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?"'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, " 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.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is almost over and I'm grateful for the ride.

This is the seventh and final season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and it's been a terrific ride. It also has lasted far longer than I originally anticipated that it would. Last season when they made the decision to move it's time slot to Friday evenings, I thought to myself, "Fridays is where television shows go to die." However, I was proven wrong when it got a half season more from ABC to wrap things up, and they are doing so by going on a time traveling bonanza similar to another beloved series, The Legends of Tomorrow.

This season has been a lot of fun, and it's also a bit less bonkers than the last storyline which had the Agents in a space of the future in which the Earth was destroyed and the Kree were gathering inhumans to participate in gladiator-like combat. In that same storyline we got introduced to Deke, who is somehow Fitz and Simmon's son (we know they deeply love each other), and then there was the whole evil Fitz thing that I didn't like because it was played so well that you just never know if you can trust him like you used to be able to do...but somehow Simmons finds a way.

And Coulson now has died so many times that I can't keep track. They've basically just stored his mind in a computer and can upload it into a life-like decoy, essentially guaranteeing that we always have Coulson around. It reminds me of Leto in Children of Dune and the subsequent books, falling in love with Duncan Idaho and keeping infinite clones of him so that he can always have him around. I suppose the whole circular notion of things repeating themselves is a well-done trope in television, especially in a Groundhog Day-esque episode. In practically every series I've seen, there usually crops up some kind of Groundhog Day episode. In Star Trek: Discovery it happened in the first season. In Agents, it's going to happen in the next episode as the ship they're in gets stuck in some kind of time storm. And I'm pretty sure there was an episode like this in Legends, though I can't quite remember what it was about.

The final season has also been a great place for the actors to let their hair down. Coulson is a delight, as is May who has really come into her personality over the course of seven seasons. Simmons is a bit intense all the time, but Deke is great. There's even an episode this season where (stuck in the eighties), he forms together a band and starts singing historic hits while claiming that he wrote them. Deke's onstage outfit channels a lot of Zoolander. I like that Yo-Yo got her hands back and that she was able to go onto the next step of the progression of her powers by not having to bounce back. So now, she's basically a female version of Quicksilver, which is really powerful if you think about it. Coulson got to spend time as Max Headroom (remember that guy?) by residing in an eighties television set. And we got some really funny "Shield" agents that Deke recruited while waiting for the time ship to bounce back into existence (they got stranded in a timeline for a while). It doesn't really matter that I couldn't figure out how Mac paid for anything while he was living in an apartment wallowing in his depression over the death of his parents (they were killed by chronocoms). The whole season has just been fun.

So yeah, it's going to be a bit poignant when it all ends. I've enjoyed the ride. The show never intersected with the movies all that much (which was something I was hoping it would do some seven years ago when it all started). However, it managed to pave its own path and be a continuous source of fun and entertainment in a time when the real world is causing a lot of anxiety, which is just another way for me to say that they should be proud of the work they have done.

Monday, July 20, 2020

George A. Romero's magnum opus The Living Dead can be purchased on August 4th and I'm getting myself a copy.

Daniel Kraus finished writing George Romero's magnum opus called The Living Dead, and it hits the shelves next month. If you don't know who George Romero is, you need only to watch a single episode of The Walking Dead to see his influence. He's the director that's largely credited for making zombie-fiction a thing on film. People have been inspired by his work for years, and I (for one) will be purchasing a copy of The Living Dead to read. It's been a while since I've indulged in a good zombie plague tale, and this one promises to be the granddaddy of them all, by encompassing decades of time by telling the story of the fall of a civilization overrun with this particular brand of the undead.

In thinking about reading this book, I pondered the question: where did zombies come from? My research turned up quite a few things, and I decided to share them with you. According to some historical sources, the ancient Greeks may have been the first civilization to believe in zombies. Archeology discovered skeletons pinned down by rocks and other heavy objects, leading scientists to believe that the people who did this were trying to prevent the dead bodies from reanimating.

A little closer to present times, zombie folklore existed for centuries in Haiti. Some think it might have originated with African slaves who longed for freedom from the brutal conditions on the sugar cane plantations. The "zombie" then, became a representation of the horrific plight of slavery, which definitely is sad if you take the time to digest what's going on there.

Then there are religions like Voodoo, where some practitioners (known as bokor) used a tradition of alchemy to create concoctions including "zombie powders," which contained tetrodotoxin. If used carefully, the deadly neurotoxin could turn a person into a shambling creature with respiratory problems (still alive) but with a lot of mental confusion. High doses of the neurotoxin could lead to paralysis and coma. That way a person could appear dead and be buried alive, only to be later revived. So, a kind of zombie, but not an actual zombie. And from what I've read, many practitioners of voodoo today believe zombies are a myth.

So zombies have an interesting history, and it isn't important that George Romero invented them or not. However, I do enjoy many of his stories, and I think this book will probably hit some pleasure buttons. I guess we'll see. Anyone else thinking of giving it a read? Here's a LINK to the Amazon page where it will go on sale on August 4th.

Friday, July 17, 2020

The modern pandemic and America's response has made me believe in things that I'd previously thought couldn't happen.

In reading Raymond E. Feist's Serpentwar Saga, in particular the book Rage of a Demon King, I realized that current events in our country made me more readily believe the stubborn and ultimately fatal choices people of privilege make. There's a particular example that occurs about midway through the book, Rage of a Demon King, when "The Kingdom" is finally being invaded by an army of ruthless warriors, dark sorcerers and priests, and a demon king at the helm of it all. This army sailed to the shores of the kingdom on about 700 boats (more or less) and has spent months at sea. The Kingdom has been preparing for the invasion for about five years, although much of it in secret so as not to panic the populace. But even with their preparations, an army of this size is like a tidal wave swamping everything in its path. I don't know how many descriptions I read that repeated pretty much this: "the enemy, despite killing so many of them, seemed endless and disappeared over the horizon."

So, in this section of the book I'm talking about, there is a rich, privileged man (named Jacob Easterbrook) who has made his fortune being a merchant with treasonous ties to the Empire of Great Kesh (a rival if not outright enemy of the Kingdom). He's portrayed as cunning, but he does have charisma (although he seems to have no empathy whatsoever, which doesn't surprise me coming from a rich man). However, when it comes to the invaders, he rebuts any attempts to move him off the estate to safety. Rather, he puts forward that his skills at being a diplomat and negotiator will put him in a prime position to negotiate a treaty of trade on behalf of Kesh with the new conquerors. "They will need this and that, etc.," is his reasoning. He doesn't fear the invaders, rather he looks at them as a new business opportunity by which he will profit handsomely. Even when a main character, Rupert Avery, who has been seeing Jacob's daughter for some two years now tells him to flee and cites his own first-hand experiences of what kind of monsters these people are, he refuses to go claiming that Roo knows nothing of what he talks about and that the danger is overblown.

Then Rupert flees with his family and barely makes it out alive. What happens to Jacob Easterbrook is horrifying. Not only do the invaders slaughter him when he tries to negotiate, but they eat him as well and then eat everything that is edible on his lands (chickens, cows, etc.). I think it's this privilege that Easterbrook had that blinded him to facts about the enemy, and I think it's relevant to what we're seeing in the pandemic with the discussions around "masking" and "not masking." It seems to me that the people of privilege in our society are the ones raising the most hell about being forced to mask, and I find that fascinating. In some cases, people of privilege just outright don't believe that it exists. If they do believe it exists, in their minds they've reasoned that masks don't work like everyone else thinks they do and then resolve to "deal with the crisis if it ever affects them." This sounds a lot like what Jacob Easterbrook said to Rupert Avery in this Feist book.

What I haven't puzzled out then is the why. Why does having privilege insulate you from recognizing real danger when it surfaces? Is it because privilege by itself seems to be invisible, and by virtue of it being invisible, one thinks that they are more powerful than they actually are? Shrug. I guess I have more thinking to do. But I will say this, the modern pandemic and America's response to it has made me believe in things that I'd previously thought couldn't happen.

For example, had I read Rage of a Demon King a few years ago, I would have said, "Jacob Easterbrook would never have stuck around like that to be eaten by cannibals! He was a smart merchant. He would have believed Rupert and fled with him to safety." But now I think, "This is totally reasonable. I could see this arrogant douchebag doing exactly that and being eaten by cannibals while ignoring all the evidence that was contrary to his opinion." What an about face! But hey, we learn a little more about the behavior of people every day during this thing. Now some behaviors aren't far-fetched at all.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Raymond E. Feist novels read like a Dungeons & Dragons campaign.

This is a map of Midkemia, Raymond E.Feist's book world. I have a suspicion that it's also his gaming world
for a D&D game (or one definitely inspired from D&D). Someone with a mind like Feist probably home-brewed
a world much more unique that required a deviation from the standard Dungeons & Dragons worlds that
they provide to us plebes.
I've been reading the Raymond E. Feist fantasy novels (of which there are about thirty), and I'm having an odd bit of fun doing so. Why odd you say? Well they read like a really thoughtful and well-plotted Dungeons and Dragons game. I'm serious. They're a much different breed of fantasy literature. High brow they are not, but thick and pulpy with well crafted villains and recurring characters they most certainly are, and the magic system comes straight out of a Dungeons and Dragons rulebook albeit with a few changes for copyright reasons.

A little research also confirmed my theory. Raymond E. Feist had a D&D group that met weekly. I can only imagine that the characters I'm reading about were played by people around the table, and the stories (which are pretty great) were probably adventures that they went on as a group. As I'm reading, I think to myself, "Okay that is the rogue in the party, definitely the magic-user, who's the tank? Oh...that's this one."

Anyway, about the only thing I can compare them to are the Dragonlance novels by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weiss. Those (intentionally) read as a Dungeons & Dragons game group, because they were written for Dungeons & Dragons. So that really was the whole purpose behind their creation. I just think that it's interesting how influential a silly game like D&D is on an entire genre. I suppose that D&D originally pulled its inspiration from the works of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Lloyd Alexander. And now it's influence inspires other authors to write, because they fall in love with the characters they've created (and the stories they put those characters through over the years).

So I have this question for my few readers: Have you ever created a D&D character or a character in another RPG system that inspired you to write stories about them? If so, please share. I'd like to hear about it.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Doom Patrol is a weird show and its hard explaining the characters to another person.

Doom Patrol is a weird show. I realized that as I started streaming the second season in my living room, and my friend's 18 year old daughter was sitting on the couch (she had come over to bake banana bread). Said friend had not watched season one, so immediately she had questions which I started answering, but then I realized my answers are really crazy.

First off there's The Chief played by Timothy Dalton. He's a medical doctor that basically saved every one of the Doom Patrol characters in one way or another. However (even more complicated), he orchestrated the events that caused members to develop their powers, and he's really old.

Then there's Jane. I said that this was a woman who has a ton of separate identities living in her head. Her head is an actual place that people can go and visit and interact with the characters. Each one has a different power.

Rita Farr is a former Hollywood actress whose cellular structure collapses into jelly when she gets emotional. So she really struggles to maintain a solid form. When she gets upset, then her face will melt.

Larry Trainor is also incredibly old, yet has the body of a young man, and he wears bandages because he's severely disfigured from a plane crash. He has a negative energy entity living inside of him that likes to help him out and walk him physically through his traumas so that he can heal.

Cyborg is a young ambitious superhero who has cybernetic enhancements from his father Silas following an accident that led to his mother's death.

Cliff Steele is an all-metal man with a human brain (voiced by Brendan Fraser). He was a NASCAR driver.

Mr. Nobody is an omnipresent supervillain capable of traveling through dimensions and altering reality. He often breaks the fourth wall and manipulates events through his narration.

Danny is a street that communicates via flashing signs and billboards and who provides a space for all the misfits of the world to have a home (this is seriously my favorite character). My friend's daughter asked me, "So this character is a street?" I was like..."yep." And then she paused and said, "I don't understand any of it."

Yeah... Doom Patrol is not for everyone. However, I really like it probably because I've seen nothing like it on television. Here's to season two being available to stream now.

Friday, July 10, 2020

I think it's stuff like what's in this video that really makes me think America makes no sense.

We're in the middle of a global pandemic. People are dying by the thousands. The global economy is collapsing. But hey, behold the One Percent Fortnite House. It's a mansion some YouTube gamers bought and made their own. This multi-million dollar property comes with a wall of wine that none of them drink, and they want sponsors to buy out space in it so they can make some more dough, yo! They've got their fancy cars in the driveway, girlfriend in the bedroom, sick lighting in the game room where people might want to crash for some streaming. It's kind of a grotesque infomercial that seems to capture everything I dislike about entitled people who fall into easy money by plying the natural gifts they were just born into.

Imagine creating an organization that celebrates conspicuous consumption and unearned wealth and then having either the extreme self-awareness, or the extreme lack thereof, to call yourself the One Percent. These guys could have done anything with the money they've made. Instead they went and bought someone's giant mansion in order to ask for more money and party like its 1999. The only fun thing that might come of this are the stories that will splash the news feeds as some incredibly bad decisions are about to take place in this strange palace occupied by man children.

Haters gonna hate, right?

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Sam Smith has done a cover of the Coldplay single called "Fix You" and it's amazing.

Sam Smith has done a cover of the Coldplay single called, "Fix You," and it's lovely. I'm embedding it below so that you can give it a listen. Although I do love the Coldplay version (Coldplay is a band that I desperately want to see live someday), there's just so much emotion in Sam Smith's version that I actually think I prefer it to Chris Martin (forgive me Chris Martin).

Recently Sam Smith (I think it was in September 2019) said they would like people to use the pronouns "they/them" after coming out as non-binary. They wrote on Instagram: "After a lifetime of being at ware with my gender, I've decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out." The singer added: "I've been very nervous about announcing this because I care too much about what people think." Sam Smith said six months earlier that they did not feel male or female, but flowing somewhere in-between.

I'm joking when I say this, but Sam Smith can ask of me anything they want as long as they keep singing so beautifully. I've probably listened to this single a dozen times. Their voice is so incredible and quite powerful (if that's an adjective that's appropriate to use for a song). Anyway, if you have a moment, please give it a listen. It's worth your time.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Is Hamilton worth its hype?

I watched Hamilton on Disney Plus this weekend, and I suppose I enjoyed it. Part of me wishes that I could enjoy rap more than I do, but I've always found its rhythm kind of jarring because it emphasizes words over music. I have a long history of this in my personal life, as for the most part, I get drawn to a song by its melody and sometimes it is years later that I actually hear the lyrics for what they are and think, "Oh! That's what that song is all about!" So, it's hardly unusual that in a play where every word uttered comes out in rap form, that someone like me might wish that it was just delivered as dialogue and not hip hop.

However, I can separate my own personal biases enough from a work of art such as Hamilton to declare that it is indeed worth watching even if you are (like me) not really drawn to rap. If anything, you can see the remarkable diversity of the cast and realize what a thing Lin Manuel Miranda has done by casting all these people of color to a uniquely American story. Additionally, the breathless pace of the thing moving from one scene to the next without ever taking a break from the hip hop style of delivery and the ever present musical chords in the background used to punctuate a song are kind of mind-blowing. I can't even imagine the kind of mind it would take to write all of these songs. And that seems natural too, because I'm not a genius (unlike Lin Manuel Miranda).

For me though, Hamilton is probably a one and only watch. Sure it's artsy and fun, but it's not really my "cup of tea." If there's any criticism I can make of the show, it's that there's a ton of content coming at you as an audience member, and it's pretty fast and furious. There are two things that happen in this scenario. The first is that you get a bit of an information overload from the Hip Hop delivery. The second is that there's little opportunity while rapping to show any emotion outside of 1) anger or 2) confidence. The emotions of anger and confidence can get you far, I suppose, and it seems like a natural thing for people to be experiencing these emotions a lot when designing a new country. However, for a theater watcher like me, I kind of like to see (and revel) in the other emotions in the human spectrum (sadness, love, jealousy). Those are kind of my bread and butter.

There was one section of the play that did have a large range of emotion: the death of Alexander Hamilton's son. In a song that delivers with a line "The Hamiltons are facing the unimaginable..." it plays out. But then again, it plays out because (for that song) they abandon the hip hop. And I enjoyed it a ton. So again, maybe I'm just not a fan of hip hop as a delivery vehicle for dialogue. As a side note, I want to mention that the death of Alexander Hamilton's son was really kind of shocking. For one, Hamilton dismissed rather readily and with some comedy the fact that his son was going to a duel. Additionally, he gave him some really horrid and terrible advice, telling him to aim high instead of shooting because the other party would do the same (out of honor). It was incredibly ridiculous. If I had a son, I certainly wouldn't have allowed them to duel no matter what I had to do. It ultimately really shows that Alexander Hamilton was a terrible parent (if that wasn't obvious with his affair, etc.).

All in all, I'm glad that I got to watch the show on Disney Plus streaming. But I'm not envious of people who have seen it live, nor do I even want to buy a ticket to it to see it live myself. So is it worth the hype? Yes, I suppose it is. But I'm answering that for other people and not myself. I know my views on rap aren't shared by a lot of people who love it. But I definitely respect it as an art, and I'm glad it's around for other people to enjoy.

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.