Friday, October 22, 2021

Dr. Ramani Durvasula got me thinking about the toxicity of pursuing Fame in America and how it ruins lives.

 


I've been reading a book called Don't You Know Who I Am?: How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. It is written by Ramani S. Durvasula, PH.D. It's one of those books that I'm progressing through rather slowly, at a pace of about 20 pages at a time. This is mostly due to the fact that I want to think about what I just read. It's also because a lot of what Durvasula talks about in the book are things I've witnessed first hand. Additionally, it's kind of fun to be the armchair psychologist and think..."Oh yea...this describes my family" or "Oh yea...this describes that narcissistic friend of mine to a tee. What an asshole they are."

And speaking of "asshole," there's a great definition of this term that I'm going to tell you about. I'd never thought of defining the word in this way. Apparently, an asshole is a "person who allows themselves to enjoy special advantages in social relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes them against the complaints of other people." It's a mouthful, but it kinda makes sense.

There is way too much to talk about in Durvasula's book that warrants attention (or that could fit into one blog post). But one thing did stick out in my reading last night, and that is what I'm going to blog about today. It's about fame. I'd never really given much thought to what fame actually was, but Durvasala defines it in a way that seems more meaningful than a catchphrase or a kind of force of nature/personality. Interested? Please read on.

Dr. Durvasula writes that "we humans want and, in fact, need social belonging and connection...the drive for fame then is largely our need for social belonging. Perhaps fame implies permanent social belonging, because the person will be recognized everywhere they go." Then she goes onto cite a personal example of someone who desperately wanted to be famous. When she asked this person why, they responded with, "So I am never lonely again."

When I thought about this example, I put down the book and was suddenly struck with how lonely some people must actually be. One particular example that pops into my head is Gabby Petito, the late (murdered) Instagram woman who went on a trip to see national parks in the United States with her fiancée, and their van life (though very instagrammable) was obviously a nightmare, and she was murdered by someone she trusted and her body left to rot under the sun. I wonder if she was driven to that kind of life because she was lonely. She was trying to pursue fame, and it just led to a toxic mess of abuse and violent crime.

And it got me thinking about how toxic our culture is. Americans are really good at walling off people, ignoring people, canceling people, and being mean to people. It's kind of like a super power that Americans all have. The idea of having fame seems to be a salve for that. If you are famous, then you can open closed doors. You can be invited to parties on the other side of the wall. You can feel welcome in places that are largely unwelcoming to everyone else. You can even rise above and profit from negative criticism that would destroy someone that wasn't protected by fame. So fame and fame-seeking seems to go hand-in-hand with the hatred that pollutes our country.

The more people hate, and the more people build walls to keep people out, the more important it will be for a person to have access to something that will allow them to move fluidly through all of those boundaries. Fame appears to be that "something," and it may be the most desirable commodity of all among America's youth these days. That (I think) is a bad thing for our country. For example, I can't imagine what it would be like to try and have a meaningful and fulfilling relationship with a famous person. How would they ever have time to emotionally support you when there are so many people clamoring for their attention? I think it would be a fertile breeding ground for massive insecurities unless the famous person took steps to create really firm boundaries with the public and put you at the center of what was important to them. Unfortunately, we see this kind of thing play out over and over again in the media. Those who are excellent with the boundaries have relationships that survive. Those who aren't good at boundary setting end up decimated by the public that worships them. There are so many bad things about America now though that it's honestly hard to keep track of them all. So it's just adding one more sociopolitical catastrophe onto the steaming garbage heap.

Anyway, I appreciate the thought exercise that Dr. Durvasula gave me regarding fame. And since we're on the topic, do any of you who are reading my words now hunger for fame (or do you have kids who are fame obsessed)? If so, care to share why? I'm a very non-famous person who legitimately wants to know.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

DC Fandome's Black Adam event looked glorious.


I've kind of become a super Dwayne Johnson fan. I drink his energy drink, Zoa. I follow him on Instagram. I watch all his movies. And I kind of just think he's a guy that continuously inspires me no matter what he is doing. Also, a lot of his public stuff intersects really well with the nerd things that I enjoy. The latest of which is that he unveiled the first look at Black Adam during a DC Fandome event earlier this week. I've embedded it below for your viewing pleasure. 

For people who don't know, Black Adam is evil. And this just opens up a philosophical can of worms starting with the question, "What is evil?" George R.R. Martin doesn't think that evil actually exists. Rather, what you mistake as evil is simply a person's motivation that is in opposition to yours. So, if that is the case with Black Adam, you can expect that there will be a lot of people who do not align morally with the character. But, if January 6 told us anything, it's that there are a ton of viewpoints out there, and a ton of people who admire different things. So there will be those whose motivations perfectly align with those of Black Adam, just like there was with Thanos.

I expect that the film will also go further, and try to sell the holdouts to Black Adam's cause...people who might like superheroes like Superman (for example). You know...the traditional good guy that does no harm and is essentially the stereotype of Sir Lancelot gussied up as a superhero. This is where we cross over from villain to "anti-hero," which is a big thing these days in the media that we all consume. With regard to Black Adam, I say that the possibility of this happening is doubled, because we've got Dwayne Johnson headlining the character. In the super short clip that aired on Fandome, you basically just see him stand up and vaporize one dude. But it looks really cool, which is all that matters. The fact that he vaporizes someone without so much as a warning is pretty much their way of saying...yeah...this guy is bad and isn't afraid of killing people.

That being said, it will be fun to see Dwayne Johnson playing a more villainous character. He's played the unequivocal good guy for so long that this feels like a fresh take on his career. To see him directly kill on-screen (as in the above example) is super rare. It's usually more of an "exploded the car with the bad guy in it" situation.

Anyone else excited for Black Adam? It looks like it hits theaters in summer of 2022.

Monday, October 18, 2021

The fact that Dune is such a great story is a significant contrast to the legacy of Frank Herbert.


My relationship with Frank Herbert is complicated. Can we separate the artist from the art? Or more appropriately, can I separate the writer from their great ideas and their book? None of what I do is logical. I am not Vulcan, and I suppose having said that, my open-eyed approach to enjoying the arts lends itself to hypocrisy. On one hand, I cannot bring myself to read Orson Scott Card for his obvious controversies with homosexuality. On the other hand, maybe because I learned of Frank Herbert's terrible views of homosexuals at a different period of my life, I can just dismiss the man as a bigot and think nothing of it, and then consume the products of his late estate and revel in his genius.

If you didn't know, Brian Herbert wrote about the strained relationship that his father, Frank, had with his brother Bruce. He even writes in Dreamer of Dune that when Beverly Herbert was on her deathbed, Frank discouraged Bruce from coming to see his own mother. Brian says, "Bruce had wanted to come afterward, but dad was delaying in giving him a time that would be convenient. My brother wondered, but did not say so to dad, if this had anything to do with his homosexuality, which our father never accepted."

There are also several first-hand accounts from people who knew Bruce, and they remembered him saying that he didn't speak with his father, because his father didn't like that he was gay. If memory serves, Bruce ended up dying of AIDS in the nineties. And (of course) there is other stuff you can find out if you dig (which I did). None of it made an unapologetic liberal and gay person like myself very happy. 

For example, Brian Herbert has written in as many words that his father wasn't just a Republican voter, but he was a Republican operative. While in his 30's, Frank worked for four Republican candidates. His most important employer was the US senator from Oregon, Guy Cordon, who was a bastion of hardline conservatism in a state that was tilting left. Cordon was pro-logging, pro-business, pro-military, anti-labor, anti-regulation, and a supporter of Joseph McCarthy. Herbert came to regret McCarthy's tactics, but Cordon was a "strong influence" on him.

So knowing all of that, I'm getting ready (like much of America) to watch the first half of Denis Villeneuve's Dune that is coming out at the end of the week. I'm looking forward to it, and I think it will be a beautiful adaptation of Frank's novel. However, I suppose that there is a wish inside of me that a better man had written it. Of course, there are people who love the man that he was. Those people are not my tribe, and just highlights how far apart many of us are on what we think being good and moral actually means.

Anyone else planning on watching Dune this weekend?

Friday, October 15, 2021

The United States in 2021 is in a really weird place in its overall history and its relationship with the idea of work.


This is an interesting time to be of working age and living in the United States. Growing up, my father always railed against foreign countries usually finishing up with, "America is the greatest nation in the world. You are lucky you were born here instead of someplace else." It was a kind of strange self-awareness, but because it came from the mouth of dad I never really questioned it until I was on the other side of my university experience. I suppose that is where the critical thinking started.

So, being alive and healthy enough to work for a living in the United States has got its surreal moments in 2021. Of the people who play in my D&D group, only myself and two others have jobs. The other five don't work at all and probably don't intend to work. One makes his wife work while he sits at home and plays video games; he sometimes applies to jobs but he's underqualified for all of them and will never get them. He's the person with a high school education and who managed a Sonic once that puts in a resume to be Dean of the School of Business for Harvard University. Like really...that's what he does. Another is able-bodied and lives with a parent who coddles him like a baby and pays for everything and tells him that he doesn't need to ever work if he doesn't want to (the man baby is almost 30 and believes that being forced to work is trauma).

A third person is a low IQ individual who takes a lot of explaining in order to understand things. Somehow they qualified for SSDI at the age of 40, and they followed up with, "My life has been so much better now that I don't have to work. I spend my days reading, watching programs I want to watch, visiting with friends, exercising, playing board games, and playing video games. Because of this, I don't have the stress that I used to have that was making me sick." So...translation...I become a man-baby and play all day and as long as I have a room to sleep in and things to eat...I'm happy. Okay then. It is what it is, but it puzzles me as to why this is happening. Current events are conflicting so much with the mantra that my dad pounded into my head... "This is the greatest country on Earth..." Is it though? By what measure? My dad obviously never had a friend tell him about "passive suicide." I recently had this conversation, so that I would understand why a friend made the choices that they did that were unhealthy for them. I was like...okay then. I validate you. A man should have a right to dictate the course of their own life. Ironically, I think a lot of "despair" has its origins in the Americanized idea of "work." The despair sets in when people realize that the kind of work that they really want to do is unavailable to them. Instead, the kind of work they can find is oftentimes a steaming pile of doo doo on a tin plate.

And in writing this, I seem to have sparked a realization that I have a lot of friends who don't work. There's the 44 year old woman who essentially plays all the time, because doing actual work is stressful and depressing and causes anxiety. She lives at home with her mom and they rent out rooms to people on SSDI so that no one in the household has to work. In fact, SSDI has become so commonplace in my social circle to see, that to my observation, it is kind of startling. It's like watching people launch out of childhood to be hit full force in the face with the brutality of capitalism. These people then cave-in mentally and crumble before it, the same as a person who would seek refuge from a raging bull in an arena. And then they cower in fear and safety behind a shield of SSDI for the rest of their lives. So the new life cycle for many people seems to be childhood until 25...a few years of work wherein you run screaming...SSDI by the age of thirty and essentially a permanent retirement of "getting by" and hoboing around with dozens of sexual partners and casual drug use until one passes from the Earth.

Now, some of what I'm seeing does actually make sense. For example, there have always been jobs that no one wanted to do. On my short list of terrible back-breaking and stressful jobs are phone centers, trucking, and being a C.N.A. I'm sure there are more. Retail (I've heard) has gotten really bad with the Karen's and the other "entitled" people screaming and demanding to see the manager and pulling off masks and spitting on people while being filmed. This is yet another nuance of "great America." But, there have always been people who did these jobs. There have always been people who moved the pipe in the fields (I did it for a few years and never again). There have always been people who drove truck or who took on the duties of care-giving.

What's different is that in 2021, people are saying, "Hell no! You can count me out!" And it's causing a huge problem globally. I've never been so fascinated by people walking away from work and essentially, going it alone to try and find some version of retirement or freedom, whether it is living off of another person, living off the government, or being a brazen thief in what's called "organized shoplifting." If you aren't familiar with this last one, you need to check out this article HERE that explains why Walgreens has closed 5 stores in San Francisco alone due to the phenomenon. There are amazing videos of people walking out of Home Depot stores with carts filled with merchandise...just going out the door...and pushing and punching anyone that gets in the way. They are literally daring the staff that work in these stores to do something. And then they just drive away with the goods that they sell through some other place at a later date. It's like my microcosm of a world has gone nuts all at the same time.

There are Republican pundits who say outrageous things on Fox News like, "We need to force people back to work." There are others who buy up billboard space to chastise those who drive by them with the message, "Get off your butt! Apply Anywhere!" Or something similar (I'm seriously not kidding...just google it). On the first note...I have questions...what does this "forcing" look like? Cause, from my perspective, that sounds like trauma in the best of light. And as someone who has received the message (or gaslighting depending on how you want to look at it) that work gives a person meaning and makes their life better...this doesn't jive with that message. I mean...if you have to drag someone kicking and screaming to do a thing...isn't that "without consent?" Aren't we, "The land of the free" or was that more gaslighting? If something is without consent...isn't that against the law? Like what the hell? And regarding the billboard messages, I don't know what planet the people who bought and paid for such a thing came from, but shaming someone to do a thing doesn't work anymore. It's almost laughable. We are a society of shamelessness...of grifterism...of just flagrantly doing things to get attention, because we are attention-starved. Ringing the "shame bell" is not going to work on anyone. No one cares anymore.

So, it's a strange time to be alive. I oftentimes find myself in the company of a dozen people knowing full well that I'm the hardest worker in the room. And it's a bit unsettling. Dwayne Johnson wears a shirt that says, "The hardest worker in the room." He takes pride in that, and he does inspire me and millions of other people. However, I don't wear that shirt out of personal choice. I never wanted to be the hardest worker in the room, but in America today (at least my slice of it), it's like there's been some unseen and unannounced race to the bottom, which has left me weirded out in more ways than one. At its most basic level, I think we need to seriously reconsider (as a society) what the idea of "work" actually means.

I don't think that "work gives value to a person's life." I think that wherever that bullshit came from was probably a self-help book written by a person that wanted to motivate others so that they could make money and sit back and have it easy. These days people are onto that, and everyone wants it easy. So, maybe, as a start, we could begin by acknowledging that, "Work is a terrible but necessary thing. If it is your time to work, we are sorry. We will make sure to pay you extremely well, to try and make it as easy as possible for you, and to make sure that you are taken care of when you cannot work anymore. Additionally, we (as your employer) appreciate you and will not subjugate you to micromanagement or performance evaluations as those are trauma-inducing. Rather, we will be appreciative of whatever it is that you can give us, but know your limits. We respect your boundaries." Maybe this is what work is moving toward? I don't know at this point, but it would be nice if it was.

Has anyone else noticed a profound shift in the country? Does anyone other than me out there have at least ten friends they can name that are long-term unemployed and have no prospects of ever fixing that at all? Like...ever? I'm talking about (essentially) permanently retired and in the prime of life? It's really strange, and honestly, it makes me wonder why I work so hard. I haven't figured that last part out yet. But I'm also in awe of the people who either have enough privilege or who have been smarter than me and figured out how to careen from year to year of life in America as an adult while doing nothing but play, play, and then play some more.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

I have thoughts on the Alien franchise that I want to share.


So, science fiction news broke this weekend about the Alien franchise that is now moving to a television series headed by Noah Hawley. I've very much liked Noah Hawley's takes (episodic television series and not movies) on Fargo and Legion. Heck, based on Legion alone, I think he will bring a really interesting creepiness to the Alien franchise. With the ability to expand outward in episode after episode, he won't be constrained by time. He won't have to resort to the idea that people are just trapped on a spaceship, or they are trapped on a planet, or they are trapped in one situation or another. This is how Alien movies have been done up until now. And I think this is a great opportunity to step away from the movies and tell a different story about the Engineers (visible in the Alien prequel of Prometheus), and the danger of corporate greed looking for a biological weapon to keep those who don't support their interests in line.

However, Ridley Scott is not a fan of the idea. He doesn't like that the story will be set on Earth. In Hawley's words he wants to explore the idea of "What happens if you can't contain it?" And then wants to follow up with (assumedly) the destruction of Earth, which I think could be incredible television. Ridley Scott (who coined the original idea of keeping the aliens away from Earth) says that "It'll never be as good as the first one." In the interview with The Independent Scott said that having the xenomorph creature at the center of the story is not what audiences want.

Okay...I think that Scott obviously knows his own creation better than anyone. But I want to put forth another idea. The thing that puts Alien in its best light is the mystery. It is the impending horror without showing a thing. It's very Lovecraftian in that way. If I was going to do something with H.P. Lovecraft's work (and I had the resources to do it well), I wouldn't show the Great Old Ones on the screen except in very rare instances to inspire awe. I believe the same thing could also work in an extended series...with the horrific elements of the xenomorph being talked about and shown in contrast to the actual creature itself. Of course, Aliens showed us that massive amounts of xenomorphs being slaughtered with futuristic weapons can also be nice, as it all felt very hopeless despite all that firepower.

Scott's take on Hawley's ability to play in the universe he created also feels really defensive. In other words, why would a show be measured against one of (arguably) the best horror movies ever made?" And whether or not you like any of the sequels, you have to admit that Alien by itself is a masterpiece. In my humble opinion, the plot is simple yet deviously smart, with subtle layers to it that one doesn't even realize until the film has played itself out. To explain further, I don't know if Hawley's Fargo is any better than the movie it's based on either. But it doesn't matter, because I enjoy them both.

Anyway, when I learned that this project is going forward, I felt a rush of endorphins. It will probably be coming out next year, and it will air on the FX network, which is also where Hawley's other series tend to land. I guess we will soon see if Alien can make the transition to television and obtain a whole new demographic of fans.

Friday, October 8, 2021

The What If Infinity Ultron episode on Disney+ was a lot of fun to watch and left me with a lot of thoughts.


Spoilers ahead for Infinity Ultron and the What If series on Disney +

So, I'm still a little behind on the What If series on Disney +. However, I did finish watching the penultimate episode wherein Ultron gets a hold of the Infinity Stones and then proceeds to expand his power into other universes and then beats up the Watcher (who's been telling the What if stories in the first place). As entertaining as it was (and it was fun in the comic book sense of watching powerful characters slug it out), I was left with questions and observations that will probably never be answered. Here are some of them.

1) Ultron is able to use the Infinity Stones once he goes to another universe. This doesn't make sense to me having finished watching the Loki series wherein the Infinity Stones were used as paperweights in clerk drawers in the Time Variance Authority building (which is outside the known universe). They established in that series that the Infinity Stones have power only within the universe with which they originate. Even in the comic books, this is a thing. For example, in a JLA and Avengers crossover, Darkseid briefly gets a hold of the Infinity Stones, and then realizes that they are useless because they are not a part of his universe (Darkseid is a huge DC villain similar to Thanos).

2) Ultron in the episode got the stones way too easily. I mean...he just used the mind stone to cut Thanos in half. For some reason, I think Thanos would have put up more of a fight than that. But it's all what the writers want, right?

3) Was Clint's arm and cloak some Wakanda Tech? It seemed like it was, given that the Winter Soldier's arm came from there.

4) I'm actually not sure how powerful the Watcher is within the canon of the Marvel comic books. Is he up there with the Living Tribunal? I'm just not sure. I do know that the Living Tribunal can just turn Infinity Stones off, like flicking a switch. He did that in some of the Infinity Stones plotlines before placing them beyond anyone's ability to abuse.

5) I loved seeing Captain Marvel's true power unleashed when she attacked Ultron. That's impressive, even if she was ultimately defeated by the robot with all the stones. Still...we've never seen that kind of power flex from that character.

I'm kind of an anomaly when it comes to fans of the Age of Ultron movie (the second Avengers movie). I actually liked it. However, I do get that Ultron was a Thanos-level villain who could easily serve as the big bad of several MCU films, and he didn't even survive one movie. I get that...and I get why online bros are pissed about it. However, the team at Marvel already had a story-arc mapped out. They didn't need another big bad for this arc. Instead they used Ultron like a strong chess piece. For example, in my opinion Ultron is what creates the fissure between Cap and Iron Man. It's what decimates S.H.I.E.L.D. And, it arguably is what allows Thanos to win the first time.

Anyway...those are my thoughts about the episode. Anyone else watch What if? If so, what do you think of it thus far?

I will be taking Monday off from blogging to celebrate Indigenous People's Day (Columbus Day). So, I shall see you on Wednesday. Until then, take care.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The October 2021 Insecure Writer's Support Group contemplates boundaries in writing.


It is spooky October, and I have neighbors preparing for Halloween by lavishly decorating lawns and houses, and I have writer friends preparing for NanoWrimo in November. As for me? I'm doing neither of these things. What I am doing is putting up a blog post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Started originally by Alex J. Cavanaugh, best-selling science fiction author and guitar player, this monthly blogfest kicks off on the first Wednesday of every month. You can sign-up HERE if you like.

What is the purpose of the IWSG?: 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.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

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

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

Remember, the question is optional!

October 6 question - In your writing, where do you draw the line, with either topics or language?

The awesome co-hosts for the October 6 posting of the IWSG are Jemima Pett, J Lenni Dorner, Cathrina Constantine, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, and Mary Aalgaard!

My answer==> Thus far, I haven't drawn a line with either topics or language. However, that doesn't mean that one doesn't exist. My "boundary" as it were lies in things that I'm not interested in. So if a particular subject is of no interest to me, I won't write about it. And I distinguish this as being different from being "intolerant" of a particular subject or curse word. That's not it at all. It's just some things inspire no passion at all, even if I can summon the passion to speak or write about them in an eloquent matter.

For example, I recently met with a person who had conservative views, and I engaged with him conversationally and for some reason, he was impressed with my knowledge and the passion with which I spoke about politics. He followed up by asking if we could be friends and continue such discussions. The truth of the matter is that I know I'm very eloquent and well-informed, and I can summon the energy to be engaging every once in a while. But I honestly have no interest in talking or building any kind of relationship based on this kind of thing. What some mistake as "passion"...as in... "But you are so passionate about this particular thing..." is not passion at all. It's just the hallmark of being an intelligent person. That's what intelligence is.

I'd imagine that there are a lot of people who can talk eloquently and intelligently about a thing they have no interest in. A physicist at Los Alamos (for example), could probably say all kinds of things about the effects of radiation on materials under stress within the core of a nuclear reactor, and then follow it up with data and heavy math. But it would be wrong to say..."Oh! You are so PASSIONATE about this! Can we build a relationship around this and talk radiation all of the time!?" They might look at you and say, "Uh...I was answering a question. What I'm really passionate about is cooking, and in particular, Italian pasta dishes? So...yeah... if you want to talk meat sauce...then we totally should...."

For me, (ultimately) politics is boring and frustrating, filled with narcissists, entitled people, and incivility. So, I educate myself out of necessity. But I'm not passionate about it, and I don't want to meet to educate others or to share viewpoints. I've found this kind of thing to be absolutely pointless, as it doesn't move the needle anywhere. I already have one conservative friend that is in close orbit to me, and I've known them for 25 years. The only thing I've managed to do in all of that time with all of my wasted arguments was to convince him that women deserve equal pay to men if they are doing the same job. That's it. And now he takes ownership of that idea as if it originated with him (it did not). I haven't moved him left on anything. He doesn't believe minimum wage should be hiked, he doesn't believe in universal healthcare, he doesn't believe in science (covid isn't real!), he believes "marriage is between a man and a woman!," etc. Whatever. It's all pointless to even chat about this stuff. I think of dinosaurs marching off to their tar pits whenever he is around, and I find that I get way more fulfillment from discussions revolving around Dungeons & Dragons, video games, and nice restaurants.

So yeah...that's where my "fictional line" lies. If I'm not interested in it...then I don't write about it. Plain and simple. It's taken a long time (a lifetime I suppose) to get so laser-focused on what I like and dislike. I imagine there are people out there who struggle with this, and they have my sympathies. It must be terrible to get involved in an activity (like writing) and then discover that you don't like what you are doing and just participated in it because you are a people pleaser. Boundaries are great, and good for the soul. I'm also going to offer another piece of advice...it's okay to say no to people wanting you to read stuff. When people find out I'm a reader, they will sometimes say, "Oh! I just finished reading a book. You should read it!" And then they try to assign homework to you via a book they just read. It's okay to say, "No thank you. I have my own book list, and I read from that. However, if you find it fulfilling to assign homework to other people, might I suggest you do it on Facebook? I'm sure that you'll get some likes from people who want to be interested in the same things that you are. I'm just not one of them, but thanks for asking." Your reward for doing this will be that your free time is indeed yours to spend in doing whatever it is you like. You cannot be responsible for another person's happiness. That's just too much of a burden to shoulder in today's world.

Thanks for visiting.

Monday, October 4, 2021

I'm confused at how Venom and Spiderman are going to come together in one film without it being totally lame.


The big news that happened this last weekend within the realm of "speculative fiction that I pay attention to" was that Venom in the Let There Be Carnage movie is now in the same universe as Tom Holland's Peter Parker. I suppose that this is nice, since I'm a fan of Tom Holland's take on Peter Parker, and I've expressed as much on my blog in a different post.

However, I don't think that Venom and Tom Holland's Peter Parker, at least as they've set it up in the latest Sony movies, make much sense at all. Like...how do these two get together in the same movie? Allow me to explain.

Sony's Picture's latest incarnation of Venom (it was done previously about twenty years ago in the movie Spiderman 3 starring Tobey Maguire) is much less of a villain and more the antihero. So that's the first problem with this. Is there a Mysterio link then? Is Venom going to be mad at Peter Parker for having killed Mysterio based on what J. Jonah Jamison had to say at the end of Spiderman: Far from Home? As far as I know, the whole appeal of the animosity between Venom and Spiderman is that Venom's entire existence (from conception) was intended to be revenge at Peter for abandoning the symbiote suit. In other words, the symbiote was a spurned lover, rebounding with Eddie Brock, and amplifying his hatred for Peter out of nothing but pure spite. But now, is Sony just going to say that Venom wants to beat up Spiderman for killing Mysterio...a supposedly good guy? I think that's weaksauce to be sure.

Or maybe I've got it wrong. Maybe Sony is going to do a reverse plot on this whole thing. That is, the symbiote could leave Eddie for Tom Holland's Peter Parker...and then realize that Eddie was his true partner. And it was vice-versa in the real comic book story. This sounds slightly better, but I think I'd still like to see the original storyline that appeared in the comic books. Only, they can't do that now because they've chosen to go this entirely weird and different route with Venom as a character.

Do any of you reading these words have any theories as to how they are going to bring Venom and Tom Holland's Spiderman together in one film and have it be good? Like...how is this going to go down exactly?



Friday, October 1, 2021

What Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes doesn't say about the Vietnam War is probably the greatest truth that it has to tell.

I finished reading Matterhorn by author Karl Marlantes. It's a really good book, and a fictionalized account of a brief period of time in the Vietnam War. When I say "fictionalized," it's essentially one-step removed from reality. Like...place names have been changed as have names of characters. But, the story itself (I have no doubt) is based entirely on true events. The author himself appears to have a place holder in the story in the primary character named Lieutenant Mellas. So, reading this story is (I imagine) similar to the exact visceral experience that this former marine endured. Marlantes's military credentials are long, having served as an infantry officer in the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines from October 1968 to 1969. He was awarded the Navy Cross for action in Vietnam in which he led an assault on a hilltop bunker complex (which is what Matterhorn is about). He was also awarded a Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals for valor, two Purple Hearts, and 10 Air Medals.

His writing is remarkable, but I know a lot of that is due to editors and people who believed in the story that he was crafting which was probably one method of him to work his way through the PTSD that he lives with on a daily basis. And when I think about this book, after having read it, there is so much to unpack that it is hard to know where to begin. But, it has definitely taught me to rethink things that I don't believe I quite understood before. With context, a lot of things can become clearer. One of these are these four letters that counselors, therapists, and people tend to use a lot, i.e., PTSD. It stands for post-traumatic stress disorder. We use it to diagnose individuals who are emotionally screwed up. We use it to account for acts of hatred, violence, depression, extreme fear, and unending anger. I always knew that. I knew that this is what PTSD was. However, I never really understood that PTSD was a logical thing and that the right thing to do is to validate all of these feelings, because they make sense.

In reading this story, there are concrete reasons why Lieutenant Mellas goes from being this starry-eyed volunteer in the Marine Corps hoping to get a medal so that he can add it to his Ivy League education like a person would collect a trophy...to a person that (in his own words) says, "I fucking hate it (being a Marine)...I'm sick of the fucking lies and covering the lies with blood."

So, the book is called Matterhorn, because "Matterhorn" is the name of a mountain covered in dense jungle that is close to the border of Laos, which makes it a strategic position as this is where a big regiment of the North Vietnamese Army launched a lot of their military campaigns. The NVA were a well-equipped and well-trained regular fighting force. Now, the name "Matterhorn" is exclusively an American name given to an area of land to which there was probably some other name, and the Americans (ignorant of that) did not care to find out what its actual moniker was called. It only mattered in the sense that the commanders of Bravo Company could name it, and everyone would understand to what that name referred to. Up to about the middle of this 566 page novel, Bravo Company is tasked with first taking Matterhorn, which is unoccupied, clearing it with their resources, and building out bunkers atop it for strategic importance. The trek through the jungle is awful, with leeches raining on them, and even one person getting a leech stuck in his urethra who then has to be medevac'ed, because the pain is excruciating, and it will kill him. Dozens of other people suffer from this awful condition called trench foot. One person gets eaten by a tiger. And one person who has excruciating headaches is killed off by a disease called cerebral malaria, which honestly sounds beyond horrific. They cut their way through fields of elephant grass, which is so sharp it cuts open all exposed flesh and just shreds everything else. And then when they finally get the bunker all built, and it is actually quite nice and probably able to withstand quite the siege, they are commanded to abandon it and go to some Landing Zone that is a long ways away and under a time limit. They are not resupplied, start to starve, and essentially get to this Landing Zone on-time but half dead. But there is no empathy at all from the commanders of this company, calling the shots from their radios many miles away.

Well, Bravo company then gets some rest. And then...wouldn't you know it...but Matterhorn is taken by the NVA, who then occupy all of the bunkers and things that Bravo company built for them. So then they are ordered to take it back. This is pretty much the rest of the novel, and sparing the gory details...a lot of young men die horrible deaths. And they are all pretty much men that Lieutenant Mellas calls "friend." He gets so mad, so angry, that the final assault on Matterhorn pushes him beyond the breaking point and he does some truly crazy stuff that nearly gets him killed from a grenade. However, it's enough to break a bottleneck against the defenses that his own company built with their bare hands to get in and kill the NVA who are occupying the strategic point. The air support they call in to help them weaken the bunkers is absolutely useless, as they are coming in during foggy conditions, at night, and flying at 500 miles per hour. So everything they drop...all the napalm...all the bombs...just land in unoccupied jungle. The palpable frustration of taking this stupid hill is written in every thought of Lieutenant Mellas.

Mellas gets so mad at some point at his own commanders, that when one starts to strut around proclaiming how proud he is of the company at having taken back Matterhorn and "restoring their honor," he grabs a rifle and almost snipes him off before another one of his friends clobbers him to the ground. The incident goes "unreported," but it shows you how "tone deaf" the military commanders of this particular era seemed to be when it came to the things that they ordered boys/kids to do. What struck me as remarkable was how pathetic awards seemed to be. One person exclaims (who didn't participate in the assault but who sat in an air conditioned office somewhere), "I only have two gold stars on my wall. The second one now is for Bravo Company for what you guys did." I really felt how drippy that must have felt, receiving that compliment. I'd be thinking...I got a gold star while my friend got his legs blown off by a mine? What the fuck? It sounded so patronizing, but it is what it is.

So...obviously...Mellas has severe PTSD by the end of the book. But his anger, his grief, and his hatreds all make sense even as medals are probably coming for his brave conduct in taking the hill called Matterhorn. But it's way more complex than that, because Mellas didn't have a choice. It even seems weird to call him "brave" when he had about as much choice as anyone at breathing in and out. "Oh you are so brave to take your next breath." That's basically what it sounds like. Mellas was pinned down behind a tree trunk, and he did what he needed to do to survive and to stop the bullets that were being machine-gunned down upon him and his friends. If he didn't do what he did, he would have been killed. He acted in the moment...not out of patriotism...not out of duty. He did it because he loved his friends, and they were dying. And then he gets called a hero to his face by people who don't (and never will) understand exactly what he went through to earn that title. As a society, the words that we use to label and talk about things is really strange.

The comedian Chris Rock says in one of his stand-up comedy specials on Netflix, "It takes pressure to make diamonds!" He was advocating for the idea that society does indeed need bullies, because without bullies, we all don't know how to deal with one when a true bully comes along (think the 2016 election). After having read Marlantes's book, I now understand better at why it seems to be a wise choice to elect politicians who have been in live combat in the military. And that's an important distinction. Look...you always gamble with trusting anyone. But the pressure cooker of live combat is where the seeds of empathy seem to get sown. People who don't suffer through some kind of trauma have a higher chance of lacking in empathy. And when you don't have a person with empathy in a position of power you end up with a terrible situation. People without empathy will order a door dash delivery of food during a flash flood, because, "Hey...it says on this app that they are delivering so fuck it." They have no idea that someone may be too stupid to know how dangerous it is outside. They just figure, "I don't need to police them because I trust when a person knows what's best." We all know (because of Covid and the pandemic) that we cannot trust people to know what is best. Trusting people to do what's good and right is a complete shit show. Of course, there are other things that are capable of delivering trauma. But I would argue now, especially after reading this book, that I'd rather have a survivor of trauma calling the shots than one who has no idea what trauma even is (a life filled with ease).

The book of Matterhorn is a complicated and extremely enjoyable read. It is also a work that unravels through its pages the almost psychopathic disconnect between the people who do dirty jobs that no one wants to do, and the need for those dirty jobs to get done. It highlights how people give platitudes to the dirty job workers...honestly, it's very similar to calling people at fast food places or working low wages at grocery stores by the term, "essential worker." Meanwhile, some dude at Goldman's Sachs pulls down millions and works from home on a laptop part-time. From Mellas's perspective, there is also this kind of strange misogyny that is felt by practically all of these young men toward American women. However, I feel that it is mostly justified as (seeing things through Mellas's eyes), these enlisted men seemed to be attached to women who had no empathy at all for the situation in which they were in. There are several passages that elude to this. Here's one:

"In Bravo Company's unpainted plywood office a clerk was pecking at a typewriter....Above the clerk, covering the entire back wall, was a blown-up picture of a beautiful model in a girdle and brassiere advertisement. A note had been handwritten by the model on the large poster in neat round script. "To the men of Bravo Company, First Battalion, Twenty-Fourth Marines. You're doing a great job. Love, Cindy."

It's this feeling of, "You are appreciated by us for what you do...but we don't really want to see you or hear from you. But here's a picture of you to masturbate to, and I hope that you are doing well." It's honestly how all the women come across in this book, and these boys (who are in the prime of their lives and dealing with all of this other stuff) don't handle it very well. I honestly get it. American society has tons and tons of walls. In 2021, the Surgeon General of the United States has come out saying that America has a "loneliness epidemic." And I'm not trying to draw any connection between the book and the modern loneliness epidemic. However, if Americans have been good at one thing since the sixties, it is this: "Good walls make for good neighbors." We are all about our individuality, about keeping people out, and staying completely focused on what brings us happiness (even if this is a cup with no bottom).

Americans are good at surrounding ourselves only with those people who agree with us, and do not challenge us in any way. We are good at canceling those who do not abide by our rules. Boundaries are healthy for the person creating them; perhaps not so much for the person who just desires a special human connection and can't find one and ends up dying alone. But it happens all of the time, and it probably needs to be this way. No one should obligate anyone else to anything. To express it another way, human connection whether sexual, emotional, or otherwise IS a privilege. Maybe it didn't used to be...like pre-1950. But it is now, and if you don't have that privilege. Well, there isn't much you can do about it, except complain or express your frustration in other ways. I didn't make the rules. This is just how it is these days. I can see the sprinklings of how much the world has changed in the subtext of Matterhorn. It has a lot to say about racial inequality, white privilege, and the folks (regardless of race and privilege) who do the dirty jobs and are (by virtue of their job) assigned a moniker that means "unworthy of love." But hey...there's always a "thank you for your service" waiting somewhere, right?

There are so many things I could probably say about this book. But this review and subsequent rumination over the things I've read is already long in the tooth. I'm just going to say this: Matterhorn is an excellent novel, and you would be wise to give it a read, because what it doesn't directly say about the Vietnam War is probably the greatest truth that it has to tell. People are terrible and do terrible things to each other ALL of the time. Marlantes says through Mellas that we all have an inner demon. Soldiers in the bush just have met and come to terms with that inner demon. They know what they are. The rest of polite society likes to pretend that it doesn't exist. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

I was revisiting Babylon 5 on HBO Max when I learned that the whole thing was being rebooted and there was much rejoicing.


I love Babylon 5. It's a show that seems incredibly prescient in today's world. Way before its time, it tried to tell one overarching story in five seasons rather than make a series that had individual stories that unfolded one episode at a time. This model of making a series is now normal in 2021. However, the show hasn't aged all that well visually even if the special effects and sets were considered good for the time period in which it was made. I was alive in the early nineties, and I remember thinking that stuff being made then was soo much better than the entertainment options of the seventies and sixties. It's kind of shocking to look back on all that now, and think...man...these things were terrible and I actually liked them. Was I insane or just completely ignorant? The truth is neither of these things of course. I just had no idea what kind of technology would arise within the next thirty years.

So, am I happy about the reboot? Absolutely. There have been some discussions online (since the announcement dropped yesterday) that have complained about the CW being the station upon which it will be aired. I don't see a problem with this at all. I love the CW. I watch all the DC Universe stuff from The Flash to Batwoman to Superman & Lois and Stargirl and Supergirl, and I have enjoyed them all. My favorite indulgence is the Legends of Tomorrow. I even enjoyed The 100 until the point where I just fell behind and decided not to catch up as they kept killing off characters I liked. I've also enjoyed the Berlanti-related productions of Titans and Doom Patrol that air on HBO Max. So the choice of the studio doesn't bother me at all.

Furthermore, J. Michael Straczynski is helming everything. He's busy writing the pilot episode, and he's going to be heavily involved with the writing going forward. He's also serving as the showrunner and producer. It's going to be his baby. Sure, the characters will all need to be recast, but that's entirely okay. As a fan of Babylon 5, I know that (behind the scenes), J. Michael Straczynski didn't get to do the show the way he wanted to the first time around. He thought he only had four seasons to tell his story, and he compressed a lot of the Shadow and Vorlon war to fit in with that timeline. But it became such a big success that they renewed it unexpectedly for another season or two, and he had to scramble to come up with stories to tell and they were never as good as the Shadow and Vorlon war.

Going into this thing, he's got complete control. His seasons will probably be shorter as is the norm these days, but that will force him to compress for content and not drag things out like the Nancy Drew series ends up doing a lot. And I imagine he will have the same kind of special effects team as the Expanse gets with Amazon, and that has me completely excited. If you've at all checked out Babylon 5 on HBO Max, the Shadow look absolutely terrible. It's shocking how stupid they look. I cannot wait to see what this menace looks like in a rebooted Babylon 5. I have high expectations to be sure.

Another thing that Babylon 5 really had going for it were the numerous compelling subplots. The shining example of this was Londo and G'Kar. These were two politicians from opposite sides of a war that started out hating each other, and both of their characters and their respective relationship developed over time.

There is (of course) the question that gets asked most often: "Why not make a new thing entirely?" As being a creator of sorts (I write and run D&D games for people), I know that creating a new world is really hard. I created one in my youth that I still use for new D&D players thirty years later. And it's better, it has evolved as I have evolved, and I know its history. People compliment me all the time by saying, "I love playing D&D with you, because your characters and your world seem so real." I'm sure that J. Michael Straczynski has plenty of ideas. He's way more creative than me. But Babylon 5 is an idea that he's had for decades, and I bet it has evolved in ways that building something new (from scratch) simply wouldn't be as good or as satisfying (in the same way it would be for me were I to attempt to do the same thing). I remember when Berke Breathed retired Bloom County because he didn't want it to be Garfield. And then he started writing Outland, which then (over the course of time) slowly became Bloom County again. That's because he loved the ideas and characters he came up with in Bloom County and decided to incorporate those ideas into his new project. Well, then he scrapped Outland and now he's back to publishing Bloom County. So...he never should have stopped writing Bloom County, because that's what he enjoyed.

And finally, J. Michael Straczynski is excited. I think that right there is enough for me to be excited about this reboot. So, I think I'm going to put away rewatching the show and await the new reboot with eagerness.


Monday, September 27, 2021

I wonder if Netflix's Sandman will be better than American Gods on Starz.

 


American Gods on Starz went really off the rails. I actually never finished the show, but I think that the showrunners had trouble making a series out of the limited content that they found within the book. I mean, American Gods is only so long...and it has a bunch of characters with the main character (Shadow) being quite arguably the most boring of the bunch. I liked the read, but a lot of Gaiman's works tend to be cerebral with complex characters who are shocking modern interpretations of ancient religious symbols. Interacting with these characters briefly was the fun part. But spending extended amounts of time with them stretched out over a series in the context of modern Americana wasn't as fun as I thought it should have been.

That being said, The Sandman is my earliest recollection of the Vertigo imprint of DC Comics, and I actually used to own a Sandman number one, which is probably worth quite a bit these days. I got it relatively cheaply by purchasing it brand new when the comic debuted. The artist was the one who drew me in, but Gaiman's writing was solid as well. The thing is, Gaiman's adaptations tend not to translate well to American television.

I think the last adaptation I actually enjoyed that was made from Gaiman's works was Good Omens. But I wonder how much David Tennant and Michael Sheen made that possible as opposed to the writing of Gaiman. I've actually never read Good Omens, so it's a legitimate question.

The problem with Sandman is that the characters are pretty out there. My guess is that the show will need to tone down and streamline a bunch of stuff that is at the crux of what makes the entire story compelling in the first place. Additionally, Death's look in the comics was a hugely entertaining part of her character. However, I don't remember "goths" being a thing back in the eighties when I saw this comic for the first time. Now "goths" are everywhere, and the look is honestly really tired. One can blame places like "Hot Topic" for cashing in on this trend I suppose. But the blamethrower really doesn't solve anything after the genie has escaped from the bottle. What's done is done.

I am reluctantly excited for this, but I'm skeptical that Netflix can pull this off. Down below, I have attached the "first look" from Netflix. Bonus that we get Charles Dance pretty early on in the show. I've been a fan of his for years.

Friday, September 24, 2021

I am both intrigued and disturbed by the hyper-realistic and lifelike statues being sold to online collectors.

I am both intrigued and deeply disturbed by the life-like $3k to $4k limited edition statues (and yes they are statues and not the actors) that makers like "Sideshow" are putting out for superheroes and other iconic and powerful people from the entertainment industry. And just to be clear, I probably will never own one of these. In particular, the Tom Holland one as Spiderman actually creeps me out because it is so realistic. It gives me the heebie jeebies, because it feels like someone taxidermied the actor to put him on display. The Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman feels less so mostly because that particular bust still has its arms (the Tom Holland one does not). Anyway, I thought I'd share, because I find them deeply fascinating. It seemed appropriate on this first Friday of Autumn.




Wednesday, September 22, 2021

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe 2021 is an excellent update to a beloved series.


If you had asked me at the beginning of 2021, I would never have guessed that Netflix would launch two He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series. The first (called Revelations) dropped at the height of summer, and it was a revisit of a lot of nostalgia and helmed by Clerks creator and comic book geek, Kevin Smith. Ultimately, I wasn't really satisfied with that series, because it was only six episodes. It felt too short, and the plot barely seemed to get going before it ended with a cliffhanger. I do hope that it gets renewed for season 2. I wasn't even upset that Teela was the main character, as telling the story from her point of view seemed right to do in this moment of time.

However, this latest offering from Netflix of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe doesn't pretend to be any kind of offshoot, sequel, or conclusion to the original. It's a complete prequel wrapped in a solid suit of reinvention. I found that to be kind of interesting. The animation is the same that we got in the series Trollhunters in case you've watched that. But if you haven't, kinda think of Pixar-level animation and then take it down a notch to where it's essentially a very cartoony version of Star Wars: The Bad Batch.

I ended up really loving this show a lot more than I thought I would. In this particular reinvention of He-Man, the power of Greyskull which transforms a gangly teenage boy into the very swole hero, is shared between a bunch of people. Teela is now cast as a lady with dark skin who is a powerful magician in her own right even before Greyskull empowers her further. Afterwards, she's essentially a sorcerous supreme, capable of incredible feats of magic. Then Prince Adams best friend is Ram-Ma'am, who is a gender-swapped version of the original cartoon's Ram-Man. The others joining He-Man in sharing the power of Greyskull are Man-At-Arms, and Cringer (Battle-Cat) who comes from a tribe of talking cats and who has no claws. Orko doesn't make an appearance until about midway into the series, and he's the reincarnation of a powerful ancient magician who is trapped in the body of a metal robot that flies around.

Skeletor is actually Prince Adam's uncle, who makes a terrible choice in Castle Greyskull and ends up getting his flesh all melted off. That was interesting to make Skeletor of royal blood. I don't know if that was something in the original series, but hey...it works in this reboot. Another thing that works is the humor. There are several one-liners which are quite clever and had me laughing (some of them obviously break the fourth wall and allow the show to poke fun at itself).

The story is definitely for kids. However, there's lots to like about it for adults who don't mind taking a nostalgia pill and opening their mind to new possibilities with regard to the intellectual property of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. I also really liked how it was diversified now, and that He-Man as the hero doesn't exist within a vacuum. He isn't a deus ex machina. Rather, his friends are extremely important to his success, and they wield just as much power as he does. In other words, he is no longer unique in being able to channel the "power of Greyskull." The animation sequence of the team "powering up" is straight out of video games, and I have no doubt will make kids eyes bug out with amazement even if I got a bit tired of it after several episodes (my only real complaint).

Has anyone else watched this show on Netflix? If so, what did you think?

Monday, September 20, 2021

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is a ton of fun to play with friends.


A little over a week ago, I started playing Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order on the Nintendo Switch. I'm "late to the game" on this one, but better late than never, right? I heard about this game only because I hadn't used my Switch in over a year, and my friend Meg expressed a desire to continue to play a Breath of the Wild game she'd started about a year earlier. So, as I watched her play the game, I looked online for anything that might play more to my interests. I've always liked cooperative games (games you can play with other people in the same room as you) to ones that you play alone on a computer or a game platform like the Nintendo Switch. And that's when I discovered that waaayyy back in 2019 (before Covid was even a thing...can you imagine?) this game came out and was rabidly enjoyed by its fanbase. So, I bought a copy and started playing it with friends. And I'm here to tell you that I've had SO MUCH FUN.

If you're a comic book fan, you really should give this game a go. You can play up to 80 characters in the Marvel universe, and like I said above...you can team up. Each character starts out with a pretty basic superhero package, but you can level your character up by performing cooperative missions called "Infinity trials" and unlock all kinds of nifty stuff. There's a whole laboratory section of the game that you can go into to further customize the synergies and power that your four person team can do. If you pick characters that have similar abilities (Hulk and Thor for example are both "heavy hitters") this allows you to synergy your attacks together for spectacular amounts of damage against the foes on the screen. The game also has a level cap of (I think) 300, and you start out at level 6. So...you can play for a really long time, and there's always more to explore. My friend and I have been playing a game for over a week now and we are like level 35 now, which shows you just how far we are into the game.

Right now, I'm alternating between Spiderman, a hero called Crystal, Wolverine, Captain America, and Nightcrawler. I've wanted to play Doctor Strange, so I'll probably play that character next, but we just unlocked Cyclops and Colossus so those are strong contenders for wanting to explore. If you think that most video games might be too complicated for you, and you are intimidated...I would say, "I think that this will not be a problem with Ultimate Alliance 3." The reason: both Meg and I are old fuddy duddies, and we don't have the best response time on the controllers. So we play on friendly difficulty level.

Aside from that, the strategy of playing comes more from timing, team composition, energy management, and just dodging enemy attacks. There are no fancy button combos to memorize or special attack patterns to use on the joystick. There are also some really challenging puzzles, and some mechanics that you must use in order to bring down bosses. One of the more difficult bosses that we faced was Dormammu in the Dark Dimension. You had to hit him with rocks that you picked up, but you needed to charge the rocks with Dormammu's own attacks before you threw them at him, or they would do no damage. So that was a lot of fun, once we realized what we had to do.

As for the story, it is a ton of fun. The big bad is Thanos, and he's trying to collect the Infinity Gems. In this alternate universe, the Infinity Gems are scattered through the cosmos and we are trying to get our hands on them before Thanos and his Black Order can beat us to it. I imagine that there will be a pretty incredible boss fight with Thanos before this is all over. There were also three expansion packs that are available for the game that I purchased and downloaded. These unlocked the Fantastic Four, some more game to explore in Doctor Doom's kingdom, and a bunch of new abilities and alternative costumes for characters.

Anyone else out there own a Switch? If so, have you played Ultimate Alliance 3? Please let me know in the comments.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Star Trek: Prodigy looks to explore even more of the Delta Quadrant in October with a hologram Janeway providing advice to a bunch of kids


There's a lot of new Trek happening on Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access). With Lower Decks solidly marching on with its second season, I'm also aware that Star Trek: Prodigy, the second animated series in the shared universe on Paramount+, is due to drop October 28th.

Star Trek: Prodigy's plot is going to have a pretty basic framework that can be built out as needed for some truly entertaining episodes. The crew (with the exception of the hologram Janeway providing advice) consists entirely of teenagers who find an abandoned starship and go flying around the galaxy in search of adventure. All of the characters are from the Delta Quadrant, and the show is set just a few years after the USS Voyager's return home.

The synopsis reads like this: five kids are incarcerated on an obscure planet in an uncharted part of the galaxy. They escape from their imprisonment and race across the planet to find a defunct starship buried in the planet's surface. They enter the ship, but are unable to make it work. With prison guards hot on their heels, they suddenly stumble upon an Emergency Training hologram in the form of Captain Janeway.

There's Gwyn, a 17-year old member of the Vau N' Akat, which is a new race to Star Trek. She was raised on her father's desolate mining planet and grew up dreaming of exploring the stars.

Next up is Jankom Pog, who is a Tellarite. Pog loves a good argument and regardless of his own opinion, he'll always play "devil's advocate" for the sake of hearing all sides.

There's also a purple alien who race has not been released yet. The name attached to this alien is Dal, who fancies himself a maverick and holds strong onto his unwavering hope even in the toughest of times.

Murf is an indestructible blob with really good timing.

There is an 8-year-old Brikar (race), which is a hulk-like alien. The name of this character is Rok-Tahk, and they love animals. 

And there is a Medusan named Zero. From the original series, these are a non-corporeal and genderless energy-based life form known to cause insanity to any humanoid who gazes upon their natural form. Zero wears a containment suit to protect those around them.

Below is the first trailer for the show. I'm kinda excited about this one....

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Locke & Key season 2 trailer for Netflix seems to channel a bit of Sauron forging the One Ring.


Just in time for Halloween, the second season of Locke & Key is about to drop according to the shiny new trailer that aired online this week. I really enjoyed the first season of this show on Netflix (which seems like it aired a loooong time ago), and I believe it is from Joe Hill, who is the son of Stephen King and (honestly) a doppelganger for the aging horror author. As far as Joe's mind goes, well it seems to me that you can truly inherit genius (or insanity). Look (and for clarification) I wouldn't want to live in Stephen King's mind. However, I'm glad that someone does, because Stephen has been a great entertainer of people for generations. And now, Joe Hill appears to be carrying on that legacy just fine.

Joe's other offerings like NOS4A2 kept me on edge as well. I watched some of the series on Hulu, and I do intend to get back to it. But what I did see kept me wanting more. However, I'm not big on horror unless it also manages to combine fantastic elements (or science fiction). It's why I can watch Aliens type movies without feeling anxiety. But I can't (for example) watch Halloween or Malignant.

In the trailer (which I will link below), Dodge (played by Laysla De Oliveira) is in the form of Gabe (Griffin Gluck), and another demon in the form of Eden (Hallea Jones) forge what appears to be a dangerous new key. The scene reminds me a lot of Sauron forging the one ring in the fires and forges of Mount Doom.

People who have read the original comic book series by Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (artist) have claimed that the series has gone off the rails from the original source material, which honestly isn't surprising. I haven't read the comic book series. And that probably works in my favor, because I think the show is one of the best offerings on Netflix. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

There's a strange phenomenon of people with liberal values arguing for themselves and others to be okay with toxic abuse.

I've been noticing something lately on Facebook. Some of my liberal friends are putting up posts that say something similar to the following: "I care a lot that they (conservatives) get mad [at being targeted by business and people for their anti-vax stance]. I care about anger because mad customers who are directly adjacent to customer service workers quickly become threatening...Airline mask mandates while very sensible do mean stewardesses [they live in Idaho so forgive them if they don't know that this term is now outdated and should be replaced with 'flight attendant'] get assaulted. Healthcare workers routinely get assaulted...retail workers were literally shot and stabbed for informing customers that stores had mask mandates...." And the post goes on and on. The point is that this person (with liberal values) is arguing that others who are liberals should not do anything to antagonize angry conservatives and (for lack of better words) live with being abused.

Of course they use their education to draw upon words that sound specious in their goodness. They craft sentences like: "We have a growing cultural belief that it's okay to withdraw kindness or even start to be rude or threatening if you are the victim [the victim being the retail worker]." And then they go on to justify an argument that, "This is not okay because these angry people are human beings!"

Honestly...this argument that I see more and more from good-minded people is laughable nonsense. However, its a phenomenon that I'm seeing more and more as fear-driven liberals shaking in their boots are scared and traumatized by putting up what is (honestly) a healthy boundary. I have tons of boundaries, and I'm willing to defend all of them with extreme violence if necessary. Anyone that violates them beware. But as long as people respect those boundaries, I'm the recipient (literally) of "the kindness award."

At this point in my life (having just turned 50) I can honestly say that I'm as stress-free and filled with joy as I have ever been. It's a glorious time to be alive, and I appreciate every day I am given. But I didn't get here by just being lucky. I got here through years and years of efforts to decode the abuse I suffered from conservative bullies and living a lifetime in Idaho (the abuse did not come from family; it literally came from "friends"). Once I realized that I had been a victim of systemic gaslighting, bullying, dehumanizing, and narcissistic trauma at the hands of grotesque abusers that operated and played at game shops in Idaho (a place that should be a safe haven for nerds) and by employers who sailed upon the wings of LDS righteousness...I began to pity all of those people. I was able to let go of my hate and anger and see them for what they were. They are so systemically abused and filled with a lifetime of trauma from neighbors, friends, and employers who treated them like crap (little better than slaves in cotton fields), that their hearts are just filled with jealousy, hatred, and paranoia. Putting up boundaries against those people is the healthiest thing I ever did.

You might say, "Those people need help. They are mentally ill." Well...that's the rub now, isn't it? They do need help...but you cannot ever help the unwilling. They don't believe they are mentally ill. They continue to live within a web of complete delusion and they are so abused that they believe that their abuse actually counts as life experience, and that they are doing everyone a favor by abusing someone else so that they can walk the path that they had to walk to get to "Loserville." Idaho is some kinda mind trip I will tell ya. I lived there for 36 years, but I've only now come to know and see it for what it is. 

Anyway, it boggles my mind that people who may share my political values are so close to the fire that they don't see that boundaries are good. They are so afraid of losing whatever it is they have that they are literally begging people to not anger the conservatives anymore. "Get your vaccine if you have to...but please don't force others. They will get violent. You don't understand." It's like listening to an abused woman living in a house with a man that beats her every single night. "Please...I beg you...don't make my husband angry. He will beat me. He will beat our children. He's thrown my baby down the stairs. I beg you...you don't know what he's like!"

Is this what society is coming to? The liberal cowering on the ground and the conservative
holding the belt screaming, "Don't you dare force that vaccine on me! Do you hear me?! DO
I NEED TO SHOW YOU WHO HAS THE POWA?!!!"

And my answer: "Actually, I do know what that's like. There's only one language that this kind of person understands, and I speak it well. So do others. You will be way better off putting up healthy boundaries. We can show you how to do this. There are worse things in life than death. Repeatedly having your boundaries violated without your consent is wrong, and it is one of those things."

Friday, September 10, 2021

The Matrix Resurrections trailer is here to remind us all of how weird the original Matrix actually is.


The Matrix: Resurrections
trailer dropped sometime this week. You may have seen it. If not, I'll link it below. It got me thinking about one thing regarding The Matrix: it's a really unusual film trilogy. I mean...it really is...it's anachronistic. It didn't fit well in its era. There's nothing else like it. If I had to sum it up in a sentence to show you how weird it (and the circumstances around it) are it would be this way: the original movie is by two filmmakers who later became transwomen (or just women), and it's about an Asian American, a woman, and a black guy who team up to fight an army of authority figures who are all portrayed by white men. In 2021, there's nothing unusual about it. But the modern times are (if anything) a constant shit show. So The Matrix seems like a mirror to how uncomfortable our reality has gotten.

It's also weird that the original was co-opted by terrible people as an allegory for their suffering at the hands of woke culture. If you are unfamiliar with "Red Pillers," they believe that the original is about "Chads" and "Stacy's" waking up to the real world which is awash with traditional gender roles. This "waking up" process is swallowing the "red pill." Once they "wake up," then they advocate for "Men's Rights." Considering that we live in a patriarchy...it's weird to hear men advocating for "men's rights." As a man I can say we have a lot of rights, not including recent legislation in Texas (which is another kind of shit show).

As for the story, I have no idea how they are going to continue this thing. At the end of the last movie, there was a truce between humanity and the machines and the Oracle said that, "Anyone can leave the Matrix if they want to." And then the movie ended. We don't know if humanity tried to retake the surface world, and we don't really know what the "status quo" is.

However, and because The Matrix is really super weird, it's not a stretch to think that this December movie could also be a prequel. The Architect once spoke about one of the prior Matrixes that was the best possible environment. But it was too perfect, and it was rejected. Maybe the reason why things became destabilized is due to the Neo we know making his way back into that version of the Matrix and acting like a wrecking ball.

Side note==> Once again I give a golf clap to Grace Slick who sang the vocals for "White Rabbit," which is the song used throughout this trailer. I had a roommate in college (1989 folks) who was from Marin County, and Grace's daughter, China Kantner, had attended his former high school. He was completely in love with this woman, and he listened to "White Rabbit" over and over and over. I got so sick of it. So hearing it again? Yeah...I'm still sick of it. But, it was a good choice to convey those Alice in Wonderland vibes.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

I'm optimistic that the Wheel of Time series will be both entertaining and accepted by Jordan's rabid fanbase.


"The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning." (I think that this little tidbit appears on the first page of every book in this gigantic series)

I do have an admission when it comes to The Wheel of Time. I am a second-generation geek of long standing when it comes to these books. I have never read them for various reasons. The first is because people who had read them warned me that they liked them until about the 6th book (or so) and then it was just a chore to go from there to about the 13th book. To be honest...that is not really selling this series. Then there are those who say that they are not fans of how Sanderson finished them off (after Robert Jordan died), and that Jordan is verbose in a terrible way. I guess he was an author (like George R.R. Martin) who wrote himself into the weeds and couldn't find his way back. Additionally the shortest book is 650 pages while the longest is over 1200. Most weigh-in at over 800 pages.

That being said, I was briefly excited when The Wheel of Time trailer from Amazon Prime dropped last week. However, after watching it a couple of times, I have thoughts about what I saw. My comments fly in the teeth (of course) of true fans of the series. I hope that I'm proved wrong. On second watch, the series looks like something from the CW with a slightly bigger effects budget for the landscape shots. The actors are attractive but expressionless and the trailer shows them on sets with CGI laser spells and sky-beams. Additionally, the indoor stuff looks like it was shot in a converted high school gym. I'm honestly getting a Shannara Chronicles vibe, but without a person wearing yoga pants.

However, I'm still going to watch it. Maybe it won't be just another derivative fantasy offering? It seems to me that it is super easy to make fantasy projects look cheesy. I'm not sure how Lord of the Rings avoided this trap, but they did. So did Game of Thrones. I hope that the people behind this project have studied the success of those two franchises for clues, because the fandom surrounding The Wheel of Time honestly is a bit toxic. It's almost like a religion, probably helped along this road by the fact that Sanderson is a Mormon and was a professor at BYU. And since a lot of people in Hollywood are artsy, and hence...liberal...I fear that people who have liberal views are probably going to try and change some of the subtext of Jordan's work to make it more woke. They need to not do this under any circumstances. We live in a time of severe polarization in politics, and I think that meddling with a story that is so gendered centric that there is gendered magic at its core...would be a huge mistake. It will anger the trolls, of which there are millions.

Amazon must be very excited to have two of the biggest fantasy franchises in that genre's history. As Spider-Man has often said, "Those with great power have great responsibility." I guess we are going to see soon how well Amazon handles that responsibility. Below is the trailer for the first season of The Wheel of Time in case you haven't seen it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The September Insecure Writer wants to know how I define success when it comes to writing.


Yay, I made it through the summer. Well, it's almost over, but the summer of 2021 wasn't the kind of summer that I remembered in my youth. Summer used to be my favorite time of the year. But now, the temperatures are just blistering every day. Here in Utah, there has been no relief from drought and wildfire smoke that has put our AQI over 200 a couple of times. Seeing red skies and being able to just look at the sun with the naked eye because there's so much smoke in the air that it's just a dull orange spot is weird. At least I'm not having to deal with hurricanes or flash floods. Those appear to be things that people in other areas of the country are dealing with, and I think these changes are here to stay.

As I write this blog post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group, I finished eating a perfectly ripe pear and a perfectly ripe avocado. I paused for a moment thinking about these two fruits. They really were the best that they could possibly be, and that's unusual enough for me to take note. So, I'm feeling lucky today.

If you have not heard of the Insecure Writer's Support Group, it rolls around every month on the first Wednesday, and it was started by author Alex Cavanaugh. It's also frequently abbreviated IWSG. Below are some more details lifted from the sign-up page, which you can find HERE.

What is the purpose of the IWSG: 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!

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

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

The Twitter handle for the IWSG is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

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

Remember, the question is optional!

September 1 question - How do you define success as a writer? Is it holding your book in your hand? Having a short story published? Making a certain amount of income from your writing?

My answer: Success as a writer is just finishing something. If you have the wherewithal to finish, congratulations, you are a writer in my opinion. Success as an author is a different story. Success as an author (to me) means that you can live comfortably on the income from your published works. There are a variety of ways one can accomplish this, including the traditional path and the self-publishing path. I suppose you could even accomplish it by only writing one book and then get the majority of your monies that you live on from public speaking (I've known a person or two who have managed to do this based on Olympic medals they have won). As a caveat, I do not consider myself a successful author by any means. I do consider myself to be a successful writer. So I'm full of all kinds of advice on the act of writing, including the number one thing that has been useful to me: **learn to type**

But "typing" isn't as important as it used to be, with speech-to-text options available. Additionally, editing isn't as important as it used to be either, as most people don't seem to care about grammar and spelling anymore. I regularly see misspelled words on news broadcasts, in official government correspondence, and in periodicals that shouldn't have misspellings in them. The only periodicals that don't have these anymore are the best in the industry...things like The New York Times or The New Yorker. But I see misspelled words practically everywhere else. My conclusion is that no one cares enough anymore about the written word. My own personal take on this has been to adapt. Rather than to tilt at windmills and try and correct all the spelling errors, I've just accepted them. I don't make a fuss and just read on, letting go of the things that used to irritate me. I think this is good, because I see mistakes everywhere, and I just don't want to be that unhappy all the time.

Thanks for visiting.

The awesome co-hosts for the September 1 posting of the IWSG are Rebecca Douglass, T. Powell Coltrin @Journaling Woman, Natalie Aguirre, Karen Lynn, and C. Lee McKenzie!