Wednesday, July 1, 2020

For this month's IWSG I'm answering a question about the future of publishing.

For once, time seems to be not moving as fast as I used to think it did. Thanks, Covid-19. But even if it does seem slower now, the first Wednesday of every month still rolls around. It's now July 1st, and it's time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group.

Here's the purpose of that blogfest: to share and encourage other writers by providing a safe place to discuss our insecurities. That being said, many of us choose to answer the monthly question that our co-hosts come up with. If this is something that interests you, please head on over to this place and sign up.

July 1st question: There have been many industry changes in the last decade, so what are some changes you would like to see happen in the next decade?

Based on what I've observed Michael J. Sullivan doing with his Kickstarters, I predict that traditional authors (he was one of these) will go hybrid. Meaning that they will publish some of a series with the Big Six, and the remainder of a series by going self-publishing. The reason? Money. Michael J. Sullivan has probably made half a million dollars in the last year doing the self-publishing thing, and I think that's really damn good. I also don't think it will slack off. I think he's probably established himself enough, and he's got enough of a following, that this will be his income in perpetuity. 

I also think that self-publishing is going to be where people are making the most beautiful print books. I'm talking all the works with the fancy paper and the gorgeous artwork and the things that previously seemed untenable without a big publishing house. The reason? Photoshop is making it super easy to create stunning covers and places like Lulu are offering publishing options wherein a final product is indistinguishable from a professionally done manuscript. Additionally, the price is going to keep falling on being able to do this as artists are a dime a dozen online and the price of producing print has become super affordable.

Anyway, those are the changes that I think are coming down the pipe. I can't wait to read some of yours. Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, June 29, 2020

You should take a few minutes from your Monday to appreciate Mark Hamill singing a country song about King Kong's dong.

In these really strange times, Mark Hamill singing a country song about King Kong's dong size seemed to capture a rather perfect moment in time. So, I'm linking it below for your enjoyment. It really is worth a watch, if anything, because it's hilarious. Have a Happy Monday.

Friday, June 26, 2020

I should have seen Mulan by now. I wish times were different.

Without much to write about, I started to think about the summer movies that I would have seen by now and pick out one that (I think) I would have really enjoyed. That movie is Disney's Mulan. The reasons I was excited to see it were because I enjoyed the original story, and I tend to gravitate toward things with Asian themes to them (as I'm half-Asian). From the preview trailers that I've seen of the movie, it looked fantastic with the usual high production values from Disney and cinematography which feels epic in its lavish portrayal of China.

Regarding this kind of thing, we probably can thank many actual Chinese directors for this particular take on China. I can think of Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and Curse of the Golden Flower to name a few off the top of my head, as well as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Curse of the Golden Flower in particular is a tragic tale that sticks in my memory, because the final fate of one of the royals in that show is quite gruesome in its telling. Not that Disney's Mulan will have any gruesomeness to it, but it does seem to be borrowing heavily from the tradition of presenting China in bold color and fantastical beauty.

I am a little disappointed that there won't be a talking dragon called Mu-Shu being played by Eddie Murphy. However, I'm looking forward to seeing how they avoid that character in favor of something else that might seem to be a better fit in a movie with live actors.

Are any of you lamenting the absent summer movies? Are there any in particular that you wish you could have seen by now? These are interesting times, indeed.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Stargirl is a fantastic show and you can watch it on the CW every week.

I've got to say that I'm about six episodes into the new CW show, Stargirl, and I absolutely love it. Unlike some of the other CW offerings, the drama between angsty characters is a lot more subdued. For example, there's less of things like Barry Allen (The Flash) moping around with regard to his relationship with Iris and being all moody about how only he can do this thing (and then it turns out that he actually doesn't need to do that, because...you know...there is no "I" in team). But even more than cutting some of the soap opera out of this thing, it has lots of superhero action that I crave from a show, and it's pretty light-hearted giving us mustache twirling villains that seem way more aligned with all the best things I love about Legends of Tomorrow. In other words, it doesn't ever take itself too seriously.

It also has a strange kind of Spielberg-esque circa 1980's vibe to it that reminds me of the best parts I enjoyed from E.T. and other movies of similar bent. I'm not exactly sure how they are accomplishing this, but I do like it. Maybe it's the small town setting that does it, but Smallville also had a small town setting and I didn't get the same feel from it as I do from Stargirl. I'm really liking that Stargirl is putting together a new JSA, and I cannot wait to finally see Doctor Fate in action. He was an incredibly interesting character, and the full-helmeted Doctor Fate was an extremely powerful sorcerer (so that should be a lot of fun).

I have heard that the reason this show feels different is because it comes from DC Universe. If so, then that does make sense. The DC Universe shows I have watched thus far, like Doom Patrol and Titans all had higher production values (I think) than the CW did. Their special effects also looked better, so I guess I'm saying that it looks and feels cinematic. I wonder if it will crossover with the other DC universe shows. I'd love to see Titans and Doom Patrol crossovers.

Is anyone else impressed with the show?

Monday, June 22, 2020

Dungeons and Dragons is making some big changes to make its game more inclusive and diverse.

Dungeons & Dragons is a game I play, and it's also making some interesting changes in its current 5th edition roleplaying game to modernize it for today's world. In an announcement they made on Juneteenth, they hinted at no longer providing racial bonuses for people to pick certain races over others in making their characters. I never really thought of this as racism, but there you go. And then they're going to overhaul the Drow, which are a race of evil elves who have black skin. I've thought the Drow seemed problematic for a long time, and even suggested that people should never cosplay as a Drow because that could be construed as blackface. But sometimes you did see someone do it, and I don't think they were aware that the image might be offensive to some.

Another thing they are doing is overhauling monster races like orks and hobgoblins who typically have been depicted as having darker skin tones. I guess that is going to change, as well as their behavior. In other words, orks are not always evil, and there's going to be a move to make them more of a society that could actually exist. I know in the current D&D game I'm running for friends, I have a couple of goblins I've cast as sanitation workers and they smell like hot garbage. But after reading Wizard's post (Wizards of the Coast is the owner of the brand Dungeons & Dragons), I'm wondering if I'm not being diverse enough in my depiction of sanitation workers in this fictional world. Goblins just seemed easy to pick on. And there's a kind of "stereotype" built around exactly "what is a goblin?"

To be honest, these were always questions I had in my mind when I watched something like The Lord of the Rings, or read books with these kinds of monsters in them. Anyone who is a fan of The Lord of the Rings wonders how the orks in and around Mordor can survive. There's nothing to eat there. It's all rocks strewn over with ash and sulfurous fumes, etc. Basically, it's a real hellscape. Yet there are tens of thousands of these creatures just milling around, obviously finding water somewhere, though I don't think venturing out from behind the Black Gate to find food and water would necessarily support a society. Maybe Barad-Dur had mushroom farms underneath it or something like that.

And then they're going to take a hard look at the Vistani, which are a people in a famous Ravenloft module who have all of the gypsy stereotypes. I guess they will be consulting with (or already have consulted with) a cultural expert on gypsies so that they can get it right.

And there's another part of me that wonders if all the "woke"-ness goes too far with the fantasy genre. Look, I get it that WOTC needs to make money and survive as a business, so they have a vested interest in making fictional and fantasy worlds as diverse and inclusive as possible. But in figuring out that goblins or orks couldn't actually exist if they didn't farm and have children and attend P.T.A. meetings kind of takes all the magic out of the fantasy. I say that because the more and more detail we put into fictional worlds moves the slider toward the real world. In other words, if we keep sliding things toward "more realism" and answering questions like, "how exactly does this work" and "let's figure out everything"...well...what you end up with pretty much resembles our world. And at that point, why play a game? You could just live your life.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how the makers of D&D thread the needle and make their game more inclusive. Good fantasy games tend to need bad guys, and when you remove things like orks and goblins and Drow from being good bad guys, it probably means that there will be some kind of "other monster" that is created with a made-up name which will be the new bad guy for a while. And if that's all people are doing (shifting the bad guy to something else), I suppose it may work in some ways. However, I'll always wonder if this new bad guy isn't the same thing as the old one, only with a different name (because using the old bad guy became problematic with regard to identity politics).

Friday, June 19, 2020

This year Jaws turns 45 and I think it's become an allegory for modern life in the United States.

Jaws turns 45 this year, and I thought I'd bring up things that the story profoundly illustrates. They are unchanging and enduring with regard to the way humans treat each other.

The corrupt money-grubbing Mayor (Larry Vaughn) is every Republican in Congress, and he's President Trump in a nutshell. "Let's open the beach...we can still save July 4th!" "It's the economy that's important!" The parallels between Covid 19 endangering and killing people seems remarkably similar to the shark swimming around eating people. Another one of his quotes that I love is, "Martin, It's all psychological. You yell 'barracuda,' everybody says, 'Huh? What?' You yell 'Shark,' and we've got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July." This is an acknowledgment of the power of gaslighting people, and it's happening every day with our current administration.

There's also the time when Sherriff Martin Brody says, "I can do anything, I'm the chief of police." It's a great line and clearly a joke. Martin's been drinking a lot, because he's incredibly frustrated and worried about his own family and the citizens who live on Amity Island. He feels the weight of his decisions and is troubled by the death of Alex Kintner, because he didn't have enough guts to close the beach. And he doesn't know if they actually caught the shark. When taken into 2020 context though, the quote takes on another level of meaning that they knew about even back then: that cops (when push comes to shove) basically feel like they are not accountable to anyone. To put it another way, society does not (often) visit consequences on law enforcement officers. It's as true in 1975 as it is in 2020 America.

Ignoring science experts--this was a thing in the movie and it's still a thing today. The mayor in the film prefers to use "cheap" solutions to try and get the shark. None of them work, but he gaslights everyone into believing that the beaches are safe. The science expert in the movie is named Hooper (played brilliantly by Richard Dreyfuss) and he knows that the shark is still out there. He even explains to the mayor very passionately that he pulled a tooth the size of a shot glass out of the bottom of Ben Gardner's fishing boat, but got spooked and dropped it. The mayor instantly seizes on this with, "So you don't have the tooth?" and then uses this lack of evidence to dismiss Hooper utterly and completely.

Jaws is a great story. But more than that, it has become (in the decades that followed its release), an allegory that reveals much about human behavior in modern America.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Adults make decisions and so do children but is one actually any better than the other?

One of the realizations of becoming and being an adult has been the realization that nearly every decision humans make from childhood to adulthood can be measured as awful if you look at it from a certain point of view. And it's interesting that society has drawn a line in the sand, the age of eighteen, as the point where a person will now own all the terrible and awful decisions that they make.

A recent opinion piece from the New York Times observes that moderates and those with liberal views got shipwrecked the morning after the 2016 election. We were washed up half-naked on a cruel and hostile strand of beach, where people with disabilities are mocked, immigrants are reviled, grabbing women by their private parts is perfectly fine if you are a celebrity, etc. On this island, unemployment is at its highest since the Great Depression, 100,000 plus Americans are dead, the president has been impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of congress, and the president has made an estimated 18,000 lies and misleading claims to the citizens of the country. The worst of it is that a shockingly large part of the president's core supporters loves this island we are marooned on just fine. It allows white men wearing camouflage to bear assault rifles to occupy the Michigan State House with Hitler's mustache scrawled on pictures of the governor, and it allows adults to indulge in their most barbaric selves.

And I want to point out my own use of the word "adult" there, because in any other context, a person under the age of 18 would just be dismissed as making a bad decision or a psychologist might say, "Their brain is not fully developed which prevents them from recognizing that the actions they take are terrible." And that made-up statement I could see a fictional psychologist (in my head) saying is biased toward liberalism. To clarify, it's only terrible because it's terrible to those of liberal views. To those with conservative views, the person brandishing the weapon and storming Michigan's House is a hero worth celebrating. Put another way, is a pedophile actually doing something awful when the only ones judging the decision are fellow pedophiles? Is a murderer actually doing something awful when the only ones around are other murderers? Do you see what I'm getting at? Where and what one is surrounded by matters a great deal.

So what then makes a decision terrible or good? I'm beginning to think that there are no terrible and no praise worthy (read as good) decisions. The good and the bad are determined by what goes against the norms of society. Society is kind of like a civilized mob or like those birds that all change direction at the same time in the sky...it has a flow to it. It moves in one direction or another with regard to things that I'm having a difficult time trying to nail down in my head. But there is a flow to it. In a society like ours that is deeply divided so that half the country is flowing in an entirely different pattern than the other half, finding out if a decision is good or bad seems to come down to location, location, location. It's also apparent to me that getting these patterns to merge with each other is not going to happen. If I were a blacksmith, I'd say that two different metals are not going to join together unless they are white hot and forced to do so through violence. What does white hot look like in America? You don't want to know...but it's happened only one time before in our much "storied" history.

If there is a point to my essay here, I think it is this: all decisions are bad and all decisions are good depending on where you stand morally, regardless of age. And what you use as a moral compass is going to depend on location, location, location. Adults are proving to make the same disastrous decisions that children make (or the same good ones), and age (to me) does not appear to be a factor. As Forrest Gump once said, "Stupid is as stupid does." Forrest never made a distinction regarding age, which ends up being kind of brilliant if you stop and think about it.

So what is society then? In my opinion, the whole of society is a made-up construct...a house of cards...and that includes all of our laws and the other things that millions of people believe in. It's weird to see it in this light, but the wars going on in our streets, the violence between cops and protestors, the mysterious hangings of black men in California, and the list goes on and on...is making cracks in the smoke and mirrors that (I think) was put in place to keep people like me from seeing things as they truly are. I'm now seeing the wizard behind the curtain who is pulling all the levers. Instead of having a kind of reverence for the law and its enforcers, now I see that some dude in the past just wrote that law, and they said all of us should abide by it. And that other dude shot and killed this other man because he actually felt like doing that, and he has some kind of immunity because some other dude said he was immune. Like...what the hell? Is this what life really is? People have just been making up stuff for centuries and expecting others to live by it? Yes...that's exactly what has been going on. And, it's dizzying.

That's the overall effect I'm experiencing having been "marooned" on this desert island with the "President of the Flies" and where barbarity begins with the line, "You are not the boss of me," and just degrades to everyone saying, "I do what I want!" It strikes me as telling that the horrible decisions a child makes draws ire and condemnation from adults, when the same horrible decisions put into action by adults just makes people wring their hands in helplessness. But then again...maybe they are only horrible to me because of where I stand morally. There are others who clap and celebrate the decisions, because to them...they are beautiful and good. Maybe the demarcation line of the eighteenth birthday is just secretly a societal agreement with parents that "You are allowed to brainwash your child to whatever things you believe in up to this point. If it hasn't set in by then, they are free to pursue other things." That just sounds grotesque, doesn't it?

Well, maybe to some of us it does. Thoughts?

Monday, June 15, 2020

Was Game of Thrones' ending so bad that it killed off other fantasy projects slated for movies and television?

A little over a year ago, Game of Thrones ended. Before it's final season, it was a cultural phenomenon that had millions of people talking about how it would end. When it did finally end, it was a huge dud, and there were lots of people that poured hate down upon it. My own opinion? Yeah...it was bad...like really awful. However, I was hoping that it's success would indicate that we'd see other fantasy projects on film and on television.

Now that it's a year later...I don't see anything. No one talks about Game of Thrones anymore (for obvious reasons). It is in the dustbin of history. But no one talks about anything else either. Whatever happened to that Amazon Lord of the Rings series? Nada...nothing. I heard there was going to be something done with Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. Nowadays, there's just crickets. There are no fantasy movies I can think of that are being greenlit. I'd heard rumors that maybe people were thinking of revisiting the Narnia stories, but again I've heard nothing more than that.

If Game of Thrones did irreparable harm to the fantasy genre (as it appears in film in any form) for the next fifty years, well...that kinda sucks. But I get it. A crash and burn of epic proportions tends to harm everything around it pretty badly. I just wish that the showrunners had realized that they had more of a responsibility in doing a good job with their intellectual property than just making a product for HBO. They should have thought about the lasting impact a terrible landing was going to make on the entire genre as a whole. But people don't tend to plan for the future very well. I guess that's why we can't have good things.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Can we discuss why J.K. Rowling feels it's necessary to weigh in on trans topics?

Look, I admire J.K. Rowling's story, and I know she's a hero to a lot of people out there. But I'm honestly flabbergasted as to why she feels the need to weigh in on any topics that don't have to do with Harry Potter or her other writings. Why on earth is she saying any of the stuff that she's said about transgender individuals? She could just keep her opinion to herself, and avoid media firestorms.

It's clear where she stands. It was clear some time ago even before this latest tweet about "people who menstruate" versus "having a word for that at one point in time." If you were that rich and that famous, would you sit around talking about those topics on twitter? I know I wouldn't. I don't talk on twitter much now. Well...and as of this writing...she has now posted an essay justifying her thoughts on this on her blog right HERE. Seriously, this is a complete mess.

So those few of you who read my blog still...please educate me in the comments. Why is J.K. doing this? Why do you think she needs to weigh in on the transgender debate? As far as I know, she has very little queer representation at all in her books, so why talk about it now?

Let's discuss, and have a good weekend. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

If you are looking for a distraction I'd recommend reading Diana Wynne Jones' Chrestomanci novels.

I'm in the midst of rediscovering some old Diana Wynne Jones novels. The ones I've read thus far are in the Chrestomanci line and they start with Charmed Life and The Magicians of Caprona. The thing I think I appreciate most about her books is how refreshingly original they seem to be. With the Chrestomanci books, she built a universe consisting of nine separate dimensions (and this happened all the way back in 1977). There was one copy of each person within each parallel dimension. The only exception to this was if a person was an enchanter. Then there was only one copy of that person that existed in all nine dimensions. However, that one person ended up having nine lives.

They are also told from the perspective of children, so yes...they are children's books. But they aren't afraid to paint children as utter monsters to each other. In the first book, Charmed Life, a girl is so utterly horrid to her little brother that she kills him three times over so that she can use powerful magic. Thinking of seeing those kinds of things today, especially in the way that Americans tend to worship and place children upon a pedestal, makes me cringe at the thought, double that if I were to try and market the book as a children's story and not a horror story.

And there's also the settings. Most traditional magic stories take place in some version of medieval Europe or England, or they take place in a modern world slightly removed. Diana Wynne Jones also borrows this technique, but in the case of the Magicians of Caprona, she places the story squarely in a town in Italy (Caprona) which is at war with its neighbor city states. The magicians of Caprona are two Italian families constantly bickering with one another, and piling slight upon slight for so long that neither of them is correct on what originally set them at each other's throats.

You might guess correctly that a resolution to all of that fighting and a new found respect for one another is in the pages of the tale, which is lovingly told through the perspectives of children growing up in a world where they are taught to hate the other family, and to marry for magic first and love second.

Anyway, if you are looking for a distraction, I would recommend taking a look at these books. They aren't great literature, but they are fun, and there are few books that so easily stand on their own like these ones do. Yes, all authors borrow from one another. But whereas a lot of fantasy fiction is so clearly derivative of Tolkien and/or greats like Tad Williams or George R.R. Martin that they resemble fan fiction...the Chrestomanci novels have enough uniqueness to them that they aren't a fan fiction of any kind. They're just good fiction.

Monday, June 8, 2020

It feels weird that the first season of Batwoman is now irrelevant other than as an art piece for Ruby Rose's talent.

It feels strange to me that the first season of Batwoman, starring Ruby Rose, who did a great job with the character, is now done and there isn't going to be any more. If you aren't following news regarding this, Ruby Rose decided to retire from the character after just one season. And the showrunner has decided to just reboot everything. So the second season won't have anything to do with the first at all. It will be a different setup and a different villain and an entirely different story. They didn't want to recast Batwoman and just continue with the story that had some dangling threads. So it very much is kinda like the one season of Birds of Prey that happened twenty years ago when the CW used to be the WB. It's a one and done piece, and the first season of Batwoman is now just a historic art piece to showcase Ruby Rose's talent.

Of course, the devil will be in the details and the execution. I'm trying to stay positive about this, as I did enjoy watching Batwoman. Maybe there's ways that an entire reboot after season one could be great. And I don't know at all why Ruby Rose left. But I can imagine that replacing Ruby Rose with someone that ticks all of the boxes for the character of Kate Kane (a white queer woman who looks natural with red hair and has experience in action roles, can act, and is affordable on the CW's budget) is probably kind of hard. Making it a new character means that they can fudge a little on the character's details and maybe find someone that will work.

Ah well, it's not like 2020 didn't suck already. Cheers, y'all.


Friday, June 5, 2020

I will be sad if movie theaters do not survive Covid 19.

I love movie theaters. I love going to the movies, getting snacks, obtaining prized seats at the local IMAX to be blown away by a four story screen and digital surround. I love movie theater 3D, and eating ice cream in the cool dark while I know that outside it is sweltering and sunny. These are memories I have of movie theaters, and quite simply...I love them.

News broke yesterday that AMC theaters is probably not going to survive Covid. They are making essentially zero dollars during the pandemic, and they won't be able to open "business as usual" when all the green lights are go. And it also remains to be seen if even they were allowed to open "business as usual" if anyone would ever return to the theater in large enough numbers for them not to go extinct.

This is heartbreaking on many levels for me. I love movies, but I also know the realities of capitalism in America. It is difficult to make it in our country, because greed has continually increased rent and land values to a point that the only way a business can be successful is if they are churning money hand over fist. I am continually surprised at how expensive it is to live in the United States, but the "heat" has been turned up so much on just about everyone...that the only way anyone is fine is if things are firing at 100%. That's great if you can keep up the pace, day after day, week after week, year after year.

When you can't keep up that pace...it feels weird that you just go extinct. That things collapse so readily and handily that you just cannot survive. Why did the people that came before me think that this was okay to do? Why did our elders and people who are no longer around who laid the foundations of this country come to the conclusion that a one-bedroom apartment in a city should cost $2300 a month? Why do small businesses have to pay $40,000 a month for renting a space? Like...why is that a thing?

I look at headlines at the cost of things and have many WTF moments. To put California's power lines underground to help with wildfires would cost $243 billion dollars.  Seriously? Why is it that expensive. Why does it cost $243 billion dollars to bury power lines? I don't get it. The scale of everything just seems out of control. Anything that breaks down in my house always costs at least $1,000.00 unless you do it yourself. My family pays the nurse who takes care of my father $1200 a week. He gets great care and he deserves it, but holy crap is that expensive. People seem to be completely out of touch with how much things cost.

A wheelchair ramp made of aluminum for my friend's house was $3,500.00 for ten feet with a rail. To fix the head gasket in my Ford Pickup and to correct broken seals around the transmission cost me $3,000.00. I paid it, but I was left thinking...why is everything so expensive?

Who are the people who can keep up with this kind of pace at how fast bills come at you fast and hard? People are going to fall off this treadmill. It isn't sustainable. The fact that we are losing art institutions like movie theaters is just a canary in the coal mine. In my opinion, we have raised the cost of living and doing business in the United States to toxic levels. I guess we shall see soon enough how it all turns out in a post-pandemic world.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

I got nothin' for this month's Insecure Writer's Support Group question.

Today is Wednesday, June 3rd, and it's time for a summer Insecure Writer's Support Group post. If you haven't heard of this blogfest, you can go HERE and sign up. Here's a brief rundown:

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!

Here is the June question: Writers have secrets! What are one or two of yours, something readers would never know from your work?

Hmm. I don't think I have any real secrets. I think I'm a little on the autism spectrum so basically whatever is in my mind I kind of blurt out. Additionally, as I've gotten older, my friends have winnowed down to just a small handful, and they all have significant others, so I only really see them on social occasions like playing cards or for a small dinner party and then (sometimes) a boardgame. So, I don't have any juicy gossip on anyone. Since I'm pretty transparent myself with regard to just about everything from sexuality to what I like to read to what I watch and to what I eat...I'm kind of drawing a blank. I suppose I am secretly bothered by a few patches of snow mold that left brown areas in my lawn. I figure I'll do something about it at some point, but I'm not in any hurry to do so. I'm also kind of (secretly I guess) enjoying the lockdown because I'm an introvert and there's no FOMO (fear of missing out) since there's nothing else to do.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by!


Monday, June 1, 2020

I'm in awe of Michael J. Sullivan's book production team.

This cover art is pretty darn amazing. It's like all the covers in this series.
I'm in awe of Michael J. Sullivan's book production team. If you don't know, Michael J. Sullivan is a highly successful fantasy author that writes good books. I'm a fan. I've read all of his Royce and Hadrian buddy stories, and lately his efforts have been on piecing together the epic tale of the Legend of the First Empire. It starts with the Age of Myth. I'm currently about to read Age of Legend, which is the fourth book in the series (I think there are two more after that). They are all about six-hundred or so pages, tightly written, and essentially perfect with no visible spelling or punctuation errors that I can see anywhere. And they are actually higher quality print books than you can usually buy from the major publishers.

Sullivan was traditionally published by one of the Big Six, and I think he parted ways with them because he makes more money by doing so. That's not to say that anyone could do this. Rather, what I'm saying is that he (specifically) does this extremely well. I always participate in his kickstarters and I haven't seen one that ran for less than a month that didn't go over $100,000 in backers, which is kind of incredible. They also hit The New York Times bestsellers, etc. All the usual stuff you'd expect from a major publisher. Only, it's just him, his wife, and some employees that are essentially friends doing all the work.

The print in these books is incredible. The paper is super high quality, the cover art is stunning, the book jackets are the best in the business, and there's even foil imprints on covers behind the book jackets as well as the fancy curlicues you see at the top of chapter heads. It's kind of ridiculous. I never thought such a small operation could produce products like these. He signs all of them, and you get all the nitty gritty details in their email blasts.

For example, his wife (who does a ton of the kickstarter stuff) sets up the kickstarters in the most professional way I can imagine. They have totes you can buy and other add ons. They have an actual composer writing original music for the series, and it's basically the same quality as you'd get from Alan Silvestri or some other film composer. Imagine having someone compose music for your books...I can't even think of how I'd go about finding someone to do that. They've got voice actors to do the audiobooks. I haven't listened to any, but if it's like anything else he's doing then it's the best in the business.

In one of the email blasts, his wife talked about how they dealt with Covid and how she lived out of a trailer in their front yard for fourteen days. And then to do the book signings they rent out an actual warehouse where the books are brought in by forklift so that Michael can start signing them, and then they have a table set up to package and put shipping labels on things. It's basically an assembly line similar to what I imagine car manufacturers have over in Detroit.

But again...it's like a super small operation...like three to four people with a couple of extras here and there.

On top of that, Michael Sullivan can apparently write a book in the same time that it takes me to use the restroom in the morning. Which also blows my mind. Each of the last three books in the Legends of the First Empire (again these are big books mind you) has had a kickstarter pick up within like a month of the last one ending. Seriously. My mind just cannot comprehend how prolific and fast this man is with writing his books.

If you get a chance, I recommend them highly. Quantity in this case is not indicative of quality, as the books and stories are amazing. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Kingdom is a smartly directed zombie series on Netflix that has a story to tell about income inequality amplifying all the bad parts of a pandemic.

I'm watching The Kingdom on Netflix, and it's a kind of zombie show that seems oddly prescient to our modern times. But first a few words. Unlike The Walking Dead, The Kingdom has no problem embracing it's plague of zombies and giving the watcher a reason as to why the disease is happening and how it spreads. The only thing new about it's particular take on other zombie shows is that it pins the phenomenon quite squarely on a mystical flower that grows in shady areas called the resurrection flower. And like other shows, it has another story to tell that is one layer deeper than the zombie thriller itself, which brings me to my first point: large scale governmental mismanagement is amplified by class inequities.

Sound familiar? Well it should. It's no big secret that the United States is really struggling with its Covid epidemic. And we see this too in The Kingdom. I think it's particularly telling that this drama is told through the lens of a South Korean historical epic. Just a few months ago, I watched Parasite win an Academy Award for Best Picture. That movie too had a lot to say about class inequities.

Like all zombie epics, it does have at its heart a story of the collapse of a society. It is set in a kingdom that has been plagued with famine and military defeats. Because the people revere their leader who is a king so much (and because they hate the crown prince)...when he dies...they turn to a soothsayer who can bring back the dead using a resurrection herb, which effectively keeps the crown prince from seizing power and bides them time to concoct their plans. Only...it's not so simple. What they create is an undead that animates when the temperature is cool enough (which is usually at night), and it has an insatiable taste for flesh. They keep it chained up in order to prevent the king from eating people the men in power don't want to get eaten. And pretty much the rest of the time, they "speak for the king" essentially seizing power in the realm for themselves.

In watching the show thus far (I'm at the beginning of season 2), I haven't quite put together how the zombie plague spread from the palace to the rest of the realm. I probably missed it somewhere. But that detail is not really all that important. The fact of the matter is that the plague does get out, and zombies pop up everywhere with the associated disease being extremely contagious. It honestly makes the contagious nature of any other disease in the world look like a complete joke. And the show doesn't hold back in basically saying that a rich person may have gotten the disease first, but it is the poor who ultimately bear the brunt of the disease. They have no place to escape the zombies which rip through them like a lawnmower through tall grass. Because there are so many poor, the problem soon becomes everyone's problem, and by then it is too late because a tsunami of running hungry zombies is not something any governmental system and military is capable of handling.

It's a strange kind of zombie tale, moreso because of its time period, which is medieval Asia. So the people trying to deal with this issue (and the zombies) all have swords and bows and arrows and live in Asian-style buildings. I've never seen anything like it, and many of the scenes are quite beautiful. Maybe it's kind of similar to Game of Thrones in this aspect in that it appears to have the trappings of a dark fantasy while sporting very little magic (the resurrection herb is the only magic that appears to be real). Instead of the politics being borrowed from medieval Europe, they are borrowed from medieval Korea. In any event, I'm finding that I like it. I will give you one warning though: there are some graphic bloody scenes. So be prepared if you decide to watch.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Why did Bennioff and Weiss mess up Highgarden so much?

It's been a year since the series finale of Game of Thrones. It did end with a dull thud, and no one I know even talks about it. I've said pretty much all that I've wanted to say about it in multiple posts, but there are still a few things I think about from time to time.

Today, I'm wondering why they messed up the appearance of Highgarden so much. In the show, it was a bleak, unforgiving fortress. In the books and in statements from the Tyrells and others, Highgarden was a beautiful place. It was lovely to behold, surrounded by the fertile fields of The Reach. Under the rulership of the Tyrells, it would have been the one place in all of Westeros that I would have wanted to live (were I to be somehow magically cursed as to having to eke out any existence in George R.R. Martin's world). Here's a painting I found online that correctly captures what Highgarden was in the books. There are others for sure, but this one is my favorite. Why couldn't Highgarden have looked like this?
Instead, it looked like this:
Maybe, it's because there just aren't pretty castle cities in today's world, and they wanted to shoot from an actual location to add realism. But the castle in the series was gray and ugly. It wasn't anything like I thought Highgarden should look like. Here's the description of it from the text in the novels I read:
"Many consider Highgarden to be the most beautiful castle in all the Seven Kingdoms [...] Highgarden is girded by three concentric rings of crenelated curtain walls [...] Ivy covers the older buildings and grapes and climbing roses snake up the sides of statuary, walls, and towers. Flowers bloom everywhere."

I dunno...maybe this is an "Expectation" versus "Reality" thing. But honestly, they had the budget to do a good job of showing the home of the Tyrells by season 7. They could have even had a matte artist make something for them, and it would have been gorgeous. Remember how beautiful Rivendell looked when we saw it in The Lord of the Rings movies? At least that was done right.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

It's super fashionable for liberals to hate billionaires right now.

I'm no great fan of people in general. I've been described as an introvert, but really, my long hours of self isolation has more to do with my low tolerance for behaviors that I consider toxic. However, this low tolerance that I deem as a natural ability to see the true nature of people has given me a particular insight among my liberal friends: billionaires are just people. Sure, they are bad people. But I don't think the opposite...a.k.a....good people...actually exist. I haven't met any.

Among my friends and family, toxic narcissism (or traits that identify as toxic narcissism) abound. This runs the gamut from psychological manipulation, to severe control issues, to delusions of power, to lying, shaming, and exploitation. I could give you examples of each of these, but why bother? Everyone is doing it. There are no true "morally good" people. It's all just shades of gray, similar to what George R.R. Martin pointed out in his series, Game of Thrones. No one is truly evil. I think the people on the right tend to accept this (for whatever reason) moreso than those on the left. On the left, the people there have got individual delusions that they are morally pure. But it isn't true at all. They still commit sexual assault, they still lie, they still exploit others, they still shame others, they still form members only cliques, and they still treat other people like garbage (hopefully all of these are not attached to one person, but yes, it is a list of toxic behaviors).

It's super fashionable for liberals to hate billionaires right now. I say "liberals" because "conservatives" are money praising folk, even if they don't have money themselves. They tend to look at those who do have money as having some kind of extraordinary blessing or to just being a "stand-up" person or a "pillar of the community." This is also a delusion because having money doesn't mean any of these things. It also doesn't mean the person is smart. Nope...they just have money...and that's the real difference.

The particular billionaire I have in mind that is currently taking heat is Elon Musk. He's a deplorable guy, and he always has been. But in particular, there are articles saying how the first season of Star Trek: Discovery hasn't aged well because it dropped Elon Musk's name alongside other "greats" of the past like the Wright Brothers. I honestly know very little about the Wright Brothers, but based off what I know of human nature, they probably weren't good people either. No one is. Bill Gates gives tons of money to charity, and...he's not a good person. He totally screwed over a lot of people to get to where he is today, and he's probably making amends for a lot of that by being so generous with his money. People change. My dad used to be a cruel person, killing animals without blinking an eye. Two years ago when I visited him, he had a mouse in the garage and got upset with me when I caught it. He demanded that I release the thing so that it could live (I caught it in a bag). I'd never seen anything like it...he's a totally different person unable to harm even a mouse.

Probably two of the most morally good people I can even think of are Michelle and Barack Obama. I'm trying to recall anything I know of either of them that might shatter this image, but I can't think of anything. That doesn't mean it isn't there. Rather, it just means that I (personally) don't know of it. His family might be able to tell you something, which would just serve to burn his reputation down. So maybe it's best to keep that in the closet. If anything, having a rich person that's also a minority setting some kind of example may help lift the rest of us out of the mire that is the human condition, even if it may just be a lie.

And maybe that's what tearing down billionaires is all about...it's this attempt to destroy the illusion that these people deserve to be put on a pedestal. You know what folks? They never did belong on a pedestal, because they were all horrible. I stopped putting billionaires on a pedestal a long time ago. I knew they made their money off the backs of the middle class, and that (ultimately) they were slave drivers and just all-around terrible people. But so are landlords, who have turned a place where a person can rest weary from the day into an "investment opportunity." What kind of bullshit is that, but it's here to stay? Someone using their privilege to acquire more and more property that they could never use or need for the exclusive purpose of squeezing others so that they can afford "not to work" and to do whatever that they desire just seems wrong to me. But, that's the whole idea behind "investment opportunity." In any situation where winning a competition results in a prize where you (hopefully) get to do whatever you want or desire is going to be filled with bad people. Bad because...to win that prize...means they need to crush someone else.

I'm not saying that billionaires should not be vilified, dragged into the street, and shamed. By all means, it should be done. What I am saying is that we are a nation of pots calling the kettle black. We are all covered in soot and grime. We should realize this, and then continue to celebrate our nonsensical firing squad and just embrace the mob mentality. Just go with it, man. But if you pause during the process and stop and think for a moment, "I'm doing this because that other person is bad..." Please, just stop. I can almost guarantee that you are a bad person too.

Rather, I suggest focusing on just how much worse (in degrees) the other person is. There is a sliding scale, after all. It is the choice between lesser evils all of the time. Most of the people I know would fit into the box labeled "lesser evil," so let's stop pretending that we are actually good and moral. I think that would make a lot more sense, and free us all up to watch Woody Allen movies again, to have Daenerys Targaryen get the ending she deserved in Game of Thrones, to vote for Joe Biden, and to reintegrate former prisoners back into society.

Let us all admit collectively that, "People just suck." It will be a nationwide catharsis, and a healing process. We need to heal because we need people and we are social creatures. And who knows? Maybe some of these awful people could actually be changed to be less toxic if we just let them know how awful a human being they really are. Once they make changes, we can forgive and forget. It would be so much healthier, and the firing squad could/should still be aimed at billionaires. Just stop deluding yourself that it is the "moral" thing to do. Stop regretting that a reference was buried in the first season of Star Trek: Discovery and that it won't age well. Let your kids watch old reruns of Pee Wee Herman. That guy was funny and did the one thing that he was supposed to do rather well. Let's all celebrate Michael Jackson for his dancing and not be afraid to laugh/watch The Cosby Show again. The Cosby Show (for what it's worth) was a funny show made by an awful person. But, there are awful people all around us all of the time. Why do we want to pretend that there aren't?

Monday, May 18, 2020

There's a new Star Trek series called Strange New Worlds coming to CBS All Access.

I read on Variety last week that Star Trek is launching a series helmed by Anson Mount's Pike from the second season of Discovery. It's called Strange New Worlds, mostly because Enterprise was taken. In the Variety article I read, the show runners are going to take Star Trek back to its roots and make an episodic series that focuses on a monster or problem of the week.

Anson Mount put in a spectacular performance as Pike in the second season of Discovery, and I was hoping something like this would come along. Star Trek has a wonderful universe to explore, and I'd love to see what they come up with regarding these alien worlds. With Discovery launching into the far far future for season 3 (and probably beyond to its ultimate end), Picard being pretty much in the near future a decade or so after Voyager and Deep Space Nine ended, and now this new series taking place in the pre-Kirk timeline, I feel like most of my Star Trek needs are going to be attended to in due order. In particular, I do hope that there's room to tell a few more Section 31 stories. Deep Space Nine did a really good job of showcasing how dangerous and strange Section 31 actually was, and then Discovery opened the lid on a universe ending plot from Section 31 that was, quite frankly, amazing television.

The only thing left that I really want is a Captain Georgiou as the Empress spinoff, because she steals every scene that she's ever featured in, and I love the character. Regarding the new Trek series, I wonder if they will have Anson Mount do an opening monologue... "Space...the final frontier...." That would be kind of fun.

I can't wait for the time when there's Star Trek all the time. It's coming folks, I can feel it.

Friday, May 15, 2020

The lore of Warhammer 40K is a good thing but can we have good things these days?

I'm currently going down the rabbit hole of online content surrounding the lore of the Warhammer 40K universe, and it's so vast that it will take weeks for me to explore all the facets of it. I'm currently listening to some very slick and polished videos on YouTube that explain the lore behind the different factions, and I find it all to be fascinating, entertaining, and deeply satisfying. But at the same time... I've got these thoughts (about one layer deep) in my head that are appalled with the fascism of the whole thing. Allow me to explain.

Warhammer 40K really goes a long ways to glorify people who are elite due to exceptional natural endowment. On the surface, there's nothing wrong with that, as it's just a fiction...a story. But I know that there are people who love this "aspect" of the 40K universe, because it strokes some deep-seeded desire to get away from a life that is (to put it bluntly) boring. Joseph Goebbels, who was the chief propagandist for the Nazis, once said that what he was doing was more like art than politics. By saying this, he meant that their task was to create an alternative mythical reality for Germans that was more exciting and purposeful than the humdrum reality of liberal democratic politics.

When I realized what was going on in all the myth-building of Warhammer 40K's lore, a lightbulb came on. I suddenly was able to explain why I've had many negative experiences with gamers as I've tried to get people together for tabletop roleplaying games. In other words, games that have fascist ideologies (that celebrate the super-human) attract real life wanna-be fascists probably about 50% of the time. And people who like or crave fascism are not fun to be around, and they aren't fun to play games with, because they crave power, and they construct their characters or their builds that throws the balance of a game off. In game circles, they are labeled, "power gamers." But I think there's a better term that I want to coin: fascist gamers.

There are so many complicated thoughts I have regarding this topic. The lore of Warhammer 40K by itself is brilliant and highly enjoyable. I also can step away from it, separate from it, and think...wow...what a strange vision of a future. It's so oppressive that there are two words (a phrase) to describe it that's pulled from the Warhammer 40K tagline: "Grim Dark." The territory of "grim dark" is where you get to when you move beyond actual dark fantasy. You know where Game of Thrones stopped by showing the White Walkers defeated? In "grim dark" stories, the White Walkers wouldn't have gotten defeated. They would have conquered the world and the story would have been about the last vestiges of humanity struggling against impossible odds. There's a place for those stories, as reveling in darkness and misery (for some) can be a lot of fun, because it isn't real.

Unfortunately, however, there are a lot of people who do want life to be a real struggle so that they can prove how elite they actually are. And a lot of them are completely deluded about their own abilities, which plays into the Dunning-Kruger effect. Life (especially in the United States) doesn't afford these experiences, because overall, most of us have it pretty good. And that's got to be absolutely aggravating to those who embrace varying degrees of elitism whether it is in a survivalist mentality or a physical perfection mentality or a racial superiority mentality or a capitalist/wealth mentaility. Taken to extremes, these things are toxic to a society like the one in which we live.

I'd say we are lucky that we don't have entertainment that appeals to people in society who desperately crave elitism, because (doing that) would turn a smoldering bunch of logs into a huge bonfire. However, if I said that, I'd be lying. Games (not just Warhammer 40K) are doing exactly that as a side-effect of telling stories wherein characters need to be the elite of the elite just to survive. These games provide a culture that rewards rudeness. Cutting the weak from the strong is a means to achieve rarified goals. It's not too difficult to realize that the non neurotypical boy who feels powerful in a game, but weak in real life, may become an adult who struggles for ways to feel powerful in their identity (and maybe secretly desire that a zombie apocalypse actually happen so they have an opportunity to prove how elite they are). The United States provides a very easy means to feel powerful: it is to own and brandish guns, to threaten politicians in State houses over quarantines, and to join groups that blame others for all the negative things that happen to you in life. A lot of people just want the myth, because the myth is so much more interesting than the reality of the situation.

In finishing these thoughts, I do want to say that Warhammer 40K lore is incredible. And there are a lot of people who I think would really have a good time immersing themselves in the "grim darkness," which is taken to absurd levels. There are stories filled with all manner of grotesqueries and powerful beings...chaos gods with armies of demons destroying mankind...and elite space marines where only 1 in a million recruits actually survives the training to become a part of a brotherhood devoted to warring against evil. And by "survive," I literally do mean that, as the training grounds for these soldiers is littered with the bones of recruits that tried and failed. That's how absurd this lore is, but it is all "constructed" as necessary, because the evil happening in the 40K universe is so powerful that even the elite of the elite are barely enough to push back the tide of darkness.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's just sad we can't have good things like this without "some people" in society taking it too seriously. I'd love to see Warhammer movies, a television series, and other kinds of media. But I worry that doing so will just feed the fascists, who will go on to create more fascists and create more problems for our society. We already have a disturbing amount of them at the head of our government and making it difficult for us to deal with a pandemic. Myths are supposed to be myths. They aren't real. The trouble happens when you get people who love a thing so much that they invest their identity in that thing. No one knows how to combat people who don't care if what they believe is true, and who view calm, factual rebuttal as an aggressive attack on their identity. That's where all of us get completely f*cked, and our society circles the drain.

We can't have good things, because people ruin everything. Que sera sera, right? At least now I know why finding good players for tabletop rpg's I want to play is so hard. I think I've got a 50/50 chance of running into a fascist in gaming circles, and now I know why.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Here are six thoughts about the Star Wars universe that I want to share with you.

In re-watching some Clone Wars episodes, and watching Dave Filoni talk about Star Wars, there are things I find interesting that I want to share with you.

1) The color of Mace Windu's lightsaber is purple. I never gave it much thought, but there are a lot of people online who have said that the reason it is purple is because Mace Windu knew how to properly channel the Dark Side of the Force to draw upon its strength, without being overcome by it. Hence, his purple lightsaber is a combination of red and blue. He channeled just enough Dark Side that it affected the kyber crystal that colored his own blade, turning it purple. I like that explanation.

2) The Duel of the Fates orchestral score by John Williams happens during the climax of The Phantom Menace. Dave Filoni says that this is because Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan battling Darth Maul is all about the fate of whom gets to be Anakin's dad. I guess that had Qui-Gon lived, Anakin would have turned out very differently, and that he never would have succumbed to the Dark Side like he did. That was exclusively Obi-Wan's fault.

3) The Nightsisters were a great invention. You don't see them in the movies, because (I think) the movies are afraid of doing anything new. It's always lightsaber battle...different looking lightsabers...spaceships...bounty hunters, and the same Force powers. But you don't get the wild and crazy "other" things that could exist in a universe as epic as the one in which Star Wars takes place. But the t.v. shows have a loser structure. They can experiment with ideas, and the Nightsisters are one such idea that I really like. In case you don't know, this was a group of witches that wielded actually magic. There's very little distinguishing them from Saruman the wizard in Lord of the Rings, only I'd say the Nightsisters were far more powerful, melodramatic, and impressive with their sorcery. Whenever they appear, the tone of the Star Wars episode definitely feels more in the realm of traditional fantasy. But honestly, I've felt that Star Wars had more in common with the Lord of the Rings than it ever did with Foundation by Isaac Asimov.

4) I like the Purrgil. These are a species of massive, whale-like creatures that lived in deep space, traveling from star system to star system. They have a natural ability to fly through hyperspace. Again, this may be another thing that the movies may shy away from because of its ridiculousness. But once you get past any objection you might have of whales flying in space, they are actually pretty darn cool, especially if you get to ride one like Ezra Bridger did.

5) As much as I didn't really care for The Rise of Skywalker, I did love that the Emperor never fought with a lightsaber. His mastery of the Force was above such petty weapons. I like that (at some point at least) there is acknowledgement by the show creators that Jedi eventually grow out of their old tool and onto other ways of doing combat that are much more effective than swinging a glowing blade. A wizard just doesn't look good optically when they are swinging things around. They should be "wizardly" instead.

6) The Darksaber is very cool. This is a special lightsaber wielded by Mandalorians that has made an appearance in the show Mandalorian. I like the idea of it: a black blade that defies the colors and shape of other kinds of lightsabers. It also, apparently, is perfectly fine being wielded by someone with no power over the Force. This thinking (which is outside the box) really freshens up the story quite a bit, and I look forward to seeing what becomes of it.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Let's talk for a moment about the fates of Jyn Erso and Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars

Many of you who count yourselves (like me) as a fan of Star Wars understand that Ahsoka Tano was Anakin Skywalker's padawan. She's also unique among force users and people who have all the powers and training of the Jedi (but do not have the title "Jedi") which is just a word after all. Ahsoka didn't even exist until after "Revenge of the Sith." So her fate (and story) had to be constrained by canon. It's a tragedy that she couldn't save the Republic, and that she saw the doom on the horizon yet (like Cassandra in the Trojan War) could do very little about what was transpiring. She is my favorite character in all of Star Wars, because of this.
Jyn Erso is a great character, and her story featured in Rogue One is one of the best told in the entire series.

With the Clone Wars having ended on Disney +, it makes me think of another tragic character named Jyn Erso, whom most of us watched in Rogue One, which is a powerful, moving, and well-told Star Wars movie. Jyn Erso's story was complicated and tragic, and she isn't seen or mentioned in the original trilogy, because 1) yes it doesn't fit within the events of the original trilogy, and 2) she didn't exist as a character until many years later. That's how things like this work.

A little research online also provides the following: Jyn wasn't killed off because she wasn't mentioned in the original trilogy. They (the makers of Rogue One) intended for her and Cassian to survive. It just worked better narratively if these characters didn't survive (writers know all about these kinds of choices), and since they were totally new characters they had the freedom to go with that decision.
Many people think that Ahsoka Tano only lived because she was Dave Filoni's character (the showrunner behind
much of the Star Wars stuff that graces our screens). I disagree. Ahsoka Tano who is every bit as strong and
complex as Jyn Erso does deserves to live, and Star Wars as a story is all the better for it.
In context, I think Ahsoka is different. Jyn was created as a way to tell a story about a single huge event within Star Wars canon, and she served that purpose extremely well. Ahsoka is a character who was featured in many stories over more than a decade. She grew, became an adult, went from one animated series to another, and she was shaped by the events of Anakin becoming Darth Vader, and by Senator Palpatine becoming the Emperor (who then murdered all of her friends by enacting Order 66). In all the ways I can think, it makes sense that Ahsoka is alive in the active Star Wars universe, and that Jyn Erso is not.

Ahsoka's great strength (I think) is that she chose a different path, walking away from the Jedi Order even as she was offered acceptance into its upper ranks. She's probably the first "Jedi" to walk the right road in a very long time. The Jedi Order (before the fall) was arrogant, drunk on power, and filled with hypocrisy. Think about how bad Mace Windu was. He was more than happy to be a warrior instead of a peacekeeper. And then there was Qui Gon. He was told directly that Anakin should not be accepted as a Jedi trainee, and then Obi Wan, his head filled with Qui Gon's idealism, pulled a move to train Anakin himself. The Jedi had become something they were never supposed to be...an evolution that took a long time. And while I'm at it, Luke was a horrible Jedi too. His training was just about weaponizing him to aim him at the Emperor and Vader, because Yoda didn't have the luxury of time. So, the more I ruminate on it, the more I realize that The Last Jedi was just pointing out what should have been obvious to me about Luke. I just wasn't prepared to hear it at the time, because my younger self had idolized him. But the story of Ahsoka Tano told to me through the years allows me to look on the events of the movies with clear eyes and a clear mind, and it all makes sense now.

Anyway, Ahosoka managed to see clearly enough what was happening, she took a stand, made a choice to remove herself from the cancer that was the Jedi Order, and she lived. By contrast, Jyn Erso died. Both stories, and the fates of their main characters make sense to me. I hope, in reading this, they make a little more sense to you.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Many of us are currently living in a grim dark dystopia that isn't too far removed from Warhammer 40K.

I've been reading a Warhammer 40K novel by author Ben Counter that's called Daemon World. I started reading it, because I wanted to explore (more fully) the world of Warhammer 40K ahead of some movies and possible television series that are going to be headed our way (assuming that Covid hasn't permanently stopped those plans).

Anyway, Ben is a good author, but I'm not yet to a point where I'd recommend a particular book in my Warhammer 40K exploration. They are...different, and yet oddly the same. The one called Daemon Lord is constant fighting, pretty much from the first chapter to the last. I've never read anything like it with just constant exposition, and pages and pages of exhaustive descriptions of this and that "named thing" killing this or that "other named thing" in the most gruesome way possible. When I explain these things to people I know who play the game, they say, "Yup...that sounds like what this world is like. In the future, there is only war." This quote is actually from the game material, and it's from the page just inside the cover. I'll post the quote below:
"It is the 41st millennium. For more than a hundred centuries the Emperor has sat immobile on the Golden Throne of Earth. He is the master of mankind by the will of the gods, and master of a million worlds by the might of his inexhaustible armies. He is a rotting carcass writhing invisibly with power from the Dark Age of Technology. He is the Carrion Lord of the Imperium for whom a thousand souls are sacrificed every day, so that he may never truly die.
"Yet even in his deathless state, the Emperor continues his eternal vigilance. Mighty battlefleets cross the daemon-infested miasma of the warp, the only route between distant stars, their way lit by the Astronomican, the psychic manifestation of the Emperor's will. Vast armies give battle in his name on uncounted worlds...they are barely enough to hold off the ever-present threat from aliens, heretics, mutants, and worse.
"To be a man in such times is to be one amongst untold billions. It is to live in the cruelest and most bloody regime imaginable. Forget the power of technology and science, for so much has been forgotten, never to be relearned. Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim dark future there is only war."
One of the weird things that occurred to me in my reflections of the stories I've read is that this "mantra" of the Warhammer 40K world could be rewritten for what's going on for many of us in the world today. So, I gave it a shot. Here's how it came out:
"It is the 21st century. For more than four years a King has sat on the golden throne of the most powerful country on Earth. He is the master of deception by the will of his cultists, and has the inexhaustible might of his armies giving him providence to threaten and rage. He is the Carrion Lord of end-stage capitalism for whom a thousand souls are sacrificed every day to a dreaded disease, so that he and his cohorts will never have to physically labor for anything.
"To be a man in such times is to be one among untold millions. It is to live in a cruel regime that calls its wage slaves by the term 'essential worker.' Forget the power of science, for half the population has turned away from such learning, and few of them understand the technology that they use everyday. Lies are spread like truth as long as there's money to be made, the disabled are vilified, and the lazy and entitled are everywhere. Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim dark future there is only toil and drudgery.
"You will never earn enough to stop working, and work itself will expose you to a deadly disease. You will work for every hour of your life, from morning until night, with no end, for as far as you can see. And the world burns without end as a result of human caused climate change." 
So what do you think? It seems legit, and it allows me to sort through some thoughts about our modern times. Folks, many of us are living in a grim dark dystopia that isn't too far removed from Warhammer 40K. Lucky us.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

It's May and the IWSG is asking about writing rituals and whether or not I have any.

It is the lovely month of May, and it's time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. The IWSG is a monthly blogfest originally started by Alex Cavanaugh. If you want to be a supporter or join in on the fun, please go HERE and sign up. The awesome co-hosts for the May 6 posting of the IWSG are Feather Stone, Beverly Stowe McClure, Mary Aalgaard, Kim Lajevardi, and Chemist Ken!

When it comes time to post, you can choose to blog about writing, or you can choose to answer the monthly question. This time around, I'm going to answer the question, which is:

Do you have any rituals that you use when you need
help getting into the ZONE? Care to share?

About the only thing that I do to help me get into a "Zone" for writing is to make sure I have my drink. Usually it is a cold glass of some Mio-flavored concoction over ice, but in the mornings it can be coffee or chai. Another thing that I have to do before I start writing is to clean my house and do the chores I've made for myself. In other words, if the lawn needs mowing or the garage needs sweeping, or I need to pull weeds out of the garden beds...then those things take priority over my writing. I have to basically stamp out all the things that I feel like I need to get done in order to make room for writing. I also like to have the window open behind me so that I can hear the wind rustling through the trees and bushes or the kids running around in the street. I have a nice writing spot that overlooks a decent-sized expanse of grass and my akebono cherry tree, which is starting to really fill out the yard. Anyway, that's about it. Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

I'm off for a bit but I'll be back for Insecure Writer's Support Group in May.

I think most people are doing the A to Z challenge. And knowing that, I recognize that I'm not feeling particularly inspired to write blog posts. It could be a general malaise that is settling in with the Covid 19 thing. Or it could be that I'm finding a lot to not like about humanity in general right now. But whatever it is, I'm sure it will be gone just like Covid will be gone when we reopen everything in a few weeks. Right?

See you then.

Monday, April 20, 2020

I recommend perusing the gallery of an artist named Beeple if you are in lockdown. It's worth your time.

There's an artist who goes by the name "Beeple" on the internets, and I really like his work. All of it is kind of mesmerizing, and a lot of it has a political bent here and there that makes it all the more powerful. I kind of liken him to being a digital version of Banksy. According to his website, his name is Mike Winkelmann, and he truthfully knows how to use Blender and other 3D modeling tools better than anyone I have ever seen. I can't imagine what his computers must look like. Needless to say, they are probably cutting edge, and a good deal of money is spent keeping them this way. His power bills must equal a neighborhood of regular folk.

I think the thing that is so incredible about his work is that he's so prolific, and it all is so detailed that it seems like it should be a real picture. Anyway, if you are curious, check out his portfolio on the web located HERE. Below is just one of literally hundreds of pictures he's done (and the guy does gifs, short films, etc.) Seriously, if you are bored, go and check out his page. It's worth your time.

This image below is called "Jabba Afterbirth." Gross, right? You don't see that in a Star Wars film, but hutts had to come from somewhere.

Friday, April 17, 2020

The way Republicans view the powers of the President of the United States is way different than the way Democrats view the same office.

Yesterday, when I heard that the Treasury Department had ordered Donald Trump's name to be printed on all of the stimulus checks that are being issued (due to the Covid 19 health crisis), I laughed. Not because I thought it was actually funny, but because I'd predicted that our president would try to make it seem that all that money was actually coming from him. Additionally, I've had several conversations with people here in Utah as to why I think my party (the Democrats) are completely screwed when it comes to the November election. It's not because of Bernie Sanders getting the nomination. Bernie couldn't have won either, despite being Socialist Jesus. It's also not because Biden is an old "handsy" fart. No, it's because the Republicans are making it rain money (unemployment is kicking in at some $22 per hour), and people are going to remember that fine detail come the ballot box in November. I actually think it's a brilliant strategy, and it's going to pay off huge. If it doesn't, yes I will be shocked (but in a pleasant way). Some of my faith in humanity will be restored, but I honestly don't expect that to happen. My faith in humanity has been just a few drops in the bottom of the barrel for some time now, as everywhere I look I see greed and evil (think of it as the opposite of rose-colored glasses).

Being smug in the validation that I was right, I suddenly was hit by a revelation that answered a question that has plagued me for years. A lot of my conservative friends have always held views that Democrat presidents were "weak," and I never understood it. I was always puzzled because when I looked at how Democrat presidents conducted themselves, they employed the powers of their office up to a designated limit as constrained by the Constitution. I remember thinking, "Obama can't do that," or "Clinton can't do that" when I heard outrageous things said about what a Democrat President "should do" in the case of a situation that was (at the time) happening in the United States.

Now that I see Trump in action, and his insistence just this week that, "The President has all of the authority" I finally understood what has been going on. All of these years, my fellow Republicans around me have believed that the president was basically an all-powerful office that has no limits. My mind is kind of blown by this, because I never got that memo due to my education. It's definitely true that Trump believes this of himself. I for one, never believed it. I felt that the president was always limited in so many ways due to the Constitution and the separation of powers, etc. But now I understand. It's like I've been staring at the color white (on a wall) for a long time, and my neighbors have been saying how black the wall is. We HAVE NOT been on the same page at all. I've just been kind of silently nodding, maybe wondering why they keep calling "white" by the term "black" but just never digging very deep, convincing myself that we were seeing the same thing. But no NO NO...lol...we weren't seeing the same thing. Not at all.

The way that Republicans see the office of the President of the United States is way way WAY different than the way Democrats see the office of the President of the United States. As the saying goes, "One of these things is not like the other...." Anyway, I'm not here to say which one is morally right and which one is morally wrong. I'll leave that for Constitutional scholars to argue, and then it won't matter what is argued if there is no enforcement or consequences. Without consequences and enforcement by people with guts to stand behind their convictions (no matter what), then there is effectively no check on what a person can ultimately get away with in regard to treatment of other people. That's how you end up with authoritarians: the sheep don't stand up to the bully and just pray the evil away (which never works). So, I guess we shall see what happens. Interesting times indeed.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Dune has a dream cast and a dream director so it's gotta be great right?

Dune is looking good. As most of you probably know, Vanity Fair did an expose on it over here. I'm not going to link any of the pictures, so go over there and look at them if you'd like. They are worth your time.

I think Timothée Chalamet is perfectly cast as young Paul Atreides (he has a naturally brooding look to him and yes he's super pretty) as is Oscar Isaac, who plays his dad, Duke Leto Atreides. The Director, Denis Villeneuve, is a French Canadian film director that makes gorgeous films. Blade Runner 2049 is one of these, and I absolutely loved it. Dune promises to be the kind of epic film it was always meant to be, and I think Denis is going to make sure that it holds closer to the books in ways that David Lynch found impossible. The first hint of this is that Denis is making two full-length feature films to tell the story (and I think that's a fantastic decision to make with regards to Herbert's tale). Did I mention that they cast Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho? I think that's going to be great, given that Duncan Idaho is the greatest warrior among the Atreides clan.

I wonder how they will work Lady Jessica's role. A lot of her importance in the story is conveyed through narrating what she's thinking. My thoughts circle around this: Lady Jessica's presence is felt throughout many of the events that transpire in the novel, but what works on the page of the book may still translate poorly to a more literal medium like film. And there is still no casting for Feyd Rautha, although my "dream" casting would be Tom Holland's best friend from childhood (and his personal assistant and neighbor) named Harrison Osterfield.

However it turns out, I will probably be overjoyed in watching it. I'm going to have a new appreciation for movie theaters once they open up again.



Monday, April 13, 2020

Andrea Bocelli's Music for Hope concert that took place on Easter was absolutely lovely.

I'm linking it below in case you didn't see it. It's definitely worth your time to click and watch. If anything, you get to see blue skies over Milan, which I've been told is a rarity in times where people aren't on lockdown.

The images taken by drone are haunting. The major cities of the world are empty of humans. Time Square is a ghost town. London is quiet. In Paris, the breeze blows through the Eiffel Tower and there is no one there. I never thought I'd see real things like this outside an apocalyptic movie. And in front of the Duomo, a humbled bird named Andrea Bocelli sings "Amazing Grace" for the world, which now has over 100,000 dead from Covid 19, and the plaza is empty.

The world is going through something very strange and surreal right now. I never thought I'd live to see such times, but here we all are. It's comforting to see that there is so much good in the world, and in the words of Samwise Gamgee of the Shire, "It's worth fighting for."