos is in trouble provided he doesn't exploit the afore-mentioned "Achilles Heel." But something tells me that this will be exactly what happens.

It all seems so "constructed," doesn't it? As if it were all carefully plotted...painstakingly so...and the fate of all these characters were left...god forbid...up to writers.

Oh geez...I think I just popped my own bubble of suspension of disbelief. Don't go there, kids, just don't. It's no fun to peek behind the curtain and see the Wizard of Oz for what he truly is.

Monday, March 18, 2019

The final season of Game of Thrones is less than 30 days away.

The final season of Game of Thrones is less than 30 days away as of this writing. It's been a long wait to see who will take the Iron Throne. Just to show you how much it has been on my mind, a frenemy (I realized after I was his friend that he was a narcissist and psychological abuser) that I haven't spoke to in over a decade died in January of kidney failure (I didn't really feel anything at the news, but I did wonder why someone even bothered to tell me). However, when I was told the news through an acquaintance (who I also haven't seen in person for over ten years--the message came through Facebook messenger of all places), the first thing that popped into my head was, "He doesn't get to see how it all ends." It seemed like a fate that was just salt in a wound, you know?

I hope that I never die when I'm about to finish something that's gripped my attention for years. And all this speculation of course is assuming that this frenemy even watched Game of Thrones. But, I had little doubt though that he did. When we were on speaking terms, it was apparent that we were passionate about the same things, and Game of Thrones has pretty much dominated all of fantasy fiction for the last decade. Kudos to George R.R. Martin to getting us so enraptured into the politics of some fictional kingdom whose ruler (I might add) won't even be ruler of the world of Westeros. Nope, they'll just be the ruler of seven smaller kingdoms on a continent that's smaller in land mass than the rest of the land on Westeros. It just goes to show you that politics and conflict can be small and yet remain incredibly interesting.

According to Entertainment Weekly in an article posted just a few days ago, each episode has an average final length of 72 minutes. Episode one is 54 minutes long, episode two is 58 minutes long, episode three is an hour and 22 minutes long, episode 4 is an hour and 18 minutes long, and episodes five and six are each an hour and 20 minutes long. The showrunners have also stated boldly that the final battle will put to shame any fantasy or fictional battle that has ever been seen on big screen or small. That includes the final battle of Return of the King, i.e., the golden standard known as the Battle of the Pelennore Fields. For what it's worth, April cannot get her soon enough. With my taxes already out of the way, April with Game of Thrones and spring and Avengers: Endgame is going to be the best month of the year.

Valar Morghulis everyone.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Will Disney use the powers of the Reality Stone to remake the MCU to introduce the X-Men and mutants?

The second full length Avengers: Endgame trailer dropped this week, and I had a thought that was along the lines of: Where does Marvel go from here? only I combined it with the real world knowledge that Disney has now acquired the X-Men and the Fantastic Four and Deadpool when they bought them from Fox Studios for a pretty penny.

So here's my thought: Is the Reality Stone going to remake the universe in a kind of reboot? Allow me to explain before you decry the cheesiness of this idea. It seems to be the only way I can think of to preserve continuity and introduce mutants. The MCU hasn't been able to talk about mutants at all up to this point, because they haven't had the rights to do so. Instead, they've used the Inhumans, which really isn't the same thing, and their first outing with the Inhumans was pretty much a disaster. Put another way, I've never seen a flop like the Inhumans was come out of the Disney-controlled Marvel studios. It was like they had no idea how to handle them at all.

I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't point out that the MCU has also explored the Inhumans to a greater extent through the ongoing Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series (its final season will be airing soon), but it still hasn't been all that compelling (even though I've found it more interesting than say The Gifted or some of the other Marvel series that have been showcased on Netflix). The reason behind my lackluster interest in these stories is that I'm tired of mutants feeling oppressed by humans and there just being plot after plot of humans abusing mutants and then mutants turning around and doing the same. It's like beating a dead horse. That being said I also don't like it when shows are canceled as it just seems to be pointless to watch what remnants there are that have been uploaded for your viewing pleasure. So, I haven't even bothered to watch the second seasons of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. It all just seems to be a waste of time, which I can devote to series that are invested in storylines that won't be canceled prematurely: think Star Wars: Resistance.

So back to my little theory: The Reality Stone, as you may know, is one of the six Infinity Stones. From what I can gather, it is a remnant of a singularity that predates the universe, and it can basically alter reality itself on a grand scale. Thanos demonstrates some of its power in Infinity War both to show Tony Stark what Titan used to look like and to make Drax and Mantis into slinkies. Anyway, all that mumbo jumbo aside, I think it has the power to alter reality so that the X-Men and Mutants can be a part of the MCU. That seems like an easy fix, right? And it's a great way to reboot all the X-Men storylines that Fox has been unable to accomplish. For example, this new Dark Phoenix movie that Fox is advertising looks absolutely terrible. Dark Phoenix was a villain on the same scale as Thanos, and her lifting up trains and stopping bullets is just stupid. This was a villain that ate entire suns to fuel her powers.

So what do you think? Could the Reality Stone remake the universe to allow the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and Deadpool to suddenly be a thing in the MCU? Do you think Disney would do that?

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

So far in the MCU Captain Marvel pays no price for the use of her powers which cannot be countered in any way.

Like most of America, I went to see Captain Marvel this last weekend. I enjoyed it. I thought it was good (not great), and it accomplished what it set out to do: tell the origin story of the latest superhero. I literally knew nothing of Captain Marvel going into this movie aside from (at some point) Rogue steals a good deal of her powers and can fly around and possesses super strength. And she looks really cool in the trailers with the photonic energy flowing around her (and her eyes are blazing with power). Oh and the helmet she wears pushes her hair into a mohawk...that's kind of cool as well.

I guess when I look back at the film, I was a little underwhelmed by the photonic laser beams that she can shoot out of her hands because they just seem so straight forward and an easy solution to everything. Spoiler Alert: there is nothing that can counter them. They basically destroy everything, so there is that.

But that's both neat and not so neat. I mean...if all you have to do is blast something...and it goes away...then there really is no build-up, right? That's pretty much what Captain Marvel does the entire movie. One thing gets in her way and bam, it's gone. This includes multiple Kree spaceships at some point...and none of them (and their advanced weaponry) stand a chance. I imagine she wouldn't need the weird forge from a neutron star that we saw in Infinity War to melt the uru metal and create Thor's weapon...she could probably just use her light beams and melt anything that was needed (no matter how fantastic) and it would just make her hair glow and look all nice while she was doing it.

Based off what I saw in Captain Marvel, she could have just blasted Thanos in Infinity War and he'd be done mid-speech. Again, there seems to be no counter to her power. Or maybe there is one, and we just haven't seen it? But I think I'd hate that with a passion. And this brings into question the whole "suspension of disbelief" argument. It would be a painfully obvious plot device for Thanos to suddenly have some kind of foil for Captain Marvel's blast em laser beams. I'm not saying that this shouldn't be the case, but if nothing in the universe seems to be able to stand up to them prior to "X" event, why should "X" event even be a thing? It's the same problem I have with superman's powers, i.e., "Ha ha I'm invincible and can do anything...oh! Kryptonite! I'm powerless!" and yada yada yada.

I think I prefer superheroes who always have to struggle. Like their powers make them clearly superhuman, but their superhuman foes can easily keep them in check and there's this tug of war that happens in any combat between them because anything could happen. Hulk is super strong but can get knocked out by similarly strong things. Black Widow is a great fighter but ultimately a bullet can end her. Doctor Strange has all the magic stuff, but he's got to have the finesse to cast the spell and the stamina to withstand the price the magic use extolls upon him. Captain Marvel blasts things, none of the blasting drains her in any way, and nothing can counter the blasts (it either explodes or is destroyed). She feels very much like a deus ex machina...a thing that can just fix anything by just showing up. Her presence feels oddly out of balance with everything else.

Anyway, my guess is that Captain Marvel as a standalone movie, isn't a wide enough view of this character. I think when the next Avenger's movie hits in a month, we'll see that there are checks on Captain Marvel's powers, and that she's more in balance with the bad guy, Thanos. And by that, I mean she won't be able to just take him on herself and will need the other Avengers. I just didn't see it in this film. She could basically have done all the Avenging herself and wouldn't have needed anyone else.

Friday, March 8, 2019

The Orville has turned into Star Trek the Next Generation.

When I first started watching The Orville, I got the impression it was going to be a tongue-in-cheek version of Star Trek: The Next Generation much in the same vein as the "old" movie Galaxy Quest. However, that's not what we got. In the second season, I was really struck by this when the show invested so much time with Bortis (and the complications of his alien species and their view of sexuality), and then it went straight off a Borg script by turning Isaac (who is a Kaylon diplomat) into the equivalent of Locutus of Borg by having him be instrumental in restoring order to The Orville and thus having a hand to play in the high stakes battle to save Earth from annihilation.

That it is a love letter to Trek is no secret. McFarland has long waxed poetic about Trek, and he probably launched The Orville to give fans something to watch who felt spurned by the fact that Star Trek: Discovery (also in its second season) is behind a paywall. As a side note, I do love and look forward to Star Trek: Discovery far more than I do The Orville (which usually waits on my DVR until Sunday before I watch this week's episode, whereas I watch Star Trek: Discovery the moment it is available). For me, Star Trek: The Next Generation was never good enough, but it had those Borg episodes that just kept me on the hook. The Borg were a fantastic villain and foil for the Federation.

To explain a little regarding my comments on The Next Generation, I didn't really like the episodes where Picard plays his flute because he spent an entire second lifetime learning about an alien race that implanted in his head a memory so that someone would mourn their passing. It was good and I'm glad I watched it, but I have no desire to see it again. Sacrilege, right? I didn't really like the episodes where we saw what it was like to serve on a starship as a member of the lower decks. In other words...I didn't like all the slow stuff. I didn't like all the hours and hours of character building or the conversations in Ten Forward. I liked the action, the times when the Enterprise faced off against the Borg, or when the Enterprise was involved in a horror-like mystery with high-stakes implications. I also like serials, i.e., when the story continues and evolves with each passing episode. You only get that in "To Be Continued" episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and by extension, The Orville. But its in every single episode of Star Trek: Discovery.

I guess this puts me at odds with some Trekkers out there who dislike new Trek (I guess that's as good a reason as any to appeal to a new audience and discard the old). It also makes sense from a money-making point of view. Tastes from young people are quite a bit different from those who grew up in the eighties (I seem to be an exception because my tastes align with a much younger crowd). Some of the older Trekkers (my peers) are vehement in their complaints with things like, "Look at what they're doing to Spock!" and "Klingons don't look like that!" and the list goes on and on. They say things like, "The makers behind Star Trek: Discovery are going to cut their nose off to spite their face and alienate their base." Eh? Not really. This so called "base" is a lot smaller than those who are whining about Star Trek: Discovery would care to see. CBS All Access hit its money-making goals one year ahead of schedule, because of Star Trek: Discovery. And its eye-popping subscription numbers are behind launches of "All Trek, All the Time" on the app going forward.

New viewers, I think, are more aligned with things people (like me) desire. For example, I'm the World of Warcraft player that enjoyed raiding and instance runs more than standing around in cities, conversing with others and crafting things to be sold on the auction house. I love action. I love fighting and doing things. I'm not so much into exploring, unless exploring means that there's a fight I can participate in (and demonstrate skill) in a previously unexplored area. I'm the perfect "Diablo" player where there's combat and then magic items. In other words, fight and then reward and rinse/repeat.

This translates into my diet of television a lot. In my opinion, The Orville rocked it strong when it made the Kaylon into villains and played down the humor by substituting in some serious drama. Then they just kept adding to the pile by having the Orville crew discover huge tunnels filled with the bones of an entire race that the Kaylon annihilated in order to throw off the chains of their enslavement. Then of course was the assault on Earth, which had a dramatic battle that was every bit as epic as the one that took place at Wolf 359 in Star Trek: The Next Generation. I like that kind of stuff, and as long as I get it in doses...I'll probably keep watching because I'm on the hook. The formula is probably ten parts boring episodes and one part exciting one, and then you've got me.

But I love Star Trek: Discovery. No episode is boring. It's like Game of Thrones. Everything is serial and builds on episode after episode. The production values make every single episode look like a movie. The acting is incredible, and there's enough odes to the old stuff that it hits all my pleasure buttons. I'm so happy it has been renewed for a third season, and I'm pleased that there are going to be five more Star Trek series that get launched behind the CBS All Access paywall. Those are going to be so good. All Trek, all the time. And (at least as far as my tastes go) the producers seem to know what a viewer like me wants. "Give me Game of Thrones! Give me The Expanse!"

I do feel sorry for you Trekkers out there that want The Next Generation back, and I'm glad you have The Orville. I like the nostalgic feel of The Orville too. There's a lot that reminds me of the nineties, and it's more than just McFarlan's periodic speckling of the dialogue with eighties music and old movies. However, I'm also grateful that the things that I like are being catered to by people in the entertainment industry, and I like my space opera with lots of action and things happening and high stakes. I want it in every episode if possible, hold all the filler please :). And yes, I'm willing to pay for it outside of cable.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Today's Insecure Writer's Support Group question reminds me why writing from unused perspectives can freshen up a story.

Today is the first Wednesday in March of 2019, and that also makes it Insecure Writer's Support Group day. This is a blog fest that happens once a month (and has been a recurring event for many years now). Here's a link to their official BLOG that explains all about it. If you sign up, you'll get an opportunity to really connect with other writers out there.

March 6 Question: Whose perspective do you like to write from best, the hero (protagonist) or the villain (antagonist)? And why?

This is a real thinker. Historically, I've written a lot from the perspective of various protagonists because it seemed like the thing I was most comfortable in doing. Many of the books I read (while growing up) seemed to have this kind of structure to them. You got introduced to the hero, then the hero was presented with an opportunity of some kind, or a conflict of some kind, and you followed them along on their journey. Because it was so prevalent in fiction, I absorbed this as a means to tell my own story, and it's very straight forward.

But now that I'm older, and I've read books by George R.R. Martin, Thomas Harris, James S.A. Corey, and Richard K. Morgan (just to name a few), I've realized the power of telling a story from the anti-hero and antagonist point of view (or at least devoting as many chapters to their perspective as I do to the hero's perspective). The reason? It seems silly to me to insist on villains being all good or all evil, even though that's the diet of fiction I was pretty much raised on. People are only villains when they have motivations that are the opposite of whomever's point of view you are looking through to understand them. Increasingly, I find more value in discovering this, and a lot of the way I've been doing it (in some short stories I've written) is through the antagonist's perspective. 

How a writer chooses to tell a story is just as important as the events of the story that take place. In other words, it's just as important as the plot. And by selecting different points of view than the traditional hero-first perspective, a writer can even retread tired old stories because this new point of view makes them all fresh again. So really, it's just another trick a writer can use to hone their craft.

Monday, March 4, 2019

The best fight in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon remains the best two person fight I've ever seen recorded on film.

When I read that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was coming to Netflix this month, I reminisced for a moment about the best fight scene I think I've seen in film (and it came from this movie). It takes place between Yu Shu Lien (who is played by Michelle Yeoh) and Jen Yu (who is played by actress Shang Ziyi).

Yu Shu Lien wields a dao (which is a saber that can be split into two smaller blades), a spear, dual hook swords, a metal club, and a broad sword. She does so in that order. Of note, Yu Shu Lien also grabs a monk's spade at one point but it turns out to be too heavy for her to manage correctly.

Jen Yu just uses the Green Destiny, which is a kind of magical blade that can just cut through anything (including stone) and never breaks. So it's a cheat weapon.

In the scene Jen is angry at everyone in her life who's been pressuring her, and she's also super eager to prove herself worthy of wielding the sword. Shu Lien has just told Jen that they have hidden Lo, Jen's bandit ex-boyfriend, in the Wudan Mountains, and Jen is extremely flippant at this news. Shu Lien has no f*cks left to give and is tired of Jen's attitude so a fight breaks out, and it's amazing.

Shu Lien is a way better fighter using inferior tools, and so they're basically equal. As a veteran warrior, it's mesmerizing to watch Michelle Yeoh's character grab weapon after weapon to use against the sword that just slices through them like they are nothing. If she was going to kill Jen, she could have beat her. But that's not what's going on. She says as much too with the line, "Without the Green Destiny, you are nothing." Being a Brat, Jen fails to accept defeat gracefully and ends up hurting Shu Lien in a minor way before fleeing. 

Friday, March 1, 2019

Star Wars Galaxy's Edge sounds incredibly cool and is probably the closest thing we'll ever get to an actual Westworld.

I saw on io9 today (link HERE) that some of their staffers got an early look at the huge renovation going on at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. In case you didn't know, Disney is building a Star Wars theme park there with a highly detailed Millennium Falcon that you can walk in and interact with as a group.

It looks and sounds incredibly cool, although I doubt I will ever go and visit it (but one never knows). Most of these things sound like you'd get the best enjoyment from them by having lots of kids around. You get to build lightsabers, go into shops that sell Star Wars themed items made to look like they are from around the galaxy, and pilot the Millennium Falcon with up to five others. It sounds incredible for a family of six (four kids and two adults). Not so much for a single guy like me who would get lumped in with a bunch of people I don't know. But another lifetime...this sounds like tons of fun. Take a look at some of this concept art:

In order starting with the first pic you've got the ride "Rise of the Resistance," which will take you inside a First Order "capital class" ship where you see holograms of the major cast characters taking you through a ride where you race across the deck and past actual sized AT-AT's and Tie Fighters to escape. Then you have the Den of Antiquities where I think you'll be able to purchase all sorts of "rare" and "pricey" items from around the galaxy (and it will look like the picture). Then there's the "marketplace" and the "Smuggler's Run," which takes you on board the Millennium Falcon. And you can eat in the Mos Eisley Cantina as well. Those are the things that really stood out from looking at pages of the concept art on google image search.

It honestly sounds like a place you could lose a lot of time in...perhaps an entire week. Maybe at that pace, the grueling lines for it wouldn't be so bad. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind says things about war and making money that are still prescient today.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the David O. Selznick film adaptation of Gone With The Wind starring Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara and Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. It's also one of the reasons why I'm finally getting around to reading the book. There are other reasons, of course. For one, it was a big story that obviously impressed a lot of people. So, I felt like I needed to read it, because that's what I do (I try to read things that impress a lot of people). Second, I've always liked the story. I was one of those old souls that was 4 going on 40 and watched Gone with the Wind when it came on television (as a teenager) while other kids listened to Madonna and cruised the strip in their Camaro's.

Before I get to some of the things that Rhett Butler says in this remarkable book by Margaret Mitchell, I want to point out some things about the film that have probably been said before by people much smarter than me.

1) Clark Gable as Rhett Butler and Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara are perfectly cast. Even today, thinking of all the actors and actresses whom my brain has latched onto from every era, I cannot think of two people who could fill the role of Scarlett O'Hara or Rhett Butler any better than those two were you to blow open the casting call and say I could pick from any time period and get who I want in their prime.
Vivien Leigh is perfect in this role, and looking back in history, she's one of the most beautiful women that
has ever lived. Margaret Mitchell makes it a point to start out her book by saying, "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful,
but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were." That line threw me a curve ball,
because it went against the natural beauty of the actress that was cast to play Scarlett. However, in the text of the book
Rhett Butler and lots of other men say to Scarlett that she's the most beautiful woman they have ever seen. So,
here's what I think is going on in that first line. Margaret Mitchell is telling us that Scarlett is "not beautiful," because
she's describing Scarlett's soul and not the packaging. She's telling us (the reader) that this is going to be a story
about a woman who has many flaws, but no one greater than, "Scarlett is not a good person."
2) Olivia de Haviland is still alive. She played Melanie Wilkes in the film production, and she too was perfectly cast. She is 102 years old.

3) Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes is a travesty. He was too old for the part, and (although they nailed at least three of the roles) this one just got away from them. All I can think of for this part (from any era) is a young Heath Ledger (who is now dead). I would have looked for someone like Heath Ledger that would have been kicking around at that time period. The thing with Ashley is he's basically a McGuffin. You wouldn't need a big name to play him because he's there purely for Scarlett to lust after because her character flaw is to love things that she cannot have. His lines are "bleh" in the book, and they could have been said by a stagehand for the few areas in which he really has an impact. There literally is no reason within the context of the pages of this massive book that explain why Scarlett was so smitten by Ashley. He's altogether never present, and he's kind of boring, and he would have just burned up in Scarlett's fire. Rhett (on the other hand) is perfect for Scarlett, and she for him.

4) I used to think (after watching the movie) that Scarlett would get Rhett Butler back. In reading the book, I'm more aware of her character flaw (which is to love things that she can't have). Because of that, I don't think she ever gets Rhett back, because Scarlett could never love him if she did. I know that doesn't make very much sense, but Scarlett is a doomed character to always want what she cannot have. So if you're going to write a story with that kind of character, then the whole point is to make a story that doesn't have any kind of satisfying end to it because that's the character with whom you are dealing. I know there was an unauthorized sequel called Scarlett which was written many years ago that supposedly tries to answer the question, "What comes next?" But I don't think I will ever read it. Even only halfway through the book, I already know that Gone with the Wind is a complete story and Scarlett standing on a small hill under a tree at Tara with earth in her hand vowing to get Rhett Butler back is pretty much how her story ends (which is the whole point of that character). She never gets him back. She would stop being Scarlett if she did, and we'd wonder who this strange character was that suddenly appeared.

Now onto some of the things that Rhett Butler says in the book that really sound visionary today (or at least they sound like a part of the human condition as we know it that are truly timeless):

"Your family and my family and everyone here tonight made their money out of changing a wilderness into a civilization. That's empire building. There's good money in empire building. But, there's more in empire wrecking.... This empire we're living in--the South--the Confederacy--the Cotton Kingdom--it's breaking up right under our feet. Only most fools won't see it and take advantage of the situation created by the collapse. I'm making my fortune out of the wreckage."

This observation couldn't be truer today, when I examine all the things that I observe which come out of the destruction of empires, whether they are actual kingdoms or nations like Iraq or big corporations like Sears.

"All wars are sacred," he said. "To those who have to fight them. If the people who started wars didn't make them sacred, who would be foolish enough to fight? But, no matter what rallying cries the orators give to the idiots who fight, no matter what noble purposes they assign to wars, there is never but one reason for a war. And that is money. All wars are in reality money squabbles. But so few people ever realize it. Their ears are too full of bugles and drums and fine words from stay-at-home orators. Sometimes the rallying cry is 'Save the Tomb of Christ from the Heathen!' Sometimes it's 'Down with Popery!' and sometimes 'Liberty!' and sometimes 'Cotton, Slavery and States' Rights!'"

And yes, Mitchell nailed it again. This does seem to be what wars are about. Look at how much money Dick Cheney and his cronies made from the destruction of Iraq. And I'm sure there are hundreds of more examples from the invasion and annexation of Crimea by Putin to much bigger military conflicts. Someone is always getting rich off it, and they are usually pulling the strings.

Before I finish with this post, I also want to say that I know Margaret Mitchell was born in 1900, so really she was only four decades removed from the horrors of the Civil War. But her knowledge of the subject is impressive. I wonder how much of it was self-educated, and how much she just knew because there were people still alive during her youth who could have told her stories about the war. In either case, Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara are two of the best characters I have ever read in the totality of fiction. So it's a real delight to delve into Mitchell's story, which is basically a hundred years old at this point. Although Scarlett doesn't really have lines that stick out in my mind quite the same as Rhett's do, I will say this: both of these characters are two sides of the same coin.

They are both scoundrels of their times. However, they are both living with different kinds of oppression. If they were alive today, their ideas and free thoughts wouldn't seem out of the ordinary in the least, and they actually might have made a successful power couple in today's dog eat dog world.

Monday, February 25, 2019

YouTube artist drawholic is a Prismacolor pencil savant in this video of drawing Pennywise the Clown.

My medium of choice when I illustrate in color is Prismacolor art pencils. I'm continually getting better over the years. Something about getting your ten thousand hours in comes to mind. However, I don't have the skill of drawholic (a YouTube person) and nor do I have their speed. They drew this picture of Pennywise in an impressive amount of time in what looks like all in one sitting, and they're using Prismacolor art pencils and some Strathmore Bristol 300s.

The reason I use Prismacolor pencils is because you can blend them on illustration paper, and I find that incredibly useful to achieve the kinds of shades that I want. But the thing that makes them blendable also causes a thing called "wax bloom" which can happen several months after the picture is finished. Basically, think of all of the incredibly bright colors being hidden under a haze of white wax that you have to scrape off in order to restore the vibrant colors. If you can finish your picture in fast enough time, you can treat the picture so that the bloom never happens, but you need to be diligent and fast and not set the picture aside for a while, i.e., you can't really take a break from it.

I also use Prismacolor pencils because you can clean up the mess really easy with a vacuum. You simply cannot say the same thing about paint. Anyway, if you have the time, watch the video. This person's process in making the Pennywise drawing is impressive and kind of mesmerizing.

Friday, February 22, 2019

This bee is huge.

I've gotten stung by bees quite a bit in my life. My dad used to keep bees, because he was a farmer, and he liked the insects to be around to pollinate his crops. As a result we always had honey. Sometimes it was blue in color and tasted really exotic. The color of the honey is dependent on what flowers are used to make the honey (a lot of people don't know that).

The Wallace Bee is a rare bee I heard about on the way to work on Thursday. Scientists (at first) didn't know it actually existed, but they'd heard rumors. Well they tracked one specimen down in Indonesia and above is a picture that contrasts it with a regular honeybee.

The thing is huge. It's like the kaiju of bees, having somehow survived the prehistoric era to make it into our polluted, modern world. It's also apparently peaceful, having no stinger, and those jaws are basically like small salad tongs which it uses to carry stuff back to its nest.

It's nice to have some good news now and then, especially having just learned that we are only five generations from the apocalypse.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

I'm trying to reach a personal improvement goal by telling people I am glad to help but I am not The Help.

It's been something that I've been trying to do for some time, and so far it is working and my attitude toward life is generally improving. But I've also received a lot of blowback from this idea that I'm going to continue "to help" but I am not going to be "The Help." The reference (of course) is to the movie (and book) of the same name called The Help, which featured black women (in the 1960's) who have spent their lives being the underpaid underappreciated workhorse for prominent white families. You may ask...why is this a thing you've been struggling with? Well, it just is and has been for as long as I remember. I'm not sure why, and it has nothing to do with institutionalized racism. It's just that people would look at me and think, "Boy, I bet he's a hard worker." And not to toot my own horn, I am.

All of my life, people have come to me for help, but when I actually roll up my sleeves and go deeper, I end up having work just piled on me with a sigh of relief coming from the person who cried out for help...and then they just up and disappear. I can't tell you how frustrating this is, as they are essentially leaving me with a pile of their toil. "Can you help me fix my computer?" I show up and then they say, "Here's the computer," and then they walk into another room to watch t.v. and don't bother to learn anything of what I'm doing so that they can do it themselves when I'm not there. There's going to be no more of that. And there are a hundred more examples I could make that go along the same lines.

It's like that humorous commercial on television (Angie's list I think?) where there are two people, and one asks the other if they know of any contractors. The other person says, "Actually I do..." and gets cut off with, "Can you get me three bids from three different contractors, figure out which one is the best, and then have those on my desk by tomorrow so I can review it?" This of course is seen as humorous, BUT it has happened a lot to me in my life. However, not so much anymore. I've gotten good at drawing boundaries and as Tony Stark said in Spider-Man: Homecoming, "Boundaries are good." I agree oh so much...boundaries are very healthy!

So why have I been getting blowback? It seems obvious that boundaries should be respected, right? Well...we live in interesting times. And if you haven't noticed, there are a ton of people who don't want to be "The Help" anymore. So by me excusing myself from being the workhorse from many tasks in my social group and saying, "I would be glad to show you how I would complete this task...once...and only once.... But I will not do it for you...I will not be your mule," it has caused many of those (who relied upon my strong back and elbow grease) to suddenly have two options: the work gets done by them, or the work doesn't get done at all. And it's really none of my concern if the work that is owned by them doesn't get done. That's on them, and not on me.

No one is stepping up to fill the gap I've left, because (again) no one wants to be "The Help." Really, I'm only blogging about this today, because it makes me wonder about the world at large. For example, in my own employment, there have been entire committees that folded (in which people used to find value) because no one wanted to take the minutes for the meeting (no one wanted to be The Help). I know of workplaces that have only nine individuals working there and yet there are three supervisors. "I want to help, but I am not THE HELP" is a pretty pervasive attitude. It's happening with social issues. There are lots of people online that come up with good ideas to combat climate change, to combat homelessness, and to combat rising inequality. But all of those things require someone to do the work, i.e., someone needs to sacrifice. There's no one volunteering for that. "I want to help, but I am not THE HELP." It's a fascinating thing. There was always someone (in the past) that caught all the stuff rolling downhill. But more and more, people are refusing to catch anything that rolls downhill. I wonder (honestly) how long that can continue to happen. For capitalism to work, there are those at the top and those at the bottom, and the people on the bottom have always done the work. Also (just to clarify) I hate capitalism, BUT I live within the system. It was there before I showed up so I'm just living by the rules and not rocking the boat <== a whole other topic I'd be happy to discuss.

Anyway, in my own personal microcosm, this step toward continuing to be helpful but drawing the line at being "The Help" has sparked joy in me. But I think it hasn't sparked joy in any of the people who are desperately trying to make their lives easier. As I said earlier, someone has always got to be on the bottom in our system. I think the shock in my social group is that I'm no longer on the bottom, and they know that, and it pisses them off. To each their own, I guess. 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Why is it okay for Eddie Murphy to wear whiteface in Coming to America but not okay for Jimmy Kimmel to wear blackface as Karl Malone?

If you hadn't read my post on Wednesday, I've been thinking about blackface recently, and questions have popped into my mind about it. To give you a little context, in case you haven't seen the movie Coming to America, this little comedy gem came out in the 1980's, starred Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, and it featured the both of them playing multiple characters (all for comedic purposes).
Eddie Murphy is unrecognizeable in this
role do to makeup effects (whiteface).
One of the characters that Eddie Murphy plays is a white Jew (which kind of has its own implications in today's hyper-sensitive society, but I'm not going to get into that in today's post). Also I would like to note that this movie has been greenlit for a sequel that's supposed to come out next year, and it even has a release date (I think the original cast is all cominb back for it as well).

At the time of the movie's release (I was still a kid), I thought Eddie Murphy's portrayal was a credit to his acting chops. But now that I look back on it in time, and especially through the lens of recent calls for Jimmy Kimmel and Sarah Silverman (another comedian who has done blackface) to up and apologize for performances that took place years ago, I wonder why it's okay for Eddie Murphy not to be asked to apologize for his portrayal of whiteface.

As far as Jimmy Kimmel's portrayal of Karl Malone goes, I've never actually seen the skit. But I've heard from people I know who have, and they said it was really funny. Okay, so that established to me that it was done in the name of comedy, just like Eddie Murphy's portrayal. However, blackface remains incredibly problematic. It's been talked about on Saturday Night Live, it's been talked about on my blog regarding cosplay, it's been talked about on the New York Times in an article called "Why won't blackface go away?" and "Race is not a costume." The national conversation right now could be categorized easily as a firestorm (that also happens to be a circular firing squad for the democratic party--I only say this last part because the rules don't apply to a group that seems okay with offensive things).
Jimmy Kimmel portraying Karl Malone (the makeup
effects are considered blackface)

In trying to answer the question in the title of this article I'm writing, i.e., why is whiteface okay but blackface is not, it all seems to boil down to one thing: reverse racism is not possible (or is not a thing).

Here's how a good friend explained it (and I had pretty much assimilated all this in articles that I had read, but he really frames it well):
"My understanding of the issue is that blackface is seen as highly problematic, because it has very explicit historical ties to slavery and minstrel shows, which were fundamental tools of historic white supremacy. Blackface evokes very specifically an incarnation of structural racism in which white people parody black stereotypes to dehumanize them. For similar reasons (although admittedly a lot less talked about), yellowface also comes up occasionally as highly problematic (think Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's). As to why whiteface is okay but blackface isn't...I think that's a complicated question. The easy and short answer seems to be that blackface entails racism, and since reverse-racism isn't a thing, whiteface isn't inherently problematic because its an inversion of power structure, not a continuation of oppression. That's tricker though if its Jewish people being portrayed, because antisemitism is a major issue."
And on the issue of reverse racism, it seems to be that the "support" (and yes I've argued about this in another post too) lies with the fact that white people have privilege in society that stems from hundreds of years of institutionalized power. Here's a quote from a blog called The Root, and it's written by author Michael Harriot (I'll link it HERE) that postulates the following:
"If white people built a time machine, went back to 1619 and subjected themselves to slavery, built America into a superpower without compensation or reparation, attended inferior schools, faced double the unemployment of blacks and were killed, lynched and incarcerated disproportionately by black people, I would agree that black people were racist, even if I didn't do anything to them personally.
"But that's a fictional situation that's never going to happen. It's so preposterous there isn't even a term for it.
"Actually, there is:
"Reverse racism."
So basically, unless the above example ever happens then "Reverse Racism" is not a thing and can't be a thing. So it ends up being okay that Eddie Murphy wear whiteface, but not okay for Jimmy Kimmel to wear blackface. What determines this has nothing to do with the individual actions of these people, actors, or comedians, but historical context. In other words, the definition of racism is explicitly tied to history itself, which makes a whole bunch of "other" questions pop into my head. For example, if a person is ignorant of history and has never educated themselves or been given the benefit of education, is it even possible for them to be racist? Or would they just be "biased" in a mean way toward certain groups (as in, "That person is just mean to Korean people" and not "That person is racist toward Korean people). And then of course there's got to be the argument that one cannot use "ignorance" as an excuse to shield oneself from accusations of racism.

In an over-simplified way, the subject of "racism" and "reverse racism" almost seems like an argument about bad karma (which I don't believe in by the way because I'm atheist). However, some people who do believe in bad karma define it as this: "A cosmic law that happens by itself wherein people who inflict harm in the past have that harm revisited upon themselves at present or in the future in another form." In other words, you did this bad thing so this excuses us doing bad behavior to you because it's all payback. Some people might even go so far as to say "an eye for an eye" or "revenge" or "there is a debt owed that has yet to be repaid." Just to clarify, I'm not saying that any of these things could be so boiled down to a sound bite that is expressed so simply. However, on the historical context of how white people treated black people, there doesn't appear to be any notion of forgiveness, hence reverse racism cannot be a thing. It's too big really for me to even wrap my head around, so I'll just say the majority support seems to lie with the notion that some things are unforgivable, and leave it at that (I've no idea whether this idea is right or wrong). It makes me wonder if there's a breaking point somewhere...where the one that owes reparations gets fed up with pouring reparations into a debt that cannot possibly be paid back. What happens at that future hypothetical point? Does anger just burn on forever? Or does our society just become more entrenched and polarized? What happens then?

This is a topic that our society continues to grapple with, and there are rightfully very strong feelings about it. I love observing how different people deal with it, how celebrities and other public persons get held accountable for it, and figuring out why some people will burn in its fire while others remain untouched. Maybe who burns for it and who doesn't is another example of how public support has the final say in everything (embracing the fact that morality, immorality, rightness, and wrongness take a backseat to sheer numbers of people who have the power, and whatever it is that they support is the rule of the day...until it isn't).

For what it's worth, I think that blackface has always been wrong. I also think that whiteface and yellowface and any other "face" just don't have any place in society anymore, and they shouldn't be done (regardless of whether people think whiteface or yellowface is not inherently racist). However, I wonder if anyone else thinks the same thing. I guess only time will tell.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Is cosplaying as a Drow elf considered to be wearing blackface?

The Virginia governor recently had a photograph of him resurface from a college yearbook wherein he was wearing blackface. If you look at my post last Friday regarding support for wrong ideas, you might recognize that there was support for blackface (no matter how wrong it was) from people in the last 100 years. At present, there appears to be quite an erosion of support for blackface of any kind.

Saturday Night Live did a skit on blackface that I found interesting. A group of white people fielded questions at a black man who promised not to get mad for answering questions, but it did try his patience. The message (TL;DR): it never is okay to wear blackface and it never has been okay to wear it despite what era it was or is (going back in time). This statement affirms what I wrote on Friday which (in a nutshell) is this: "Support for something" and "wrongness" are completely unrelated. Ideas can be super wrong and have amazing support, and vice-versa...really amazing ideas can have no public support. What determines whether something has public support really does appear to be an arbitrary and unpredictable thing (in my mind). However, I will leave room to say that someone out there might have a better clue than me as to what people will support in the end.

That being said, I kind of wish I had been in that audience on SNL, because I would have asked if it was okay to cosplay as a Drow elf at a comic book convention. Allow me to explain just a wee bit.

Drow (or dark elves) are a race of beings from the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game (and they are probably based upon something else in actual mythology, but I'm not going to investigate that in this post). With the exception of a character called Drizzt, they are (for the most part) evil, deriving their power from the Queen of the Spiders, who is a goddess called Lolth. She's also a demon that occupies three layers of the Abyss known affectionately as "The Demon Web Pits."

Drow organize themselves into powerful houses and they rule their chaotic evil society through extremely viscious and powerful matrons (Drow have a matriarchy and not a patriarchy). They live in underground cities which (with the aid of darkvision) are true wonders to behold. To keep one house from one-upping another house in their toxic civil government structure, they summon and control demons and set them loose on the city streets. Drow who are unable to deal with the demons (because they aren't strong enough) just perish. So needless to say, Drow society is very cutthroat and unforgiving. Their goddess, Lolth, appears to like it this way a lot.

Drow are also described as being inky black with white hair. And that's like "shoe polish" black. Do you see the problem here? I'll include a picture.

This is called "Drow of the Underdark," and it is a painting by the artist Francis001. It is cover art for a book from Wizards of the Coast (the maker of Dungeons & Dragons), and if you like, you can check out more artwork from this artist located HERE.

So here's the question: If someone wanted to cosplay as a drow elf as above, and it required them to darken their skin with shoe polish or some kind of makeup, would this be considered blackface? Is this now (and always has been) a "No No?"

Because it is a fantasy creature, I'm tempted to say, "This would be okay." After all, you've got the pointed ears, the clear as day need for a white shoulder-length wig, and then the costume which is clearly that of a fantasy race. But what I'm tempted to say might be "okay" others might be screaming mad about, which is probably why I shouldn't be the judge of things like this and would never consider myself "woke" as I have clear questions about "what is and is not crossing a line?"

As a caveat, I don't expect to arrive at a solution based on this post or the comments that follow. A lot of social justice has no central authority, and (because of this) there are varying stages of permission and outrage that seem to flow simultaneously from any given sample size (of a population). The course of action then seems to be more of a "let's just muddle through this without getting killed" kind of thing. Either that, or it becomes a "If there's even a question as to the morality of what is right and what is wrong, then just don't do it." And this is probably one example of the in...white people should probably (never again) try to cosplay as a Drow elf. It's just too problematic and doesn't look good. Go as Thor or something else (for that matter). There are plenty of things that wouldn't cause protests or threaten your job and still net you lots of compliments and positive attention at a comic book convention.

But it doesn't stop me from being curious about this whole Drow elf thing. :)

Monday, February 11, 2019

Oh boy the 2019 Genie in Aladdin has got some serious uncanny valley going on.

The "uncanny valley" is a common unsettling feeling people experience when androids (humanoid robots) and audio/visual simulations closely resemble humans in many respects but are not quite convincingly realistic.

My "go to" movie for this is The Polar Express, which (in my opinion) is a good movie but I can't watch it. It just bugs me too much. Applying this to Aladdin (the Guy Ritchie live action adaptation) based on only a one minute trailer is probably not all that fair. However, this "early" look that we got of Will Smith as "Genie" gave me that same feeling.

I'm not an animator. I don't know how complex it is to give life to things like "The Genie" in Aladdin. But I wasn't bothered in this way by Doctor Manhattan in the 2009 film adaptation of The Watchmen. Maybe it's the glow? Genie should have a kind of glow around him that maybe could hide the uncanny valley just a bit, don't you think? In the least, they should do something to make Genie look more supernatural. Because...I don't know...this may be similarly unwatchable as The Polar Express turned out to be.

I'm hoping that the effects still aren't done. Otherwise, it may be a whole new world of terror and screaming children. Check out the trailer if you dare.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Getting support from other people is the single most important thing in just about any endeavor.

Pat Dilloway posted a query on his blog the other day, and asked us to weigh in on whether he was crazy or not in pointing out its flaws. For what it's worth, I agreed with what he said. But it started me thinking about the weird way in which some "things" in our society (and world at large) get support and some just don't. It's like trying to figure out why some things go viral and some things don't. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason. And because of this, it seems like a colossal waste of time to even bother giving advice on things that have to do with writing as everyone has a different opinion on how and why it should be done.

My point in the comment I posted on Pat's post was that the query probably is a terrible query unless for some reason it has support. If (for example) it does have a freakish amount of support, then it probably makes it an excellent query because it has support from lots of people who believe in it. Weird, right? The fact is, you can say that about almost anything. For example, a movie can be can break all the rules of dialogue and plot and everything else...but if it has support, it can be a smashing success. That's just the way things are. But why?

I've thought about this for a couple of days now, and I think it boils down to the fact that industries in a democratic society lack a centralized authority. That's pretty much it. There's no one person that says "this is right" or "this is wrong." Instead, what you have are industries vying for your economic vote in the form of dollars. But everyone is not on the same page, and they never have been. If one thing ends up getting a lot of economic votes, it might be easy to say "it is because they did this right" or "they're just brilliant," but I don't think that's the case. However, I'm not sure if I can name the answer myself. I've seen many things that I thought were stupid achieve astounding success. It could be as simple as appealing to a person's narcissism. In other words, this thing is about me so therefore I support it, and I don't support that other thing because it isn't about me.

We live in strange, strange times. People get their "facts" from different news sources. People who have no scientific background claim to know more than scientists who've devoted their lives to studying just one thing. There are religious exemptions for everything. There are people who have entire careers destroyed by accusations of crime and people who are bulletproof to the exact same accusations. The difference all seems to be driven by support. Having "support" seems to be the goose that lay the golden egg. You can be wrong infinity x 10, and it doesn't matter if the "wrongness" is supported by a wide number of people.

I can't explain it, and it baffles me so much that I've actually stopped correcting things done by other people when I know them to be wrong. For all I know, the wrongness of something may have support. To clarify, it doesn't have support from me, but I am a drop in the ocean. I have no idea anymore what is wrong to everyone else.

To sum this post up, I think that getting support from other people is the single most important thing in just about any endeavor, and that includes whether or not the endeavor is actually any good. If you can get a bunch of suckers to buy into something, then the endeavor doesn't have to be good at all. It can be extraordinarily bad. I think P.T. Barnum once said, "There's a sucker born every minute." It may sound absurd, but the endeavor itself doesn't even actually need to be real as long as the support for it is.

Maybe (as far as the human race is concerned) the only thing that ever mattered was having support for ideas, because ideas that don't have support seem to have a special place in Hell where they go to die. If that ends up being true, then our entire lives are spent in finding support from others for all the things in our lives.

How the heck did we get to this point? Was it lack of accountability? Was it lack of a central authority? Did we become spoiled for choice?

I have no answers, other than to point out, this is what I see happening in our world today. So to take this whole thing full circle to all the writers out there that might be reading this, I say go ahead and publish everything you write. Get it out there. Send out your excellent queries and your terrible queries with both fists full. I have no idea what if anything you do will get support, nor if its even repeatable. All I know is this: some people will get it and others won't.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The February 2019 question from the Insecure Writer's Support Group asks what other creative outlets do I have?

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Go HERE to learn more.

And foregoing all of that above, you answer the monthly question (which I oftentimes do these days). 

February 6 question - Besides writing what other creative outlets do you have?

I draw and I play tabletop roleplaying games, which kinda seems to crossover with both drawing and writing? Inevitably, tabletop roleplaying games benefit greatly from the more props you can bring to the table, and drawings and maps and things like that seem to be greatly appreciated by "most" people.

As far as drawing (and by extension just art in general) goes, the biggest challenge to this is space and light. I need lots of light to be able to perceive the colors in which I want to work. Additionally, a lot of the time, it takes so much effort to get everything arranged from having been put away, that there's this desire to just leave it all out. But if you don't clean it up, then it's all just cluttering up my living space.

So foregoing any kind of studio which I set up in my home that has access to lots of natural light (this would mean a pretty major remodel), writing ends up being the outlet I choose the most. All I need for that is a computer with a word-processing program on it.

I'm betting that this is gonna be a pretty common pursuit, so I'll have to read some of the other IWSG posts out there and see how many other writers also draw. I'm betting that the percentage is quite high. And yeah...Alex, I already know you play music :)

Monday, February 4, 2019

How To Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World pushes the message that men will always lose their best friends when a woman comes along to marry them.

This weekend I got a somewhat rare early access ticket for one screening of How To Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World. I'm going to review it now, and this post may have a few spoilers in the sense that I'm examining it for what it is: the end of a trilogy. In other words I'm asking myself and others who read my blog if this really was a good ending for a trilogy.

So here we go.

First off, I want to say that How To Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World is a good movie. It has a solid plot arc, it advances the story from the previous installments, and it provides a conclusion that is indisputable in its finality. I mean...there's literally nowhere else for this franchise to go. It's done, nail in coffin, so to speak.

My big question about this is why? Maybe Dreamworks was just tired of doing this series, even though it was a money-maker for them? It sure seemed that way in the telling of this particular show. We get two big time jumps in this movie: Hiccup marries Astrid (which you know was going to happen), and you see Hiccup with his kids and Astrid at the end of the movie visiting the dragons that (spoiler warning again) they set free to live in the Hidden World that they found in their youth. All the dragons go away to live in this world, including Toothless and his mate. Poignant maybe? But why? If the point of the show was to be about humans and dragons living together, the ultimate lesson we learned is that humans and dragons were incompatible (in this fictionalized universe) and that ultimately it was the humans that caused this to pass. It's a weird thing to be harping on, and it makes for a kind of strange tone as the movie repeats the same theme that you've seen before: bad human threatens dragons yet again and bad human gets defeated but this time there's a permanent way to give dragons a home so that we can't use this plot again.

Additionally, this movie shifts its protagonist from Hiccup (who is front and center in both movies) to him taking a backseat to Toothless courting his mate (the Light Fury you see in the trailer). I'm sure this will be very popular with kids (as it probably should be). But there's probably thirty minutes in this film with no dialogue. It's just Toothless doing cute things with the Light Fury and because we cannot speak dragon, it's like watching cat videos of felines playing with each other with no narration for thirty minutes (there is good music). It's kind of the same thing that 2001: A Space Odyssey did with its enormous expose's of space got musical overlay because in space, there is no sound.

The definition of poignant is a thing that evokes a keen sense of sadness or regret. I felt that in walking out of the theater after having watched this final installment of the HTTYD movie franchise. I felt it mostly because the character of Hiccup was so young when they just decided to time jump, have him marry Astrid, time jump again to middle age with kids that are probably 8 and 10 years old only to see him take a boat to where the Hidden World is located in the hopes of seeing Toothless one last time (which does happen as Toothless is playing with his own litter of kids at this point). And at first, Toothless doesn't even recognize him.

I'm not sure why we needed to see any of that. Maybe it's because there needed to be absolutely no sequels for this thing. Maybe it's because the creators were tired of trying to come up with stories that might be good and worth animating. But as the series ended, I have to think that the final message (and point) of the entire story is that:

1) Humans don't live well with other intelligent species and probably never will (except for maybe a rarified few).

2) Men will always lose their best friends when a woman comes along to marry them (to the point of not even being able to recognize them as Toothless did at first).

3) A woman is worth the sacrifice that the man makes of his best friends because, hey, you get kids.

These are weird messages to be pushing from a series that I very much enjoyed in the first two installments. Additionally, the lack of a fresh story (just more of the same from HTTYD 2) seemed just a bit disappointing.

I would still recommend seeing the movie; it is a lot of fun.

Friday, February 1, 2019

The Expanse Profiles: Winston Duarte

Today is my last profile that I plan to write for The Expanse storyline. I couldn't find any illustrations of him online, and thus far in the series, he hasn't been cast. But he's really the biggest bad guy of the entire series because of what he ends up doing with stolen protomolecule technology.

We first meet Winston Duarte in Nemesis Games. He's formerly an admiral of the Martian Congressional Republic Navy, and he has the soul of a dictator/strong man the same as others of that ilk who are alive and oppressing people in today's modern world. In Nemesis Games, he is commander on Hecate Base, and he kind of gets mixed up in arming Marco Inaros' Free Navy, however, he does not directly reveal any involvement with all that as the distractions that Inaros' is affecting throughout Sol system draw eyes away from the stuff that he's doing.

Duarte has his own long-term goal with regard to the emergence of the Ring Gates: he basically wants to become the first emperor of a galactic-level civilization. To do this, he pilfers some ships and military tech from Mars, and then he finds a system within the Ring Gate complex that offers a planet with what looks like ship-building facilities in orbit around the planet (built by aliens). He then sails into that ring, names it Laconia, and tells people to leave him alone (under pain of death). Unfortunately, that's exactly what the people of Sol System do. They leave him alone for thirty years.

In that time, he experiments on people with a protomolecule sample that he stole from a safe in Fred Johnson's room at Tycho Station, basically turning them into vomit zombies. It's very reminiscent of the stuff you hear that Nazi's did to Jewish people held in concentration camps during World War 2. In the thirty year span where he and his cronies are left entirely to themselves, he institutes a totalitarian government where, if you are guilty of any crimes, then you get turned over to the doctors who are free to experiment on your flesh with protomolecule stuff. It's quite grotesque and ensures almost total obedience.

Additionally, the scientists on Laconia construct three new warships from protomolecule/alien technology. By the time they are done, these things are so advanced that nothing that the Sol system has can even deal with them should they go to war. And that's exactly what happens. One of Duarte's hand-picked commanders takes a battleship into the Medina Station Slow Zone and vaporizes a ship as an example to anyone else that would possibly attack him. When they don't listen, and attack this new warship, all of their weapons are completely useless. It's the same as throwing small rocks and sticks at a modern tank. There's just nothing they can do. And the weapon that the new warship employs uses powerful magnetic powerful that they can spaghettify hydrogen atoms. So yeah...nothing survives.

Well, the warship (having conquered Medina Station and the slow zone space) sails on into the Sol System. All of Earth's fleet, the Martian fleet, and the Belter Fleet attack the new warship. They even hit it with a nuclear weapon. Nothing...nada. Then it destroys a few ships and asks for a system-wide surrender. Being smart, the President of the O.P.A. stands down. And that's basically how Duarte conquers everything and forges the "Laconian Empire." It's not like anyone can say no to him and expect to live. His one warship can destroy an entire planet with billions of people on it the same as one person stepping on a bug. It's kind of ridiculous, and it holds many parallels to the uphill battle all the people without dragons face in A Game of Thrones by HBO. The dragons are basically super weapons that no army can deal with. That's what's going on here. Duarte has the "dragons" of The Expanse universe.

Also, Duarte has the same hubris that a lot of authoritarian leaders seem to share. In Persepolis Rising, he's using protomolecule technology developed by his scientists to give him everlasting life, and (at least from Holden's perspective when he sees him at the end of the book because he's taken prisoner) Duarte doesn't even look human anymore. I think Captain Holden says something like, "You're using that shit on yourself? What happened to you?" So yeah...there's that.

Here's a few great quotes from Persepolis Rising, which is the book where Winston Duarte really gets going:

"We have expended two-thirds of our rail-gun ammunition," the weapons tech announced. "Shall I maintain fire?" "Yes," Drummer said. "Then start putting chairs in the launcher. We hit that thing until we're down to pillows and beer."

"I'm as surprised as you are," Avasarala said. "Though I feel like I shouldn't be. I actually read history. It's like reading prophecy, you know."

"Prepare us for what?" Holden asked. "To poke gods with a sharp stick?" "No, Captain Holden. No sticks," Duarte said. "When you fight gods, you storm heaven."

"The sad fact of the human species that High Consul Duarte understood so well was that you could never overcome tribalism and jingoism with an argument. Tribalism was an irrational position, and it was impossible to defeat an irrational position with a rational argument. And so, instead of presenting a logical plan for why humanity needed to give up the old national and cultural divides and become a single unified species, the high consul obeyed the old forms that everyone would understand, and went to war. Thankfully, a brief one.”

“It’s the reward of old age,” Avasarala said. “You live long enough, and you can watch everything you worked for become irrelevant.”

I'll be back to my regular random topics on blogs this Monday. Thanks for reading and sharing my passion for The Expanse.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Expanse Profiles: Praxidike Meng

I found this really cool drawing by artist Dana-Redde on DeviantArt. You can see more of their
drawings HERE. As you can see, the artist has done portraits of all the major characters featured in The Expanse books (although they may be a wee bit cartoony). Meng (my subject for today) is seen in the lower right.

Praxidike or just "Prax" for short (as he's called that both in the chapterheads that bear his point of view and in conversation) was an unusual main character. For one, he's really not all that exciting. However the few skills that he has and the plot device of his missing daughter make for some fascinating storytelling.

In the television adaptation, Prax is played by actor Terry Chen, and his picture is embedded in this article below and to the left. Prax is a botanist on Ganymede station, and he has a daughter who needs a regular dose of medicine to live. When she goes missing, he hires Holden's crew to find her. It turns out that Mei (Prax's daughter) was kidnapped by the people working for ProtoGen, and they are using children this time as hosts for samples of the protomolecule. The fact that they were on Ganymede to begin with leads to an incident where a human-protomolecule hybrid attacked soldiers from Mars and the United Nations, killing everyone but Roberta Draper. The attack and the radio blackout was misinterpreted, and this led to a battle above and on Ganymede that destroyed a crucial dome and infrastructure for the manufacture of food by growing plants, and it led to catastrophic system wide failure from this important space station.

Meng does get his daughter back, and it happens before she can be infected by the protomolecule. Additionally, Prax's insights into botany help Holden figure out things about the protomolecule's behavior that they didn't know before. Prax does become a crucial figure in rebuilding Ganymede station after the attack. In so doing, he creates a kind of yeast "food source" that is way more effective at feeding starving populations than anything else that people are using. He sends that biological technology to Earth (which is desperate to feed billions of people) and in so doing, probably saves many people in the human race.

In reading The Expanse books, the Prax chapters weren't the most entertaining ones, but they were an excellent way to deliver a lot of technically dense information to the reader on how things were supposed to work in this universe. In other words, he was a great character to use for information dumps.

Coming up on Friday: Profile of Winston Duarte

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Expanse Profiles: Clarissa Mao

On The Expanse television adaptation, the character of Clarissa "Peaches" Mao is played by actress Nadine Nicole. There really isn't a good art piece done by an online artist (at least I couldn't find one on DeviantArt), so I just skipped finding one and included the one at right so you know who I'm talking about.

Clarissa is the daughter of Jules-Pierre Mao and the sister of Julie Mao (who is the protomolecule-infected person responsible for setting off the destruction of Eros Station and who consequently saves Earth by piloting Eros Station into a collision with Venus). Jules-Pierre Mao is a famous and very rich scientist and psychopath who thinks that the protomolecule is the best thing ever, and that it represents untapped wonders for the human race (no matter what the cost).

It's clear in the story that Clarissa has a lot of family baggage. Jules-Pierre Mao loved Julie way more, and Julie was always the center of attention despite the fact that she ran away from home to live in the asteroid belt and essentially disowned herself of the family wealth. However, when Jules-Pierre Mao's crimes finally caught up with him (mostly due to the actions of Captain Holden but really coming from Chrisjen Avasarala's political power), the wealth and power the Mao's enjoyed all ended. Clarissa's family was essentially, completely destroyed, and their reputation marked them as "pariah's." This made Clarissa very angry, and she set off for the stars meaning to avenge herself namely on Captain Holden and everyone he loved.

Along the way, she indulged her psychopathic side and got implants that gave her the strength of ten really strong guys so that when she got into a scrap, she killed whoever dared to raise their hands against her (or stand in the way of her plans). She killed multiple people, even keeping one person's body in an oversized suitcase that she managed to squeeze him into so that she could put him in a locker (and this was a friend by the way). She engineered the destruction of an entire starship and its crew in an attempt to incriminate Captain Holden of the Rocinante. When she tries to kill Holden's crew directly by flying to their disabled ship, she gets stopped right before she can kill Naomi (Holden's lover) and then she's arrested.

That isn't the end of her story. Clarissa (after the Ring's open) is taken as a prisoner to Earth where Amos (when he's visiting Earth in Nemesis Games) goes to visit her. That's where the "Peaches" nickname comes from. Amos just likes calling her that, and it becomes his pet name for her in every conversation that they have. I think it's mostly because it's obvious that Amos loves her in a way that only Amos understands, and that she's pretty and soft to look at, but at the same time, she's an incredibly dangerous serial killer psychopath person.

Clarissa ends up making a home on The Rocinante and Holden and the crew make peace with her because the time in prison, the destruction of Earth, and everything that they've been through just all seems to bring out the humanity in everyone. She lives with them for thirty years (there's a thirty year time jump between Babylon's Ashes and Persepolis Rising). When she finally meets her end on Medina Station--helping Naomi and others get away from the center of the Laconian occupation--I gotta say that it really got to me. As she's dying, she says to Naomi, "I'm a monster." Of course, without context, Naomi didn't understand what Clarissa was saying (and it goes back to a thing that Amos and Clarissa shared together). Clarissa had said in that earlier conversation (in a prior book), "I have killed. But I am not a killer." And there was this whole thing about her not being a monster just because she killed people. Only, at her very end (after having just killed somebody), Clarissa realized that all of the years she'd spent living with regret, doing quiet penance for the lives she'd ended, didn't really matter because killing the last guy a few seconds ago really felt fun.

Peaches was a spectacular character that kind of came out of nowhere, and it's one of the reasons I love this show and these books so much.

Coming up on Wednesday: Profile of Praxideke Meng

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Expanse Profiles: Detective Josephus Miller

At right is a picture by an artist called "Acedhampir" of Detective Josephus Miller, who is a crucial character in James S.A. Corey's The Expanse. If you like the art, you can see more of it HERE

You first get introduced to Detective Miller (who is described looking pretty much as the artist as pictured here) in the first book of The Expanse called Leviathan Wakes. It also happens at about that same point in the television adaptation.

As far as heroes go, he's a bit of a Sam Spade (from The Maltese Falcon). He's a tough talker straight from the pages of a 1930's noir pulp fiction. He's got that same kind of tough personality that you get from Humphrey Bogart's character (in that famous film), and in a different time, he'd be smoking cigarettes constantly and calling women by the names "dame" and "broad."

Pretty early on, he gets hired to track down a missing rich girl by the name of Juliette Mao. In doing so, he ends up falling in love with her even though he's never met her. Going through all of her private things gives him a mental image of this "ideal woman" and he kind of tortures himself trying to unwind what exactly happened to her. Because of this, he starts seeing her when he's alone and even has conversations with her "ghost."

Eventually, he tracks Juliette to an apartment on Eros station, and in so doing he also joins up with Captain Holden of The Rocinante. This sets off a chain of events where they are attacked by forces friendly to a corporate interest that is doing experiments on the alien protomolecule (of which Julie is an unwilling participant). When they find her in her apartment, the protomolecule has already overrun her body and is exploding outward in black tendrils that quickly endanger the station. But (unbeknownst to Holden and Miller), the corporation has determined that Eros station and its fifteen million inhabitants would be a perfect test area for the protomolecule. Miller and Holden barely escape the station alive while most of the other inhabitants suffer the most gruesome deaths at the hands of the protomolecule (which turns them into a kind of undead).

Shortly after that, Miller returns to Eros Station and convinces what remains of Juliette Mao (which is at the center of the station and in control of the entire thing through the protomolecule network) to crash the station into Venus instead of Earth. In a strange kind of dream, Juliette Mao was going home and taking the protomolecule with her, which would have wiped out all life on Earth.

With Miller's death, the protomolecule somehow co-opted his image and his personality and mixed it with its technology and used the image of Miller to contact Holden and give him advice and instructions. These came in particularly useful in Nemesis Games, even though a lot of what happened in Nemesis Games was a direct result of The Rocinante having a small amount of protomolecule on board (that the crew didn't know about). This small sample started to awaken all the alien technology on the planet Ilus, to the point that it endangered the lives of every living thing on the planet.

In The Expanse television adaptation, Detective Josephus Miller is played by actor Thomas Jane. He's pictured at left. I think the actor does a great job of portraying Detective Miller, because he successfully channels the 1930's gumshoe detective pretty well. 

Coming up on Monday: Profile of Clarissa Mao