Wednesday, September 23, 2020

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

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

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

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



Monday, September 21, 2020

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 18, 2020

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


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 14, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, September 9, 2020

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

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

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



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

Friday, September 4, 2020

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


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

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

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

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


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

What author would you pick to be your beta reader if you could have anyone?


Yay! There's only four months left in 2020. This year has been the longest one in my living memory. At least we have the Insecure Writer's Support Group to share together online. Haven't heard about it? Well let me fix that right now. This is a copy/paste from their sign-up page which can be found right HERE.

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: 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! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Remember, the question is optional!

September 2 question - If you could choose one author, living or dead, to be your beta partner, who would it be and why?

I'm going to stretch the traditional view of what we consider an "author" and name movie director, Guillermo del Toro Gomez. If you aren't familiar with his absolutely brilliant work, Guillermo is a Mexican filmmaker, author, actor, and former special effects makeup artist. He has won Oscars for both Best Director and Best Picture. He has been my favorite director for about twenty years.

With Chuck Hogan, he co-authored The Strain trilogy of novels, which were adapted for a terrible television series (you can't win 'em all). His work has been characterized by a strong connection to fairy tales and horror, with an effort to infuse visual or poetic beauty into the grotesque. He's also had a lifelong fascination with monsters, which he considers symbols of great power.

I think del Toro just resonates with me. I write weird and unsettling stories that make people have gut reactions of "gross" or "this is just too out there." My writings are influenced by Lovecraftian-type things, and del Toro loves those kinds of strange and weird tales too. You see it in his films like Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth, and Shape of Water.

As a beta partner for my writing, I think that del Toro would be perfect. That he'd give me the kind of criticisms that I desire in order to hit my target audience (which honestly is probably similar to those who love del Toro's work). Anyone (for example) who feels that they'd love a del Toro production of Lovecraft's "Into the Mountains of Madness" would probably get something out of my work as well.

Now I'm off to see what authors other people have chosen. Thanks for visiting.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Umbrella Academy's greatest strength may just be its choice of music.


A lot of people like Umbrella Academy. I am one of them. I started watching the second season of it on Netflix this weekend, and it occurred to me that there are a lot of shows out there that fill this niche. And by "this niche," I'm saying comic book movies with real characters that have problems and issues and are very flawed and relatable. So why then is the Umbrella Academy even good? Well, there are several reasons that make it a standout.

It does have a nice budget and the C.G.I. that they do for the main cast is on par with things that I've seen come out of Hollywood. In particular, I thought the talking ape character was really well done. Additionally, Umbrella Academy takes a page from Snyder, who used big letters to spell out locations and timelines that were angled in ways to make them appear as part of the storytelling panel (I'm specifically thinking of the movie, Watchmen, here). This gives it a comfortable, almost nostalgic vibe of professionalism that I like.

However, this answer left me wanting, so I continued to think about Umbrella Academy. What I landed on as a viewer (as an answer to my own question) is the choice of music, which is very important to the show. Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance is the creator of the show, and presumably spends a lot of time on it since his band broke up (I'm still upset about this by the way).

My Chemical Romance is probably my favorite band that came out of the early 2000's. Their music was so good, and just had fantastic (great) lyrics and tone that (I think) is comparable to the early albums U2 put out in their career. The music of My Chemical Romance to this day feels surreal, personal, cathartic, kinetic, and it's just fun to listen to. Additionally, the story just gets the viewer into the good stuff right away. You don't have to figure out how someone got their powers. Instead, you are off and running with an apocalyptic plot and trying to figure out who is what and why should anyone care? Additionally, the characters are very strange, consisting of a gorilla man living on the moon and another man who talks to dead people (just to name a few).

Anyway, those are my thoughts. So anyone out there a fan of Umbrella Academy? If so, would you agree that the music in it seems to be carefully chosen and serves the narrative on the screen rather well?

Friday, August 28, 2020

Here are three Mondo posters that I like.

 Every once in a while, I head over to Mondoshop and look at their new posters they have for sale. One of these days, when I come into monies, I'm going to buy a bunch of these and have them framed. But in lieu of that day, here are a bunch that I do like. Hey...I can always comfort myself knowing that while I struggle with money, at least the sleezebag Jerry Falwell gets a $10 million dollar payday for being actually fired from Liberty University. If I got fired from a place, I'd just get my last paycheck is all. Somedays, life just doesn't seem fair...or all the days really. Anyway...favorite posters.

I love the color in this shot for some reason. It's very eye catching.
This looks like a comic book, which is why I love it.

I've never actually watched, "A Quiet Place," because it's not my kind of movie.
However, I am familiar with the plot and I love how graphs of sound are used
to great effect as a topographical landscape the characters must navigate.




Wednesday, August 26, 2020

I want to see The New Mutants and Tenet but I'm wary of theaters because of Covid 19.

The New Mutants
and Tenet will be coming to theaters very soon. I love theaters, but I ask myself all the time if I feel safe going. I haven't been in a movie theater for most of the year. The last one I went to was Pixar's Onward, and I think it was still winter here in Utah. It seems so long ago. So I guess I'm making a blog post trying to suss out what I should do.

Businesses are suffering in the Covid world. Olive Garden is just the latest casualty. Read this as "Goodbye cruel world...." I imagine a chain as big as Olive Garden would find it hard to make money doing mostly take out (and to make ends meet). Are movie theaters in danger as well? Yep. Do I love movie theaters? Very much so. I have so many good memories. Does it feel safe to go? In Utah? Unfortunately it does not. Utah has been one of the states that has lifted its finger at mask wearing wholeheartedly. Utah is a state where everyone does what they want, and it's backed up by guns and the words, "You say what? Make me. I dare ya."

So here's the bigger question: do I actually want to see The New Mutants or Tenet?  Yes. In an ordinary world I might have skipped The New Mutants, but nothing about 2020 feels ordinary. It's the first chance to see a big budget film in a theater in months, so I'm feeling a bit deprived. But I'd have to wear my mask for the entire show, and I'm not sure I'd want to do that, which means I probably won't go. And as for Tenet, I would watch anything from Director Christopher Nolan. The man's a creative genius, and I respect him for his abilities to create stories that are incredibly compelling.

But these movies will eventually come to video, and I can wait. It's not worth the risk.

Covid 19 sucks. I shouldn't have to debate the safety of going to the movies. But if I don't go, then I'm part of the problem that will cause movie theaters to ultimately go under. I really do wish that my fellow Americans cared. But many of them (at least a third if not half), don't care about anything but themselves or those who worship the ground they walk on. It's reflected in our politics. It's reflected in the way we treat one another.

If businesses like the beloved movie theater don't survive, I will blame the selfish people. They killed all the things that bring many of us joy, when all they had to do was wear a mask.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Based off the first trailer for the Batman I'm thinking Pattinson might actually be able to pull this off.

The trailer for The Batman dropped this weekend. I am more excited than I thought I was going to be. Dare I say that Pattinson might actually be able to pull this off? What do you guys think? I'm linking it below.

Friday, August 21, 2020

The United States taxpayer should be proud of the size of the national debt because we've all gotten a lot of something for nothing and it's never getting paid back.

Lately, I've been thinking about trying to visualize a trillion dollars, mostly because the national debt is over $20 trillion and the "Cares" act seemingly generated $3 trillion dollars out of nowhere to prop up the economy back in March. There is also talk of a second round because all that money...it's already spent. So how does one exactly visualize a trillion dollars. For my thought experiment, I used time.

So how much time is a trillion seconds? It turns out that a trillion seconds is 31,546 years. So if a person spent money at the rate of a dollar per second ($3,600 per hour), it would take more time to blow through all that money than time has passed since (probably) the invention of the road or the damn wheel. So what do I learn from this thought experiment? Several things, actually.

First, the United States of America blows through a phenomenal amount of money in a year. It's just unfathomable how much money this country chews through.

Second, despite what people say, I don't believe anymore that this is "taxpayer money," unless you are willing to say that it is the taxpayer ten thousand years down the road that we are actually borrowing from. A quick google search indicates that all of the taxes collected in a year lie somewhere between $3 and 4$ trillion, but that's also counting what states collect as state taxes. So if you look at this amount of debt that we have as a country, you have but one conclusion to make: it will either get paid off or it won't get paid off. And I'm taking a realistic view and saying, "This is not going to get paid off."

Third, I don't think that people are lending us this kind of money either. People like to use "China" as a go to example of someone that holds our debt, but a quick google search shows that China owns maybe $1.5 trillion of our debt. That's not all that much in large number terms when you consider that Apple is a trillion dollar company. They basically own Apple. Again...these are mind-boggling huge numbers.

Anyway, so I think the United States spins money out of nothing because we are a country with currency that we can just print and we can just say, "this has value." Okay, then. It's an ever increasing pile of debt for things that we have bought, and the common people (like you and me) like to point at it and say, "You law makers need to be responsible with taxpayer money because we are on the hook for that!" Only...I don't think we are, and we should stop saying that. There's no way you and I and anyone else could pay back that debt that I can think of. However, I'm not an economist.

So, you might ask, where is my thought experiment going? Well, I think that we should view the national debt in a different light: it's the biggest bargain in world history. Given what we give in taxes, we get way more back as a return investment. All the trillions and trillions of dollars of things that we all benefit from by far outstrips our ability to actually pay for by many times. And since there doesn't appear to be any consequence to not living like this, eh who cares? So it's like getting something for nothing, and we should be proud of that. Americans should be proud of the national debt. To shrink the example down, who else can say they spent a dollar to get a thousand dollars back in services and goods? That seems like the best bargain on earth. It doesn't make sense to me, but it is what it is. Countries play by different rules.

And that is the end of my thought experiment.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Lovecraft Country is trying to tell a story about racism and a story about Lovecraftian monsters.

I watched the first episode of Lovecraft Country on HBO this Sunday. I want to say that I enjoyed it. But I also want to say that I was a bit naïve at how bad the racism is/was in this country. I had never heard of "Sundown Counties" or "Sundown Towns" and the concept behind this kind of thing--where you could be lynched if you allowed the sun to set on you in a particular place--is terrifying. The monsters then unleashed by H.P. Lovecraft's ancient imagination onto the evil white men at the end of the show, really don't hold much of a candle to the systemic evil of a country and its people who are bent on oppressing and punishing those different from them.

I was also impressed with the debut of the shoggoths. These are monsters with a lot of eyes that looked similar to Sammael in the Hellboy movie made by Guillermo del Toro many years ago. Of course, Sammael (and much of the stuff in Hellboy) is Lovecraft-inspired. In many ways, "The Great Old Ones" seem to be fertile ground for the exploration of evils that go beyond run of the mill vampires, werewolves, and mummies to something that inspires true awe and horror. And what I mean by "impressed" is simply that they looked good on screen. However, things tend to look good in certain light. The shoggoths benefit from being seen only in darkness, so the computer generated flaws of the creature are more effectively hidden. This is why the first Pacific Rim movie looked much better than the second (the fights between the robots and the kaiju happened at night and usually with water hiding the flaws in the C.G.I.). 

I know nothing about the story of Lovecraft Country other than what I've seen in the first episode of the show. But it does have me intrigued to read the book, as there may be other details within this H.P. Lovecraft-inspired tale that are missed in the television adaptation. Aside from in visions, I wonder if there is some greater Cthulhu-inspired plot, and if it will lead to some of the stranger locations mentioned in Lovecraft lore. A trip to the shores of R'Lyeh might be fascinating (for example).

The thing that Lovecraft Country makes me leery of is the fact that they are telling two stories. The story of the black people dealing with the systemic racism in the country in the 1930's feels like it is honestly enough for a show. It is compelling, and it is interesting. It is the story of a man who is putting together a guide book for his customers so that they can journey safely in counties and regions where danger to a person because of their skin color is very real. That would be enough for me to watch. But then they are adding in all of the Cthulhu stuff, which could also be its own separate story. So I have to ask, are they going to tell a story about racism? Or are they going to tell a story about Lovecraftian monsters? And why must it be both? Why can't it be one or the other? If you go to heavy on one, you lose the other. But a balance that strikes somewhere in the middle will probably not serve either plot well.

Since there haven't ever been any good Lovecraft stories that have been made into film, I wonder why we are getting sprinkles of Lovecraft here and there over the years on top of other topics and stories that people want to tell. I wonder why there never has been a really high budget attempt to tell one of the Lovecraftian stories, like "The Mountains of Madness," or "The Call of Cthulhu." It all seems very strange to me, and maybe it has to do with the fact that H.P. Lovecraft was a racist, and no one wants to touch any of his actual works, while borrowing heavily from them as they are considered "Open Domain." I'm not privy to those kinds of conversations, but I think it has something to do with funding for these kinds of things. Ah well, if Lovecraft Country is the best we are going to get, I suppose it will have to do.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Christina Aguilera's song from Mulan is a beautiful ballad for paladins and a surprise for movie goers because its for a film that makes its debut on streaming.

Pretty soon, some of us who are subscribers to Disney Plus get the opportunity to pony up $30.00 to watch the movie, Mulan, which drops on the streaming service the first week of September. I have been looking forward to this movie for half a year now, and I will be purchasing said movie. It's actually got me excited, because I wrote in a much earlier blog post this year that I should have been able to see Mulan by now, and it sucks that I haven't been able to do so. The whole Covid-19 has sent the entertainment industry into a tailspin, and I deeply hope that movie theaters don't march off to the dinosaur tar pits and watching things at home becomes the "new normal." I say "yuck" to that, but as I'm a nobody in the world (pretty much), I will just have to adapt like most everyone else.

Now that I've said that, I will also add that I deeply enjoy that some of the streaming services are doing an effort to put out quality products. Mulan by any means was an expensive film, and it's kind of shocking that it is debuting on streaming and not in a theater. I applaud those who made the decision to give us a bit of a treat while we are all stuck at home dealing with a worldwide pandemic. Below is a music video for a song called Loyal, Brave, True by the singer, Christina Aguilera. It dropped last week, and I listened to it and instantly liked it. Again, this kind of quality is super unexpected from a movie that is making its debut on home screens. Christina's voice is so rich and full and lovely, and I love the Asian-feel to her outfit. I suppose being half-Asian, I feel a kind of kinship with movies and television that pay a respectful homage to those ancient cultures.

Anyway, if you have the time and you haven't heard the song, you should give it a listen. My friend, Meg, said that Christina's voice reminds her a lot of how Cher used to be, with a rich and full and powerful voice that is full of soul. I've thought about that assessment, and I think it hits the mark. It's also a beautiful ballad for paladins (for any Dungeons & Dragons players out there). 

Friday, August 14, 2020

Conclave of Shadows by Raymond E. Feist is a clever retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo.

I've been reading Raymond E. Feist's Conclave of Shadows trilogy. I'm in the second book, called King of Foxes, but something was bugging me as I was reading this clever yarn told in a fantasy world. And then I figured it out: it's a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Most of you out there are probably familiar with The Count of Monte Cristo. It's a fascinating tale wherein a man is wronged and sets out to avenge himself against those who falsely imprisoned him. The way in which he does this is a fascinating story with a Rube Goldbergian level of intricacy designed to bring ruin upon his enemies. While in prison he becomes super educated, being fortunate enough to make friends with a monk who essentially knows everything, and then he fakes his own death when his monk friend dies (so that he can be thrown out with the body bag). Along the way, he picks up a super loyal and very skilled follower named Jacopo (a former pirate), and then they get lots of funding via a fabulous pirate horde, and then the main character is reborn as the Count of Monte Cristo in order to ingratiate himself to the nobility of Paris, which becomes the perfect place for him to slow cook his revenge. How could you not like this story?

What Feist has done in his Conclave of Shadows trilogy is displace this story into the fantasy world of most of his novels (called Midkemia). There, a boy named Talon of the Silver Hawk is not imprisoned per se (like The Count of Monte Cristo character), however, he is reborn when his village is annihilated by some callous nobles who found his people to be "in the way" of their geographical goals. Left for dead, he is revived by members of a powerful and secret society with super deep pockets (think endless money) who educate him in all the same ways as Edmond Dantes goes through in The Count of Monte Cristo. He becomes a superb fencer, learns several different languages, and is firmly ensconced in a city called Roldem, which is just a city a stand-in for medieval Paris. The Conclave of Shadows gave this young man a new identity, calling him Tal Hawkins, and he is a new noble having come from the West. He promptly makes a name for himself by winning the Master's Sword Tournament (a very prestigious title), and he beds lots of noble women who find him very attractive. And then he gets a man servant who is an assassin, named Amafi, who is as loyal as Jacopo ever was to Edmond Dantes. Of course, he trains this agent of his to be his valet while he moves the pieces on the board to plot his revenge.

The revenge element begins with young Tal Hawkins attracting the eye (and thusly being recruited by) the very noble who was responsible for his village's death. And Tal doesn't just want to kill this duke. No, he wants to humiliate him, to bring about his ruin so that as/when the duke dies, he knows exactly why this is happening and who it is that is bringing about his ruin. And just like in the Count of Monte Cristo, his method of taking down his enemies by understanding their character and circumstances and bringing them to utter ruin through a few carefully chosen actions is incredible to witness. It really is a delight to read seeing as 1) I'm familiar with the story, and 2) it is one of my favorites, and 3) the sleight "magical" elements in the book change it up enough to heighten the tension in odd ways.

I'm actually quite surprised to see a fantasy novel mine classical literature like The Count of Monte Cristo. The main themes of revenge, love, culpability, greed, and ambition are all there, and they are treated in a way that does not allow easy answers. And it's a novel where the main character, this Tal Hawkins, is quite likeable not only because he is good, but because he is also evil. He is both the hero and the villain of the story, and that's just really interesting. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Brandon Sanderson just finished a kickstarter for a ten-year-old book that almost hit $7 million in funding.

Brandon Sanderson through his company Dragonsteel Entertainment just finished a Kickstarter for a ten-year old book that nearly hit $7 million. Let me reiterate that...this book has been out for ten fricken years...available in hardback and paperback and audiobook, etc. from the big publisher known as Tor. It's as common as dirt to find online and despite ALL OF THAT, it is making MILLIONS OF DOLLARS. And I assume (now) that the rights have probably gone back to Mr. Sanderson for him to do with as he please. The book? The Way of Kings. Anyway, if they haven't gone back to him, maybe there's some kind of catch whereas he's allowed to just sell copies of vanity special editions, or something like that, and keep all the profit. Maybe the publisher was like...eh...there's no money in the vanity stroking business of leatherbound, beautiful, illustrated editions. That's a fools game! If that's what they thought, they are looking pretty silly right about now.

Sure...there's going to be overhead with Sanderson's company Dragonsteel Entertainment. Maybe a few hundred thousand in overhead. Possibly the cost of a middle class home in Salt Lake City ($500,000) in overhead (which is chump change to a lot of the ritzy crowd that calls this place home). But definitely not $7 million. This Kickstarter goldmine was unbelievable. Kudos to Brandon who should be laughing all the way to the bank. I mean...damn.

And it should terrify traditional publishers. Kickstarter is launching bankable authors into the stratosphere as far as the money they can reap from their intellectual property. But of course...that's the key, right? The word "bankable" is kind of a catch-22. However, if you've got your name out there in lights already for one reason or another, there is no way in hell that I think you should ever go with a publishing house. Kickstarter is the way to go...period. I've been watching Michael J. Sullivan's Kickstarters and have been blown away with the numbers those Kickstarters have been creating. But Sanderson's $7 million on a ten year old book? WOW!!!

Anyway, I just thought I'd share my thoughts. I think traditional publishers are going to be taking on a lot of unknowns (remember the days when mid-list writers were looked down upon?) to pay the bills in the future. All the big names can just say "FU" to them and go their own way, and they can do so in their Bentleys and their Rolls Royces. The mid-list will become the "only list" willing to sign with a publisher. Oh how times are a changing.


Monday, August 10, 2020

Dark is a humorless slog of a show that nevertheless has good eye candy and is somewhat compelling to watch.

I have been watching Netflix's Dark, and I've got three episodes left in the third season. Up to this point, I've been pretty much hooked on it enough that I don't want to abandon it. But it also is one of the most frustrating series I've watched because of several reasons.

1) It's hard to care about the character's world because it is so small. I know that there is a town that the characters all live in, but there's maybe ten significant locations that just get used and reused by repeated visitations of the old, middle-aged, and young characters traveling through time.

2) The story is just a string of vignettes that are slammed together for essentially three seasons of television. Each vignette has two people talking in serious hushed tones, there is usually one if not both characters experiencing such strong emotions that they are on the verge of tears, and then there are lots of hugs. And it is this thing over and over and over again. As soon as one vignette ends, you zoom to another location and another time where two characters come together, discuss either how futile and frustrating the time loop is and how no one seems to understand anything about what's going on enough to find a clear direction, and there is always this momentary shock or realization heightened by dramatic music. Oh and the tears. There are always tears.

3) The plot is purposefully confusing and convoluted, so much so, that it actually feels like the showrunners are drawing the story out longer to make it more convoluted and impossible to figure anything out. By season three, you've got two separate worlds each with their own past, present, and future versions of the characters facing an apocalypse which you aren't quite sure would be necessarily bad if you could just get to an end or some kind of conclusion to a story arc. As I said earlier, the world is impossibly small because it is essentially ten significant locations repeated ad nauseum season after season.

4) The characters don't really eat. I've seen eating maybe once in three seasons. But they do smoke, have sex, talk in hushed desperate whispers, and feel the full gravity of their fates while trying to unravel the endless loop of the apocalyptic circumstance that has got them all trapped. There's some teen angst, suspicion, manipulation, but very little eating. It all seems very German, as many of their characters are quite easy on the eyes (so it does have that going for it).

5) Dark has no humor. There is no laughter and there are no jokes. It is one episode after another of intense stares, dramatic tear-filled eyes, pleas of conscience, serious discussions, and hugs. 

Anyway, all that aside, I'm actually enjoying the show, because it is science fiction, and I am curious as to how it will all end. Are any of you watching it out there?


Friday, August 7, 2020

The Lebanese explosion in Beirut is the perfect event and meme to encapsulate the entirety of 2020.

Like most of you, I'm deeply shocked by the explosion in Beirut that has killed over a hundred people and wounded thousands of others. And like you, I might be wondering why it was allowed to happen. Apparently, there was hundreds of tons of explosive ammonium nitrate stacked next to fireworks in a warehouse for years, and people knew about it. But nothing could be done because all the power to make decisions on this dangerous stuff rested with stupid and ignorant people. Does that sound like 2020? It sure does to me.

Where I might differ from you is that my brain likened it to the perfect event that encapsulates all of 2020. I mean...the meme potential for this thing is incredible (but I'm not going to create any). For example, one could draw an arrow to the smoke stacks raging at the Beirut port and write, "Anti-maskers screaming 'I do what I want!' and 'You NOT the boss o' me!'" And then "BOOM!" the explosion leveling the rest of the city.

Or another meme could be an arrow pointing (again) at the smoking stacks of the port followed by writing that says "Ignorance" and then another arrow pointing to the rest of Beirut with writing that says, "Well-informed people who can't do anything against the ignorant." And then "BOOM!" the explosion takes out all those informed helpless people.

Or yet a third meme that features (again) the word "ignorant people" pointing to the smoking stacks at the warehouse with a second arrow pointing to the surrounding buildings of Beirut with a label that says, "People who tolerate the stupid and ignorant because there's no way it will affect me." And then (of course) the catastrophic "BOOM" that does indeed affect all of those tolerant people.

It's a cruel twist of fate, I think, that this thing comes along and can describe the utter shit show going on in the United States right now with anti-maskers vs the scientific community. That it could literally be a political meme with (again) a red arrow pointing at the smoking stacks with just the words "Trump and his ideas" and then another arrow pointing at the city of Beirut with the words, "Citizens of the United States" followed by the catastrophic "Boom" that wipes everything out.

/Shakes my head. Have a nice weekend.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

It's August and the IWSG has questions about genre choices and the way we write.

Dear writers and blogfest participators, it is the first Wednesday of August in the year 2020, and it's time for The Insecure Writer's Support Group monthly post. If you are somehow unaware of this blogfest, you should head over HERE to get setup. It's a lot of fun, and a chance to connect with many other writers. The Insecure Writer's Support group was originally created by Alex Cavanaugh, who is very active in visiting blogs. However, he is not without help. The awesome co-hosts for the August 5 posting of the IWSG are Susan Baury Rouchard, Nancy Gideon, Jennifer Lane, Jennifer Hawes, Chemist Ken, and Chrys Fey!

August 5 question - Quote: "Although I have written a short story collection, the form found me and not the other way around. Don't write short stories, novels or poems. Just write your truth and your stories will mold into the shapes they need to be."
Have you ever written a piece that became a form, or even a genre, you hadn't planned on writing in? Or do you choose a form/genre in advance?
Thus far, I have not ever written in a genre that I hadn't planned on writing in. However, and to be fair, "speculative fiction" is a huge genre encompassing everything from sword and sorcery magic to hard science fiction and everything in-between. Making up things seems to be where my comfort zone is right now, but that doesn't mean that it won't change. My taste in things is continuously evolving.

Thanks for visiting, and I hope the August heat doesn't break your air conditioner. 

Friday, July 31, 2020

I read a fantasy that is just some Tolkien fan fiction published by Doubleday and once I got off my high horse I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Twenty years ago, I was unaware of this thing we call fan fiction. I would also say that I was an unkind reader, viciously defending the intellectual property rights of stories of authors that I had never met. Rather, I was in love with the stories they created, and woe to anyone that borrowed a plot from them to fill in the holes. I looked down on writers who did that, who "stole" an idea and just changed all the names and rehashed the story to fit their own ends. I even used that language saying, "So and so is a terrible author because they stole all their ideas from this other author. How unoriginal." But then, I suppose, I grew up.

I'm not sure when my sensibilities toward reading things changed, but somewhere along the line of reading this and that, when I came across something that desperately smacked of something else that I'd read, I started to think, "This is actually a brilliant piece of fanfiction and they must have loved this author a lot. I do like how they are filling in a bunch of stuff that I always craved more of."

Most recently, this happened while reading Dennis McKiernan's Silver Call duology. This author must have loved the Moria part of Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring. And I honestly cannot blame him, because the trek through Moria is an exciting and memorable piece of that fantasy series, culminating with the fight versus the balrog over a cleft of doom.

Dennis McKiernan's fanfiction duology (published by Doubleday nonetheless back in the eighties) is almost a blow by blow account of Tolkien. The main character is a warrow, which is just a hobbit really. His name is Peregrine Fairhill and his servant is Cotton. They join a four-thousand strong army of dwarves wanting to reclaim an underground kingdom called Kraggen-Cor that lies underneath a range of towering mountains (sound familiar?) These ancient dwarven halls are teeming with things called Ruhks and maggot-folk, but these are just orcs and goblins. And their ancestors originally lost the ancient kingdom when the dwarves of old dug too greedily in the earth looking for starsilver and unleashed a terrible demon called a Gargon, that met its fate in a battle on a bridge that spans a bottomless crevasse. Yes, yes, it is all things we have seen before.

Even the entrance into Kraggen-Cor is lifted right from Tolkien. The ancient dwarven gate is on the side of a mountain and borders a deep and brooding lake filled with evil. Inside the lake is the Kraken-Ward, a hundred-tentacled thing that snatches dwarves up by the dozen and kills them swiftly with its powerful arms. You might ask, "How on earth did this thing get published?"

Well...it's actually good. You know, like Fifty Shades of Grey is just Twilight fan fiction, and it's actually pretty decent? The writing is as good as anything I'd read of Tolkien. And the author, though he lifts a ton from Tolkien, branches off on his own. For one, you get to spend a lot of time in Kraggen-Cor with a band that's making its way toward the gate next to the mire from the other side. Their trek through the endless dark of the ancient Dwarven Kingdom is filled with peril and discovery. Additionally, the author deals with threats in detail, satisfying a lot of questions that go unanswered in Tolkien's tale. For example, the author explains that this squid monster got to the lake because a long time ago, a powerful evil sorcerer named Modru (think Sauron) had a dragon snatch it from the ocean and drop it in the lake to stand guard over the West door so that his evil forces could rule in Kraggen-Cor.

And the dwarf army also deals with the squid monster by breaking the artificial dam that is responsible for the lake in the first place (using their stonecunning and tools), and once the water flows out, out flows the monster to crash onto the bottom of the cliff. Then they hurl boulders down on top of it until they crush it to death. I thought that was a rather nifty and clever solution.

So here's the thing: I think there's value in fan fiction. I wouldn't have said this twenty years ago, because I was caught up in youthful snobbery believing (still) that the only people who deserve to get published are people with original ideas. But I've let go of that nonsense, realizing that publishing is just a business, and decisions on what deserves the light of day and what doesn't all seems to boil down to money. Educated liberals would probably decry me of this opinion, but in doing so I think they are wrong. I rather enjoyed Dennis McKiernan's fan service to Tolkien, and I thought his characters were very well-developed, as was all the Dwarvish language he went to the trouble of mapping out in an appendix to the series. I think we can spend too much time and effort looking down our noses at a piece of art and decrying it as a "knock off," without appreciating the fine nuances that make it sparkle in ways that the original did not. And that's all I have to say on that.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

What are the Great Old Ones and why do they make such good fictional villains?

There are a lot of fictional properties that contain lore about the Great Old ones, and all of them go back to H.P. Lovecraft's creations in his rather "unreadable" horror fiction. I say "unreadable" because there's almost no dialogue. Reading them is like reading a first hand account of events but with narrators describing things in terms that no one alive today would use. They are going to appear in the last season of Sabrina on Netflix (assumedly) in force, and it seems like a very good choice as the whole Satan storyline seems to be a bit played out. Additionally, they are in the Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition game as the power behind the warlock class, they are in movies like Hellboy and the Cloverfield franchise (loosely), they definitely inspired The Mist (a Stephen King story), and they make their rounds in online memes during political season with "Why vote for the lesser evil? Cthulhu (insert date)." I could probably name a dozen other times the Great Old Ones either directly inspire something in a story or directly contribute to it. HBO is about to add a new series called Lovecraft Country, which will (no doubt) have Great Old Ones in it. So, I'm here to ask and perhaps answer the question: what are the Great Old Ones and why do they make such good fictional villains?

The Great Old Ones are a group of unique, malignant beings of great power created by H.P. Lovecraft. They reside in various locations on Earth, and they once presided over the planet as gods and rulers. They go by strange-sounding names like Azathoth, Shub-Niggurath, and Cthulhu. In nearly all of the stories featuring Great Old Ones, there's a common theme of human insignificance and cultists. There are always cultists.

These are people who have noticed that there is actual, physical proof of one of these things existing, which makes them unique as the only godlike figures with definite presence behind them. The cultists seem to not realize that these gods of the world have no good side at all, and they stumble over themselves to get on the good side of the "true religion" as fast as they can. And then there's usually the subject of timing, which mostly has been set in the 1930's, but has found success in modern and future timelines as well. Here's a bit on that "timing" part from the tabletop roleplaying game, The Call of Cthulhu:
"When the stars were right, They could plunge from world to world through the sky; but when the stars were wrong, They could not live. But although They no longer lived, They would never really die. They all lay in stone houses in Their great city of R’lyeh, preserved by the spells of mighty Cthulhu for a glorious resurrection when the stars and the earth might once more be ready for Them. But at that time some force from outside must serve to liberate Their bodies. The spells that preserved Them intact likewise prevented Them from making an initial move, and They could only lie awake in the dark and think whilst uncounted millions of years rolled by. They knew all that was occurring in the universe, but Their mode of speech was transmitted thought. Even now They talked in Their tombs. When, after infinities of chaos, the first men came, the Great Old Ones spoke to the sensitive among them by moulding their dreams; for only thus could Their language reach the fleshly minds of mammals...

That cult would never die till the stars came right again, and the secret priests would take great Cthulhu from His tomb to revive His subjects and resume His rule of earth."
So why do they make good villains? Rather, why do people (authors and writers) mine Lovecraft's mythos for villains to insert into fantastical horror fiction? I think the answer is a bit...complicated. For one, they are completely invincible in comparison to humanity, so as far as a threat goes, it's always high-stakes (which makes for great storytelling). Second, their alien nature is so utterly bizarre that it creates madness in all who gaze upon them. This is also a great storytelling hook. Who hasn't been entranced by the rantings and ravings of a mad person in a fictional story? Finally, Lovecraft himself said something about them which gives a clue as to why they are great villains. He said that the Great Old Ones were meant to be amoral rather than malicious. This is in keeping with his belief that the universe itself was alien and uncaring, which makes them in many ways "unknowable." Whereas in the figures of Satan or in undead, we may see something familiar, I think that the horror of the Great Old Ones is increased because they are unlike anything we can imagine. The closest thing might be something we see in the Prometheus movies, but even that (I think) falls far short of the apocalyptic awfulness of the Great Old Ones.

Monday, July 27, 2020

When I heard Olivia de Havilland passed this weekend I was astonished by the many things that had happened during her long lifetime.

Olivia de Havilland in 2018. She was already 102. Wow!
Olivia de Havilland was an interesting person. And I don't mean "interesting" in the all-encompassing nothing-burger of its modern definition, where it can literally mean anything and define nothing other than, "That was...interesting." No, I mean "interesting" in the sense that the life she lived, the times in which she lived it, and the people she knew...are all fascinating to a person like me. She certainly was touched and shaped by Hollywood, and then did a turn in shaping its future in ways that surprised everyone. There's nothing I can really say about her that isn't already known or wasn't covered by some obituary like the one in The New York Times. All that I can say about her is that she was a great entertainer, and she brought joy into my life when I saw a captivating performance brought to life by her acting ability.

I don't come from the generation that was her intended audience. Far from it, Gone With The Wind was already forty years old by the time I saw it. When watching it for the first time, I was captivated by the great Hollywood beauty of Vivien Leigh, who was dead before I was even born. Vivien seized the screen in just about every role I ever saw her play, and I thought she was a greater beauty in her prime than Elizabeth Taylor, whom my parents spoke of in reverential tones when discussing film stars. I didn't originally think that Olivia de Havilland was pretty, but I realized once I'd grown older and understood things better, that this was intentional because the character of Melanie Wilkes is a bit of a milquetoast with none of the strength of the character, Scarlett O'Hara.

But even forty years after Gone With the Wind was released, the world was still a much slower place. I may work on a computer now, and I don't consider myself "old" by any means. However, I still remember having to turn a dial to change a television set and feeling fortunate that my television set could get channels 12 and 13, which showed a lot of Godzilla movies that I liked. The world was still slow enough that old stars from the forties were still household names, and entertainment didn't come at you from streaming sources that are so plentiful it's like taking a sip of water from a firehose.

I am kind of awed not only by the quality of de Havilland's life, but by the length and span of it. My mother was still a child when Olivia de Havilland was being filmed as Melanie Wilkes, and Ms. de Havilland outlived my mother by four years (and my mom was an old person when she died)! Her co-star Vivien Leigh, died in 1967. Ms. de Havilland outlived the famous Scarlett actress by more than five decades. I think that's rather incredible, and a tribute to good genetics, healthcare, and probably some luck to boot. In fact, she seemed so out of place in my mind when I realized that Olivia de Havilland was still alive (I think Liz told me about it a few years ago in a comment on my blog). Olivia was still alive in a world that had so completely transformed, seeing not only the rise of fascism in America (from Paris), but a worldwide pandemic, and a thousand other things. If anything, knowing this fact about this Hollywood legend was like contemplating an anachronism: a person who could have told you (until this weekend) of personal conversations with the likes of Judy Garland, Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, and the list goes on and on.

Anyway, it's a fascinating thing to think on, this connectivity of the past to the present. I can't help that with her passing, there's a kind of Golden Age "Instagram" that has also left the world. A repository, if you will, of vignettes...candid moments...and personal revelations of other artists who left their work for us to appreciate, and who (in time) will be all but forgotten save for the lasting pieces of entertainment that we can watch, and hence appreciate the characters they portrayed. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

Can We Have a Conversation about the Having Conversations Industrial Complex?

Image taken from Jezebel and this article that talks about the Having Conversations Industrial Complex
Yesterday, I learned a new term. It is called the "Having Conversations Industrial Complex." The phrasing is quite clever, as it plays on Eisenhower's farewell address in which he talked about the "Military-Industrial Complex."

Anyway, the "Having Conversations Industrial Complex" is defined as thus:
"A loose assemblage of professional speakers, non-profit organizations, astroturfed activists, diversity consultants, academic advisory boards, panelists, and politicians who are paid to generate a "conversation" that doesn't need to show tangible results. The only role is to generate more conversations while those on a frontline are injured, arrested, and labeled as "terrorists." The Having Conversations Industrial Complex pushes people and projects through a revolving door of empty promises, acting as agents of reformism."
I want to be really clear when I say that a lot of people would like things to be different in our country. I also still think that conversations about how to resolve problems are necessary. However, action and work are hard for two reasons that I think are honest and very uncomfortable truths

The first is that a lot of Americans don't like to work. They like to sit back and point out things for other people to do. I'm not going to use the term lazy, but I've seen people unable to manage the decay in their own homes much less start a revolution or hold people accountable. And these aren't disabled people. Rather, they are entitled, and they just want to play all the time. They don't think they should have to get their hands dirty, because they never have had to do this in the past. I know lots of adults who run a car into the ground rather than do the maintenance to keep it going, who drive around with cracked windshields because they don't want to have to do the work to get it replaced (even if it is free because of insurance), and who don't want to clean up after themselves so they leave litter in public parks. These are the people who plague social media with what I call "Awareness porn." They try to make people "aware" of what's going on in the hopes that somebody will step up to do the work. It never occurs to them that the "somebody" is the person in the mirror.

The second uncomfortable truth is that many Americans are unaware of their lack of power. In the past, Americans could ask for something and they usually got it. Things were civil and parceled out, and wants and needs seemed to be addressed. That world is gone, but few know it yet. Faced with this reality that comes in the form of asking for things and being repeatedly traumatized by the words "No, you aren't going to get that, and I don't care how you feel about that!" many are just floundering like a gasping fish on a dock. I see the concept of "power" in modern America as a choice, but it is also binary. You either have it or you don't. If you don't have it, that's okay. But let's be honest and admit that we are helpless to affect change (for whatever reason). A person that taps out and says, "I'm not going to do the work to affect change" may not be what others (who desire change) want to hear, but I still think that's okay. You do you, and that kind of thing. It's like Eugene on The Walking Dead admitting to his cowardice (so shameful, right?), which was honest but true (I loved that character by the way). But sitting around creating work for others by making them "Aware" of the jobs that need doing and acting as a "supervisor" is (I don't think) very helpful other than to make you feel like you are doing something, when in fact you are doing nothing. Nobody asked for a supervisor, and yet there are millions of them on Facebook trying to make people "aware of the injustice." Honestly, you'd have to be blind to not see it. But I suppose they all feel like they are doing something. All I see is that they are doing nothing.

Going back to my discussion on "power is binary" in the previous paragraph, the reason I say that the concept of power in America is binary (and a choice) is because we all (technically) could flip the switch and say, "It's time to take this matter into our own hands." But what does this look like? Protesting? Yes, that's a part of it. Riots? That too. This is where violence comes in...revolution...civil war. Most people are unwilling to go there (as am I). And I think it's perfectly okay to want to just sit and do nothing and be honest about it. For me, I've adopted a strategy of realizing that the oppressors are going to continue the abuse and as I've chosen to do nothing other than peacefully vote and see if an election brings about change, I'm powerless to affect real and sudden change. Therefore, I will adjust my life accordingly and try to build a life as best as I can around the continuing abuses going on around me. I think that's okay too.

When there's no choice but to live in the swamp, one does their best to at least pick out the areas that will cause the least distress, right? However, there's some strange narcissism and shaming that is happening with the people who are engaged in "Awareness Porn." As I stated earlier, they are actually doing nothing, but they feel like they are doing something. And that feeling that they are doing something, is making some of them "shame" those who are honest about doing nothing and very transparent about it. They can do this, because they think that they are doing something. "I'm out here working so why aren't you?" But from my perspective I'm like, "Uh...you haven't done real work in ten years. Let's be honest, here." In other words, on paper, the two individuals are doing the same thing. They are both doing "nothing" only one is sharing posts on Facebook waiting for "someone" to do "something" because they can't be bothered to do anything about the injustice they are pointing out...and the other is watching Netflix. Personally, I think the one watching Netflix is making the wiser choice, and it's overall better for the person's mental health.

It is for these two reasons that bringing about actual change is really hard, and why all of us just take our turn on the revolving carousel labeled with "The Having Conversations Industrial Complex." How long has our society been talking about sexual assault? The 1970's? What about racism? a hundred years? We live in a polarized country. People chant "we need justice," but what does that look like in a democracy where everyone's opinion of justice is different? Let's also be honest about one other thing: revolution isn't happening in any form that I see. But if I'm wrong (which does happen), it will result in a violent civil war that will shake out far worse for minorities than the current status quo (in all likelihood). That's just how I see it.

Liberals on my Facebook feed are tough talkers. "The time for talking is over!" and "This is unacceptable!" with nothing to back it up. Why? Power is binary and they have chosen to absolve themselves of doing the work that needs to be done, and that's okay. I've made that choice too. I'm a pretty non-revolutionary person by nature, so I'm not advocating throwing up the barricades. I also am skeptical of people whose rhetoric seems to demand a military (or paramilitary, or revolutionary terrorist) campaign who make no effort to actually prepare or train or back up their rhetoric in any way. Does anyone seriously think that progressives would win a civil conflict? I don't. So strongly worded diatribes are gonna have to suffice, while the oppressors repeatedly oppress and ignore boundaries. This is what happens when consequences for actions are absent.

So what is left? I think it is summed up in this message that I got from twitter that was retweeted thousands of times:
"A Woman of a Certain Age (user) wrote: 'I just broke down sobbing. I have never done this before. I think I am at my limit. How much more corruption, collusion, racketeering, conspiracy, treason, abuse of power, bribery, embezzlement must we take before someone does something? I don't want to live here any longer.'
And that's just the thing: "...before someone does something?" Not me...just...someone. It's America in a nutshell once again pointing out the terrible and then passing the buck. This is why many of us are screwed.