Friday, February 26, 2021

It's 2021 and Wizards of the Coast is starting out of the gates with a lot of really interesting developments for their popular games.

I'm usually not one to talk about news releases, but one that happened on February 25th caught my interest. Hasbro, the parent company of Wizards of the Coast, is giving Wizards its own operating division. Wizards of the Coast is the parent company to Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering, both of which are games that I enjoy and love to play. They also have tons of other games, but those are the two big ones that impact my life.

The Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition ruleset is my favorite that has ever been put out. I've played all the versions except the fourth edition one, and that was because I was in a time of my life when I thought I'd try my hand at going to the gym and being a normal person associating with other "normal" people who are not nerds and like to go to nightclubs and date and all that. After I got over this period of my life (with a huge realization that you just have to find people who are into the same things you are and you'll find happiness), I returned to running Dungeons & Dragons. To explain a bit further, I choose to run rather than play D&D (ever hear of the term "Dungeon Master?") mostly because all the people around here suck at it, and I'm a born storyteller. I always advise young people to "play to your strengths."

Anyway, a lot of people apparently think like I do, because D&D is more popular now than it has ever been, literally seeping into the bedrock of pop culture. But none of that happened because Wizards got lucky. Rather, it happened because they are working really hard at doing a great job and making a game that is both diverse and inclusive. The supplements they are putting out right now are of the highest quality that I have ever seen in decades. The game is so detailed and welcoming with mind-blowing art and fleshed out non-player characters. And the adventures are these huge sandboxes that are just loaded with fascinating details and all kinds of things to keep people entertained for hours on end. There is so much world development going on with the fifth edition game that I can only say it is very impressive.

Additionally, the stuff that you can acquire to enrich your home games is incredible. The sky is literally the limit from a basic no frills setup to hundreds of thousands of dollars. I fall somewhere on the lower end of that spectrum, but every penny I have spent toward Dungeons & Dragons stuff has been more than worth it, whether it was miniatures, terrain, or books. So yeah...long story short, Wizards of the Coast has been knocking it out of the park for five years now. Really, the best thing for Hasbro to do with Wizards of the Coast is honestly just to get out of the way of Wizards of the Coast and let them work their magic. So I was really happy to find out that is exactly what is happening.

Other things that were included with the news release had to do with the Magic: the Gathering card game. I guess that Lord of the Rings and Warhammer 40K properties are going to have some crossover in the collectible card game. That should please fans of both of those intellectual properties. They are also going to re-explore the demiplanes of dread in a new supplement called, Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft. This stuff is going to be all new material based on a boxed set of products that hasn't been touched for twenty-five years or so. However, I loved what they put out way back then. It's going to be nice to have those areas of gothic horror explored in a new 2021 supplement with all new art and updated super villains with recurring characters from the Curse of Strahd adventure that I ran (with great success) to some eager players a couple of years ago.




 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

This short film of Conan the Barbarian is an excellent fan portrayal of the titular character.

This short film by user MugenMancer that was posted on YouTube is an excellent fan portrayal of Conan the Barbarian. For one, Conan looks like Conan should. In the books he was never supposed to be a clone of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Jason Momoa got a bit closer to the actual look of Conan, but the movie in which he starred was terrible. This short captured the panicked and frenetic feel of the Hyborian age better than any of the movies have done with their lofty budgets and paid script writers.

I've only read a few Conan stories, as they are mostly difficult to find these days despite the popularity of the character. And they are (for the most part) short stories as opposed to novels which I tend to gravitate toward in order to sink my teeth into them. So, if you're not really a short story kind of person, getting a little slice of the life of a barbarian here and there, it's probably not something you'd enjoy.

A short story in the world of Conan doesn't have the breadth to explain anything. You just are told that Conan wants a thing, that it might (for example) be in a structure with a weird name like "The Tower of the Elephant," and then you are off and running as he infiltrates said tower and overcomes traps as well as dark sorceries in order to acquire a fabled jewel or something similar. This short below is pretty much the same thing. Conan is running from some orcs that look like they live in a temple to some dark god. And he ends up killing them all. That pretty much sums up what Conan is.

It would be interesting to see a series developed around Conan (as opposed to a movie). There wouldn't need to be a lot of dialogue, and the main character could travel around a savage world stealing things from ancient temples and killing monsters. Also, I want to give a well-deserved clap in this post for MugenMancer. I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to animate something this good all by yourself. I bet it was really difficult to do. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

The key to effective world-building may lie with developing powerful characters first to establish a framework for stories about the meek.

I've been working on a pet project as of late: updating my Dungeons & Dragons homebrew world to fifth edition (which is the newest of the rulesets that is available to purchase). The word "homebrew" simply means that it is my own world that we all play in (I have a group of six players) as opposed to a prepackaged one that comes from Wizards of the Coast. There's a lot of work to it, but there's a lot of work to running a game in someone else's world too because you have to do a lot of reading and memorizing of details in order to make it real. There is no shortcut to downloading that information into someone's brain. Oh if only that thing from the Matrix were real and you could just connect yourself to a computer and download kung fu.

Anyway, I've discovered something interesting about world-building. It is really beneficial to flesh out in detail the super-powerful characters of my fantasy world. For me, it has made me realize that certain things would click together. There would be consequences for the actions taken by these characters. For example, knowing who was at the head of a fantasy empire allowed me to visualize their allies. And if they had allies, then there might be embassies or trade happening between countries. The exercise became a rabbit hole that I could follow down with all of these branches that go this way and that way, and they intertwined to become a kind of supporting network for my whole fake world.

So, I ended up discovering a way easier method to create stories for new campaigns, rather than starting with the low-powered folk and wondering...what can I do with these guys? Or...what are they doing in this whole made-up universe. If I could visualize a super-powerful character in charge of a kingdom or something similar going to war with another kingdom, then it made sense that these events on a huge scale would impact someone very small in the scope of things. So I could tell a singular story about a peasant or a farmer, who was impacted by the events of this huge war.

Having done some of these exercises for my Dungeons & Dragons world, I now wonder if the same kinds of exercises would bear fruit in creative writing. I also wonder if famous authors like J.K. Rowling started with a concept around their most powerful characters. In other words, I wonder if Dumbledore and Voldemort were the first things that popped into her head, and then she created a whole world around these characters. When all the table dressing was set, well Harry Potter would just naturally pop out and that's where she decided to start telling her story. In other words, I'm suggesting a very top down approach to world building, rather than starting with a character like Harry Potter, and then trying to find all the answers as to what he is and what the world is like that he inhabits.

Anyone else use this kind of approach when building a world for your characters? Please let me know as I'm curious.



Friday, February 19, 2021

The red band trailer for the new Mortal Kombat movie looks like great fun


Two months before the film is to be released, Warner Brothers has put out a trailer for Simon McQuoid's Mortal Kombat video adaptation. When I was in college, the first Mortal Kombat was very popular in these things that we called "arcades" that existed in malls. During my junior year at college, I remember that Mortal Kombat 2 came out and they put one in the area under the cafeteria where all of us went to check our mail. I spent several hours there distracting myself with that dumb game (but I was really good at it so it wasn't expensive).

Well, there have been other Mortal Kombat video game adaptations, but none of them have been good. The one that came out in 1995 had a really metal opening title song by (I think) Rage Against the Machine. I could be wrong though. It's just what I remember.

Anyway, the effects for this thing in the red band trailer I have linked below actually look good. Sub-Zero looks great, as does Liu Kang and Kung Lao. It almost makes me want to learn how to play the newest release of the game on a gaming platform, but I think I have better ways to waste my time. However, it does bring back fond memories. My favorite character to play was Liu Kang, and I just really liked his story.

Anyone else have some Mortal Kombat thoughts? Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Zack Snyder's trailer for Justice League shows the man knows how to market.


Zack Snyder knows how to put together a movie trailer. He really does. This spot for the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League, which (if I remember correctly) adds two hours to the film's original run time, is packed full of goodies that make me want to watch it. But I didn't really enjoy the original Justice League movie. So...am I getting suckered in again? Hmm. I guess. I'm actually kind of fascinated at how radically different it seems to be from what we got with Joss Whedon in the theatrical release a few years ago. One thing it has going for it? It seems to me that the big studios don't really spend this kind of cash on parody projects these days. So, it's interesting that Warner Brothers is making a leap of faith like this for Snyder to release his own cut.

I actually wonder how successful this movie will be. Any of y'all out there got any thoughts and care to weigh in? I put the trailer below for those who may not have seen it yet. But at first glance, the thing looks epic.

Friday, February 12, 2021

The Stand on CBS All Access proves that certain ideas have an expiration date and are best viewed within the context of the era in which they were released.


I've been watching The Stand on CBS All Access. I haven't ever read the book. But given that there are many adaptations of this book now, I don't think that the story has aged well. And this probably means that I won't be reading the book, like ever. My reasons are based in the reality that entertainment is much more exciting now. And that's just the march of time, I think. It's not any fault of Stephen King. Rather, my brain just requires more stimulus these days to hold my interest. Allow me to tell you a story.

My mother (who was born in 1933...she passed away in 2016) would always tell me that Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho was the scariest movie she had ever seen. When I watched it as a teenager, I wasn't scared at all, because the bar had been raised so much higher on "thrills." But I had the intelligence to know that it was a masterful film, and I knew why my mother was so impacted by it. The horror of the mental illness, coupled with the reveal of a mummified body kept in hiding within the old house, was something audiences had never seen before. So it was ground-breaking and terrifying. To me...it was boring. So I only watched it once.

Anyway, I think that The Stand is also suffering from this kind of age-inflicted banality. It's a forty-year-old story, and it unravels much the same as it always has in its other adaptations. Only this time, I noticed how boring everything was. A disease wipes out humanity (we've seen this before now so many times it is cliche). Mother Abigail is a prophet, but as far as prophet's goes she's just basically wise and has the power to project herself into people's dreams. Flagg can use illusions and float and survive fatal damage. We live in an entertainment world where Wonder Woman soars and Thanos snaps people out of existence. Sure, Flagg also appears as a kind of undead thing or as an animal depending on his mood. However, he technically has fewer powers than Dracula, and I just wasn't impressed.

The characters live mostly in and around two locations: Boulder and Las Vegas. In Las Vegas, they do what sinners do, and nothing is shocking anymore, because entertainment has filled all of those holes in the decades since The Stand was published. We see people having public sex, doing drugs, gambling, and killing for sport. This is pretty much run of the mill now in shows that just want to feature any level of debauchery. Game of Thrones was honestly more edgy than anything we saw in Las Vegas in those scenes. There's nothing unusual about it. In Boulder they hold meetings until five people need to travel to Las Vegas to make a stand. The hero of the story, Stu, falls and breaks a leg. So he can't go on. Meh, seems legit. The trip there is boring, and what happens in Vegas really doesn't register any blips on my emotion reader. Nadine pregnant with an evil baby jumps out of a window and kills herself along with evil baby. We've all seen "evil baby in woman" before, and there's nothing special. Prometheus did it better. And then Trash Can man blows up Vegas with a nuclear weapon, which is about the most exciting special effect you get in this series.

Now...I'm not saying The Stand isn't a good story. It is. But it feels like it belongs in another era. It's "frights" are like Edgar Allen Poe's Fall of the House of Usher or The Pit and the Pendulum. It's like reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I'm sure audiences when these things were first released, were shocked and frightened. There are plenty of accounts that Frankenstein when it was new, scared the bejeebus out of its readers. I have no doubt that it did. But no one who reads Frankenstein in 2021 finds it even remotely interesting. It's boring. The thrills just haven't aged well.

I think it's sad that I found The Stand to be so slow and plodding. I didn't feel emotionally invested in any of the characters, because they were essentially just real people who had real jobs and were somehow immune to a world-ending disease. It was like watching a show where Joe from 7-Eleven now has to help other survivors figure out how to turn the lights on (because the people who did that before have died). So you end up watching the show, and they get the lights on, and yup...that's pretty much it. It would be like you inviting me to watch you do your laundry, only it's harder because a lot of people died a year ago and soap and fresh water and electricity is harder to find. But there aren't any supernatural monsters like zombies complicating things.

If these characters die, it's not through anything unusual. They fall, or they get shot, or they die with the fragility of being human. There's nothing supernatural or spectacular. A person that falls ten feet is probably going to die without a doctor. So yeah...that part is very real, but it seems weird when contrasted with how other shows do death. Like Daenerys Targaryen has a fire-breathing dragon burning people to ashes. You just don't get anything cool like that at all from this show. When "god" shows up in the finale (I think it's god), it's just in the form of a smoky cloud with a bright pinpoint of light that throws lightning bolts around.

Anyway, it was an interesting thing to watch. Would I recommend it to anyone? I would if you are someone who doesn't watch a lot of television. If you are someone who cannot handle a lot of stimulus, it is perfect for you, because it isn't very stimulating. There's hours of people walking, and you see them talking about stuff. There's a deaf and mute character who seemed interesting but he didn't do anything at all except walk places and then he just died. I think if you are under forty, it will bore you to tears. But in its day, I hear it was quite the thriller. It's just more proof that certain ideas have an expiration date, and they are best viewed within the context of the era in which they were released.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

I feel so much empathy for what Wanda Maximoff is going through and it is painful to watch.


I've been watching WandaVision like many of the rest of you out there. For me, it hasn't been all that enjoyable. As a caveat, I'm not saying that it isn't good. It is, but it's the kind of painful entertainment that Marvel seems to be embracing to tell its stories that I may not be the biggest fan of. Spoiler's ahead as I continue to discuss what I'm talking about.

So, it's this idea of trauma. In Avengers: Endgame it was "fat Thor," which I found to be an extremely painful character. It was played off as funny, which I didn't appreciate. It's one reason why I have not rewatched Endgame, and one huge reason I didn't like the movie. Thor was in incredible pain. He had suffered tremendous trauma, and none of his friends bothered to check-in on him in five years. Thor had essentially been abandoned to become an alcoholic, as he sought out drug abuse as a means to deal with the horrible things he had experienced. I absolutely loathed and hated what they did to Thor in this show.

Well, Wanda Maximoff is next on the list it seems. I always felt that Wanda should be incredibly damaged by the trauma of both losing her brother and then watching Vision die and then herself being "dusted." What WandaVision is doing is examining what happens when a goddess (a person with god-like powers) goes through extreme trauma, sadness, and grief. When I watch this show, it is painful. All the laugh tracks, her mind-controlling everyone, and her anger... it's all incredibly sad. This character is in unfathomable emotional pain, has the power of a god, and none of her friends care. They are all gone; there is no one from the Avengers trying to console her at all. In fact, it seems to have taken everyone by surprise, because no one expected her to go off the rails like this.

It's an incredibly good story, but it's also incredibly uncomfortable too. Elizabeth Olsen is doing a tremendous job in playing this character. I see the pain in her eyes every time she is confronted with a thing that breaks with her "suspension of disbelief." At this point in the season, these "fourth wall breaks" are manifesting multiple times in an episode. At some level, you know that she is aware that she has become unhinged. But it's what she wants. She tells people to leave her alone, because she is finally happy. However, that isn't an option because she's hurting people. Wanda has become the villain.

It reminds me of the same arc that Daenerys Targaryen took in the Game of Thrones series. Here was an incredibly capable and intelligent character who just had so much trauma that by the end, she became the mad queen. I wonder why this kind of madness seems to only hit female characters. Why trauma just seems to build and build on these kinds of characters, and (because they are female) they snap and the whole world has to pay for it.

Most of these kinds of stories all have a character eventually learning to deal with their trauma, and then moving through it to get to the other side. I don't know what Wanda's "other side" looks like at this point. But I don't think there is a cure for madness when it happens to a god. Most of these kinds of stories end very badly, and I wonder if this is just another way to "put down" a character after they have gone crazy. I am invested in the series, and I want to see it through its conclusion. But yeah...it's a painful watch for anyone with empathy who actually can see what's going on.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Because of WandaVision I have questions and thoughts about the Blip.

 


Years after Avengers: Endgame brought a finale to the story arc of the Infinity Stones and Thanos, I have questions. I maybe should have thought of them back then, but I didn't. What brought them to mind was WandaVision and seeing Monica Rambeau (who had appeared in WandaVision's sitcom reality as "Geraldine") reformed out of ashes.

So my first question is: If you got blipped while you were on a plane, would you get blipped back into the middle of the sky and then fall to your death? So, thinking on that horror show...I must conclude that this is not the case. Rather, the Hulk's "snap" put everyone back safely. So Monica showing back up in a chair makes sense even if the chair she originally fell asleep in 5 years ago had been moved.

So these are complicated questions, obviously. And I shall never get a satisfactory answer to them. I mean...what if you were blipped in the middle of complex surgery? That would have to suck to suddenly be back without being sewn back up or if they were in the middle of removing something. Yikes.

I did find one reference online that said that Bruce Banner wished everyone back safely. However, my brain at this point, still wonders about collateral damage of people disappearing and then reappearing five years later. The consequences have to be huge, and I wonder how many stories you could tell dealing with those consequences before they got old.

The directors and writers have said that the Avengers had a lot of time to work out what it is they wanted: all of the people who got dusted by Thanos to return safely. This may be the equivalent of a fifteen page plan (or something similar) that includes enough food for those people to eat, and that they don't unblip in the same space as a thing occupying a space. There are those speculating too that maybe Banner's snap was to "implement the plan" that had been worked on and the Infinity Stones took it from there. They are unquestionably more than just magic objects. They define reality itself, so perhaps they have a kind of sentience to them.

Looking back on the whole Infinity Stones story arc, I will give the MCU credit for sticking with their whole "everyone is gone for five years" catastrophe. I thought they were going to cheese out an ending with a complete time reset and everyone would be hunky dory. But, they decided not to go that route, and to embrace all the consequences of "The Blip," and I guess we are just getting started on how these things will play out.

Friday, February 5, 2021

The Netflix series for Sabrina has ended and I have lots of thoughts about this hot mess of a show.


I'm going to chat about Sabrina (the Netflix series) which has ended now. So spoiler alert, if you are still watching or intending to watch.

The fourth (and final) season of Sabrina ended at the turn of the year, and I just finished watching it. When the show first aired, I was rather shocked at how different it was to anything I'd known about Sabrina. And it took me a little while to enjoy it because the main character of Sabrina was such an asshole. But we wouldn't have a show if the main character wasn't immediately doing exactly what she was told not to do (and suffering the consequences). I think (overall) my favorite character was Harvey. The people he interacted with on a daily basis were insufferable, and I'm glad the writer doing his lines knew how to thread that particular needle. 

That being said, there were a lot of qualities I did like.

For one, it was very adult, sexual, respectfully diverse and inclusive (although the graduate thesis level gender studies remarks seemed out of place in high school), and fun in the kind of way that I think a lot of people who are in love with Halloween (the holiday) imagine it to be. It was a very "woke" series as far as that goes, which seems really odd because it had so much to do with things that I think are evil. But I guess this show's interpretation of evil was that you could still have all the Beelzebub stuff as long as you were respectful about it. It just seems weird to me that you could use the right pronouns with someone (like "they" and "them") but then cut the head off your own father. Like...how does that work exactly? It seemed to pack some kind of messaging like, "the worst crimes in the world are ones which target identity." However, I was raised that murder and rape are actually worse than that...so, I got a little lost.

In many ways, Sabrina might have been a clever ode to the spooky holiday. And I really do mean "clever" because the way the sources of magic whether they be from Hecate or Lucifer are all clearly defined. Hell's role with its earth-bound witches is so intertwined that there is no sense of "other" in Sabrina. Rather, Hell is just right through the door, and you visit it as much as you would the kitchen in your home. And getting there and back again is as easy as opening a fridge door. Early on they try to scare you with mysterious gateways in mines that appear to be portals to Hell. But you do get to the point of asking, "What's the big deal?" when by fourth season, Sabrina just goes there all the time and chats up her father Lucifer or drops off a doll house or attends a social event.

And with regard to Hecate and Lucifer, both of these entities appear to be just "sources of power" rather than actual religions. If anything, Sabrina's track record with regard to religions isn't great. The way in which they used Baron Samedi in the fourth season seemed "not right" mostly because it was a big surprise and Hilda was in a queer relationship with a witch who was really a man the entire time. And then there was the whole first season fiasco with the statue of Baphomet and the Satanic church, that went to court. But mostly, religion for these witches (at least) doesn't seem to matter. They can trade faith like shirts. It was really all about the powers they got from the entities rather than anything they actually felt toward them. That does seem odd, but when your god is someone you "pal around with" I suppose you can unfriend them just like on Facebook.

I'm also not sure how I feel about the end of this show. Sabrina dies, and the ending feels very "tacked-on." She's just sitting in an empty room with three pictures and Nicholas Scratch (who presumably committed suicide so he can be with her) shows up and they just start kissing. It feels strange. Additionally, I'm just assuming that Nicholas Scratch committed suicide. What he tells Sabrina is that he swam in the "Sea of Sorrows," and I don't know what that is other than a metaphor for extreme depression. If he did commit suicide to be with his one true love, maybe that's a trope that we should just leave with Romeo and Juliet.

I also was not a fan of Father Blackwood. I was tired of this villain, and his crazy turn for Eldritch Terrors seemed very empty. It also felt like the Eldritch Terrors had absolutely no use for him, so he was pretty much just this really annoying person that distracted from the overall plot of the fourth season. It seems like the showrunners didn't really get Lovecraftian horror either, because the fourth season of Sabrina was just monster of the week, which pretty much sums up 90% of the series Supernatural.

Anyway, all that said, I did enjoy the show, but it doesn't hold any rewatch-ability for me. I think the ending caught everyone by surprise, because even the showrunners didn't realize that they'd run out of time when they were told that it would not be renewed for a season five. Knowing this, my strong preference is for shows to know that they're ending. That way people can write, film, and act like they know that the end is coming. It's basic storytelling, and it should be required of television.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

For the February IWSG we are talking about online friendships we've all made in the digital age.


It's February 3rd and Black History Month. It's also the first Wednesday of February 2021. I was reminded by a friend that 1980 was 41 years ago. I don't know why that stung, but it kind of did. So to take my mind off how long ago 1980 was...I'm going to answer the February 3rd question that's on the Insecure Writer's Support Group Sign-up page which you can find HERE.

Here's a little bit about the IWSG:

It was created by Alex Cavanaugh, who is an amazing science fiction writer and musician and networker. He wears many hats.

It's purpose is to share and encourage other writers.

We all post on the first Wednesday of every month.

Here is the February 3rd question: Blogging is often more than just sharing stories. It's often the start of special friendships and relationships. Have you made any friends through the blogosphere.

I have. I think that Alex and I are friends. We've never met, but I think it'd be fun to do that someday. I feel like I know a bit about him. I have also met Patrick Dilloway in person, and I thought that I had a bit in common with him too. I know we share the same politics, and we have some interests that crossover. Patrick is really into comic books whereas I just kind of dip a little into them. I haven't read actual comics for years, so most of what I remember is old stuff. I do occasionally google stuff to catch up on storylines. Like (apparently) there is a new big bad in the Marvel universe right now that is called Knull who is a bigger and stronger villain than Thanos was. He literally destroyed the Sentry (who is basically Marvel Superman) and just ripped him to pieces in a few seconds. He's the first symbiote or a king of symbiotes (remember Peter Parker's black suit?) Anyway, Patrick would be the "go to" guy to ask all about Knull whereas I'm just passingly aware of Knull and the storyline in general (if that makes any sense).

Another blogger I've met is David Powers King. But he's more than just a blogger. He's a pretty big deal these days too. I know he writes great books for young adults that are a lot of fun to read and should be made into shows on Disney Plus. I had dinner with him once at one of my favorite restaurants in town. But that restaurant closed as did a bunch of others I liked. Covid is like a wrecking ball with restaurants right now.

I've never met Liz, but she seems like she would be a fun person to meet. And then there is Andrew over in the bay area. I'd actually really like to meet Andrew. I think that would be fun. I enjoy reading his review of things, and we are politically aligned too which is always a plus. I'm not saying I don't appreciate conservatives, but I live in Trump country so I'm around them 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. It's just nice to be able to meet people who have the same ideals as me. It's like a breath of fresh air.

Please stop by the IWSG's awesome co-hosts. They are:

Louise - Fundy Blue , Jennifer Lane, Mary Aalgaard, Patsy Collins at Womagwriter, and Nancy Gideon!

Anyway, that's about it for my IWSG post. Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, January 29, 2021

The Gamestop stock manipulation of 2021 is the poster child for mass desperation and how bad income inequality has actually gotten.


The subreddit group of Wall Street Bets, who is mostly responsible for the artificial manipulation of Gamestop stock, is the poster child for how toxic capitalism actually is and how bad income inequality has actually gotten.

First, a disclosure: I live in a state where most people vote conservative. Many of them hold racist views, they are religious and believe in some stuff that is wildly different from garden variety Christianity, and every single one of the men wants to be a leader. However, they interpret leadership as "management," which in their minds means they can show up late and leave early, delegate all the work because they are smarter than others, and then go home and play video games. They are entitled folk who don't actually do real hard work. Actual work would break them in half.

This story usually doesn't end well, and they get fired. But the social safety net of unemployment catches them as does a working wife who doesn't carry the toxic narcissism but shoulders the responsibility by paying off the credit cards. And they don't leave their husbands because (in my part of the country) being older and a single woman brands you as a spinster. And plus, there's that whole inconvenient thing that you need a man after you are dead to call you from the grave to go to heaven. It's really quite a racket. ((Shrug)) it is what life is like out here in the West when they aren't toting guns, big oil, and yelling "freedom" from their pickup trucks. I may have just revealed my atheism yet again in saying all this.

A lot of them are in financial trouble too, but they won't tell you that because being poor is shameful. Taking handouts from the "gubmint" is shameful. Why? It's called the prosperity doctrine. Religion teaches that god shows his blessings by giving you the trappings of wealth. So they make sure that the optics of their living space is good. They buy new cars (which cost around $40,000 these days) and they replace them about every three to four years and just carry a car loan around with them forever. Many of them will never own homes, so they blow money on dining out, on home entertainment systems, on shows and experiences, and apartments that feature granite countertops and stainless steal appliances.  And they pay whatever that rent happens to be forever. They blow money on plastic surgery (a lot), because men are shallow, and sex feels good so you gotta look good to get it. That (again) is life out here in the West. But if you ask them...they all love capitalism. "F*ck socialism!" you will hear them say. "You libtards and your Biden are wrong for the country!" So then they vote for billionaires who care nothing for them, and then because they are fired and have no college degree, they collect unemployment and go and play video games and hope to own the libtards online.

There is little to no way to win unless you have above average intelligence, have luck on your side, and are flawless in your decision-making based upon the reality that you hold to be true. A lot of people fail at one or all of these things. You see the desperation everywhere if you just take a moment to look. Now, one of the wealth engines that capitalism has is the stock market. It's a thing where people can put money, buy portions of a company that is being run well (assumedly), and then share in the profits that company makes. But this is too slow for a lot of people, and with as little money as people make these days (because of toxic conservative politics) making 6% in a year on the $100.00 you have to invest only amounts to $6.00, which won't even buy you a drink at Starbucks. However, a 6% return on an investment in a year is considered excellent. So for a lot of people--and us liberals (by proximity and without choice) are always going to be on the same bus/boat as everyone else--the only way to truly get out of a money pit and to "pull oneself up by the bootstraps" is not through a job anymore. It is through taking psychopathic risks because you've got nothing to lose.

And it is psychopathy. You'd have to be dead inside to be able to sink money into something and then watch it swing wildly, so that one day it was practically all wiped out and in the next you were $60,000 in the positive. If you were neurotypical, you wouldn't be able to sleep at night. And that is what capitalism is. "Ya gotta take risks in life, boy!" is the advice of every assinine shill who has enough wealth in life to be comfortable.

This last ten days or so (maybe longer) Gamestop stock has been hitting the news. It has soared to stratospheric levels, not because the company was any good, but because its stock has been manipulated. The person behind "The Big Short" was among a few who noticed that there were these huge firms on Wall Street who were shorting the stock. This means, they are betting that the company goes out of business. And you know what? They are probably right. It's got an outdated business model. It's a store that was in malls years ago and now everything is downloadable and streaming. It's a dinosaur for the digital age. It doesn't take any special kind of intelligence to realize that. The difference here was that there were actually more bets against Gamestop's stock than there are actual shares by a lot.

The people over at Reddit and Wall Street Bets decided to screw all those guys and buy the stock, using social media to rally the commoners and by weaponizing options, which allows a small amount of money to go big in a huge way (you can also lose everything with options). It's a pure form of gambling. However, it's not random. If you can manipulate a stock, you can make a ton of money. And this is what happened for some people. I wish them well, because they embraced psychopathy to make some $$$, and they forced big firms to buy Gamestop stock at high levels because of obligations.

I watched while it happened in real time. My co-worker made $13,000. I don't like the stock market because it makes me feel stressed and queasy (a common reaction to psychopathic things), so I stayed out of it. I just wanted to watch. The stock fluctuated by hundreds of dollars a day as people buy and sell constantly, using apps like Robin Hood. Elon Musk piled in and I think it shot up to $400. People who had bought in at $3.00 and had options were making sums like $63,000 by the time they sold. They'd tweet how the money was going toward medical bills that they can't afford or this and that...each person had a horrible desperate story. And Wall Street got sucker punched for billions of dollars. It's like robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. This was amazing to watch and it is also incredibly sad to watch. It's sad because you shouldn't have to do crap like this in order to survive.

This is how you make it in our country now. Jobs don't pay enough, and people keep giving tax breaks to billionaires. Income inequality is so bad, that people need to make desperate "Hail Mary's" to try and make some real money to pay for things like housing, medical bills, vehicle repairs, and food for kids. The manipulation of Gamestop stock (GME) is the ultimate poster child for how bad income inequality actually is. It is the ultimate ponzi scheme using a company who's assets are on a downward spiral, and whose sales could never justify the price of their stock. I never thought I would see anything like it, and I hope that there's a lot more of it. Not for me, because I am comfortably middle class. I never want to participate in something like that. But I want other people to be able to make it into the middle class. It's just really sad that there isn't another way...you know...like a job or a career to do so. And it's incredibly sad that half the country uses their vote in politics to continue the abuse, because they've been sold the idea that tax breaks for billionaires will trickle down to them.

If you are reading this, and you made money on the Gamestop stock thing (before Wall Street stepped in and crippled the ability for the stock to go up), I congratulate you. I just wish it didn't have to be this way. It just shows you how broken our country has become with wages so low and with healthcare so gutted that it barely functions.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

What exactly is evil?


I'm reading Raymond E. Feists magnum opus collection of Midkemia books, and I have been doing so for a while. They are very "popcorn-esque." If you are looking for some deep-reading, you might want to go elsewhere. However, they are really fun with memorable characters that make the narrative kind of play like a high-budget fantasy movie in my head. They've been great vehicles to escape quarantines and the reality of Covid. Although his dialogue seems to be just about the same for every character, meaning that he seems to prefer intelligent characters who rarely get underestimated, and that everyone seems to share the same brain...he does have some surprising insights regarding the concept of "Evil" that I like. And in particular, he establishes within the series that the most evil thing in creation is insanity and madness.

Now, every intellectual property (and thereby author) seems to approach the idea of "Evil" differently. For Dungeons & Dragons things are very cut and dried. There are many creatures that are just "Lawful Evil," "Chaotic Evil," and "Neutral Evil," and there are game mechanics that deal with this really well, making it a functional part of the game. For Game of Thrones and George R.R. Martin, "evil" doesn't actually exist. What you perceive as "evil" is just a thing fulfilling their own self-interest. So we are taught to try and see things from a character's point-of-view. From Cersei's own perspective, she was destroying her enemies, which isn't evil. But from everyone else's perspective, she was the worst person that had ever lived.

If we go back to Tolkien, who wrote in Letters, #184 about "Evil," he has this to say: "In my story, Sauron represents as near an approach to the wholly evil will as is possible." He goes on to explain, "In my story I do not deal in absolute evil. I do no think there is such a thing, since that is zero. I do not think that at any rate, any 'rational being' is wholly evil."

Now, if you've read Tolkien's Silmarillion you know of the character of Morgoth, who was Sauron's master, and who is going to be the big bad for the new Amazon Lord of the Rings series that takes place thousands of years before that famous trilogy. Tolkien writes of Morgoth that, "Morgoth fell before creation of the physical world." There is a suggestion inherent in this language that Morgoth is not a "rational being." Rather, I think he's saying that Morgoth is a product of uncontrollable rage, which is a kind of madness.

Tolkien writes, "Sauron had never reached this stage of nihilistic madness [as Morgoth had]. He did not object to the existence of the world, so long as he could do what he liked with it. He still had the relics of positive purposes, that descended from the good of the nature in which he began: it had been his virtue (and therefore also the cause of his fall, and of his relapse) that he loved order and coordination, and disliked all confusion and wasteful friction."

To circle back to Feist's Midkemia books (which are above twenty--the man was a prolific writer and committed wholly to his story that I think were drawn from D&D campaigns he ran? [which is remarkable by the way]), his "big bad" is a mad god. This guy was so insane (made no sense at all) that the other gods got together to throw him out of the universe and imprison him under a mountain (on a world) that is so large that the entire world of Midkemia could exist on a ledge of that mountain. At least, that is how it is described. It makes for an impressive visual to be sure.

In Feist's books, this "mad god" is so terrible that essentially knowing his actual name will cause a person to become influenced and controlled by him (even though he's under this huge mountain in another universe). So everyone just refers to him as "The Nameless One." You do (as the reader) eventually learn the name of this god...but "Nameless One" inspires more fear (I think), and I like it when the characters call the mad god by this moniker.

Additionally, everything that has ever happened that is really bad can be traced back to this guy, including multiple invasions, wars, and just all-around terrible and nasty wizards and sorcerers. In fact, there are multiple instances of really powerful wizards becoming recurring villains because you can't actually kill them. The reason is that they are nightmares or dreams from this slumbering Mad God, and like a dream, you can kill it, but it usually is only for a while and they come back in a different form and often with more power than they had the first time you met them. As you can see...that's a problem.

It's this idea of "madness" being the most pure expression of "evil" that intrigues me. It's something that Tolkien gave a lot of thought to, and I'm sure Feist knew this and made a conscious decision to follow the same path. It's also one that I find particularly attractive. When I think about pure expressions of madness in fiction, I'm immediately reminded of H.P. Lovecraft's creations, i.e., Cthulhu and the "Eldritch Horrors" from beyond. Those things actually cause their observers (when they interact with them) to go mad. Lovecraft even has a story called, Into the Mountains of Madness. So, I guess I'm in this place where I'm asking, "Is madness then what we would call evil?" If that's the case, then what about the stigma regarding the mentally ill, and the fact that we shouldn't really go down this path with regard to polite society? Of course, there are extremes to any kind of mental illness, right? How severe things get dictates a lot of what kinds of evil actions we might witness, from school shootings to other types of actions that most of us view as "completely crazy."

Anyway, I wanted to ask those of you out there who are reading these words what you think of "Madness" being the definition of "Evil." Does it make sense to you? And if not, what then do you consider to be evil?

Monday, January 25, 2021

Godzilla versus King Kong is the kind of hot garbage I'm really looking forward to seeing multiple times.


With the emergence of the Godzilla vs King Kong trailer from Legendary pictures this weekend (it will be released on streaming and in theaters at the same time on March 26 on HBO Max), I'm reminding myself why I love these stupid movies.

1) Modern military aircraft have weapons that destroy their targets at a range of miles and fly faster than the speed of sound. However, if the fighter planes do not get within grappling range of the kaiju it is just not as fun. I love awesome scenes of giant monsters smashing the jets as they fly by, and the pilots ejecting out seconds before. So please continue to serve up my movie crack cocaine.

2) Despite giant monsters punching each other, it's important that we have human characters to relate to so that we have a plot. I crave narration, perspective, and I like to feel the fear and awe of human characters desperately trying to frame the events of "WTF-ness" that kaiju inspire.

3) Aren't King Kong and Godzilla both kinda heroes in the perspective movies? So...here's hoping that there is a third kaiju like MechaGhidorah that appears that allows both of them to set aside their differences respectfully (think Batman vs. Superman) and team up to beat on a third kaiju and maybe destroy a big city in the process. I love my destruction porn.

4) What is that thing flying above Kong's shoulder in the trailer? Is that a flying saucer?


5) I think Kong made an axe using one of Godzilla's dorsal fins. That's how he's able to redirect the energy of Godzilla's own fusion blast. Do you guys see that in the trailer? Does it look like that to you?

All in all, this movie looks like hot garbage. Which means I'm going to watch it immediately upon release and probably see it multiple times.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Soul felt like a backdoor movie about suicide and depression and I loved it.

 


The other movie that came out on Christmas day (I'm clearing out a backlog of ideas here) was the Pixar movie, Soul. Hopefully, you've had time to see it by now. But just in case you haven't, I'm issuing a soft "spoiler" warning as I'd like to talk about some of the themes that I saw in it.

First off, I really enjoyed Soul. It was a beautiful movie that swiftly veered into territory that (I felt) seemed like a backdoor discussion about suicide and depression. Most of this centers around discussions about "the spark," which is an interesting concept. The spark isn't a thing. Rather, it's a passion for living. Joe (the main character) found his spark in music and jazz. But in the afterlife, Joe meets a soul that has yet to experience life and doesn't really want to. This unborn soul is called 22, and they are afraid of living. In fact, they never got their spark until they experience life in Joe's body.

This whole thing about the "spark" then seems to be a love of life itself. It is triggered by something that gets you wanting to step across the threshold and see what's out there. 22 felt like someone who had preemptively lost any taste for the world and any sense of purpose and had decided that life just wasn't worth it. It took having to explore an actual community and to use actual senses in order to be able to disconnect from this negative need to perform, conform, or achieve. In other words, 22 could just be present in the moment, and that empowered them to devour life.

I also like how Pixar went about explaining what the spark was not. Just because a soul found their spark sinking a swish while playing basketball doesn't mean that their spark is basketball. All it means is that something about playing basketball made the soul want to experience life. Another character in the show is named Des, and he's a hairdresser. Des's spark wasn't cutting hair or to be a veterinarian. We actually don't know what Des's spark was, and it may not have been connected to anything they actually do in real life. By this same logic, we don't actually know what 22's spark is. Rather, it's unidentifiable. All that we do know is that during their brief time on Earth in Joe's body, they found their spark.

And maybe...just maybe...this is what happens when people commit suicide. They lose their spark, or lose touch with it. We all like to think of people like Anthony Bourdain (who had a fabulous life), but after seeing this movie I think to myself...it doesn't matter how fabulous his life actually was or whether he experienced joy ten times a day. For whatever reason...he lost the connection he had with his spark. And it probably didn't take long after that before he decided that life was no longer "worth it."

It's also not lost on me what 22's role actually is. In the movie, they're not just an obnoxious kid who doesn't like to learn even though they have access to the smartest people. They are a metaphor for a kid stuck in the education system that inner-city children are most susceptible to: rote learning and recitation with no experience or exposure. The experiencing and participating is something schools are paring down and throwing away, and that is exactly what 22 is meant to symbolize.

If you haven't checked out Soul, which is on Disney Plus, I think that you should. It has a lot of things going on, but it is also a story about lost souls, sparks, and black experience. When you are not seeing Joe struggling to return to a life just so he could return to not living it, you get lots of voices: a single black mother, a black barber, a black woman who's an expert at Jazz. There's a lot of people expressing themselves and explaining themselves as black people rather than just riding along with one man imposing himself on the entire narrative with a single-minded obsession. It's honestly quite refreshing and masterfully done.

Pixar hits it out of the park yet again.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Season Five of the Expanse is science fiction that is so good it stands alone above everything else.


I've been watching season 5 of The Expanse. If there is one criticism I can give the series it is this: I really love binge watching. Having to wait a week to continue the story does let some of the air out of the balloon. I guess that Netflix has kind of spoiled me. That being said, I get why they do it. Getting people to stay subscribed while they come up with something else that will make it hard for you to cancel your subscription is how they make their money. Right now, I'm a little disappointed with the Apple streaming service for this reason. However, Cherry, the new Tom Holland film is due very soon and then Isaac Asimov's series adaptation of Foundation is landing there as well. So...I may not cancel Apple+ just yet.

However, the Expanse is on Amazon Prime. So, I'm not sure why they like to string it out like Apple+ and Disney Plus. There seems to be plenty of incentive to keep people subscribing to Amazon Prime. But I do have my thoughts on this. Maybe they just want people to not question the Amazon Prime subscription? Something like...hmm...maybe I'm not getting my money's worth on Amazon Prime, but...if I cancel...I can't watch the new episode of The Expanse. Totally worth it plus the free shipping and other things. Nevermind and then dismiss thought. Maybe that's what's going on.

This season of The Expanse is the penultimate season. Even before it made its premiere in December, Amazon said that season six would be the last season for this science fiction series. I'm okay with that (to be honest) as the narrative of the series reaches a big conclusion in book six, after which there is a multi-decade time jump. Thus far, I'm impressed with the special effects, and I'm glad they got the actress back that played "Peaches," a.k.a. Clarissa Mao. I think that the meteors striking the surface of Earth could have been done with more spectacular fanfare, but it works. It looks realistic, and it's satisfying to see a "scorched Earth." Maybe I was expecting something closer to a disaster porn movie like "Deep Impact," which had a fantastic "comet strikes earth" scene. Actually, looking back on it that was the only scene worth watching in that movie.

Season Five has been an incredibly good season, but that's pretty much par for the course for this series. I said it all in the title above: the Expanse is science fiction that is so good it stands alone above everything else. That being said, I do have some random thoughts. For one, I do think that they are setting up Bull to be the next Roci pilot, because they fired Cas Anvar due to his sexual assault allegations. Second, I also wish that Bobbi was getting a little more screen time this season than she currently is. Bobbi is a great character. There's a scene in book seven when Amos and Bobbi get into a huge fight. I love this scene, because Bobbi actually takes down Amos, which we've never seen anyone do before. I hope we get to see that next season in some capacity, but we probably won't. That's probably my biggest regret at knowing that next year's Expanse is the last one we get.

To take stock at this point in the season, it is impressive at how the showrunners have been using the series as a way to remix and improve certain parts of what was already one of the best science fiction series I've read...like ever. It has delivered on everything I hoped it would. And space battles on The Expanse give me life every time I watch them. They are so good.

I'm going to miss this series when it finishes. At least we get book nine this year, which is also the last of the books. Sigh. I hate to see good things end. However, when good things don't end, they turn into the Walking Dead, which was a series I followed for many years but finally gave up on. In my head, some things can (and often do) outstay their welcome. I should be glad that the Expanse is not one of them.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Okay y'all Bridgerton on Netflix is pretty great.


This week I fell down the Bridgerton hole. It was a good fall. At first, I had no idea what to expect. I've heard the buzz about Bridgerton from online sources to NPR. I am familiar with Shonda Rhimes, and her catalogue of work. But I hadn't heard of Chris Van Dusen, who created the show, and who deserves the lion's share of credit in bringing this masterpiece to realization on Netflix. I started out on a boring Monday evening, looking through some shows to watch, when I saw it at the top of the Netflix queue. "Why not?" I asked myself. "People seem to like it, and if it's not something I want to watch I can switch to something else." Well, I started watching and literally before the credits rolled on the show I was hooked. I finally had to turn it off FIVE HOURS later, a little breathless, and wondering where this show had been all my life.

Bridgerton is a romance. But it's a romance that presents itself with delightful modern touches. The cast is incredibly diverse, and everyone is very easy on the eyes. The story that we get in this first season follows Daphne (played by Phoebe Dynevor) who is the eldest of the Bridgerton daughters. As she enters the very competitive dating and hence "to marriage" market to avoid becoming a spinster, there are all kinds of things that I found fascinating, from the presentation to the queen to the idea that someone increased their dating value if they were seen being wooed by nobles with powerful titles.

It manages to put a spin on the old idea that love isn't found but constructed. However, true love (like a lightning bolt) will cause people to leap on horses between two men dueling with pistols (because what could possibly be more romantic than that?). And you know what? it works.

The charm at the core of this story explodes when two willful young people decide to manipulate the circumstances of betrothal by pretending to be in love so that they can help each other. Only...you guessed it...they actually fall in love. Added to all of this is the breathless reporting by an anonymous writer who goes by the name, "Lady Whistledown." And what Lady Whistledown issues in her scandal sheet is snapped up and read by everyone. In a way, it's the narrative voice of Lady Whistledown that adds the dash of whimsy to this whole tale. It's a perfect match to the music, the amazing costumes, the colorful and elaborate sets, and the gorgeous scenery of the promenade. And the voiceover for Lady Whistledown is done by none other than Julie Andrews. So it's fabulous!

Shondaland makes great television, and Bridgerton just may be the favorite I have ever seen from this company, which is saying a lot considering both Grey's Anatomy and Scandal are from Shondaland. If you haven't watched Bridgerton, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. I bet it sucks you in like it did me.

Oh...and did I tell you that there are books? I discovered that fact this week as I was raving about the show, and one of my co-workers said, "The books explore all the Bridgerton stories." I paused and asked, "There are books?" I guess I have some reading in my future.

And honestly, with all that's going on in the world, couldn't you use a distraction? Time for a little romance, y'all. Have a good weekend. Want to hear the opening credits song? Click below.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Despite what Rotten Tomatoes has to say about it Wonder Woman 1984 was an excellent movie.


Today, I'm going to talk about Wonder Woman 1984. So, there are spoilers ahead if you haven't seen it.

To anyone that knows me, it was no surprise that I loved this show. I've now seen it three times. Wonder Woman is a character I've always loved, and I think that her story is much stronger than other female superheroes of the same caliber both on the Marvel side and on the DC side. Additionally, I'm able to look past C.G.I. flaws that most people don't seem to be able to do. I didn't think that Cheetah looked bad (people compared the Cheetah we saw at the end of the movie to the C.G.I. "cats" that appeared in the awful movie adaptation of Cats). I also wasn't disturbed when they substituted Gal Gadot and the kid she rescues off a road in Egypt (before getting run over by huge trucks) with a rubber dummy. I actually didn't notice that trick until I saw someone complaining about it and then slowing the video down to 1/100th of the speed so that we could see it was a dummy.

Okay then. But the illusion was real for me. If anything, the one thing that irritated me about the whole experience was that the movie came out on Christmas Day. That allowed family members of mine to hold the film "hostage" while I participated in the parade that is Christmas with lots of conversation (socially distanced) and enforced social participation. I usually don't mind these things, but it was especially difficult knowing that there was something really fun that I wanted to do, and I was being prevented from doing it due to familial obligation. If you remember, this shouldn't have happened. The original release date for the movie was June 5th. Then it was pushed to August 4th. And then it was moved to October 2nd. And then they were like...Christmas! Let's make it a Christmas movie!!

And it wasn't a movie that came out at midnight on Christmas Eve. Oh no...you had to wait until noon on Christmas day to watch it, which pretty much guaranteed that you'd have to see it...as a group...with people who aren't into comic books.

So yeah...nationwide...people who were into comic books had to sit next to people that weren't even aware of the movie and that comic books are a thing read by adults. People sat next to women in their seventies all dolled up for Christmas (and who wanted to drink wine and talk about past exes) who were like, "Oh...who is this again? Oh...sorry...I'll be quiet." Or..."How long is this movie? Does that woman know that young man from something? Oh...this is a series? What's that? The last movie I saw was with my grandkids in January and that didn't make sense either. I don't have the Netflix. Oh poo...why is everyone's attention on the screen? I wanted to get some attention today, because 'the rona' has left me all alone...."

So yeah :)) There is/was that. Lovely.

But getting back to the movie, I honestly just loved the way Patti Jenkins crafted the narrative of this sequel. Plus, I got to see the invisible jet, we got more Themiscyra bits (I love anytime we get to see the Amazons on Themiscyra), we got tons of lasso moments (she swung from frickin' lightning bolts), we got the Alex Ross "Kingdom Come" gold angel suit, and we got to see Wonder Woman fly in an achingly beautiful segment that happens due to grief at having to renounce her one wish, which means she will lose Steve Trevor yet again. The chemistry between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine is palpable, and I was fully drawn in and invested in caring about this story and this heroine.

I know Wonder Woman 1984 is "rotten" on Rotten Tomatoes, but that definitely is/was not my experience. It's a beautiful film, and when I watched it with some younger friends of mine who are into comic books (and who aren't poisoned by a political brain), they were also left breathless by the awesome parts of it. I feel like the ones who are truly jaded are just fundamentally different people from me, some being toxic narcissists that express or harbor a lot of anger with regard to creative expression of progressive ideals. It gives them an excuse to critically tear a thing apart, while using their genre expertise to express dissatisfaction at the way a thing was portrayed. It's the same kind of thing that you see when progressives tout $2,000 stimulus checks and conservatives shoot it down with all kinds of logical arguments from, "We believe people should work and not be given handouts" to "let's try to be fiscally conservative." But then one of their own says, "Let's do $2,000 stimulus checks," and they say, "We were stopped by the other party! It's their fault! This is a great idea!"

Whoever said that politics does not affect your every day thinking is 100% wrong. It affects everything, including what you accept as actual reality.

Anyway, I love Wonder Woman 1984. I'm glad it dropped, and it hit all the inner pleasure buttons I possess for this kind of thing. It made me miss the eighties. But I'd like other movies that are released simultaneously to video to avoid being dropped on Christmas. I know it won't happen...but wishing otherwise doesn't hurt.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Season 3 of Star Trek Discovery was some fantastic world-building and an open invitation to explore a fresh and exciting universe filled with fascinating characters.

Star Trek: Discovery has its flaws (like any version of Trek), and it also has its haters. I am not one of them. I want to talk about the season that just ended, and how wonderful season 3 ended up being. So spoiler alert, if you haven't watched it already.

Countdown: 3, 2, 1...

First, there is this:

Season 3 ends with a tribute to Gene Roddenberry, and to his original vision for Star Trek, exemplified with the quote above. This bit of wisdom hit really hard right now. In an era where I feel like people are no longer able to understand the words coming out of my mouth (because they have been radicalized and given a new dictionary with words that mean different things) I can empathize with just how valuable true communication is.

Me: "Oh...you want to drain the swamp? That 'sounds' kind of good? Does 'swamp' mean corrupt politicians who lie and grift people for money? Oh...no? (surprised look) It means people who question a corrupt politician and don't sanction the corrupt politician with universal power? It means news people and media and democratic votes? That's the swamp!? Oh okay...thanks for taking the time to define that...uh...yeah I'm not a supporter of 'drain the swamp' if that's what you mean by 'swamp.' Thanks again...byeeee." So yeah...talking the same language is incredibly important. Want another example? "Right to work" doesn't mean your "right to have a job." It means, "the right of an employer to pay you dirt wages and replace you immediately with another person if there are any hiccups with you at all." It's all in the language, and it messes up communication between individuals.

The world of Star Trek is probably as close to my idea of what true heaven must be like than any other thing I can think of. A place where people can communicate instantly with one another via technology? Where there are consequences for people who do bad things? Where there is diversity, inclusion, and respect for people of all sexualities, gender identities, religions, and alien backgrounds? Wow. You can sign me up.

There are a number of things that I really thought were amazing about this season.
  1. Michael is now Captain of the Discovery. This is exciting, and when it happened, it just felt really right. She has made agonizingly tough choices and was always at the moral center of the show because of those choices. There was this ongoing guilt that she obviously wrestled with in regards to the insurrection she started in the first episode of Discovery when she tried a mutiny against Captain Georgiou. Her choices in season three weren't much better, which ended up forcing Captain Saru to demote her from the position of "First Officer." To have the Star Fleet of the 32nd Century recognize in Michael the same brilliant chaos that existed within Captain Kirk, and then sanction it, felt like a wonderful equalization of the sexes. Kirk got away with so much, because he was a man. But it felt like Michael (who did the exact same crap) couldn't get away with it because she was a woman...until she could. That was great. Equality at last.
  2. Can we talk about Gray for a moment? I love this character, and it's awesome that they will be part of Adira's story arc going forward. I just wonder if they will use some holo-emitter technology, similar to the doctor in Voyager. It's also fantastic that we now have non-binary characters in a major franchise. Discovery is breaking so much new ground, with the first openly gay couple (the engineer and the doctor) and now a non-binary couple consisting of a Trill and a former host who has lost their body.
  3. Now that the Emerald Chain is out of the way, I assume that Discovery is going to be visiting the former Federation worlds and trying to get them to rejoin the Federation. That will be a very interesting story arc for the fourth season.
  4. This season surprised me with the reunification of Romulus and Vulcan. In retrospect, I shouldn't have been surprised, especially given that this was a key pair of episodes in Star Trek: The Next Generation. But I was. I also loved it, and it fits really well into the retrofit reboot that J.J. Abrams did when he blew up original Vulcan. The Romulans and the Klingons have now settled on a new homeworld, having abandoned the original worlds which they used to reside upon. That's a great thing. Also the challenge that Burnham had for the council was a fascinating episode. It was one where we got to explore her character through analysis, and I loved it.
  5. I didn't expect Book to be able to operate the spore drive, because of his natural empathic abilities. I wonder if Betazoids could possibly do it too? Anyway, I didn't see that one coming, and it's great. Now they have a backup person who can use the mushroom network.
  6. Star Trek: Discovery's third season did a lot to setup Strange New Worlds, which (I hope) is a series that takes place in the Discovery timeline. The universe of the 32nd century is incredibly interesting, and I want more.
  7. "The Burn" ended up being a fantastic story hook by which to explain the Federation's devastation, and to offer hope for every single person invested in this future. I'm very much intrigued by the alien "Su Kal," who is a Kelpian that is emotionally connected to dilithium crystals. When he screamed because of the death of his mother, every source of dilithium in the Federation blew up. That's a fascinating hook that one cannot ignore, and I wonder what it means going forward.
  8. Did anyone love that Michelle Yeoh's "Empress" exited the show in a Guardian of Forever episode? I didn't see that one coming either. I'm going to miss "The Empress" as much as I'm going to miss "Baby Grogu" in The Mandalorian. Both of those characters were just stand-out secondary characters that stole every scene in which they appeared.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Let's compare notes on the Mandalorian which wrapped up its second season in December.

 So, I want to talk about The Mandalorian for a moment. It ended its second season last month, and when it ended my first thought was that, "It's not enough." I deeply miss longer seasons of television, but eight does work in a pinch. And then I had a flood of other thoughts. If you haven't watched it by now, you might want to stop reading as I'm going to spoil the whole thing for you in discussing these thoughts.

Ready?

Okay then, second thought: Why did they deepfake CGI a young Mark Hamill's face onto the body of an actor. There are two reasons for my frustration regarding this choice. The first is that within the Disney stable, they've already got an actor that looks a lot like young Mark Hamill. He's Sebastian Stan, and here's a pic comparing the two of them.

In my opinion, the resemblance of young Sebastian Stan to Mark Hamill is uncanny. Furthermore, Sebastian Stan said that he would play the part if it were offered to him. Like...he's already willing. He'd just have to juggle the new gig with his role in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

This seems like a big "missed opportunity" for Disney primarily because I know that the kind of "deep fake" stuff that Disney is doing to paste Mark Hamill's face onto the body of an actor is probably a thing that they don't want to do all that much. Why? It looks terrible. But... it also means that we probably aren't going to see Baby Grogu all that much anymore too. If he's off being trained by Luke Skywalker, it means that the supporting character of Baby Grogu is probably being written off, and I don't like that. I liked the kid. I thought the kid was an amazing character.

Third thought: Just like in politics, being extremely good at something and being passionate about something does not make a person the right one for the job. Specifically, I'm talking about J.J. Abrams. J.J. is brilliant. I like a lot of his stuff. But he wasn't the right person to hand the reigns to when it came to Star Wars. And look...to follow me down this rabbit hole...you have to ignore box office receipts. And yes, I know that box office receipts are all that matter. Okay...that being said...please ignore the billion plus dollar box office, so that I can make a point.

J.J. is king at the box office! All hail J.J. Let's just work that out of our system. Because...he's still the wrong person for Star Wars. The right people are Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni.

Now look...If you got J.J. in a room with Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, I know you wouldn't be able to tell them apart as far as Star Wars geeks go. J.J. would be right there rattling off his favorite moments along with the rest of them. He would pass every geek test. His track record is impeccable when producing money comes to bear. But he's still wrong. Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni just know how to tell a Star Wars story. They just do...and they tell it way better than J.J. They're doing such a fine job, that the excitement around Star Wars is essentially due to their efforts with the animated series and with The Mandalorian and their other projects. I can't tell you why they are better. They just are, and I'd rather watch and listen to stories where Favreau and Filoni are collaborators, than listen or watch one where J.J. is in charge.

My fourth thought is that the creators of The Mandalorian know how to build a story. I didn't even think that there was any reason to return to Tatooine. In my mind, this dusty planet had no tales left to tell. Boy, was I wrong. When I saw the krayt dragon early on in season two, I remembered wanting very much to know what a krayt dragon looked like (all the way back when I was a kid)! I'd just forgotten. And lo and behold...there it was. And then we got to find out that Boba Fett escaped the Sarlac pit. We also got to see Boba Fett take over the old palace that Jabba the Hutt used to call home. All of these events fit into one season of eight episodes. I went into this season of The Mandalorian with no idea what it was going to be about, and I came out of it deeply satisfied with that kind of fan service.

My final thought regarding this season is with regard to Ahsoka Tano. Rosario Dawson is perfectly cast, which irritates me just a little because Rosario Dawson kinda makes my eye twitch with her refusal to support Hillary ("but her emails") Clinton in 2016. Her and Susan Sarandon both make my eye twitch. Because of people like them, we got Trump, who has proven to be a traitor to our nation. Like most liberals, I'm willing to "let it go," but still...my eye twitches when I see them in a role. But that's it...I'm not angry at either woman....just disappointed that they made selfish choices in an era that probably felt safe to make selfish choices. After all, no one (except me) thought it would get this bad with the country 27 trillion in debt, that there'd be 350,000 people dead, where domestic terrorists storm the capitol, and where the world is on fire. Such is life. But yeah...eye twitch. However, I'm excited to see more Ahsoka, even if it is from an actress who gets on my nerves.

And those are my thoughts on The Mandalorian. Do you have any? Have you watched it?

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The 2021 January Insecure Writer's Support Group post is here to give us space to air our reading grievances


Happy New Year fellow writers and other insecure folk. I'm hoping that 2021 ushers in a year of good fortune for all of you. It has been a refreshing break from blogging, and I'm eager to share my observations with the world once more. However, as I wrote waaayyy back in November of 2020, the ice breaker is going to be an Insecure Writer's Support Group post.

This blog and a few hundred others participate in a monthly blogfest that was started by science-fiction expert and author, Alex Cavanaugh. It's purpose is to share and encourage. Each month brings a selection of new co-hosts that help with the housekeeping of an ongoing writer project like the IWSG. You can find all of the details (and the sign-up) by clicking HERE and going to their web page.

The awesome co-hosts for the January 6 posting of the IWSG are Ronel Janse van Vuuren , J Lenni Dorner, Gwen Gardner Sandra Cox, and Louise - Fundy Blue!

This month, I am going to answer the optional question, which is:

Being a writer, when you're reading someone else's work, what stops you from finishing a book/throws you out of the story/frustrates you the most about other people's books?

Wait a minute, is it Festivus? Are we here to air our reading grievances? I guess so. :)

I love this question, and I have a list. Here it is:

The first thing that makes me put down a book is too much description and not enough dialogue. I like a story that is based in fiction to convey information to me through characters and not through paragraphs of info-dumping. However, dialogue needs to be a back and forth thing, so one character carrying on and on in a quote that goes on for multiple paragraphs can also make me put down a book.

I need to be able to relate to characters, and I find that when characters are diverse and queer, I like them more. This isn't a game breaker, but I appreciate the stories in which diversity crops up a lot more than I appreciate homogeneity.

I prefer third person stories to first person ones. This also isn't a game breaker, but given that there is a world of choice out there and no pressure, I tend to gravitate towards ones that have this kind of style as opposed to the "let's slide into this skin suit and see the world through their eyes." I know this works well for people, and it's also extremely popular in video games. But it isn't really my cup of tea.

I don't like breathtaking action all the time. I call these kinds of stories, "kids books." In film, you can see it with the Harry Potter movies and Star Wars, etc. In fiction that I read, I like and savor the quiet moments where the protagonist discovers something, thinks about something, or engages in a kind of personal growth.

Not every character in a story needs to have a name. It's okay to say something like, "Ralph and Fred along with twelve others started on the journey. A few days later, four had died of various diseases and starvation, and this made Ralph and Fred realize how fragile and dangerous this journey was." I mean...that's okay. I don't need to know who the "twelve others" were. And I also don't need to know who died of what and when. Summarizing can be a powerful tool!