Friday, July 23, 2021

I'm taking a blogging break until the first Wednesday of August but until then let's contemplate the majesty of Denis Villeneuve's Dune adaptation.

This is the cover for the Dune roleplaying game. It's filled with some
really impressive art, and every page is covered in detail and color.
I'll post some art samples from it, or inspired by it, in a post when I
return from blogging in August.

The second trailer for Dune arrived online yesterday. It's about three minutes long, but I sure like what I saw although I do have a few questions. One of them is (namely) why Timothee Chalamet's Paul Atreides is dressed in golden armor like Iron Man in one scene in the trailer. I assume it is creative license, but I don't think it adds to the story. However, seeing as this is the first part of this movie saga (it has been split into two parts), and I haven't seen it...I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt that it will still be amazing and blow my mind.

My next big reading project is to start over with the Dune novels, seeing as the universe has been greatly expanded by Herbert's son. I'm interested to see what other kinds of things have been written about. In my first go of the Dune books, I never made it past God Emperor of Dune. But, I'm now a more disciplined and advanced reader, and I think that I have a wider acceptance of what is entertaining. So I think I might make it through all of them and satisfy my curiosity regarding the whole story. I also (recently) participated in the Kickstarter for the Dune roleplaying game put out by a company called Modiphius (based in England I think). I've been slowly reading the book, which arrived a few weeks ago along with dice that you need to play the game colored the same as the spice Melange. I thought that was a nice touch.

I was a fan of David Lynch's Dune adaptation. And I thought that there would never be another movie. It's interesting that a person like Denis Villeneuve can come along and have enough influence that they just reboot an entire franchise with the best actors in Hollywood. I wonder how much money this thing is going to make, how successful it will be, and if there will be sequels in the works. The Herbert estate must be very happy.

I'm going to take a short blogging break, so this will be my last post until the first Wednesday of August (August 4th). Insecure Writer's Support group day always seems like a nice day to come back. It's kinda like the holiday that always comes around.


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Lost Gods by Gerald Brom is a lavishly illustrated tale that manages to channel Neil Gaiman and Ray Bradbury in a hero's quest through Purgatory.


On Monday evening, I finished reading Lost Gods by Brom. Here's my synopsis of the book:

A young man descends into Purgatory on a quest for a key that will save his wife and unborn child from an evil demon named Lamia who has murdered hundreds of children.

Sounds interesting, right? It was, and I give it four stars out of five. Now here are the details:

The reading of this book reminded me a lot of American Gods by Neil Gaiman. To elaborate, I think that both writers have visceral and gritty prose, and both books take on worlds that are filled with chaos, where ancient/mythical gods interact with us common-folk in mysterious and aggressive ways. The way Brom's novel differs from Gaiman, is that the gods are all dead and on the verge of being forgotten, and the main character (named Chet) only interacts with them through the Purgatory in which they rule.

It also reminds me a lot of Ray Bradbury's writing in the sense that with Something Wicked This Way Comes you get spooks dressed up in a circus tent...only in this case, the circus tent is a political society run by gods (and their sycophants and enemies who range from goblins to fallen angels). With Brom's writing, you get spooks dressed up as lost souls wandering the cities of Purgatory trying to find some kind of meaning with the eternity that faces them. Fans of writer/illustrator Gerald Brom know that he loves shadowy and creepy stuff, and were he to be anyone's neighbor, I'd fully expect Halloween to be the holiday of the year.

This novel gives us pretty much everything you might expect from an urban fantasy perspective as well. You've got fallen angels and the mythology around that, references to Lucifer, smart and cunning demons, the River Styx, the River Lethe, souls toiling away just as hard in death as they did in life, and there's even killing...which took extra effort for me to suspend disbelief on because all of these people are already dead. The book never does provide a satisfying conclusion to the question: what happens if you die when you are already dead. About the only thing that it does answer is 1) nobody knows and 2) it's probably something akin to utter oblivion and nothingness. Most of the book is spent with Chet, who wanders the plain of Purgatory searching for his grandfather, amidst a landscape that is obviously underground and lit by this sun-like being called "Mother Eye." When it gets tired, the eye closes and plunges the world into a kind of night.

Lost Gods in its reading is not a happy tale. There are many parts of it that are outright horrifying. But one of the satisfying things about the book is to follow Chet Moran's journey into the underworld following his gruesome murder at the hands of his own grandmother (who eats him), and how his perception of what is good and what is evil changes with every encounter along the road. The other part of it that is pretty darn amazing are the visual encounters with the mythologicals...each god that Brom introduces us to is described in lavish detail, and all of them are important to the overall story of the book. In all of its pages, the author keeps that feeling of other-worldliness that is common in Twilight-Zone-esque stories. You always feel like you are one step removed from the real world, and that there is some horror lurking just at the edge of your vision that you would be better off not ever meeting or even understanding.

In finishing, it's the first book I've ever read where the author manages to make a character who commits a heinous murder into a hero worthy of Elysium, which is the book's equivalent of heaven. That was a mind twist that I didn't expect.

Here are some of the illustrations from the book; they are done by Brom himself. I think it's incredible when someone can both write and draw. 







Monday, July 19, 2021

Scientific research into toxic narcissism has discovered a link between aggression and this terrible personality disorder.


My friend Geneva sent me this link from Dr. Ramani Durvasula, and it's about the link between aggression and diagnosable and toxic narcissism. It confirmed (as she says in the video that it did for many others) a suspicion I had regarding those who exhibit the traits of this nasty personality disorder. Dr. Durvasula is an American clinical psychologist, professor of psychology, media expert, and author.

If you are interested in narcissism either because it affects you directly or you've come to understand that our nation is awash with those who have this personality disorder, I would recommend you watch this video. If anything, it gave me some coping strategies for people within my social circle who have dangerous levels of grandiose narcissism. Additionally, this information has equipped me with the ability to make healthy boundaries to make sure that these dangerous individuals are kept from influencing my life in even a small way.

One of my very religious and toxic narcissistic acquaintances got married last year, and I warned his future spouse but she didn't listen. Now a year later, she looks and behaves like a zombie, having aged probably ten years. I knew it was going to be this way, so I don't have any mercy. He had a job with some white collar criminals that went to prison for embezzling money from the government. As a general manager, his title was "President," and boy did she sop that up with a biscuit, buying jewelry, going on vacations, etc. What she didn't know was that he was up to his eyeballs in debt with buying new cars, and living in the basement apartment of his aunt for $300 a month (subsidized by family) was not a red flag because he had $100 bills on hand. 

Shortly after they got married, he got fired from his job, because he never went to work and stayed at home playing video games while telling people to do stuff by phone. They got sick of it. And he's been unemployed ever since, drawing down weekly unemployment checks, eating his Chick-Fil-A, voting for Trump, and looking for another job in his forties that will pay $150,000 a year. He wasn't happy when the unemployment stimulus ran out (Utah Republicans ended it). That was weird because...well...he votes Republican. But no one is biting, because what he really qualifies for is a job at Taco Bell. Debt collectors hound them, and while he stays home and plays video games, she has to work to pay everything. I think there's a weird irony that her wedding ring cost about $10,000, but it was purchased with a loan. And now she's paying down the loan. I think maybe she's too stupid to realize that she bought her own wedding ring. My prediction: he will never work again, because every job that doesn't pay $100.00 per hour is "beneath him." That spells trouble for her, a woman who dreamed of owning a home and living the good life. Meh. Don't ever marry a grandiose narcissist. The abuse will kill you.

But these people always have a "couplesplain" way of talking down to us single folk who know what's up. My favorite from the horse's mouth is, "Marriage is tough and you really got to work hard to keep it together." Yeah...well...you shouldn't be working that hard only a year into it. That outdated saying also discounts personality disorders, which are a wrecking ball. I honestly feel like a relationship between two people who don't exhibit narcissism, Machiavellianism, and sociopathy (the dark triad) wouldn't be difficult at all. You just need to be able to spot the toxicity, have the courage to label it with very visible stickers for the world to see, and then attack it like cancer. A grandiose narcissist in the wrong place (like the oval office) did incredible damage in just four short years. I'm surprised we even have a democracy left after January 6th, 2021.

Anyway, this video from Dr. Ramani is eye opening. I hope you watch it, and then tell me of your own experiences with narcissistic assholes in your own life.



Friday, July 16, 2021

Loki was a baffling chaotic hot mess of a series that is a clarion call of things to come.

He Who Remains in the middle of his villainous monologue

Spoiler Alert: We are talking about Loki today. Proceed at your own peril.

Loki season 1 (there will be a season 2 according to the stinger embedded after the credits sequence of the season finale) ended by introducing us to a character called "He Who Remains." Played by Jonathan Majors from HBO's now canceled Lovecraft Country, he was a monologuing villain. However, his monologue wasn't boring, as he spoke to both Loki and Sylvie in the house at the end of time.

Who "He Who Remains" actually is...has yet to be revealed. But most sources who have read comic books say that this is Nathaniel Richards. They also say that Kang the Conqueror is one of many versions of Richards, which echoes a sentiment shared by He Who Remains when he referred to one of his variants as a "conqueror." This particular version of Kang was just a nerd who became a tyrant kind of accidentally. Not because he actually wanted to rule, but because he thought he knew what was best and had the means to achieve it.

As a villain, I found this character of He Who Remains to be affably evil with his pseudo arguments of, "What would you do in my place? All of your lives were necessary collateral damage...a sacrifice to keep the timeline pure. If you think you can do better, then you should and just take over." I also liked the line, "We're all villains here." It seemed appropriate given the circumstance that Sylvie and Loki had somehow managed to achieve the high ground of morality despite their storied history of death and destruction. The difference then seemed to be in the growth of the Loki character played by Hiddleston, who learnt to consider what if he is wrong and how that can affect others. This was unique, as Sylvie (to the very bitter end) was consumed by revenge for the wrongs that had been done to her.

In watching these six episodes of the first season, I've got to say that none of this went in the direction that I thought it would. Loki was singularly the most baffling of the Disney + series that include WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. It was also the most revealing into the MCU's future, by giving us a glimpse of all the time travel quackery that is going to consume the multiverse. I wonder how the writers are even going to keep track of all the timelines that are going to explode, and all the various iterations of the characters we know and how they will face the threat of Kang the Conqueror. I worry that it will become confusing in the same way that Dark on Netflix got really confusing and not at all enjoyable. I also wonder if Kang will fall short of the impressiveness of Thanos. I don't really know much about him, so I'm excited to learn. I definitely think that Marvel is trying to go in a different direction, and try out a completely polar opposite of Thanos by recognizing that you can't capture lightning in a bottle more than once.

And I had a parting thought I wanted to share sparked by the Loki mini-series. Maybe the common thread of the future movies is going to be the TVA (Time Variance Authority), and how everyone is going to try for a better version of the TVA. In other words, stopping Kangs from warring across multiverses seems necessary, but not if the cost is free will and the destruction of so many other lives. I also wonder if the timelines diverging means that there are now multiple instances of the TVA. Loki landed in a very different version--one with Kang's statues and no one remembering him. So what exactly does that mean if the TVA itself has been rewritten other than to send the basic message that nothing that has happened thus far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe accounts for anything. It seems like a weird place to go with these stories, but maybe a great reset is what they needed to break away from the comic book peak that they reached with the Infinity Gauntlet story.

Do any of you have any thoughts or considerations regarding the Loki mini-series? 


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Disney Studios does a great job in rotating major characters out of their Marvel properties. Black Widow is the latest example of this.


A bunch of people around the world watched Black Widow this past weekend. I was one of them. By the time it was over, I had thought yet again on why Marvel (when run by Disney) seems to keep hitting things out of the park. Every film has a freshness to it that you don't get with new Batman and Superman movies where they have recast the old character with whatever the new hotness is in Hollywood. It occurred to me that one of the things that Disney really has going for it is its willingness to just let things go and move on.

For example, Captain America, Iron Man, and Black Widow had run their course. So they let those characters go. There may be new ones that pop up in the future. Anthony Mackey is going to be a "Captain America." But he will never be "The Captain America," and I'm not bothered by that at all. That old "cap" is done as far as I'm concerned (and I really do love me some Chris Evans). The reel's been run out on that particular iteration of the character and what they wanted to do with their life. I gotta say though, that I'm a little in awe of Disney's bold moves to just toss aside old characters that have made them a ton of money. Lesser studios might have tried to woo the actor back with a salary increase or some other such nonsense, but not Disney.

Black Widow (of course) is the latest of the bunch that gets their swan song in a motion picture. When the character was first introduced, female members of "The Avengers" and female superheroes in general were kind of rare. However, we can't say that anymore (and it's only been ten or so years--that isn't that long, folks!). And as much as Natasha spent posing and doing the things that she does really well for the entirety of her run in the MCU, the film was also a highlight of Natasha's greatest hits, showing us one more time just why she was an Avenger in the first place (even though she had no actual super powers). The film also was an excellent springboard to introduce us to someone who is going to be "a Black Widow," even if she isn't the Black Widow. And that's actually exciting, because I love this new character (her name is Yelena Belova and is the younger sister of Natasha but not by blood). Progression and change is so much better than just rebooting characters and asking everyone to pretend that they don't know the origin story one more time.

In watching all of these comic book movies and television adaptations, I feel like studios (and Hollywood) too often keep reaching for the same bag of tricks to try and capture lightning in a bottle. The characters of Superman, the Batman, Spiderman, and the Joker have been done to death. As much as I love Tom Holland in the role of Spiderman, it's going to be fun to see what Disney does with the character next as Holland's contract is up. I read online that Holland is hoping that they will renew his contract, but I actually hope they don't. With the MCU providing a guiding hand to the property of Spiderman, I would assume that we are going to see an expansion of the character into the many alternate realms and earths, giving us all kinds of "Spider people." This hasn't ever been done before in live-action, and it's going to inject some badly needed freshness into a very stale franchise.

Change is a good thing. Capitalism doesn't agree with this statement of course. With regard to entertainment, what capitalism tends to do is to seize upon a successful thing...and then clone it with something that is only marginally different. The up and coming Windows 11 operating system reminds me of this, because Gizmodo's screen shots show that its interface will be almost identical to Mac OS. So, they are copying Apple to try and catch lightning in a bottle. Only Apple already caught the lightning in a bottle, so I don't think it will end up being any more successful than Windows 10 was (I'm actually a fan of Windows 10). And that's why what Disney does by tossing out these old characters in favor of trying out new ones is remarkable by any capitalist measuring stick.

Anyway, Black Widow was a great film that didn't feel stale, and it opened the doors to many other fun opportunities to explore within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Anyone else see it this weekend? I'll look for your responses in the comments.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Lin-Manuel Miranda's In the Heights brought me joy.


This weekend I watched In the Heights, the movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's stage musical of the same name. I loved it so much that I watched it on Friday night and then again on Saturday night. The musical itself is the story of several families who live in Washington Heights, which is a neighborhood in New York City that (in 2021) is largely associated with people from the Dominican Republic.

All of them to one extent or another are followers of el sueñito, which is Spanish for "the dream." In the 1950's, when the abuela of the movie was following her sueñito, all they wanted was to have and provide for children who would not have to struggle and experience the losses that they did. In a musical number called Calor, which is Spanish for "heat," this same abuela to the neighborhood sings about the terrible heat wave that claims her life, and how hard it was to leave Cuba, a place where they had clear skies and stars but no food. Her dream wasn't ever to go and be a cleaning lady. But in order to get what she wanted, this is what life dealt her. So she lived in a way that allowed her to have dignity in small places so that she could tell the world that she was not invisible.

The timeframe for In the Heights is vague. It is set around a blackout that lasts for days in July. Miranda wrote it in the nineties, and he drew inspiration for it from events in the 70's. The original show premiered on Broadway in 2008. But the theatrical musical adaptation that was on HBO Max through June and July (and in theaters) was set right now. This is more than clear with the issues surrounding one of the undocumented dreamers in the show who desperately wants a green card and citizenship in the United States during a time when racism and white nationalism is on the rise nationwide.

Although I can identify with everyone's sueñito in the movie, the theme that struck me most was the idea of being able to forge a life with people in one place and to call that place home. Too often, people are pulled in different directions in life. They move away to different zip codes or country codes, and it can feel like (for those who stay) that the place they called home is dying. The thing I found remarkable was that this story was a way in which young people transitioned to adulthood, yet still came back home to live their lives and continue their story among friends and family. That certainly might have been one thing I would have welcomed in my own life, but I was never able to stick any kind of landing in the place where I was born and have long since left that place and all those who I knew that I might have called, "friend."

If you haven't seen the show, I recommend that you take some time out of your schedule and earnestly watch it. In the Heights resonated with me, because I've experienced discomfort and isolation in schools and workplaces for the way I looked, my lack of religious beliefs, and for my sexuality. I existed in a space and aspired to goals that in many ways, the widespread population of Idaho and Utah would say was not intended for me to achieve. And that's just the truth of it. In the Heights was in many ways about the "otheringness" that Puerto Ricans feel. But anyone who is part of a minority can definitely relate, and feel the power it takes to have pride in oneself and not be apologetic for it. This show brought me joy, and I'm glad it was so readily available to watch.



Friday, July 9, 2021

Ready Player Two is the sequel that didn't need to be written.


I finished reading Ready Player Two this week by author, Ernest Cline. As a novel, it wasn't as good as the first installment which got made into a movie. However, even knowing this...knowing that it is generally impossible to catch lightning in a bottle twice in a row...I wasn't prepared for how "dystopian" the world of Ready Player One actually is. And maybe I should have been. In the first book, the character of Daito got murdered when he was thrown out a window by Sorrento. The event is shocking in the book (not seen in the movie), but it was easy to ignore some of those things (like the stacks getting blown up by IOI/Sorrento), because the Oasis was so much fun visualizing it all.

Ready Player Two picks up where the novel pretty much left off. It turns the page and quickly closes a chapter on the Wade and Samantha romance because Wade is pretty much a huge douchebag. He's like the stereotypical incel character that you hear about on the news, who is really into video games and gets so enraged when women rebuff him that he commits crimes. I was really surprised by this, but I probably shouldn't have been. Wade was always this character, I just refused to see it. Even though Wade shares "ownership" of the company they formed that took over the Oasis, he consistently talks over Samantha and doesn't listen to a thing that she says. She ends up breaking up with him after only a week, because he's changed so much.

Because Wade is Halliday's heir, he wears the "Robes of Anorak." This pretty much makes him a god in the Oasis. So, what does he do with that power? He monitors all the chats for anyone who disparages him in a public way, and then kills their character with a level 99 Finger of Death spell by teleporting to their location while invisible and then snipes them off. He also stalks his ex, Samantha (Artemis), by watching when she logs onto the Oasis, and then he sifts through her private conversations. It's actually super creepy, and I have no idea why Ernest Cline went this direction with Wade in this book.

At the soul of this book is a new discovery that means huge implications for the human race, and it is through this discovery that Wade regains an opportunity to patch things up with Artemis. However, it all seems just a bit too contrived that she'd forgive him for all the creepy things he does and immediately fall back into his arms (which is pretty much what ends up happening). The discovery is another Easter Egg left by Halliday in a corporate vault: a pair of glasses that when worn turn the entire Oasis into a holodeck simulation from Star Trek. In other words, you can feel the wind on your face, you can taste food, you can feel pain and pleasure, etc. All it requires is that anyone who wears it must fork over their brain patterns to this thing for up to twelve hours a day. Any more than this, and you would risk lobotomizing yourself, as the human brain cannot put up with that kind of connection for longer than that. And therein is the plot of the book: by setting a limit on this new headset, the plot has to take us there in a "what if" scenario that evolves into a huge world engulfing crisis.

When Wade announces the new headset to his friends who control the corporation, Aech and Shoto both think it is amazing. Artemis thinks the world isn't ready for the technology, and in many ways she's right. Once again, Wade votes her down and then they go on to patent and sell the glasses to the public. They make so much money on them that they are able to pay off the national debt of the United States. While Artemis/Samantha uses her share of the profits to try to improve the world they live in (the real world), Wade just thinks the planet is f*cked anyway and he, Aech, and Shoto spend their money creating a spaceship that they can fly to Proxima Centauri, a nearby star system that may have planets that can support life. The trip will take 43 years and they will just have their bodies plugged into the Oasis the entire time, so they won't care. Basically, pack up, skip town, and kiss the planet Earth goodbye. You can really see why Samantha wants nothing to do with Wade.

And then, the villain of the story shows up: Anorak. This was the avatar of the now dead Halliday character, but you come to find out that Anorak is a ghost in the machine. He's an artificial intelligence that can think for himself and has Halliday's memory as well as many of Halliday's worst vices that are very "incel-like." He asks Wade to solve a puzzle left behind by Halliday, and he has to do it within twelve hours. If not, then everyone...billions of people worldwide...will not be able to log out of the Oasis, and they will all experience brain death because they are all using those headsets that Wade sold. And this number includes Wade. The only major character who refused to wear one of those new headsets was Samantha, who still logged into the Oasis using the old haptic gear from the first book. She manages to log out, so Anorak tries to kill her by having the plane fall out of the sky (similar to the events of 9/11). 

And then the rest of the book is just puzzle solving to beat Anorak's timer (and to come up with a way to beat Anorak without having to destroy the Oasis with the big red button). The book has a happy ending, but in many ways it seems very contrived. I'm not sure why Wade and Samantha reconcile and become a couple again, but maybe it has something to do with personality disorders and codependency. 

Ready Player Two ended up being the book that I honestly think didn't need to be written. The new headset is cool, and so are the implications of what such technology could do for the human race. But for those saving graces, the nostalgia from the eighties became a bit much. I mean there's a part in the book where they have to take on seven different versions of the Artist formerly known as Prince in a musical competition to the death while being aided by Morris Day and Janet Jackson and the Rhythm Nation. I was like...eh...this is dumb. Entertaining...but dumb. If anything, reading Ready Player Two made me realize that the original story was always a depressing vision of the future of the Earth, and that if everyone had the ability to escape into the Oasis, then no one would ever interact in person with each other ever again. It would be the end of the human race...an extinction by apathy for real life. I think that I much preferred not knowing about all of that, and should have just left well enough alone with the first book, and it's somewhat "Happily Ever After" ending.

I know that the movie is being directed and produced by Steven Spielberg, and I think it is set to come out in 2022. I just hope that Spielberg does what he's famous for doing and that he changes practically everything in it. In tone, it should match the first movie. And I hope that he makes Wade into a likeable character and ditches all that creepy, stalker stuff. I also hope that the movie packs a powerful environmental message of hope, instead of going "all in" on Wade wanting to flee the solar system by using his wealth to escape a dying Earth. I also hope that they skip that battle with Prince. It went on for way too many pages.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

For the Independence Day IWSG post we are asked to ponder what would make us quit writing.

 It's Wednesday, July 7th and Salt Lake City is in the middle of a historic drought and another heat wave. And it's also time for the monthly Insecure Writer's Support Group blogfest.

The Insecure Writer's Support Group was originally started by Alex J. Cavanaugh, who is an excellent science fiction writer. It's purpose is to share knowledge and inspire/encourage other writers. The rules for the blogfest are simple: you post the first Wednesday of every month. The post can be about writing, or you can take a turn at answering the monthly question which can be found HERE along with the signup.

The awesome co-hosts for the July 7 posting of the IWSG are Pat Garcia, Victoria Marie Lees, and Louise – Fundy Blue!

Now, and with that out of the way, why don't we answer the question.

July 7 question: What would make you quit writing?

This is an easy question to answer: not having any ideas. But (thus far) I've always had things that I want to write and/or talk about. My problem isn't that I don't have enough to write about. Rather, it is that I don't have the time, discipline, or the energy to complete all the projects that I want to do. I'm sure that I'm not the only one.

There are other more obvious answers to this question as well. Lets say I got disabled, could no longer use my hands and speech to text wasn't an option, or let's say that my brain wasn't working like it should. I remember reading about how Terry Pratchett succumbed to Alzheimer's disease prior to his death, and I thought...yeah that's one way to silence a writer forever.

Anyway, those are the answers to the July questions. I hope that all you writers are having a nice summer, and that things are working out well for you. I also hope that your creative well never runs dry.


Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Apple TV adaptation of Foundation can't resemble the book at all if it expects watchers.


Apple TV released the first trailer for their adaptation of Foundation. I've included it below. The first season of the series comes out in the fall, and I will probably watch it. Having read the Foundation books, I'm actually surprised that these could be made into something watchable. From a reader standpoint, they were barely entertaining, with no main characters having any emotion or likeableness, and spanning a length of time that is absurd by modern-day fiction standards. If you haven't read them, imagine getting a slice of a character's day...perhaps heated dialogue with another character...and the rudimentary dressings of what Asimov believes will suffice to "set the scene." And then there's a break, and the next scene takes place fifty years later. Those characters are now dead, and their descendants find something that remotely connects back to that argument that took place fifty years prior. That's how Foundation lurches its way forward in its narrative.

The characters in Asimov's famous work are not really the story. It's the idea that this immense galactic empire is collapsing and that one man can foresee and prove that it will happen to the doom and detriment of all the civilizations that form the empire. So the empire IS the character. This doomsayer prophet using math and science doesn't convince many people. But those whom he does convince become his army to essentially work toward making sure that there is only a dark age that lasts a thousand years instead of thirty thousand years by preserving knowledge. This future-seeing man is Harry Seldon, and he checks in every once in a while with preprogrammed holograms of himself that provide instructions to people so that they can go about the tasks of ending the Dark Age of the galaxy within a single millennia.

But I read from a standpoint that characters are what make a story interesting. Without them, the story is just a summary of the rise and fall and resurrection of a galactic empire containing billions upon billions of people that I don't really care about. Asimov essentially asks us to care about civilization in these books, and the question I always have while reading is: why should I care? It's like being asked to care about a thousand people getting wiped out by a plague in Bangladesh. We gasp at how horrible that sounds, but none of us actually shed a tear (or very few at least). We don't know those people. It's just a number. "Oh...did you hear that a thousand people were killed in Myanmar?" It's that kind of thing. We never know more than the headline.

Look...you know I'm not a scientist. I'm not an archeologist. I don't really have an interest in studying the rise and fall of a fictional civilization. But therein is probably the audience for this kind of thing: scientists and archeologists. It's clear that Asimov wrote this book for those people, who read science fiction and were blown away that someone would write what is essentially a summary of the Roman Empire with an added "we're back" hook that takes place over so many centuries that the characters involved in the story are just footnotes. It's the "what if" scenario. "What if there was this huge civilization, and someone saw it was falling, and then they took steps to preserve knowledge so that the horrible barbaric period only lasted a thousand years instead of thirty thousand? Wow! Wouldn't that be interesting!" And it undeniably is to some people. For me, the hang-up is just that huge timeline. It's too big for me as I never get to know a character other than in the five pages they exist.

I can see the likes of astrophysicists like Carl Sagan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson waxing poetic about Foundation. Though these people are super smart, they also wax poetic when talking about Earth history and cosmological time. "In this collection of a billion years...trees evolved...and there were no microorganisms that could digest the wood pulp when they fell because they hadn't evolved yet. So, it all got buried under volcanic ash and earth and became petrified...giving us vast petrified forests today." I mean...scientifically...it is interesting. But I don't really care about those trees, and it's hard for me to care about any animal that may have lived at that time. I just don't. That's what Foundation is...more or less.

Asimov as a writer has been compared to being the worst of the great writers. More than one person has pointed out that he has thin characters whose only spin is that they face and overcome intellectual challenges that Asimov poses through his writing. You can see that Asimov was amused over his plot twists and his big ideas every time you read Foundation or any of its sister books. I will say this about him: he writes very clearly, and all of the things he says are easy to understand. But his prose isn't pretty.

This all leads me back to the trailer for Foundation. Does it make me want to watch the series? Yeah...I will watch it. But they are going to have to depart from the books a lot, because successful television requires a "soul." And you only get that through emotional connection to characters. So they are going to have to slow down the narrative of the one-thousand years to give us characters whom we can slip into in order to see the events of the collapse of the empire, which are essentially just glossed over in the book. I mean...it's pretty much just a steady decline that is narratively talked about on just a few pages. This happened, followed by that, and now we will focus in on a world on the fringe that now finds itself by itself and in need of government, because government has collapsed. Hmm...what happens next for these poor people? Oh! A hologram from Harry Seldon left fifty years ago will provide clues! Some people watch said video...and then you never hear from them again because another fifty years has passed. But they did things with that knowledge that will be built on by others.

In other words...it's kind of boring.

It's weird that something like this could get published and lauded as so amazing. Foundation as it stands feels like a really well-developed outline. You know how you outline a book's plot? Well think of Foundation as that only being like 240 pages in length. That's what it feels like when you read it...an outline. But in it's age, there was nothing else like it. It was like Asimov was the greatest world-builder ever, but he never got past the world-building stage to build a story that took place in real time. So all  you get is world-building. And there's pages and pages of it, telling you about all the things that happened and when. Imagine all the Star Wars stuff and its immense history being boiled down to 240 pages of outline, telling you when Order 66 happened, when the emperor was defeated, what Jango Fett did, etc. I mean...it'd be great world-building, but you wouldn't care about any of those characters. That's how Foundation reads, more or less. It's a summary of things that happened.

How on Earth is any of that going to translate into a watchable television series? Our first clues are in the trailer embedded below:

Monday, June 28, 2021

James Gunn has actually got me a little excited to see the next installment of The Suicide Squad.

The new Suicide Squad trailer aired on F9 this weekend. It was my first trip back to theaters, and it was a small bit of normalcy despite extreme weather events being a constant reminder that our planet has been totally screwed over by selfish people. Despite the first outing of Suicide Squad being almost unwatchable (because it was so bad), I think that I'll be heading to theaters opening weekend for this one if for anything...just to get more of King Shark.

Ron Funches, who is the voice actor for King Shark on the animated show Harley Quinn, absolutely kills in the performances (pun intended). In the scene below, he greets everyone with a "Howdy!" and he seems to like shark jokes. If you don't know anything about Harley Quinn click on the embedded video below and watch the first time Harley meets Shark. It's rather fun. Also, I like Idris Elba way more than Will Smith, so I'm glad that Smith isn't in this one.


And here's the trailer for the new Suicide Squad movie from James Gunn. You probably have heard of Gunn from Guardians of the Galaxy. I predict that the same magic may work for this group of misfits. Here's to hoping.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Pixar gave a strong wink to all us queers celebrating pride month in their June release of Luca


I watched Pixar's Luca this week. Just like other films from the Pixar Animation Studio, I liked how bold and beautiful it looked. The main characters of Luca and Alberto were pure and innocent, and they were very relatable in context, because this is the first movie that really broaches gay love. The fact that they are fish people (merfolk?) becomes a pretty strong metaphor by the end of the movie, when the grandma declares, "There will be people who won't accept him for who he is. But I don't think it will be a problem, because he seems to know how to find the right kind of people."

It's not the first movie that broached these kinds of topics. Call Me By Your Name, which was a wonderful coming-of-age story clearly meant for adult audiences, was also set in Italy and about two males who spent their summer together (and who got to know each other very well). Luca though is a children's movie...so the subtext is extremely subtle with jealous looks given by Alberto when his friend Luca seems to be bonding with the female in the movie named Giulia, who becomes a crucial part of their adventure. But in the end, Luca expresses the purest form of love for his friend by letting go of their dream to escape on a Vespa together to see the world. Instead, he sells it, and he uses the money to grant Luca's wish to go and attend school so that their one summer together just becomes a memory.

I think it's nice that Disney is starting to tell queer stories after decades of being in the zone of telling stories about white, straight characters. It's a baby step in the right direction to embrace on-screen diversity and representation. It's too bad it didn't make more of a splash. Pixar/Disney hardly marketed it at all. So people will essentially just have to stumble across it as a stealth-released Pixar movie on Disney+. The queerness of the story is subtle enough that those who don't look very deep will undoubtedly miss it, which will probably save Disney from having too much of a headache from the likes of Tucker Carlson. But the wink from the company is there. I saw it, and for a brief moment (at least) it brought me joy.


Wednesday, June 23, 2021

When people slow the pacing of their stories they end up better in almost every circumstance.


In thinking about Star Wars from my Monday post, it struck me once again how frenetic each episode of Star Wars is, whether it is in cartoon form, live-action, or in movie form. It's very much a hallmark of the way a Star Wars story is told. And I wonder why. I have a deeper appreciation for slower stories these days. I just finished a book wherein the main characters essentially got together to go and investigate a swamp and have a conversation with an immortal woman who could tell them all about the lands of the dead. That's it...that was the whole book. These days, most people might expect the travel to the swamp to be one chapter, the conversation with the woman who had knowledge about the lands of the dead to be another chapter, and then we are onto something new. Maybe an investigation of the lands of the dead for chapters 3 and 4?

Anyway, I'm glad that didn't happen in the book I read. It took all twenty-six of its chapters to do the above. And that would probably piss off a lot of people. But sometimes (I think) storytellers suffer from too much get up and go. Why do we need to visit three or four different planets in a Star Wars movie? What's wrong with just staying on one planet and that's it. I see the same thing in other franchises too (mostly kid stories...which may explain things as to why they are so frenetic). Why do we need so many characters? What's wrong with just having two or three? That seems like a good number.

I learned quite some time ago that sometimes I can get in a rush to want to get all of my ideas out in front of me. Whether I'm writing or talking, I can feel like there's a bottleneck happening, which can cause me to rush things before I think they are ready. What ends up happening is that the idea gets lost, or the thing I wanted to accomplish does not resonate like I thought it would. Pacing is everything to a story, and I've discovered that (for the most part) one should take it slow. It is better to err on being too slow than I think it is to err on the side of being too fast. However, I only say this because the kinds of stories that I like to read these days have to do with the character connections. Those need time to be nurtured in order to grow strong, and if the author tries to move along too quickly, then the whole thing ends up not making sense. Ultimately, it becomes unsatisfying.

As a result, I think I know why many movies written for kids now annoy me. The pacing is off...there is always too much going on. It makes me wonder why kids need all of that. Their brains should be in a place in life where they are actively seeing out causal relationships, which take time to build. So it's either kids are asking for this, or its a content generator's idea of what kids want to watch or listen to. And somewhere in this train of thinking, someone decided that throwing ideas like tennis balls coming from a machine was the right thing to do. That's how we get movies where a gajillion things are going on at the same time. The Transformer movies are nigh unwatchable because of this.

TL/DR version: The slow burn is good y'all.

That's my two cents. Any of you care to weigh in on pacing?

Monday, June 21, 2021

Star Wars: The Bad Batch is basically an enjoyable A-Team in space but it doesn't take many risks with its world-building.


Is anyone else watching the Star Wars series called The Bad Batch, which is on Disney +? I watched a few of the episodes this weekend, and I really like them. The story follows a group of clone troopers who have a bad microchip in them that made it possible for them to ignore Order 66 given by Emperor Palpatine, and to set off on their own in a galaxy that has gone full fascism to the max.

Thus far in the series, we have seen cameos from Bib Fortuna (Jaba the Hutt's MajorDomo), the Rancor that Luke killed (in adolescence it was playful and called "Moochie"), and the bounty hunter Fennec Shand (who is in the Mandalorian). In The Mandalorian Fennec is friends with Boba Fett and is played by Ming-Na Wen (who was also in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.).

I don't have many nitpicks with the series. The ones I do have are centered on the same complaints that I had with The Mandalorian. For example, the architecture of different areas of the galaxy more or less repeats itself. People (no matter what planet you happen to be on) still put the most important computer consoles out on these rickety things with no railing that are suspended over a huge drop. And the same old planets that you've seen before get to be set pieces yet again for another series. Tatooine is the worst of these. We can't ever seem to be able to get away from Tatooine. I suppose that we can chalk this up to world-building, and the fact that it is hard and complicated. Using characters and sites with which viewers are already familiar is much easier. However, they are taking small steps. We've seen a small village and another side of a Correllian city that we didn't get in the Solo movie. 

As for the subject matter of Star Wars, it seems spot on. Star Wars has always been pretty heavy and dark. In my opinion it started out as a commentary about American imperialism as pulp science fiction. The only thing that made it kid friendly was the tone. But the moral scales of the show has always kind of circled around killing Nazi-esque soldiers who are just following orders. And when you went one layer deeper, in many of these cases it was slaughtering genetic twins (which reminds us of some Concentration camp stuff). In The Bad Batch we have one clone in what I can only describe as "The A-Team in space" going 100% evil because the Kaminoans (who made him in a test tube) are amping up the malfunctioning genetic chip in his brain. We have yet to see where that goes, but I can hazard a guess that it won't be good.

Anyway, the series is obviously not done airing its first season. I took a much-needed break from other things I'm dealing with in my life to watch the show. I'd recommend it if you are a Star Wars fan, and I'd like to hear your thoughts on the show if you are watching it.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Titans season 3 is coming and it will probably leave me disappointed yet again.


Titans
season 3 is coming. I've watched the other seasons of Titans, first on DC Universe and later on HBO Max (DC Universe didn't last very long). That being said, I'm always disappointed. I was pissed last season when they killed off Wonder Girl. The actress's name is in the credits for filming season 3, so I think that we'll see her come back. However, this show consistently bites off more than it can chew.

In my opinion, there are too many characters and too many storylines to juggle in the ten episode season. They like to throw a lot of Batman stories into the mix, and (don't get me wrong) I do like the Batman. However, this isn't his show even if Dick Grayson is the star. Now we've got Jason Todd being cast as the Red Hood, and the trailer for season 3 seems to hint strongly at the Death in the Family storyline, wherein the Joker killed Jason Todd and essentially created "the Dark Knight," which was his decades long brooding phase where Batman was grim dark and the storylines were brutally violent and dripping with evil. The Death in the Family storyline was also very bonkers as Joker became a representative for Iran and received diplomatic immunity for killing Jason Todd. Then he used that status to try and gas the UN. Oh and Superman stopped Batman from going to kill Joker because Supes may not like diplomatic immunity, but he honors it. I'm like...what?

I guess we are also getting Barbara Gordon who I guess will be crippled ala the Joker so that she's Oracle (which goes along with the comic books) but it is also a dark storyline. And then there's Tim Drake (the third Robin), Blackfire, Superboy, and Krypto the dog. And that's not mentioning the Titans that we've already seen. Nobody gets any time and the ending of the season is always a low-budget mess.

Anyway, that's my rant. Below is the trailer for season 3 of Titans. I'm gonna watch it. I just wanted to bitch at something on a Friday.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Once you understand how a transporter in Star Trek works the use of it seems horrifying.

This was Robot's human form in Invincible. He helped the Mauler twins escape prison, because
they were experts at cloning. Once they were out, Robot asked them to create a body for him
and then when it was done, he had them transfer a copy of his complete brain to the new body.
Then the old body was taken off life support and allowed to die, but its death was very real.

I've been thinking of the transporter lately. I'm sure you've seen it. People in the multiple television series step into it and get "beamed" to another location almost instantaneously. What is actually happening is that a person is killed (disassembled) and their memories and personality and everything up to and including the moment of their death is reassembled in another location. To the person being reassembled it is fine. To the person being killed...that is their final moment of life. So the only one that notices it is the person who is being killed. In other words...it still sucks for them.

The reason I embarked on this thought exercise about the transporter has a lot to do with Amazon's Invincible. I was discussing with a friend the idea of the intelligent clones that are in that show and how they invented technology to create an identical imprint of the mind into the living tissue of another body. This effectively creates an immortality scenario, because the new person is equipped with all of the memories of the old person. Every single one. Only, it isn't quite so simple. You see, the old person is still alive trapped in their body, and when they die in that body...it is for real.

So, my friend and I had a discussion centered around this question: knowing that the transporter in Star Trek actually kills you, would you be okay using it knowing that the other clone of you would be identical to you in the same way? The clone would not be able to tell it wasn't the real person. Only the person who died at the proverbial hand of the transporter machine would actually know. He said that he would make the choice very easily and use the transporter. I said I probably would not. To me, it would be no different than dying with a bullet through the brain. It would be final death. Sure, my clone would have all of my experiences and my memories and would be identical to me. However, I would not be a part of that consciousness.

It's a strange mental exercise to imagine cloning and transporting in this manner. So, now that I've explained to you how all of that works...would you choose to use a transporter? Would you choose to be killed so that a bunch of time could be saved by recreating you in another location, even if that re-creation would be you down to the most minute detail? Your consciousness would end with your death and a new consciousness would be born in the transporter a great distance from you. The new you would not have any break in consciousness as the memories would exist all the way up to emerging on the other side. It would be the old you that no longer created memories (because you were dead). It's a strange question (I know), but I feel like it's worth asking.

And now I fully get why Bones (Dr. McCoy) did not like transporters.

Monday, June 14, 2021

I finished reading the Riftwar Saga of thirty books. It was mostly good even if it may have jumped the shark quite a while ago.


This weekend, I finished reading the Raymond E. Feist Riftwar Saga that spans thirty books while 100 degree temperatures settled in over the very parched western states. The last book in the series, Magician's End, was a bit of a slog of a read in the sense that it had a saggy middle. Feist was clearly wrapping up a lot of plot lines and had decided to devote his last novel to the politics of kingdoms, i.e., who gets the throne of the Kingdom of the Isles, etc. All of this while a greater threat from outside the world was happening under everyone's noses. While reading, I kept asking myself how I would have ended this series were these my characters. I suppose I wouldn't have done anything different. And I think that means that the series went on far too long, and it was really (in the end) dried up of any new stories to write about.

The Riftwar Saga in itself is quite an accomplishment. Thirty books means that the author and all those who participated in this magnum opus felt very strongly and passionately for these characters. Their origins may have been in Dungeons & Dragons games, but they got the full respect and treatment one would want for labors of love minus an actual movie from Hollywood. The author's stories were good, but the continual characters that were the backbone of the series all suffered from clear "power bloat," which is also a thing that plagues high-level D&D games. "Power bloat" is a phenomenon wherein a character gains so many powers, levels, and abilities over the course of play that they sail into retirement, because a story creator can no longer come up with ideas to challenge these mind-blowing and powerful characters. I never thought I'd see such evidence of this phenomenon in written books, but by the end of Magician's End, the main character was essentially a god. Rather than just "be a god" the author decided to kill off the main character in a most spectacular and very heroic way. I guess this was his method of letting go, so that he could focus on other projects and other stories. It would have been very difficult to write stories that involved an essentially omnipotent being anyway, so death in a heroic blast off was a solid way to say, "I'm stepping away from this project forever, and I'm glad you enjoyed the ride."

When I think of the Riftwar Saga, I'm kind of amazed at how much Feist decided to blend modern concepts of science into his epic fantasy. His characters in getting to know the universe leave few rocks unturned, learning about (essentially) quantum mechanics, ever expanding space, the fusion that drives stars, and other such things. Some of his characters proclaim loudly that magic doesn't really exist, even though there are magicians a plenty in the world working magic. But then as time goes and you delve into the story, you begin to see that what might be magic may be just another kind of physics that involve particles changing what they want to be at an atomic level and how magic just may be a way to encourage those particles along a pathway.

He even overexplains his bad guys, kind of taking away the mysteries of them. His demons that he introduces you to in earlier books are at first terrifying. But in later books, you just come to realize that they used to be the same host as angels and were separated in the ancient past. Hell (where the demons come from) is just another universe. And the demons have cities and their own people. They raise young and fear an ever increasing blackness at the center of their dimension. Demystifying all of this made the demons less like this evil force, and more like just another fantasy race like elves and dwarves. The big bad itself, which was this void thing called the Dread that wanted to eat all life in the universe was explained away too. Apparently, in the beginning of Feist's cosmic creation there were these two entities. One was curious and the other wasn't. The curious entity left the incurious one and started to investigate all of its ideas that it had. It created time as an organizational tool so that all of its ideas would not happen at the same exact moment. So time was literally this thing that allowed other things to be spaced apart and be organized instead of chaotic.

Well, all of this preoccupation by the curious entity made the incurious one lonely. So it attacking everything in reality to eat it and destroy it was really just its attempt to unravel time so that the curious entity would come back to its state of being and be peaceful in a kind of timeless bliss (as it had been before) with the uncurious entity. It was a weird concept that did make sense. However, it removed all of the horror to know that this was fundamentally what was going on. I felt like the big bad had been overexplained. It was still as annihilating as a black hole is, but by knowing exactly what was going on, it somehow became less interesting than it would have been were it some awful monster. Ah well. Were these choices that I might have made? I don't know. The only thing I do know is that thirty books is a lot for any one person to accomplish, and I suppose he did all right when it comes to that kind of dedication. After all, these super powerful characters needed something to figure out, because "big monster go smash" had happened so many books ago that to be original, the author needed something that would be different and justify all those pages.




Friday, June 11, 2021

He-Man in the Masters of the Universe Revelation trailer from Netflix looks like a blond superchad and I loooove it.


The Masters of the Universe: Revelation teaser trailer dropped yesterday. From the mind of Kevin Smith, I didn't expect to be so smitten by it. But the nostalgia is strong with this one! Also, they went full 80's. I've embedded the trailer below for your viewing pleasure. I mean...talking 80's here...but could you ever go wrong with Bonnie Tyler's I need a hero? The delivery on "I have the power" gave me chills, and Orko looks awesome.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Robert Kirkman's Invincible is a show that resembles in a lot of ways the America that I truly know.


This last weekend, I finished watching the first season of the Amazon series called Invincible. Before I talk about it, I want to give a spoiler alert for any people who may be reading, and who want to watch it before learning anything about the show.

Invincible was good, and that gave me hope, because I heard that Netflix's Jupiter's Legacy got canceled. Even though these two things aren't related, I did like Jupiter's Legacy enough that I wanted a second season if (for anything) just to get answers. If you've seen the show, it is anything but finished with huge dangling threads that will now have no resolution unless I want to go and read the comics (which I won't). I also liked that there were other superhero stories to tell out there that had nothing to do with DC or Marvel. As far as Jupiter's Legacy goes, the way the heroes got their powers was actually a decent story.

Sitting down to watch Invincible for the first time, I knew very little about it. In fact, the only thing I did know was that Robert Kirkman had created it. I like Robert Kirkman's stuff, his other property being mainly The Walking Dead. But even though I stopped watching TWD years ago does not mean that I didn't love the show for the world it created. Robert Kirkman has always been someone who seems to have real strength in putting together worlds and making them accessible to others. He doesn't ask too much from his audience. He gives you something that you are used to, and then puts a little spin on it to make it his own. The Wachowski's he is not, but that's totally okay. The guy isn't here to give us a brand new way of doing things.

Now to the nitty gritty of what I liked about Invincible. The first episode was benign enough all the way up to the surprise ending. It established a world that felt similar to ones I see in Marvel and DC. The Earth of Invincible is one where other supes are common enough that everyone sees them. There are space aliens, dimensional conquerors, and kaiju (yes, I said "kaiju"). That last one was really fun to find out, because kaiju look like they'd be a great add-in for any superhero show. There's also an Avengers-type club called the Guardians of the Globe stocked with this universe's equivalent of the Flash and Wonder Woman. Well at the end of the first episode, Omni-Man (who is a Superman-level powerhouse) kills every last one of the Guardians of the Globe in graphic bloody detail. We only find out later that Omni-Man was sent to Earth to conquer it by the Viltrumite Empire. It makes sense that to conquer a planet, he'd need to deal with its most powerful defenders.

Omni-Man is also voiced perfectly by J.K. Simmons, who plays J. Jonah Jamison in Spider-Man movies. Omni-Man is even drawn to resemble J. Jonah Jamison in many ways, so it seemed a natural and eerie fit to have this voice actor saying his lines. But what Invincible manages to do really well is take an 80's era aesthetic of animation, play on that nostalgia, and then cover it in gore and violence. There are tons of action-packed sequences with supervillains who do not pull their punches. And it's also the story of a teen superhero (kinda like Spider-Man) who ends up going through a hell of a lot more trauma in the telling of his stories.

My friend, James, who has read the comic books tells me that it gets even worse than what we saw in the first season (where Mark Grayson who is the teen "Invincible") gets beaten to within an inch of his life by his father "Omni-Man" who only has a change of heart at the very last moment of breath from his son. It makes me ask (at this remarkable scene) since when have we ever seen that level of violence from a show about superheroes?

And it's to the credit of the show to highlight a thing that we've known for years: adults do in fact beat up their sons, their daughters, and their spouses in many households. My own father beat my brother with a tennis racket and my brother still has that racket all these years later (don't feel sorry for me as violence was commonplace in my household growing up and it's like crying over spilt milk) covered in his own blood. These are things people don't talk about with dysfunctional families. But I've come to recognize that adults are in fact genuinely awful to one another and their children in numbers that should shock the civilized world. But no one talks about it! They are skeletons in the closet! Robert Kirkman dares to air all the dirty laundry by making superhero families no different than the Americans they are drawn from, which are (for lack of better words) awful people. And to be clear I'm not slamming Americans. I'm American too, which means I'm awful. I just know better than to pretend that I'm not.

Anyway, so Invincible almost gets slaughtered by his father. Well my friend James says that in the comics, he's got a brutal rape coming as well from a female Viltrimite. As I've grown older, I've come to understand that rape is pretty commonplace, and it's mostly perpetrated by men. I was literally at a breakfast thing with my friend Meg and her twenty friends at her home when all the women and the non-binaries started talking about their rapes they've endured for years. I was transfixed by all of these stories, and that they were talking about them.

Since that day, I've noticed that there's so much rape...rape everywhere...and trauma from it in our society. Sexual assault seems to be as common as navel oranges at the supermarket. Just...no one talks about it. I think it's good that people are starting to talk about all the oranges lying around, instead of ignoring them. Once we can all agree that it is a systemic problem, maybe things will change (that's my hope at least). But going back to Invincible and the rape of the main character by a female Viltrimite...it sounds interesting. Why? Because you don't hear a lot of female on male crime. Yet, it does happen. I have three male friends who have been raped by women. They have extreme difficulty talking about it, and other guys usually laugh at them about it (I don't...I listen with empathy). They are afraid to come forward to cops, because they feel that the system will just ignore them. And then they wonder if it was something that they did, and whether or not they are misinterpreting the situation or the experience. People have this idea that "men can't be raped" because you "can't rape the willing." That is categorically untrue and insensitive to say the least.

I got to hand it to Robert Kirkman who dares to rip the sheets back on society and use what he finds there as the foundation for his stories. The Walking Dead was always a story about the survivors, and how the people who had the cajones to survive an apocalypse would be filled with psychopathy. Invincible is the same way, showing that many superheroes would try to do the right thing, but that bad parenting, psychopathy, and the human propensity for abuse would also be visible in these characters. And even though the female superheroes were powerful, they would still be browbeat by the scourge of Christian patriarchy.

Kirkman's not trying to visualize a better world made so by the Justice League of America. He's trying to visualize a world in its natural state were these gods to actually walk among us, breed with us, and raise families. He's giving us the world where the fascist and racist person actually has the power to level a city with his own fists and isn't held in check by anyone. How do you deal with that? Where it differs from Amazon's The Boys is its scale. Invincible is galactic, pulling in Viltrimites from an empire that has conquered thousands of worlds to Martians to invaders from other dimensions. Every day of the show there was some kind of world-shaking catastrophe that needed to be dealt with by the Guardians of Earth. But even as these monsters appeared, the true monster that represented the greatest threat was always one that looked frighteningly human.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Access to money is used like a scourge to force people to do things that are against their will.


It's almost cliche to say this, but Americans are all equal. However, some are more equal than others. Growing into an adult, and also growing wise, I have seen with stark clarity the strings of manipulation that are used to get adults and young adults to conform to certain prescribed behaviors. The illusion of freedom of choice in America is exactly that. You are free to choose, just so long as your choice happens to echo the one who holds the purse strings. It's mind boggling really how this is true from the billionaire to the head of a small family. It is true from the Hollywood producer to a dating profile on OK Cupid. People desperately try to manipulate other people through the access of money.

Here in Utah, I am privy to one of the most obscene uses of money and control wielded by religious families. Let's say a teen (read this as a young adult) identifies as LGBTQ and they "come out" to a religious parent. I've seen them wield access to money like a knife. On the line are threats of homelessness, abandonment, isolation, because the young person very rarely has access to the kinds of money one can live on when on their own (especially with prices soaring in the rental market).

The solution to all of this (of course) is democratic social and monetary safety nets. Being a democrat, I think all people should have access to free medical care and universal basic income. All people should be allowed to vote regardless of whether they are in prison (or not), and housing should just be a right. If you are kicked out of a home, the government should step in and provide you with one free of charge. Call me a leftist radical if you wish. But this so called "socialism" terrifies the ruling class, because it takes away their weapon. It defangs them with the ability to scourge a person with access to money.

Utah is also one of the states in the union that is deliberately tossing extra unemployment benefits because they want to try to starve people who are on unemployment into taking crappy jobs that no one wants to do. My brain just cannot comprehend why they think this is a good thing. It is so transparently evil, that I don't know why the ones who are making this decision don't think of themselves as the devil incarnate. If you want people to work, pay them $30.00 per hour with childcare, paid leave, a full benefits package, and a generous pension. If that bankrupts you, then you are not (in fact) a job creator and don't deserve the company that you are trying to create. Stop exploiting people. Exploitation is bad, mmmkay? If your excuse is: well I want to be a job creator so I can be rich. Well tough titty. You don't have a right to be rich, and you never did. Too many people want to be rich, and it's this greed that is destroying the nation and the world.

What I don't get is why anyone would want to control another person so terribly. What does economic control give you? What does social control give you? Even if they were your own child, why wouldn't you want them to just choose to love you. If they didn't choose that, maybe it's you, and you should be a nicer person. Why would anyone want anyone else around them that wasn't choosing of their own free will to be around them? At some basic level, wouldn't you want a loved one to be taken care of no matter what? I wonder if these people (who are so into controlling another) get mad that plants grow on their own (and flourish) whether or not they are around. I think it would be a healthy lesson for people to understand that you do not have the right to treat another person like garbage. No one belongs to you. Everyone deserves a healthy and prosperous life, and they deserve to flourish regardless whether or not they even like you as a person.

I shake my head at the frustration of understanding why some people just crave power over another. Wouldn't it be healthier if you instead craved painting a nice model or if you craved playing some Dungeons & Dragons with friends on a weekend or if you craved a good book? Wouldn't it be funner if you solved a problem and then told other people how you did it and helped them to overcome a challenge too? Imagine what the world would be like. I like to think that in a world where roadblocks were removed and people could just choose what they would like to do or what they would like to believe or who they would like to love without coercion or manipulation, that everyone would be so much happier. The only way we will ever find out is to disarm those with money so that they can't scourge the backs of the ones without and make them do things that they don't want to do.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

This month the IWSG asks writers to reveal the amount of time they let a manuscript rest before going back to do edits.


Hello everyone. It is June and that means Pride month. Maybe things will look more normal going forward (I'm sure hoping so). Being the first Wednesday of the month, it is also time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. If you haven't heard of this and have somehow come across my blog post, please go here and give it a look. But allow me to answer a few questions you may have about it.

What is its purpose? Well, to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

When do we post? The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

The Twitter handle for the Insecure Writer's Support Group is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

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

Remember, the question is optional!

June 2 question - For how long do you shelve your first draft, before reading it and re-drafting? Is this dependent on your writing experience and the number of stories/books under your belt?

I shelve my typical draft about six months. Sometimes longer. But in the past I usually tried to let it age six months. You'd be surprised at how many things pop out at you after that time. For me, it helps spot spelling errors that are inevitable in a long manuscript. But it also allows me to sit back and think about things quite a bit to make sure I accomplished what I set out to do.

Please be sure to visit the co-hosts for the IWSG, and thank you for coming. The awesome co-hosts for the June 2 posting of the IWSG are J Lenni Dorner, Sarah Foster, Natalie Aguirre, Lee Lowery, and Rachna Chhabria!

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

It is difficult for me to understand why people do the things that they do.


I thought I was a relatively educated man approaching fifty. But in the last year I learned of two things that I had no previous knowledge about: the Tulsa massacre and Sundown towns. Both of these I actually learned about by watching either Lovecraft Country or Watchmen on HBO. I never read about either of these things in a history book in any class that I took in high school or college.

The New York Times wrote about the Tulsa Greenwood Massacre in incredible depth yesterday, since it has been a century now since the event occurred. It was a real eye-opener, because they showed what the town of Greenwood meant to its black inhabitants (in a slick computer-generated presentation), and to how it was a place of prosperity and pride for a population that was not welcome in the greater Tulsa area. Fast forward to 2021, and very little has changed. And the nation is still struggling with the way it deals with the narrative and facts of what happened in Tulsa a hundred years ago. Just recently, Oklahoma Governor Stitt got booted off the 1921 Greenwood Massacre Centennial Commission because he signed a law prohibiting the teaching of why Greenwood was burned to the ground. Like...why would you do that? Why would you not want it taught so that people could learn about it, and keep other people (like me) from having to confess that they are/were ignorant?

Sadly, you can look at Google maps today and see that where the federal Interstate highway was placed when they cut through Tulsa that they chose a path right through Greenwood. Of course they did. No one of importance (and nothing of importance) lived/occurred there, right?  I wonder if publishers of textbooks will ever have the courage to air within their pages events like Tulsa, or speak openly about the planes that flew overhead to drop dynamite on the buildings. And no one had any problem with that at all, because (apparently) it happened as a result of a black man assaulting a white woman. That's how all of these kinds of stories start out. The reaction was breathtaking, and (to me) it almost feels like it was an attempt at genocide.

It is difficult for me to understand why people do the things that they do. What goes on in someone's mind to make these things happen? Are there words one can say to describe the history of how black people were pushed and violently oppressed in the white-mob mentality to "stop the steal" of their supposed divine right to wealth, land, and prosperity? Much of that entitlement still simmers today. I wish I understood where it comes from better, rather than just observing that "there's really unpleasant work to do and the cotton doesn't pick itself so somebody is going to be forced to do it." Is that really what life is about...being the one person who gets to have a good life at the expense of someone else? Must there always be a loser for every winner? These are all questions that I have in my mind that don't make any sense.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Do second hand markets and scalpers ruin hobbies and games for other people? Is unfettered capitalism good for anything?

Do second hand markets and scalpers ruin hobbies and games? I was having a quiet weekend when I saw a video of a mad rush of adult shoppers at a Wal-Mart trying to punch each other out over the last remaining Pokemon cards. Most of these are destined for Ebay, resale, flipping...or what have you. I doubt these people actually play Pokemon and have a passion for their rare card because it helps them win games.

I've also heard the stories from scalpers. This may surprise you, but most of the scalping being done is happening to other scalpers. It's the same mentality that you see in crypto trading or stock market memes like "Gamestop." That is...all of the buying and selling is happening between scalpers who actually have no interest in the product other than, "If I can take advantage of someone, I can make some money on this and not actually have to participate in back-breaking capitalism which would require me to work for a number of piss-poor dollars per hour." In other words, very little product from a Pokemon buying frenzy is actually making it to consumers. And then scalpers buying off scalpers essentially controls the supply, and that's how the price goes up.

I also hear that scalpers created a shortage in the Playstation 5 that was released some time ago. So I guess what I'm asking you to answer (dear reader) is this: products being sold NOW are brand new and are being snatched up by speculators who have no interest in actually consuming the products. They just want to exploit their ability to create artificial scarcity to rip other people off. So my question to you is should this be allowed? If so, I'd like to hear why. As for me, I don't think it should be allowed. I don't like "unfettered capitalism," which has no regulations to protect the public from predatory profit seekers. Unfortunately, we live in a country where half of the populations is okay to let greedy people bribe out politicians to change laws and create loopholes so that they can get away with monstrous actions for profit.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Vignette number one from my Dungeons & Dragons game is about a watery tentacle that bestows supernatural gifts.


Here is the first of the vignette short stories that I got sent by one of my players. Her name is Geneva, and she's playing a rogue that multiclassed into Warlock. She seemed really taken by the warlock character class in the Player's Handbook which ties its power to some kind of ancient/old entity. Geneva decided that Valerie (her character) would have a connection to the ocean, as the setting for this campaign is around a small town called "Saltmarsh" in the Kingdom of Keoland.

The name of this piece is Tentacle.

Valerie wades in the surf, knee deep, in a secluded cove an hour’s walk from town. She is 8 years old. She has been swimming with her best friend, Oelien, a young elf boy around her age. He is still swimming out by the reef. She sees him surface, much less often than one would expect. She envies his ability to stay under the water for so long, but she is content to watch from shore for now. She may go back in for one more swim in awhile, but right now she is enjoying the feel of the summer sun drying her hair and warming her skin. She has plenty of time before she’s expected at home. Her mother made it plain that this afternoon she was to stay clear of the house until sunset, and her father is out to sea.

Valerie has been swimming almost since she could walk, and is quite good at it. She loves the way the cool salt water embraces her, buoying her up when she swims on the surface, surrounding her when she dives beneath. Moving through it feels the way she imagines flying would feel. She wishes she didn’t need to come up. She often opens her eyes in the stinging salt water to find a world of beauty below her. She can hear the fish feeding on the corals on the reef just past the shore break. The sound of the waves ebbing and flowing is the sweetest music to her. She can make small forays into the deeper water, but finds herself frustrated by the limits of her breath.

Sometimes the world of the water seems more real to her, more like home, than the world on land. Especially her own home, when her father isn’t there. Her mother is often preoccupied, and short with her if she’s underfoot. There are things in the house that Valerie only sees when her father is out of port, and she’s pretty sure she’s not meant to notice them. But Valerie has always noticed things. Sometimes, strange people come to the back door of the house for whispered conversations with her mom. Sometimes, those conversations take place in languages Valerie doesn’t understand. Once, when she was smaller, she went climbing up a shelf to reach a coin purse that was hanging from a high hook on the wall that had not been there the day before. She fell and was discovered. Her mother was furious, and, strangely, afraid. Afterwards, her mother carefully poured a few coins on the table and showed them to Valerie and explained to her that she must never, ever touch coins like this. The coins looked like gold coins, which Valerie had seen before, but these glinted red in certain light. Her mother swept them back into the purse, which Valerie never saw again.

The tide is coming in. Valerie is on a rocky bit of shoreline now, among tide pools filled with urchins, anemones, and purple sea stars. She crouches where the water is beginning to crash on the rocks, pulls off a few mussels from under the edge, pries the shells open, and picks out the tiny creatures inside. She washes them in seawater and pops them in her mouth. She chews, savoring the sweet/salty taste.

Now she is thirsty, and she realizes that she has left her clay water jug far down the beach, with her clothes. Oelien is still swimming, far out. She places her hands beside her on the rock and prepares to hoist herself up, then stops mid-motion.

There is a tentacle coming out of the water, right in front of her, and it is reaching for her foot. But it doesn’t look like a proper, fleshy tentacle. It’s transparent. It appears to be made of water. It touches her with a soft splash, and it feels like water on her skin, but it doesn’t lose its form the way a wave would upon impact. In the instant of that touch, a voice fills her mind. To Valerie it sings like the sea itself - thundering, beautiful, fierce, overwhelming. She can feel it swirling around inside her head, much the way a wave does across and between and under the rocks where she sits. The voice in her head is alive, and it flows unchecked into every part of her consciousness. She can’t stop the flow. It demands to know her.

Her body is standing now, her back arched, her arms thrown wide, her eyes sightless as the tentacle winds itself up her body and also into her mind. Angry now, she demands in return to know what thing believes it has the right to use her so. One who would give you the gift you want the most, child, answers the voice. One who is as wild as you want to be. One who welcomes you into the depths.

The tentacle, grown large and strong now, pulls her into the water and propels her forcefully away from shore and downwards. She struggles against the tentacle now, aware that the growing pressure in her ears means that she is going deeper into the water, and the burning in her lungs means that she will soon need to breathe. Then breathe, says the voice.

And then Valerie feels the seawater flowing across the sides of her neck, and the urge to inhale that she’s been fighting abruptly leaves her. The wave that had flooded her mind recedes until it is a lingering caress, a single tendril. A tentacle. The force binding her limbs eases. Open your eyes, child, says the voice softly. Look upon your new world.

She expects the familiar sting of the salt water as she opens her eyes, but it is absent. Her eyes quickly adjust to the light level. She is probably about 30 feet down, but her ears aren’t bothered. She is surrounded by sea life. Reds are dull and dark at this depth. Yellow and green and purple are still visible, if a little softened and blued in the filtered light. There is something swimming rapidly toward her that is roughly her size. Her friend? No. She sees a head and arms like a child’s, but then she sees its powerful, finned tail. Its skin is a sea creature’s skin’s texture and color, its movements more like fish than humanoid.

The creature is close now, so close she can see its eyes and its facial expression, which is hard to read. Curiosity? Concern? The eyes, though… it IS Oelien! Valerie thought she had lost the capacity for further surprise today. She was wrong. Her best friend is a… what is he, exactly?

He motions toward her neck. Valerie’s own hand follows the motion, and touches the side of her neck, gently, and she understands. She’s seen, and felt, something like this when helping her father clean fresh-caught fish. Gills. She has gills! The tentacle in her mind speaks. When she is in the water, from now on, she will have gills. They are the gift, perhaps the first of many gifts. She can now move between the worlds of land and

water freely instead of being an outworlder from the surface. Just like her best friend. The word the voice uses for him is one she has heard in stories. Changeling.

Valerie is overcome with a savage joy. She taps Oelien on the shoulder, and using hand motions, challenges him to a race. This time, for the first time ever, she matches his speed. They play under the sea, swimming through passages in the reef, plunging over the edge of the drop-off into deeper waters, watching motionless from below as several white-tipped sharks carve out a living ball of smaller fish from a school and feast.

After about an hour, Valerie heads for shore. She can breathe under the water and swim better than ever before, but the water is still cold, and swimming still takes effort. By the time she emerges onto the beach, her limbs feel heavy, and she’s shivering. The tentacle, as she has named the thing in her mind, is silent, but is still present in her head when she searches. She can feel it, now delicate and subtle, dipping into her experiences as they happen. Oelien comes ashore just behind her, now appearing as the elf child she had thought him to be up until this day. He is tentative around her. She instinctively knows why, and reassures her friend that she will protect his secret. She asks for the same protection in return. They solemnly link little fingers to seal their promise.

She cherishes the tentacle’s gift, yet she understands that telling any other person, especially a grown-up, might provoke reactions that would affect her in ways she can’t control. It is easy for her to imagine her mother forbidding her to go to the sea. She wouldn’t be able to stand that.