Monday, March 6, 2023

Taking a blog break until April.

March is turning into one busy month for me. I've got roommates moving in. I also have to do dad's taxes. So I'm gonna step away from the blog for a bit. However, I plan to return for the IWSG April post. I'll let you know how everything goes, especially with the roommates. This is gonna be a big change.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Tobler-9 from Alien (2022) is a downright nightmarish world.

For long time followers of my blog, y'all know I like the Alien franchise, which includes the prequels Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. This love also extends to comic books. I've been reading one in particular, which is a mini-series called Alien (2022), and it follows a group of elite colonial marines who are all synthetics (think of super-powered humans) being tasked to infiltrate a former human colony called Tobler-9. These are people who can jump fifty feet and lift bulldozers above their heads, etc.

That being said, this new world that was introduced into the alien mythology last year is pretty scary. In this timeline, humanity is dying and only rare biotechnology has even the slightest hope of being able to save us. The only trick is that humanity has to get this biotechnology from Tobler-9, which is a "paradise lost." They explain that nothing organic could possibly survive on its surface, prompting the United Systems to reach out to Steel Team (the synthetics I mentioned above) who are the only ones who have a shot at retrieving said biotechnology. As I've been reading the comic, the hostility of the planet is pretty crazy. But to Steel Team's surprise, they've encountered people alive on the planet, this despite some pretty badass alien drones and radioactive rain. Take a look at this panel:

So yeah...the whole planet has been irradiated by atomics causing the rain to be lethal. I haven't quite gotten to the point in the comics that explains how people have been able to live on this planet. However, they did explain that the radiation in the water should be enough to make their skin peel off. But this apparently isn't happening (the mystery deepens) even though they apparently have managed to survive by hiding in underground bunkers, and moving to other ones quickly if a hive of xenomorphs that they call the "Icarus strain" happens upon them. Here's a panel featuring one of the bunkers:
Anyway, the biologic that Steel Team needs is an egg from one of the Icarus strain monsters. It turns out that this new strain has the potential to help the human race survive in badly irradiated places. However, getting an egg is not going to be easy. Here's a panel from the comic that explains why:

The black lady (survivor) who has lived on Tobler-9 all this time and says "Human Hosts, Always" in the above panel is called "Melody." She goes on to say that there is "too much of us in them, if they were beasts before they are proper monsters now," which sounds like a really bad thing.

Anyway, it's been a fun read thus far and there are plot twists, tragedies, and back-stabbing betrayals that (of course) happen to our would-be heroes. It wouldn't be an "alien" story if that kind of thing didn't occur. The whole "alien apocalypse aesthetic" is something I like, and I think it is visually stunning whether it is on screen or in a comic panel. It's hard not to think of an apocalypse scenario as deeply interesting, especially when the overall reason for it happening in the first place seems derived from the dark side of human nature more than it just being an accidental occurrence. "We did it to ourselves!" It's hard not to really want to peel back the layers on that statement. And Tobler-9 is one hell of a nightmarish world to serve as the backdrop on this story.

Anyone else out there reading along in this comic? If so, what do you think?

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Welcome to the March 2023 Insecure Writer's Support Group post.

Even though it isn't spring, and winter has a firm grasp on the part of the country where I live, March always makes me think of spring. I feel like this March is going to be particularly challenging, because I'm getting roommates to help pay the bills. It's the first time I've had roommates in over twenty years. So, lots of changes are happening in my life. One of the things that I like about this situation is that my two roommates and myself have a lot in common. And they've promised to help out around the house. When it snowed 14-inches last Wednesday, I realized after four hours of shoveling that it probably will be good to have some help now and then. I'll probably say the same thing once summer arrives and the lawn needs to be mowed. So, I'm focusing on the positives and seeing how that will work out.

And being the first Wednesday of March, it is also time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group post. This blogfest rolls around every month. It was started by Alex Cavanaugh, whom most of you probably know. If you are interested in signing up for it, you can go HERE and do so at your leisure. Here are some more details about the IWSG that I modified from their website:

What is the purpose of the IWSG?: It is to share and encourage other writers. Writers who post during the IWSG can express doubts and concerns on their blogs 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 does everyone post?: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group Day. As a participant, your responsibility is to post your thoughts on your own blog. This is your opportunity to talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. You can discuss your struggles and triumphs or offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. You should also do your best to visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writers. The suggestion from the IWSG sign-up page is to aim for a dozen new people each time and return comments. This group is all about connecting! You also want to be sure to link to the IWSG page and display the badge in your blog post. Finally, you want to make certain that 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 Insecure Writer's Support Group is @TheIWSG and their hashtag is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the March 1st posting of the IWSG are Diedre Knight, Tonya Drecker, Bish Denham, Olga Godim, and JQ Rose!

Is there a question/prompt I can answer if I'm struggling to write a blog post? Yes, there is. Every month, the IWSG announces a question that members can answer in lieu of a post on writing. 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.

And all that being said, I usually just answer the question. So here is the March 1st question:
Have you ever read a line in novel or a clever plot twist that caused you to have author envy?

Of course, yes! But it happened when I was quite young (still in high school). I think that is an age when people are constantly comparing themselves to others. I would read a really good story and rather than be inspired by it, I'd get a little depressed that my mind didn't come up with whatever this thing was. However, those feelings of envy went away in my early twenties. Now, I just read things, and I enjoy things for what they are. Maybe this is one way adulthood and maturity finally arrived for me. If I come across a super good story, I think, "I'm so fortunate that I found this story and that someone spent a ton of time trying to get this into my hands." Here are a few more examples that illustrate what I'm talking about.

I have friends who make tons of money, way more than I make, and I have the same feelings towards them. I'm happy that they found a path to whatever it was that they wanted. I can't walk those same paths, and I realize that. I have my own roads I need to follow, and my own opportunities. I know that some things are just not reproduceable. It's been over two centuries, and the world has yet to create another Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and maybe it never will.

I think one of the most important things to learn in life is to know what is possible for you, and to explore where those pathways lead. It's actually important in everything. If you have a friend that becomes a model for Vogue magazine, that may not be something you can reproduce for yourself. The best thing to do is recognize this and wish them well and then concentrate on your own life and how to make yourself comfortable in it. An example of this is looking at any superstar celebrity. I'm going to pick on Tom Holland for a minute. I'm sure that Tom Holland had childhood friends. Whoever these people are would have needed to realize that the success Tom Holland achieved isn't reproduceable by them even though they hung out with him all the time. It just isn't. The best thing they could have done (and I hope they did whoever they happen to be) is just to wish him well and go about living their lives and doing the things that they are capable of doing.

Americans in particular have a kind of toxic view of failure. I saw a post on Reddit about a teenaged girl and her teenaged boyfriend who are having a baby together, and they are worried (and seeking advice) because they are poor, and they have no familial support. They got tons of crazy advice, so much so that the thread got locked by Reddit. And you can guess what the advice is, but the short list assumes that a baby...any baby...deserves to live a good life. So adoption and other things were thrown into the mix under "what you gotta do now is...." and blah blah blah. The thing is, all of it is wrong. The teenaged girl and her teenaged boyfriend don't have to do anything. There are poor people everywhere. And there always have been. And there are poor uneducated babies that grow into impoverished adults. There are homeless individuals everywhere. If the United States agrees (collectively) that capitalism is the superior system, then this is natural. We should all be okay with this. We should stop shaming the poor and just admit it is natural and go about our business. Capitalism doesn't work if there is no one on the bottom. Capitalism has a "nature to it," and I've learned in my life that it is best to let Nature (for the most part) take its course. To be clear, I don't like this system. I prefer socialism with safety nets. But that's not what we have in this country. And the message from the capitalists is "you better toe the line or else." So, I toed the line. And this pregnant and poor teenaged girl is going to need to toe the line too. Welcome to poverty, and that's okay. Failure happens all of the time. I dare anyone to prove me wrong on this.

To return to the question posted by the IWSG, I think we'd be best to remember this lesson as writers. Failure happens all the time, and that's okay. Some writers will go on to be George R.R. Martin and J.K. Rowling. Many of us will not, and we need to be okay with that because we aren't entitled to success. This is the system that we have. Being envious of someone else's abilities helps no one (least of all you), and that all starts by letting go of author envy and just growing up and realizing that life is unpredictable, and that the chips are gonna fall where they may.

Thanks for visiting.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Chainsaw Man is a weird and grotesque animated show.

I recently finished watching the first season of Chainsaw Man on CrunchyRoll. If you are unfamiliar with this anime, it is an adaptation done by a studio called MAPPA of Tatsuki Fujimoto's action shonen anime. To define "shonen," this is a genre of Japanese comics and animated films aimed primarily at a young male audience, and they are typically characterized by action-filled plots. For example, you may have heard of DragonBall Z. This is a kind of "shonen anime," although what it shares with Chainsaw Man is exclusively limited to the genre as there is nothing else in common at all (at least from what I can see). Additionally, Mappa has made several other anime's that have kind of "blown up" into a worldwide pop-culture phenomenon, the most obvious of which is Attack on Titan. Chainsaw Man is blowing up in a similar fashion, being talked about in local game and hobby stores enthusiastically by nerds to the point that I had to watch it.

Chainsaw Man is set in an alternate version of Earth where monstrous beings called "Devils" exist. The originality of these creatures was kind of breathtaking, as I saw everything from a huge ball of hands to a gargantuan and horrifying leech with luscious human hair and multiple boobs. People who live in this world make bargains with these devils, and in return for whatever they have to offer, they receive supernatural powers. The story of Chainsaw Man then is one that begins with a teenager named Denji, who is forced into a lifestyle of being a "Devil Hunter," which is a very dangerous occupation, by the Yakuza who came to collect on his father's massive debt to them. Denji spends years living in abject and horrifying poverty with a pet devil named Pochita, who has a chainsaw on his head (but is otherwise identical to a cute dog). And then in a horrifyingly bad sequence of events, Denji gets ripped apart by zombies in one of the most gruesome displays of animated carnage I've ever seen. But his pet devil somehow combines with his body and by doing so, Denji basically pulls himself back together, and now he has all the strength of a Devil when he needs it, and can transform into a terrifying monstrous abomination with a chainsaw for a head and two chainsaws sprouting from his arms. Needless to say, this anime is gory, gory, gory.

One of the things I'm getting used to in watching and consuming anime is how unabashedly sexual and lust-filled the characters are. But even though I'm "expecting this kind of thing," it still catches me by surprise when it is so "in your face." For example, teenage Denji spends a lot of time thinking about girls and getting laid, which oftentimes seemed distracting to the actual violent and dark storyline. And there were these really unsettling moments of pure grotesque, which I wasn't used to, but it was kinda like watching a trainwreck. I just couldn't pull your eyes away.

Denji is obsessed with breasts, and you see in this animated show what (in America) would be very casual sexual assault (the boob graze, the feel up, etc.) at least once an episode. And when he gets his first kiss from a girl he finds attractive, she does so in a state of intense drunkenness. Here's where it gets really vile: while she is kissing him, she literally throws up into his mouth, ruining the experience for Denji as now he has this vomit taste in his mouth. It's awful, and I wonder why some author even thought of this as something they wanted to capture.

And then this girl drags Denji home, and he's essentially incapacitated by alcohol, and she date rapes him. I gotta say...I've never seen anything like this in a cartoon. It's complicated by the fact that Denji has legit feelings for this girl, but he's having difficulty processing what she does/is doing to him. But there aren't any real consequences (unless you count being murdered a consequence), because the girl is literally killed by a devil in the next episode and her soul is then sent to hell where she will suffer for all eternity. It is an awful death. In that violent outcome, Denji also loses most of his "friend" devil hunters as they too are just ripped to pieces by the monsters and horrors of this world apparently overrun by these supernatural creatures. It also becomes painfully apparent that the devils that grant these hunters power are insufficient to deal with what's coming at them. So, it is kind of like watching a show where characters who have likeable traits (and are physically attractive) get repeatedly violated in unspeakable ways, and then they get murdered in short order. It's honestly kind of crazy.

Another thing about this anime that strikes a chord with me is the loneliness of the characters. It is primarily a male-oriented anime. However, it is for this very reason that I recall a weird statistic I read online that indicated some 60 percent of young men in America are single, which is nearly twice the rate of unattached young women. So men in their 20's (in modern America) are more than twice as likely as women in their 20's to be romantically involved, sexually dormant, friendless, and lonely. There seems to be this underlying meta-commentary on modern life that goes something like this: "these days with books and tv, you can have one-sided, parasocial relationships, and the solitary life is less risky." Then, the whole "parasocial relationship dynamic" neatly describes fandoms (by extent) from obsessed k-pop fans to manga to twitch and to instagram and the legions of people who follow thirsty celebrities like Tom Holland, but who remain single because no man who isn't Tom Holland is good enough for them (or they don't want to move on from their comfortable obsession). It's also another reason why these fandoms become so harmful.

Anyway, our world is a mess. It's obvious that Chainsaw Man got me to think a lot about what I was actually watching, and its overall story. I will watch season 2 whenever it becomes available. I also do kinda wonder why foreign stuff is where you get the really visceral and depressing stories, and why America seems uninterested (for the most part) in this kind of storytelling. I also kinda wonder why I found this depressing and grotesque and oftentimes vile story so mesmerizing. But I did. What does that say about me?

Friday, February 24, 2023

Season Three of Picard shows that Kirk is basically the prototype for every part of Jean-Luc's personality that even includes a secret son.

I heard a long time ago that the character of Picard was basically one half of James T. Kirk. They split that character in two. Riker got all the womanizer bits and Picard (played by Patrick Stewart) got all the caring and leadership ability (as well as a good dose of wisdom). Now that the first episode of season 3 of Picard have landed on Paramount +, I think I believe this more than I ever have before (spoiler alert).

In the first episode, we are introduced to Jack Crusher, Beverly Crusher's son that she had with Jean-Luc and kept secret for several decades. At least that's what I've figured out thus far. Honestly, I don't really care too much about this character yet. But I do think it is odd that there's this tradition of sons popping up for male Star Trek captains, and never a daughter. It's almost like there is a preferred "sex" to the offspring for a story being written starring alpha male captains.

Additionally these male captains are "too busy" to warrant being told about such things. Is it a tired trope that the "alpha man" wants a son and not a daughter? Honestly, if I'd been born straight and had a child I'd have wanted a daughter. They are more compassionate and caring for older folks (an observation I've had for a very long time). So, the chances I'd have a daughter who would care for me in my old age as opposed to a son who said, "eff off...I gotta go live my life" is much higher. Not saying it's a guaranteed thing...but just something I've observed.

Anyway, we saw this same thing happen in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In that story, James Kirk (alpha male) finds out that he has a son named Marcus and that the mom, Dr. Carol Marcus, kept it secret "all these years." Then that kid ends up getting killed by a Klingon which kind of cements Kirk's hatred of the race in general. Picard rehashing the same kind of plot does seem to be a reinforcement of the idea that "Picard's personality flows directly from Kirk." I don't know if that's exactly what Michael Chabon intended, but it is what it is. I guess in the end I'm glad that Picard is ending with this season. The entirety of its run has not created anything new at all, which has been kind of surprising since every other series breaks new ground and forages ahead in unexpected ways.

There is one question I do have though that will probably get answered: Does Wesley know about his half brother? He probably does since he's a super being now (the Traveler). But it would be fun to get some acknowledgment of that. Anyone else watching Picard? 

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

I'm sharing my thoughts about Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Please share yours.

I saw Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania this weekend. It was an exciting and fun-filled adventure, and I think I enjoyed it as much if not more than the other Ant-Man films. I also need to remind myself not to overthink the show too much. That usually happens with any story that messes with time, and if I find myself following the different threads to suss out how everything relates to everything else, then I butt my head against paradoxes and things that cannot happen. That being said, I do want to discuss it. So here is a minor spoiler alert to anyone who has not seen it but may be planning to do so in the future.

The first thing that this movie seems to pull into focus (more than it was when it was a "stand-alone" product) is the series Loki. In that show, we ended up seeing that 1) other multiverses do indeed exist, and 2) that they exist in the timeline controlled by He Who Remains (who is a variant of Kang), and 3) that they all have to follow the basic beats in order to not deviate from "The Sacred Timeline." So, the Time Variance Authority where Owen Wilson's character worked and where they enforced the Sacred Timeline appears to be just a timeline that is allowed to exist as long as it doesn't pose a threat to whatever the Kangs are doing. So, as long as other multiverses are the kind that don't rock the boat in a way that bothers the Kangs, they're allowed to go on existing. Is that right?

So, when Sylvie (the Loki variant) killed He Who Remains, it re-set the multiverse. Before that point, there really was only the Sacred timeline. However, since He Who Remains was eliminated outside of time, it made it like there were always infinite multiverses forever. Although the Sacred timeline still played out the same way, it's as though the other universes were never pruned, and they all played out on their own simultaneously. Hence, the return of a ton of Kangs that we see in the post-credit scene in Quantumania. Does any of that make sense? I'm actually not sure it makes sense to me, but that's what I'm thinking is going on.

Regarding a thing that doesn't require me to do mental gymnastics in trying to figure anything out, I enjoyed MODOK. I was not expecting Yellow Jacket (Daren) to make an appearance after he was the villain in the first Ant-Man movie. And he made a suitably creepy MODOK, which has always been a really weird creature in the comics. And MODOK is supposed to look ridiculous. There's no way not to make him look ridiculous, because he's a giant head with little arms and legs in a floating murder chair. 

Finally, Jonathan Majors as Kang is electrifying. Thanos was one kind of villain. He was bulky, strong, towering, and nearly always in control. He was like an irresistible force. However, going with another villain like that would have felt too much like a retread. So, I think that Marvel studios made a really good choice post-Thanos. This time around, Kang is much pettier, much more emotional, but also a brilliant scientist and warrior. He's someone who can manipulate the very fabric of time and space with his advanced technology. And all of his variants seem to be evil, with maybe "The Conqueror" being the worst of the bunch. He says, "Do I look like a liar?" But he is. He's a liar, a cheater, a megalomaniac, and a psychopath. It was exciting to see the ways in which Majors brings this character to life, and I look forward to more. And that pretty much sums up all my thoughts that I have on Quantumania. It felt like I was reading a comic book, and comic books too often leave me a little bit confused until I see the entire story laid out. 

Friday, February 17, 2023

How To Train Your Dragon is becoming a live action adaptation but I seriously doubt it can keep its all-white cast of characters.

This story has no people of color. That is a problem in 2023. My guess is that Astrid 
(the female lead) will once again be flipped so that a minority can be cast in that role.

In the land of transitioning to live-action movies in beloved remakes of animated films, Disney seems to be king. But I just read on some of the blogs I follow that How To Train Your Dragon (a DreamWorks franchise) is now going to be remade as a live-action set of three movies (there were three total installments in the franchise), and it makes me think that the story will have a strong tonal shift. I was a huge fan of the How To Train Your Dragon movies which are only a little over a decade old I think. The last one (which came out a few years ago) landed completely flat with me, being mostly a story that seemed like a retread of prior stories. I learned only recently that the fault for this lies with Steven Spielberg. If you're interested in hearing about it, read on. Otherwise skip the next paragraph.

Here's how I understand the events that led to part three being so "meh." The original plan was for Drago (the villain from part two) to return and eventually be redeemed. Although I have no idea how that would play out, Spielberg apparently told them that they didn't have enough screen-time to do it justice. So, they ended up scrapping it. When I consider what could have been versus what I got, I feel like Drago could well have been the missing element that would have made that movie feel like less of a retread. And maybe, it would have been better to cut the Light Fury instead so that we didn't have that whole, "Let's breakup the couple" thing that happened between Hiccup and Toothless. But is what it is. I only ever rewatch the first two and just skip part three whenever I see it is playing.

So, back to a live-action adaptation. I don't see how they are going to be able to film this without making some of the main characters radically different to fit within the mold of how Hollywood does things these days. Representation matters, and I get it. But Hiccup would be radically different if he was a black trans woman, and they needed to make that decision in order to maintain diversity. The animated show doesn't have any non-white characters, and that's just not going to fly anymore. They could flip Astrid (the female lead) and cast a black actress, but that seems like it is becoming a cliché. For example, the CW's Flash and Iris (black), or Spiderman's Tom Holland and Mary Jane (played by Zendaya who is black), or Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) and Chani Kynes (Zendaya again). Those are just three examples. Don't get me wrong. Both of these examples work well. However, people may wonder "why is it always the female lead who gets flipped race-wise and why doesn't it happen to the guy?" It's a good question, and it's probably going to crop up when they start casting for How To Train Your Dragon the live action adaptation. Who knows? This kind of cliché could continue for years before activists demand that Hollywood change. But there already has got to be mounting pressure for studios to break the cycle of always making the woman lead a minority.

Anyway, I will more than likely be excited to watch these live action adaptations. I just wonder what's going to happen with the casting, because (as I see it) these shows are going to be problematic to adapt, because no one wants an all-white cast anymore. Lord of the Rings got away with it, but that wouldn't happen in 2023. If Peter Jackson was casting that show these days, half of his cast would need to be minorities and feature some non-binary or trans characters. Gandalf would probably be a black man. And that's just the truth of it. That wouldn't have bothered me, but it would be a tonal shift from the character I read about in the books and saw in so many art pieces done by John Howe and Alan Lee. If Hiccup ends up being played by a young minority, it's going to be a tonal shift, so same thing. And if they don't cast a minority, then the same problem crops up that has always been present: why does the hero of these fantasy stories always have to be white? I have no answers other than this: writers who make new characters for their fictional worlds need to make their stories more diverse to begin with. They need to start featuring people of color in main roles, so as to avoid adaptation issues when a beloved property becomes adapted for television or movies. If people had done this all along, we wouldn't be having this discussion at all, and I'd have no reason to write this blog post.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

I'm not sure I understand what elite schools have to offer students anymore.

People in America live in a world that is dominated by a pretty merciless and unforgiving form of capitalism. By the way, this isn't another post from me to begrudge capitalism and its many faults. On the contrary, I'm just stating my opinion of how things are. In my own particular city, the homeless population has tripled in just five years from what it was. This seems to be a real-world example of how brutal the capitalist system is and how money is really the most important commodity in today's world (at least the one in America).

So that being said, the reason I always thought one would want to attend an elite university, school, or college or whatever was because it affected your bottom line. It turned into real world money. It was an investment in a person's future. However, times have changed. I don't think it's an investment anymore. Here's my story of how I came to that conclusion.

I have a friend who is sending her son to one of these to get really good at music, and I wonder what the end game is. I don't think he's enjoying it as much as "she" thinks he is, being away from family, and having difficulty making friends and social connections (at least ones that last longer than a year). If it were me, I'd be pretty unhappy with an identical situation. I'd be afraid to tell my mom who has been whipping this dream for a long time now (is it my dream or is it hers?). Furthermore, I'd be in competition with any friends I'd make along the way for a job at a symphony. That fate has gotta be awful. Imagine walking in and seeing your friend (for example) from school and knowing that they are only hiring one viola player and that you need to compete with them for the job and that one of you is going to walk away a loser.

In addition to that, I looked up the salaries of professional orchestra players, because I'm curious. They make about $110,000 a year. I myself make about $90,000 a year. That's only a $10.00 per hour difference over a 40-hour work week than myself (before taxes take a bite), which could easily be made up by renting out a room or doing some Doordash. I graduated from the University of Idaho with a Bachelor's degree in English and live in a middle-class home in good old South Salt Lake City. I drive 24-year old vehicles that I maintain well, and I live paycheck to paycheck due to mortgage payments, insurance payments, and everything else that's inflated. So, a person that maybe gets into an elite school...gonna pick on Julliard for a second...and graduates with all that music training after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for that education gets what? A gateway into the middle-class lifestyle that I already live at? How does any of that make sense?

I see this stuff all the time. People blowing hundreds of thousands of dollars on educations only to just get a job that doesn't pay much more than a Master's degree would that you could get in a community college. There is also trade school, which is far cheaper than Julliard. People who are HVAC certified or who are electricians around here are making 100K plus a year instantly. Oh and that middle class home that I live in? It is now valued at $750,000. In order to take on a $750,000 mortgage, you need to bring in about $250,000 to $300,000 per year as a household. That means that if you are a couple that MANAGES to stay together (and that's a tough one), both of you need to work and have salaries in the $150,000 range. Graduates from elite schools are not getting these kinds of jobs unless they are the exception rather than the rule. And let's just say you do somehow manage to be the exception. Well congratulations! You can now afford to live in the same middle-class home that Mike (me) lives in and you too have won the right to drive 24-year-old cars.

None of this makes any sense anymore. Maybe it used to back in the 70's and 80's. The average wage for Americans was $40,000 a year, and you were considered "well-to-do" at $60,000. Now, $100,000 a year is average. I think I read on Business Week that in many parts of the country, making $60,000 is considered low income now. But the thing is, I think industries are really struggling with paying people more than $100,000 a year in the same manner as they always used to. Only inflation has taken a lot out of the value out of those wages. "I make six figures now" is now "congratulations, you still can't afford a home and will probably rent all of your life."

So, why do people still send their kids to these schools? Is it ego? Is it low self-esteem? Is it narcissism, because they get a credential that allows them to feel good about themselves? They still end up in a middle-class home driving vehicles they can't afford to replace because new cars are topping $60,000. I suppose they could buy a cheap Hyundai, but that doesn't seem to fit the graduate of Harvard or Yale now does it? One of these things is not like the other. And what people can afford versus the costs of their educations (and the other price of said education) is breaking the logic circuits of my brain. And what's more is that these people who attend these elite schools and who indeed end up in the Middle Class look down on their neighbors, because they feel that they "shouldn't" be mixing with the commoners. But that's the Catch-22. They themselves ended up a "commoner" and the elite school didn't do what they thought it was going to do for them. This causes mental illness as they get anxiety and depression, because no one around them is good enough for them, and they secretly know that it all doesn't make sense. "Because I accomplished this and this...I should have different neighbors? Why am I not neighbors with Steven Spielberg? Why am I not friends with Timothee Chalamet?"

And Masterclasses? What a joke those things are. In short, Masterclass consists largely of handsomely compensated celebrities who are exceptional within their fields because of innate talent or even genius, innate drive, and plenty of resources to succeed so that they can try to pass on what they know to others who have none of those qualities. Mozart is famous for responding to a person who asked him how to write a symphony when he suggested that they start with something much simpler, like a concerto. The person said to Mozart, "But you write many symphonies." And Mozart replied, "Yes, but I didn't have to ask how to do it." It's not a slam, but just truth. People somehow get it into their heads that just because they observe one person doing an incredible thing that it is somehow repeatable by them. But it usually isn't, and people would be much better off knowing what their limitations are, because every person is different.

Anyway, it may sound that I'm anti-education. I'm not. I love education. But what I don't understand is the incredible costs of some education. It's almost like people don't plot out their endgame. Or they think that their rugrat is a prince or princess (they are not) and no matter what the cost...THEY ARE WORTH IT! The Last of Us just this week had an excellent example of what I'm saying in the characters of Henry and Sam (Spoiler alert).

Henry threw a really good man and a solid leader under the bus (he was murdered) so that he could get his little brother Sam the leukemia treatment he needed to live. This led to extreme anger and revenge from the survivors of the good man that was murdered. These survivors literally tore post-apocalyptic Kansas City apart looking for Henry and Sam to punish them for what they did. This led to hundreds of deaths from bullets and violence, because they awoke a huge hive of zombies that killed them all. And then Sam got bit anyway, ended up a zombie that his brother had to put down. And then his brother was so filled with guilt and depression that he committed suicide. It was a spectacular example of, "I'm going to do everything I can for a brat and I don't care what it costs!!!" And then it ends up costing hundreds and hundreds of lives, and it is just spectacularly stupid and awful.

Anyway, it's like we now have a society of unhinged parents who think that their darlings are worth everything. No price is too high. Parents no longer ask the important question: what is the final thing that I expect from educating myself in this way? Is the endgame to get a middle class lifestyle? If that is the case, then there are easier and cheaper ways to go about doing this. If the endgame is to be rich and famous, then you are going to need more than education. You probably need good looks, luck, and honestly...probably a willingness to allow yourself to be exploited by rich and powerful people in ways you may not be comfortable with. And that's just the truth as I see it. I wish someone could make sense of elite schools for me. I'd sure be willing to listen. I'd like to believe that they aren't completely useless, at least as far as capitalism is concerned. The world has changed significantly in the last fifty years and what elite schools offer compared to what you can just get with a vocational education has narrowed to the point where the actual things you can buy with the money you get from your job aren't all that different unless you can make millions of dollars a year. But the jobs for people who make millions of dollars a year will always belong to the people (like Mozart) who never needed the education to begin with, because they could just "do it."

Monday, February 13, 2023

The movie 65 looks like a simple dinosaur movie which may mean it's gonna be great.

Yesterday, the movie 65 dropped a trailer during the Superbowl time slot. It honestly looks pretty interesting, and I think the reason why is it appears to be so basic. It foregoes trying to get dinosaurs into our time through cloning and just unwinds a time travel story, placing Adam Driver in the past some 65-million years ago, where he can see the Earth as it used to be.

Honestly, this looks awesome. As a kid, I always wanted to time travel to see the Earth as it was described in scientific books in that time period. Although where I would go in time and what I would want to see (were I to have a time travel device) has changed, the fantasy idea of seeing a Jurassic Earth is still really appealing. And in case you're wondering, I'd probably use my time machine to go and see Mozart live (or something like that) rather than journey to a prehistoric world full of creatures that want to eat me.

I do wonder what kind of dinosaurs we are going to see in this movie, but I guess I'll need to wait until March to view it.

Friday, February 10, 2023

We are less than one month out from Mel Brooks' History of the World Part 2.

When I was a kid, my parents let me watch (and they watched with me) Mel Brooks' History of the World, Part One. I remember the both of them laughing out loud. And my dad explained jokes to me that I didn't quite get. But overall, I remember the experience fondly. It was funny, but I never really understood until I was much older why there was no follow-up that promised "Hitler on Ice," among other things. If you don't know, the original title is a call out of sorts to History of the World Volume 1 by Sir Walter Raleigh, which was planned as 5 volumes, but only the first was ever completed.

In time, I forgot about this show until I was reminded earlier this week of its existence, because the long awaited sequel is coming to Hulu. Of course, I had to click on the commercial and watch it. I'm so happy that this thing is happening and that so many comedic geniuses of the modern era are involved. From Jack Black to Taika Waititi to Wanda Sykes, this thing looks awesome.

If you too are excited, the first two episodes premiere on March 6, 2023, followed then by two new episodes daily through March 9, 2023. Here's a list of the cast (it may not be a full list):

Mel Brooks, Wanda Sykes, Nick Kroll, Ike Barinholtz, Pamela Adlon, Tim Baltz, Zazie Beetz, Jillian Bell, Jack Black, Quinta Brunson, Dove Cameron, D’Arcy Carden, Ronny Chieng, Rob Corddry, Danny DeVito, David Duchovny, Hannah Einbinder, Jay Ellis, Josh Gad, Kimiko Glenn, Brandon Kyle Goodman, Jake Johnson, Richard Kind, Johnny Knoxville, Lauren Lapkus, Jenifer Lewis, Poppy Liu, Joe Lo Truglio, Jason Mantzoukas, Ken Marino, Jack McBrayer, Zahn McClarnon, Charles Melton, Kumail Nanjiani and Brock O’Hurn, Andrew Rannells, Emily Ratajkowski, Sam Richardson, Nick Robinson, Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman, Timothy Simons, J.B. Smoove, David Wain, Taika Waititi, Reggie Watts and Tyler James Williams.

It looks to me like the producers yelled, "96-year-old Mel Brooks is making History of the World Part 2, so who wants in?" And then a giant ball of comedy people rolled on in, which is how it should be. I'm wondering if Trump will figure into it at all, but maybe that's too current. Checkout the trailer below if you haven't seen it yet.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Here are a dozen things I've observed that show the world of my experiences is getting weirder.

The world I know and live in is getting really weird. I don't think it resembles anything of what I thought I'd see when I was much younger. Here are my latest observations:

1) My professor friend who teaches a class at the University of Utah says that his third-year students no longer have the ability to use punctuation correctly in the construction of English sentences. And these are people who are born in the United States, for the most part white, and who are pursuing bachelor's degrees and taking his class as an elective.

2) There are a ton of people dumping animals at animal shelters. They literally cannot take anymore and there are feral cats and dogs roaming the streets. It's rare to see a dog owner who actually leashes their dog. Most of them keep them unleashed and the dogs harass people walking or even attack them, and the owner doesn't care. I had to help my neighbor who was attacked and bleeding from one such incident (she was screaming in the street for help).

3) Everything is expensive. A lot of the time the things you want are no longer in stock.

4) Road rage is everywhere. In Utah alone there were 6,300 people driving over 100 mph on our roads in 2022. This is double just a few years before that. What the f*ck?

5) There are shootings every night. 

6) Today's young people are fragile as hell. I'd say up to about age 36, I'm finding people who just crumble and cannot cope with anything. They are still living at home, they don't want to go out, and they cancel social engagements with others.

7) People suing other people is flooding the courts. I was actually advised to raise my liability insurance on my car to half a million because if I let a friend borrow my car and they get in an accident, I will need the extra insurance to protect myself against desperate people who want to make money from a lawsuit. Like seriously...this is becoming that common.

8) People are more obsessed with youth than ever before. Madonna (for example) was unrecognizable at the Grammy's. Shania Twain doesn't even look like Shania anymore. And it isn't just celebrities. I have friends who have undergone a hundred thousand dollars or more in plastic surgery and who are extremely lonely because gatekeeping behaviors and ageism is so rampant. I have another friend who is my age who can't bring himself to watch Picard because he doesn't want to watch a "feeble old man." It's weird to watch sixty-year-old men try to chat up teens and twenty somethings by expressing how much they like Taylor Swift. I don't even know what's going on there. I also read about some guy who is obsessed with staying 18 forever. What's wrong with aging?

9) Poor people are using Doordash and Grubhub like crazy. I have a friend/acquaintance who is going to be homeless in less than a month. After telling me her sob story, she used Doordash to order sushi for herself and her son (who is trans) and the bill came to seventy dollars. I didn't say anything, but I was stunned.

10) People with a net worth of over a million dollars are telling me that they feel poor, and they are depressed. I can't understand this mentality, but it feels very strange to listen to a millionaire complain about their money woes.

11) Billionaires who fly to Switzerland on private jets to meet about climate change are eating steak and want the rest of us to cut back on our emissions and learn to eat insects. Like...what the hell?

12) There are homeless people everywhere. I've never seen so many. And the only kind of apartment that seems to be getting built are the luxury ones. And these so-called luxury units are made with cheap materials, and they have cheap appliances in them.

Anyone have any idea what is happening? Anyone else notice how weird things are getting?

Monday, February 6, 2023

Having fascinating characters is the most important thing in any story whether it's fiction or nonfiction.

These are two very interesting characters.

In watching the trailers for The Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, a simple truth emerged that seems obvious. But it took me writing it down before I absorbed it. It reminds me of a story I heard about naming things. Sure, the color "blue" existed before it was named. But somehow adding a name to the color gave it new dimension and allowed our brains to comprehend it in a way that was useful. So, what was this simple truth? A story, and I mean any story, is nothing without good characters.

I don't know when this became true. History is replete with narratives that don't have good characters. And of all of those that I've read without good characters, they are all boring. Few people like to read historical accounts if they don't have colorful characters. Chaucer's Canterbury Tales wouldn't have struck a tone in the people of its age if the characters within it didn't have splashes of interest to them. A story about dinosaurs is nothing if you don't have good characters that exist in and around the dinosaurs to give them interest. A galaxy far far away is uninteresting until you give us the characters from far far away who behave like spoiled and dramatic teens and who do horrible things to other people until they are redeemed by an estranged son.

 The Japanese anime Gundam would be unwatchable without main characters like Amuro and Char Aznable. The same is true for the Marvel stories. The characters are everything. So as storytellers, when writers like you and me sit down to create our tales, we should be spending a ton of time on the characters. World-building (yes) is important, but it's not the most important thing. Characters first and foremost make a thing fun. They make a thing interesting, and it's the hook that brings audiences back. It's what we like to see. It's why I keep going to Marvel movies to see Paul Rudd as Ant-Man and Jonathan Majors in the role of Kang. It's why I keep going to see Thor movies. I find Chris Hemsworth to be extremely funny and entertaining in that role, and I'll keep opening my wallet to get more of that.

It's taken me half a lifetime to understand this simple concept. My friend Brad said it to me in fewer words many years ago in a conversation about his night time activities. He said in response to me asking why he liked population density so much, "Mike, people make everything fun." As a person that frequently has bad interactions with people, I didn't truly comprehend what he was saying. But between then and now, I've had quite a few positive interactions with people and my mind kind of opened. I would reframe his words today. Rather than saying that people make everything fun, I'd probably say that lots of people can make a thing fun. But it can also go the other way, and it frequently does. But if you're going to have any chance at this elusive phenomenon called fun, you're going to have to do the activity with more than just yourself. And that's because characters (at the end of the day) are the only thing that makes anything interesting for us humans.

A few years ago, I thought that Disney had (maybe) reached peak comic book with Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. But they haven't. The reason? Characters. It's always been about characters. What made Avengers: Endgame so good were the characters we were all invested in. And the villain, Thanos, was a fantastic character who was on this disturbing mission to wipe out half of all life so that the rest could flourish. Well, they don't actually need to "outdo" that. They don't need to go bigger. The key to telling good stories is always "good characters" and something tells me that this is the direction that they are building toward in Phase 4. We'll definitely know more in a week or so when the next Ant-Man movie drops, but I suspect the characters, the villains, and everyone's motivations is the vehicle that will propel us into a spectacular Avengers movie where all of the characters once again get to shine, because they are just so damned interesting.

Friday, February 3, 2023

For my IWSG post I'm answering a question about how I manage to get any book covers I may need.

On Wednesday, Alex wrote a comment on the blog saying (more or less), "Did Insecure Writer's Support Group sneak up on you?" Yes, yes it did. I had a lot on my mind this week. Most of it is the colonoscopy I had on Thursday. But with that behind me (pun intended), and getting an all clear from the doctor, my stress level is going back down to normal. I don't like doctors, medical procedures, etc., and this is/was my first colonoscopy, so it was taking up a lot of brain space. My co-workers told me, "Think of it as a spa day..." But...I never could get there mentally. It was a miserable experience.

Anyway, as such, I missed my IWSG Wednesday post. So, I'm posting on Friday instead. This way it will stay up all weekend. But before I get around to answering the question, here is a little bit about the IWSG from the sign-up page, which you can join HERE.

What is the purpose of the IWSG?: It is 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 does the IWSG 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.

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

The awesome co-hosts for the February 1 posting of the IWSG are Jacqui Murray, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Pat Garcia, and Gwen Gardner!

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!

February 1 question - If you are an Indie author, do you make your own covers or purchase them? If you publish traditionally, how much input do you have about what goes on your cover?

So, I'm an independent author. And I'd rather make my own cover than I would in paying for another person to make it for me. Additionally, I'm pretty solid at photoshop, which has allowed me to make some really great illustrations as of late. When combined with what A.I. art is doing these days, I think I could make an entirely original art piece that fit exactly what I needed without too much trouble. And that's essentially what I will do in the future if I get around to publishing anything. It's a weird time to be alive, because doing things creatively has never been easier.

Thanks for visiting my blog and have a good weekend.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

I am astonished by the Last of Us.

There are spoilers for The Last of Us, but they will be "light." I just need to talk about this thing.

So, as most of you who read my blog may know, I've been watching The Last of Us on HBO. We are only three episodes into this thing, and yet I'm astonished at how good this show is. Episode 3 titled Long Long Time took me on a journey that I was not expecting. Of course, Joel and Ellie were there (they are the main protagonists in this story), but only for about fifteen minutes in the very beginning. Then the whole thing switched to two new characters named Bill and Frank, and it spent an hour with them recounting their lives in this "zombie apocalypse," and their love story which (quite frankly) had me in tears. These were not tears of horror. Rather, they were tears shed over something so beautiful that it took me off guard.

In a way, when watching these zombie apocalypse shows, we are kind of taught to expect that all of the survivors will be terrible people. This seems perfectly natural given that outside of an apocalypse, we witness people being awful to other people every single day. However, this isn't the story of Bill and Frank. These two people chose to save each other during the end of the world, against all odds and all the things that were flying against them on this journey. Bill was a survivalist, and he created a safe world where the both of them could live and where their love could flourish. And perhaps in the most telling part of this thing, Frank's illness that eventually forced his hand was not caused by anything related to this apocalypse. It was simply a thing that had always existed and plagued humans and to which there was no cure. And the way Bill chose his own path by loving Frank in the way that he wanted to be loved, and then saying, "I am old, and I am fulfilled," was the most heartbreaking and romantic thing I've seen in a very long time.

Oh boy, just writing those words brings all the feels rushing back about this episode. I can't believe I'm still thinking about it like two days after it aired. I think the most incredible thing in this whole narrative of mine is that the actor that created Bill was none other than Nick Offerman. I've followed his career for years. Sure, he was a decent actor who was an incredible wood worker and who has good comedic timing. He certainly fits the stereotype of what I'd expect an end-of-the-world survivalist to be like. But I had no idea that his performance could haunt me so. Like...what the hell? I now have levels of respect for Nick Offerman that I never thought I would have. He's seriously one of the greatest actors on Meryl Streep's level.

Never before could I have imagined that a "Don't tread on me!" type person (such as Bill), who strikes me as the kind of person I would have hastily avoided and lived in fear from in real life, was capable of the levels of compassion and caring that he showed. I am so grateful that I got to see this episode. It not only surprised me on multiple levels, but it made me invested in this world in a way that few television shows can. And I guess, if anything, its because of beauty like this that the world of The Last of Us needs to be saved. I hope it does, because the fight is worth it no matter what it takes to make that happen in the war against the cordyceps fungus. The showrunners of this thing have created a masterpiece, whether or not that was what they intended. And again, I can't believe I'm writing this especially since I know that the source material is a video game. 

Monday, January 30, 2023

The Pale Blue Eye on Netflix was a solid murder mystery with good use of the macabre.

I have no idea if The Pale Blue Eye, a movie on Netflix that premiered about a month ago, is a true story. I do like Christian Bale, who plays the primary protagonist in the movie. But the thing that kind of grabbed me was that he is assisted by another--a young man by the name of Edgar Allen Poe--who is a bullied cadet at WestPoint Military Academy. This movie unravels slowly, with a crime scene of another young man, and then some gruesome details thrown in to match something you'd expect to be a Poe story, let alone have the actual young "would be" writer starring in it as himself.

Things that immediately struck me as unique to the period piece was how dark it was at night. Of course, this would be the case as everything was lit by oil lamps. So the night scenes were darker than I'd expect from living in a city. Yet, it still was surprising. The choice to show all that darkness lent a pretty menacing feel to the show considering that there was an unidentified murderer about on the academy grounds doing whatever he liked to whomever he desired.

I don't think this is a spoiler (at least not too much of one), but on the morning of the murder that sets off the investigation, Poe awoke and began reciting the opening lines of a poem which spoke of a woman in unspeakable distress. To make this situation even more chilling, Poe claims that his long-dead mother dictated it to him. This is the kind of atmospheric stuff that fills this show, and the kinds of details which serve to draw you into the macabre tale that the movie carefully moves into place in front of you. Edgar Allen Poe is the author of one of my favorite poems, The Raven, which (no matter where most people stand with regard to his body of work) is unconditionally a masterpiece. I don't really like most of Poe's stories myself, but I never get tired of revisiting The Raven and its extremely unique way of telling its story.

If you haven't watched it, there is a twist to the movie. You might not like it, but I really did. And the actor who plays Poe inserts a kind of charm into the role, lending to the historical figure a kind of vivacity for life as his character hardly takes an opportunity to shut up in every scene he is in. By contrast, Bale is a dark and brooding soul, whose talents at investigating murder scenes have called him here to solve a mystery that might be among the most memorable of his career.

Because of this movie, I think I now want a string of movies with Christian Bale as a detective in the 1800's. Maybe the next one could be him playing a detective in Victorian London trying to solve the Jack the Ripper murders.

Has anyone else watched it? If so, what did you think?

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

I'm two episodes into The Last of Us on HBO and I really like the cordyceps explanation for zombies.

A cordyceps infected ant. This served as inspiration for The Last of Us. 

In this post there are some spoilers for HBO's The Last of Us. You have been warned :).

I've been watching The Last of Us on HBO. I haven't played the game, but a long time ago (I can't remember how many years it was) I first heard of the cordyceps fungus which takes control of ants and turns them essentially into the walking dead. This is when I thought to myself, "someone should turn that into a story." That's basically what someone did, and it turned out it was a good idea. I'm not saying that I was the first one to have this idea, and that I missed out on anything. I know I wasn't (obviously). And I've never ever had any desire to write a zombie story. I seriously just thought (in the moment) that it would make a good show or story, and I'm glad that someone who I've never met had the ability to make it happen to entertain me in 2023.

In the HBO show, they've done a really good job in making this fungus pretty darn terrifying. They've had at least two scientists in two episodes weigh in that, "There is no antidote for fungus." In other words, there is no vaccine. Those words coming from subject matter experts is actually terrifying. To anchor the phenomenon and its disastrous effects on humanity even further, the show explained that the cordyceps fungus (ordinarily) couldn't survive in humans. The reason is that our bodies run too hot.

And then they explained further that global climate change and a hotter planet had made this fungus evolve into something that could survive in humans. I was like..."yeah...that's good stuff right there," because it is so believable. And the rest has been just pretty great and enjoyable to watch. The fungus zombies are suitably gross, and they're scary because they're all connected through the fibers of the fungus. So, it has strands that go underground and if you step on one of these strands, it can instantly communicate with a huge host of infected beings and send them running your way.

I also appreciate that this particular adaptation of a popular video game seems to not have the feel of a video game. I think that this is a silent acknowledgement that to get emotionally invested in characters, you have to forgo the gameplay perspective of fighting zombies, and the showrunners know this. Don't get me wrong...there is some fighting of zombies in some tense situations. But the impact of living in the zombie world is the most important thing in the story of The Last of Us, and I'm kinda diggin' it thus far. I'm only two episodes in, and I'm invested in this apocalyptic world.

Anyone else watching this show? If so, what do you think?

Monday, January 23, 2023

Netflix's Cyberpunk Edgerunners is filled with static frames and recycled backgrounds.

I recently watched Netflix's Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, and I just want to say that the word on the internet for this show was really (and strangely) overhyped. For example, I had friends who (once they learned I was watching Gundam and its backlog of hundreds of episodes) tried to give me another recommendation in Edgerunners. They'd say things like, "I really enjoyed this," and "I recommend you give it a watch." So...I did. And even though the story was "decent," the animation in it was really really bad.

Most of it is just single art panels being slid from left to right or slowly turning. When you see a person talk, it's obvious that the studio saved a bunch of money by just looping one piece of animation. In several scenes, there was just no animation at all for like 14 seconds as you just stared at a still scene with no movement. I was like..."Why did anyone think that this is good?" When I get critical about the animation, some people like to jump to its defense. "Well, Mike, this is just a style of animation, and you're obviously not a fan." And then I retort, "No, this isn't a 'style,' it's the utter lack of animation except for the fact that the camera movies or they're sliding a frame on top of another frame to make it look like something is happening.

Really, the only animation you get that's decent is when there's combat. So 80% of the show is just static frames, recycled backgrounds, or wideshots with only the lip flaps moving. About the only thing I can say that is positive regarding this show is that the art is great. 

Anyway, that's just my two cents on this thing. Anyone else watch the show and notice the same thing? I kinda wish that Netflix had spent a little more money on Edgerunners, because as it stands, it looks like a cheap piece of garbage.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Thank you Stephen Colbert for pushing forward George R.R. Martin's wish for a Chronicles of Amber adaptation.

I learned this week from the fantasy and science fiction news cycle that George R.R. Martin and Stephen Colbert have joined forces to bring Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber to the small screen. I can't tell you how excited and happy I am to hear this, and I do realize they could royally screw up the story. But even with those caveats in plain sight, the fact that someone with the kind of clout like these two are urging an adaptation of this incredible story gave me that tingling feeling I get when I'm dangerously close to wanting to overhype something. So, going forward, I'll try to keep my enthusiasm in check. However, I'm definitely doing happy dances.

If you haven't read the Chronicles of Amber I do recommend them. However, they are classic fantasy. I read a lot, and the fantasy of today is a far cry from the classic stuff of Zelazny's era. Zelazny's original story did not have a whole lot of diversity. It was filled with white characters and there was little to no queer representation at all. Everything was clearly straight and the women were for the most part serving the parts classically reserved for women: deceptive backstabbers or manipulators or love interests for men. This is in huge contrast to (for example) The House of Always by Jenn Lyons, which is the fourth book in her fantasy series. The fact that I'm four books deep into this thing should just answer the question: do you like it? Yes, I very much do. But it isn't for everyone. It is SOOO queer that I think a lot of people might have trouble understanding how weird Lyons' story actually gets (and boy does it depart from what might be considered "classically normal"). However, the story is not as good as Chronicles of Amber. The Chronicles of Amber have a story that still kind of blows my mind, even with all of the different magic systems that are invented by creative geniuses like Sanderson. Zelazny simply had a mind that soared.

Another thing that I love about The Chronicles of Amber is that Zelazny was a master of using every word. His books are short things: a couple hundred pages a piece, and plot and story is really the only thing that matters. This is in contrast to the gargantuan fantasies written today which are typically at lengths that make holding the books in your lap a difficult proposition. We're talking 600-pages to a thousand pages of words and words and words. Just being honest, I think that all of those words haven't done much to make a story better. All they do is serve as vehicles for personal character development (which does have its own merits).

In Jenn Lyons' story, she uses all of those pages to explain the extremely complicated sexualities of every character in the story, their belief systems, and their motivations and memories. She goes even further to circle back on these things by examining each and every character from a different point of view, head hopping back and forth between characters as new chapters unfold to go over the complex feelings they have for their various paramours in what amounts to an immortal polyamory scenario. So think hundreds of pages of feelings interspersed with occasional fantasy elements, monsters, and sorcery. But...I've come to discover that I kinda like all those pages of feelings. It serves to invest me in the character's growth, and growth is an attractive thing in a character. But I also know its not for everyone.

There are also elements of Zelazny's story which will inevitably draw comparisons to The Matrix, even though Zelazny's story is a lot older than that film. It is the fact that The Matrix was so good though that makes me think that Zelazny's story just might be the next biggest thing to hit in the fantasy genre when it finally shows up on the small screen. I do know they will have to update characters, and cast minorities. But I hope the bones will be there. I can definitely accept that even though my brain will crave a faithful adaptation. I'll totally be okay with an Idris Elba or similar casting for the main character Corwyn of Amber (or if they cast a black woman and still keep the name "Corwyn" and just say it is unisex I won't mind too much), and I won't ask any questions if Corwyn's brother, Random, is still weirdly a white dude even though their parents are the same. These things need to be done, and I get it. I'm still excited knowing all that. I just hope it gets a budget and treatment similar to Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon. If it does, I predict that younger audiences will really accept it, which is what needs to happen in order to get an adaptation of all five books.

Anyway, I guess we'll see what happens with it in the near future.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Locke & Key had a really original magic system that I liked.

Quite recently, I finished watching the third and final season of Locke & Key, which was a young adult series on Netflix that came from the mind of Joe Hill (Stephen King's son). I know that my friend Patrick has said in last week's comments that he didn't watch any of the episodes. But I'd say that they'd be worth a look if you have a Netflix subscription that's active. For one, the story had a pretty solid bad guy (who was completely evil) that had enough modern humor to make them fun. I think the actress had a great time just reveling in all of her badness. It's always fun when you feel an actor really enjoys their casting, so I kind of enjoyed that. However, the thing that I thought was brilliant about the show was the magical keys. This was a good idea, and it was well executed.

Most of the time when you see magic in young adult things, you get stuff that is similar to Harry Potter stories and standard wizardry 101. This is where people are casting spells or using some kind of witchcraft. With Locke & Key, the magic system that was set up was really entertaining. There was (for example) an "Anywhere Key," which when you used it to unlock a door, it could open unto any place that you wanted it to open up to. Then you could just walk through the doorway.

There was also a "Head Key," which I thought was kind of ingenious. You could unlock someone's brain, and then walk into it and see all of their memories and even (it turns out) get trapped inside there. The visuals of each person's head was pretty fascinating. One person's "head" was a giant mall. Another was an antique shop filled with all kinds of objects. A third person's head was a toy chest while a fourth's was a cosmetic counter selling all kinds of high-end things. Another aspect of the head key that I liked was you could toss a book into it, and instantly know the contents of the book. Imagine how wonderful that would be.

Then there was a flame key that started fires, a key that took control of a person's body, essentially turning them into a puppet, a key that allowed a person to travel through time, a key that granted the strength of Hercules, and a key that made you sprout wings and fly. Another key unlocked a cabinet that could repair anything placed inside. There were so many keys, and each of them played a small part in the storytelling. A lot of the fun was watching the characters hunt for the keys inside a huge mansion, and then figure out what any new keys they found could do. The keys came off as an original enough idea that it reminded me of a talk that Brandon Sanderson used to give (maybe he still does) on the importance of inventing magic systems for your fiction.

Sanderson has written that, "a good magic system is essential to a good fantasy novel." He does go on to say that characters are what makes a novel truly powerful. I didn't use to think that magic and how it worked was all that important. But maybe Sanderson is onto something, and I just finally understood it. That is one reason among many why Sanderson is either the most powerful person in publishing or close to it (he's at least in the group photo if one exists). Anyway, if you haven't watched Locke & Key, and you are interested in magic systems, you should give it a try. It doesn't disappoint in that aspect alone.

Friday, January 13, 2023

The bizarre and angry culture war of Dungeons & Dragons is in a meltdown over the new Open Game License.

There is a bizarre and angry culture war going on in the Dungeons & Dragons community. Those who prefer old school Dungeons & Dragons are profoundly conservative and libertarian (it's weird that politics can be so easily seen but there it is). Some are as right wing as you can get, making the likes of Sean Hannity look like Obama by comparison. With a population base that plays D&D equal to about 55 million, I think of these folks as a hundred thousand or maybe a couple hundred thousand of that total. So, I think they are a small group. But they are the storm the capital on January 6th types, and they are very vocal, abusive, and the "don't tread on me" crowd.

The things that these conservatives love about D&D is the exhilaration of an open world. They prefer inherent uncontrolled chaos, spontaneity, and vast opportunity in a sandbox-styled campaign. They think this is exciting because anything could happen. Your character could get killed in the first encounter or eventually wind up as a king. They want things to be difficult for the characters, but the people running these games who stress that these difficult conditions are the proper way to game...are themselves extremely lazy storytellers.

Many of them call an hour of prep time as sufficient. They don't invest in props or models. They don't spend a lot of time reading modules or other source materials so that they can make their worlds more interesting. They basically just "mail it in." When running games, they don't give out magic items and are extremely vigilant regarding any kind of power creep because they want to be able to just pick up a game and prep in five minutes. They shut down ideas, actively work against players, and ignore rules to substitute their own that almost always castrates a character class even further on what it can do.

While running a game, the monsters they use to challenge players will be difficult if not impossible to defeat, which (in their minds) makes the experience more realistic because the stakes will be your character's life. In their worlds men have toxic masculinity traits galore, women are love interests, and there are no queer characters and anthromorphized animals (no furries!). It is a strange thing to watch when these people meltdown online because they can't find players. It's like watching the business owners complain that "No one wants to work," when these businesses are offering shitty jobs with low pay and no benefits. They should say, "No one wants to be exploited anymore. Damn, I miss the past when I could exploit people whenever I wanted." But yeah...times have changed. People have wised up. And we are all paying the price for that with inflation and scarcity. I suppose what I'm saying is that it isn't easy to make a world where everyone is respected and cared for, but its worth it. It's super easy to make a world where a few get all the goods and everyone else exists in misery. A lot of humans like the easy way out.

By contrast, those who play newer RPG's tend to be liberals. They want inclusion, tons of choices, things decided ahead of time, equitable, balanced, and fair encounters. And they want sustainable progression and a more predictable world to play in. The DM's for these games tend to put in a lot of work, carefully building worlds that make sense, and accounting for power creep by adjusting and tweaking encounters so that they challenge but do not crush players. It's kind of a "Wizard of Oz" trick in that there are smoke and mirrors in play. The DM knows that the characters are supposed to win. Their job is just to make it so that it isn't obvious that they are winning. But yeah...the deck is stacked in the player's favor, and everyone then has a good time. These people, who number in the millions and who are fans of the game, get shouted down a lot by the angry and very vocal conservative players who seem to be getting more filled with rage at what the parent company, Wizards of the Coast, does every day.

Recently, WOTC announced a big change in the way they deal with third party content using the "Open Game License" that has been pretty much taken for granted for more than twenty years. There are a lot of players who escaped the drudgery of the brutal capitalism they adore to put themselves in a position where they charge for content. But they have no empathy for those who still have to work in drudgery rather than doing something that they love. These "content creators" say to those others, "Hey! Adapt or die! I adapted! If you want something you gotta stop being a snowflake and just go out and put in the hard work like I did." But the thing is...they didn't really do hard work.

What they did was founded small corporations that churn out endless amounts of third party content. Many of you reading this blog are writers, and writers these days (especially self-publishing ones) number in the millions. Creativity is cheap y'all. It is not a precious resource. Now, as a consumer of some of this third party content, what I do choose to buy is well thought out and has good production values. But all of it is still just a money grab from the Dungeons & Dragons nerd community. Kickstarters have exploded to the point that it is getting harder and harder for new people to make any money, because the third party creators have flooded the landscape trying to make a buck.

Some of the more successful ones generate hundreds of thousands (or millions) in profits. All of these bootstrapping, entrepreneurial types are now on notice as WOTC is going to demand tribute from anything over $75,000 a year, and there are draconian rules that will allow them to claim as their own any content you create that uses their parent game system. It's all meant to secure their intellectual property, but the "content creators" and by and large their libertarian supporters who yell "don't tread on me" are (in a word) furious. And it has gotten so bad that I've had to dump several Facebook groups that (as far as I knew) existed to connect people and allow them to find players for local tabletop games. These have now all been inundated by YouTube posts saying WOTC is a money-grubbing evil monster, that D&D is being destroyed, and going so far as to say that everyone who plays is under threat. I've been shaking my head, saying, "This is the stupidest thing I've ever seen."

For years, these people have (by and large) been jealous and bitter of WOTC's success in the explosion of popularity in Dungeons & Dragons. They are stern gatekeepers as well. They wanted people to play their old, ruthless, uninteresting games with no diversity and celebrating the white male, and they called anyone who didn't want to play like that a "snowflake." Many (for lack of finding anyone who wanted to play their increasingly out of touch games) switched to the fifth edition only to proceed to lambast, strike out rules, and criticize the ruleset completely in an attempt at the old "bait and switch." The thing is, new players don't like to have their free time being abused by another human being, which is how a lot of old school D&D tends to be.

They also promote hysteria in the same manner as conservative talk radio promotes hysteria by floating conspiracy theories and by making mountains out of molehills. As a longtime player, I've never been more aware than I am now at the stark differences between how conservatives and liberals define what "fun" is and how they prioritize what is important and what isn't important. I don't actually know where it will all end up. What I do know is that the Open Game License in any iteration is a benign thing to people who just enjoy playing the game, and that the outsized cries of anguish are from people who are making money at D&D content, which is just plain weird. I get that community is important. But trying to monetize a hobby is some sketchy crap to pull, and I think that maybe if you are that kind of person, you should try working like the rest of us in drudgery and the capitalist system that you voted for and created. It's hard for me to shed any tears for any corporation or group that thinks that they had a right to build upon Wizards of the Coast's intellectual property without paying them their pound of flesh.

So anyway, that's what's been going on in the Dungeons & Dragons community. I'm interested to see how it all ends up. I enjoy the game a lot and I always have. I think the game will be better if  many of these "content creators" just move along and develop their own systems. If they choose to do this, then good for them. I'm just getting tired of the social media posts that are everywhere in the groups I'm in declaring, "I'm going my own way because I've been stabbed in the back for the last time by Wizards of the Coast." I'm like, "Please do and don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out." However, if I like what they make, I just might buy a copy and start playing their game. I think that will be healthier for everyone, and maybe my Facebook groups for "finding a group" can return to normal instead of constant demands to sign "this petition or else!"

If only we lived in a world where people could just admit freely that there are only so many good ideas, and that if you are a corporation that comes up with the "good idea" that it would be okay to eliminate your obscene profit in said idea (we'd all have to settle on some threshold that would make you rich but not obscenely rich as a reward) and let everyone have a piece of that pie forever after. So yeah...socialism. Expect anything else from this democrat? But I know we don't live in that world, because people are still gaslighting themselves into thinking that there are infinite good ideas and that if you can't come up with one, then you are stupid and deserving of your failure. This is categorically untrue, but whatever. All of these "content creators" who go off and design their own game are about to find that out, as many of their companies fail to generate the profits necessary to sustain their business.

On Wednesday of next week, I want to talk about Netflix's Locke & Key. See you then.