Monday, April 15, 2024

I hope that Halo gets renewed on Paramount + for a third season.

I never played the HALO games that were kind of ubiquitous with Microsoft's XBox ever since it was launched a few decades ago (boy that makes me feel a bit old). I remember saving up money for my original XBox and being excited that "Microsoft was going to make a console." Anyway, having not played HALO but being a little familiar with the intellectual property, because I had friends who played, made me very interested in watching the show on Paramount +. 

I thought that the first season was really good science fiction, unraveling a mystery about an object that was genetically connected to two human-like individuals. It also introduced us to a race of brutal space-faring monsters called "The Covenant" who are nothing less than spectacular in their efficiency and strength. It is difficult to find any sympathy at all with the Covenant due to this fact, which I think is the point since the human characters are the ones the story definitely wants you (as a viewer) to feel sympathetic toward. The human characters consistently show empathy, camaraderie, and are thrust into high-stakes situations which look impressive, keep you on the edge of your seat, and pretty much demand that you root for the underdog (the humans). By contrast, the Covenant members we've seen so far just hit really hard and are extremely difficult to kill. They are fast, lethal, and there hasn't been one yet that has shown even a shred of decency and empathy. I think their very name is supposed to conjure fear (and it does do this), because you know that beating them is almost impossible.

Amidst all of this are the Spartans, who are genetically enhanced superhumans wearing armor that takes them from an "already mythical" status and raises them to the level of a demigod among normal humans. They are Nietzsche's √úbermensch, who by merely existing to make war on the Covenant, give all humanity a profound meaning for their existence in a fight against a common foe. Watching the Spartans engage the Covenant on screen is as incredible as it was watching Jedi's fight with lightsabers when I was a little kid, or like watching superheroes punch each other in any kind of Zach Snyder fight scene. They just come across as so strong. But the writers of the material know that they can't have too many of these Spartans around or then the Covenant doesn't seem nearly as threatening. So they know to keep the numbers low on these specialized forces so that only a few of them can exist at a time, and thus humanity is consistently on the defensive against the creatures that the Covenant uses against them.

I definitely understand the appeal. I guess that in the game version of HALO, you never get to see Chief's face. This is what we call a "character sleeve" in fiction. It allows the player to insert themselves into the story. It does a neat little trick by allowing the player to envision themselves as having all the power of this superhuman at their fingertips. And all the killing that's done on screen doesn't matter because the Covenant "had it coming" due to their no mercy tactics and lack of any version of human empathy or pity for the weak.

I actually love that they decided to remove the helmet for this adaptation of HALO (which hasn't been popular with the video gamers who are watching the show) mostly because I wanted to relate to the character of the Master Chief, and I wanted to see just how human he is. Those are the kinds of characters I can sink my brain into, and in this aspect, the Master Chief is an excellent protagonist. Yeah he's as strong as ten silverback gorillas put together. But he also is really astute, has empathy, good judgment, and good character. In many situations, he might be considered a Mary Sue. However, he falls short of this in that the writers do have him get beat up and smacked around a lot to remind us that he isn't invulnerable and that he isn't a deus ex machina.

The second season is much stronger than the first. I was entertained in every single episode, and I looked forward to the next, and I hope that it gets renewed for a season 3. Supposedly, it is getting a lot of views on Paramount +, so the chances are good that it will be renewed (but streaming is also rather weird when it comes to what gets canceled and what gets renewed). Have any of you bothered to check it out on Paramount +? If so, what did you think?

Friday, April 12, 2024

If connection and understanding forged between people regardless of who they are is the solution out of dark times then we are totally screwed.

This is a "Doom Post." With the final season of Star Trek: Discovery now airing on Paramount + (I haven't started watching it yet), the fact that it is currently airing with new episodes made me reflect on what I like about Trek to begin with. And it is this: I like that connection and understanding forged between people regardless of who they are or what they've done is the only thing that will bring light in dark times. Knowing this isn't a comfort. In fact, it just makes me realize how screwed we are as a species on this planet, and how the ideals of "Trek" will never actually happen on Earth and are (in fact) impossible.

The smallest example of this I can think of is the housing crisis. I saw an article on the New York Times yesterday in which a person commented that one solution might be for every person who owns a second or third home to decide to go ahead and sell that second or third home thus helping to alleviate the problem. On paper, this does sound good. But the next commenter correctly poked a huge hole in this and explained why it won't work. "If anyone less than 'ALL' people don't buy into this, then what happens is that the people with good intentions who sacrifice and decide to unload a property get screwed out of a property. The reason? A person who doesn't intend to sacrifice and already owns multiple properties and who is already rich just buys it up and adds it to their hoard. So this wouldn't at all work." Basically, if a single person is allowed an exception, then none of it works.

Americans pride themselves on freedom of choice and the idea that "you can choose what you want to do, and you need to leave me alone and be free to choose what I want to do. That is freedom." Within a huge population and on a society level scale, this "freedom of choice" actually screws everybody. In a different example, if a bunch of people are in an enormous bathtub and even one person decides it is their choice to take a huge dump in that pool...then everyone will pay for it. Even the people who are as far as you possibly can get from the person making the mess. They will eventually get their fair share. That's just how a society works.

It's similar to a phenomenon that happens in tabletop roleplaying games. In the Dungeons & Dragons community, most games do not go above a certain low level (somewhere between 5 and 10). I know many games that have mandatory retirement at level 5. However, the ruleset for Dungeons & Dragons supplies rules that go all the way to level 20. One question that oftentimes comes up on reddit is this: why do games end prematurely? Why does no one run a game for characters beyond "X" low level? The myriad of excuses all boil down to a simple truth: the characters get too powerful for the person hosting and running the game to challenge, so they start over. The reason this happens is because a lot of players maximize what their character can do, and they try to find combinations and powers that allow them to punch much higher than they should. In other words, they are really good players. But, they are also terrible for the game system because they can't keep their "inner pig" in check. So the entire system gets to where it is no fun, things don't work right, and the person running the game just decides to collapse it all.

Well, believe it or not, modern capitalism in the United States works in exactly this same way. People are allowed to just indulge their "inner pig" with absolutely no checks on that greediness, and it is all done in the name of freedom. The result is an incredibly dysfunctional system that (if it were being run by a person like a D&D game) it would just be abandoned as hopeless. But the thing with real life is that you can't just walk away from it. So the broken system serves only those who have it all (the biggest and fattest pigs) where everything is super easy and probably boring for them, and everyone else who managed to keep their pigs in check ends up dying in poverty, and they find the game they are playing really difficult and that it doesn't make sense because they followed all of the rules.

And this is absolutely the opposite of what Star Trek: Discovery is all about. They want you to know that connection and understanding forged between people regardless of who they are or what they've done is the only thing that will bring light in dark times. Well that's all fine and great, but connection and understanding forged between people is impossible if you allow exceptions for swine (for greedy pigs). So then, the message to me is that lacking that connection and understanding, there is no other thing to bring light in dark times. Which means that all you have left are dark times, and so that preoccupies my thoughts. We are living in dark times, and there is no way out. At least that's the message I get from Trek. I have to hope there is another way, because right now, the swine are running over everything.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

For a moment on The View Sunny Hostin was a perfect example of how conspiracy theories work in this country.

Sunny Hostin did something stupid on Monday. Sunny is a successful person, rich certainly by typical average American standards, and a co-host of The View. But on Monday, the talk show panelist suggested that the confluence of the solar eclipse, the New York City area earthquake, and the arrival of cicadas was due to climate change, or perhaps something biblical. She did get cut off by Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg who stepped in as real-time fact checkers. Here's the clip for you to watch, so you can see what I'm talking about.

So, here's my hot take about this: when people get wealthy and find success, they oftentimes are not self-aware about their own intelligence and wisdom. In our country (the United States) being rich and/or successful is seen as being smart. But there are tons and tons of people who have done well in this country who are not smart. And that is just a fact. You can be dumb as a rock but pretty/handsome and lucky and you will end up rich. But the "bootstrapper" mentality implies that you are smart and ready to observe the natural world and to participate in amateur science hour and look with your own eyes and explain how the universe works. Only...this is better left up to actual scientists who devote their lives and use instruments to measure and carefully validate with math and the scientific method and the known laws of physics to explain how things work. But the above clip is the perfect example of how conspiracy theories just run like wildfire in our country, and how snake oil continues to be sold by wealthy people who believe their own pseudo-science (Gwynneth Paltrow and Goop is just one example).

So why do people like Sunny Hostin feel that it is okay to share their completely bonkers thoughts based in pseudo-science? That question has an easy answer. It's because people think of themselves as smart because they were able to buy a house and go to college and get a degree as an attorney or some other thing. These accomplishments (that have nothing to do with science) become proof that their judgment is enough to explain the world. In other words, what they can see with their own eyes should be enough. So, some of these people start questioning the curvature of the Earth, and they make up dumb experiments to prove that the world is flat (even though we've known it is a sphere for hundreds of years) or some other nonsense. They take a look at snowbanks and say, "What global warming?" and then they laugh. They examine the tides and declare that "no one knows how that happens," and in fact we do know how it happens (having to deal with the rotation of the Earth and a bulge created by the moon's gravitational pull on the ocean). There really is an entire movement for people to take back science from actual scientists and to question things for which there is already an answer and where the science is settled (again flat-Earth believers).

We live in a strange world, because it is so easy to just write about things (my blog is included in this criticism I'm about to make). My dad and I once had a discussion. He said that having a computer in the house made him want to write something. Just having the device there seemed like an invitation for him to pour whatever thoughts he had rattling around in his head out onto a page so that others could read it. And he's absolutely correct on this. So, where conspiracy theories abound in this country, we can also draw a conclusion: that social media and technology making it so easy to publish things for others to read has certainly compounded the problem of pseudo-science.

As humans we make so many assumptions about others based on really shallow things. Is a person wealthy and seems to have their crap together in a way that we don't? Oh...well that person is smart then, and we should give them a platform upon which they can educate others. Only...this is really bad for everyone. What's another easy assumption? Beauty. Is a person pretty? Are they easy on the eyes? Oh! Well, they must be a moral and good person then. Nope...wrong again! Being pretty has nothing to do with a person's morality and whether they won't screw you over in the worst way possible or try to exploit you in some awful way. Is that person female? Oh, they must be compassionate because compassion is a female trait. Nope. This is erroneous thinking. Oh, is that person Hispanic? They will probably be okay with physical labor. Nope. This again is not the way we should be approaching any of these things. Anyway, I think I've made my point. But it doesn't change the fact that I think for a moment on The View (on Monday) Sunny Hostin became the perfect example of how conspiracy theories work in this country, and it seems to be an unsolvable problem. If only Gwynneth Paltrow's Goop provided self-awareness. Then it might actually be worth buying, because more and more people would keep the things they know nothing about under a lid and let true experts do the talking.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Let's talk about women in refrigerators.

This weekend I discovered a thing that I had no knowledge of that has been around since the late nineties. It's called "Women in Refrigerators," and it was fascinating to read about the phenomenon/trope and how it applies to writing and fiction/comic books and the creative space. Since I just learned about this trope, I'm going to assume that you've never heard of "Women in Refrigerators" and I'm going to define it for you with a little help from Wikipedia.

From Wikipedia: Coined by Gail Simone in 1999, it describes a trend in fiction which involves female characters facing disproportionate harm, such as death, maiming, or assault, to serve as plot devices to motivate male characters. This is now known as "fridging."

Some might say that this trope is just "damsels in distress" but given a new name/branding. For example, "politically correct" is another kind of term that is now old/dated and has been replaced by "woke." But "damsels in distress" and "women in refrigerators" are slightly different. "Women in Refrigerators" takes the pain and suffering of a woman, who should be a whole and complete character in her own right, and turns this on its head by making the story all about the pain and suffering of the man who must now avenge her. In other words, it becomes all about his loss. The story becomes one of the man's survival and how he is so devastated, even though the real crime is that the woman is dead and is unable to speak for herself anymore, and more than likely just brutally slaughtered.

There are countless examples of this trope, many of them in comic books. Examples include the characters of Gwen Stacy, Gamora, and Black Widow on the big screen. The thing I find particularly fascinating about this trope is how it has crept into fictional stories written by older folks (think GenX and Boomers) who play roleplaying games. Most recently, I've been investigating the subreddit for OSR gamers (read this as "Old School Rules" gamers who cling to iterations of Dungeons & Dragons as it appeared in the 70's and 80's. The game has long since moved on from that ruleset, and what got left behind has been a kind of squatter's paradise, with people who refuse to entertain new ideas and double down and dig their heels in for the "things they enjoy." Needless to say, it is mostly a community of men.

It's been interesting to belong to these communities on reddit and watch how they behave, because many of them could be misunderstood as misogynists. Some of the more ambitious ones in the community have launched games of their own based on the old D&D rules from decades ago: things like Lamentations of the Flame Princess. This particular book is filled with misogynistic art, featuring nude women being decapitated or assaulted, one particular and disturbing picture shows an incredibly obese woman giving birth to a demon that is ripping itself out of her while her arms are restrained. Meanwhile, nude women dance around her in an orgiastic frenzy, and above her in the shadows, some thieves are stealing diamonds from a statue (and the diamonds are the nipples on the statue's huge boobs). Okay then. Each has his own kink I guess.

The community on reddit refers to Lamentations in particular by using the words "Edge Lord" and "dark fantasy" and very "edgy." These terms are intriguing uses of those words. But what's really going on (in my opinion) is just a very bold use of "Women in Refrigerators." In other words, they are asking players who make characters for these games to be horrified by all the terrible things happening to all of these women. And it's supposed to motivate you and make it about your pain and your loss so that you can play a heroic man that avenges all of these wrongs that have been visited on women. When I break it down like that, it all sounds so utterly stupid, and I can't help but ask myself: do men really need women to suffer horrible fates in order to feel heroic? The answer (obviously) is no, but I guess it takes a certain kind of creative mind (that may be a rare find) to have the ability to craft a story that escapes this kind of trope. In other words, writing a story of "women in refrigerators" could be considered an extremely low bar, but for is the only bar that they know. Which may also explain the intractability of their minds to move onto different things or to embrace change. Learning one thing is hard enough, but to have to continuously learn throughout your lifetime? That may be asking too much of many people to be able to do.

Anyway, now that I've stumbled across this trope, I want to ask: have any of you who are writing stories ever done a "Women in Refrigerators" storyline?

Friday, April 5, 2024

I think individual people being greedy and wanting to get rich are at the root of the housing crisis.

I'm going to go on a bit of a rant that I'm just going to label as "unpopular opinion." And it is my opinion. All of my evidence is anecdotal at best. However, sometimes the lived experience and what I've seen over the last few years means a lot (especially to myself). But before I go into this "controversial opinion," I'm going to post a picture (a snip) from a Facebook article in which I found a commenter who shares my very same opinion regarding the housing crisis in Utah, and to an extent, the housing crisis in the United States. Here it is:

I totally agree with what this person is saying. I don't think that the housing crisis was caused by Blackrock and big corporations. I don't think it was caused by "libtards" as my fellow Utahns like to refer to anyone as if they are a member of the democratic party (or vote democrat). I don't think it was caused by "Bidenomics." I don't think it was caused by wokeism. I don't think it was caused by low interest rates. I don't think it was caused by "Well, stuff is just more expensive!" and "what about all those gubmint checks that got issued?"

It was caused by people who sold their homes to other really well-paid people (many of them are in the tech sector) who suddenly could work remotely and could afford to get the hell out of wherever they were living and had the income to just buy houses up and gobble them up like they were nothing. It's the same thing as having a loaf of bread and some guy walks in and has a thousand dollars in his pocket, and he asks, "How much for that loaf of bread?" And the guy selling the bread shrugs and says, "I about fifty bucks?" And the guy that's loaded has more money than sense and just shrugs, tosses him a fifty and starts making a sandwich. Then the other people with bread go..."wait a minute? He got fifty dollars for that loaf of bread? Well that's how much mine costs!" and it is that over and over and over.

The people pushing all of this? Realtors who made tremendous bank for a few years. They kept pushing the prices on houses higher and higher and locking in those gravy commissions. I know half a dozen realtors who lived high on the hog making $40,000 a month during those two years. They went on vacations, bought new cars, spend spend spend...hired gardeners...sent their kids to private school... I mean, holy crap! They were living better than surgeons. These are people who don't even have a bachelor's degree who are on Instagram making photos of their fifth vacation in a year swimming with the whale sharks. Gimme a break. Now, nearly all of them are in "consulting" having fled the real estate sector because their money has collapsed...the gravy train has slowed to a trickle, and all the bills are coming due. I expect that "consulting" will dry up too because most of them were not the savviest group of individuals, but for others the "grift" is strong especially when propelled by the fear that "good grief, I can't go work at McDonalds can I?" But they were in the right place at the right time to make a killing. And consulting is always where narcissists land because regular jobs don't pay $100 or $1000 per hour (which is what a consultant can charge for whatever vapid wisdom they have to parcel out to whomever still has more money than sense).

But as far as all of those chickens that got put to field (I'm using "chickens" as a metaphor for high housing prices) they are now coming home to roost! It was a ridiculous era that we just lived through where a person could literally buy a home without even looking at it for $495,000 live in it for two years paying the mortgage, and then sell it for $600,000 making their living expense for that two years completely free and paid for on someone else and then pocketing a little. It's like they got paid to live there. The people that did this (I know/knew quite a few) think of themselves as clever and smart. They aren't. It was an unusual situation, and honestly doing that screwed over everyone else. It was the most selfish thing to do, and entire generations of people are not going to be able to afford housing (including those people's children and grandchildren) because of those selfish choices. It's a fascinating thing to have watched in real time...the greed of all of these people who really believed that this is how life was supposed to be and that housing prices would just go up and up and up with no limit at all and that there would always be a house for people and that everyone would be just fine. 

Real Estate should never have been a way for anyone to get rich. It shouldn't have been that easy to just buy a house, squat in it for a couple of years, and make a million dollars. How anyone thought that was sustainable, and how that could possibly last for years on end and that your kids wouldn't suffer, is beyond me to imagine. The entire time that I was watching it happen in 2019 through 2022 I thought to myself, "This is complete madness" and "It's going to get to the point where only those with really high incomes can afford a dump." And then all of that came true. Here in Salt Lake City, people need an income of $134,000 a year in order to buy an average dumpy house with a one car garage. What in the actual hell?

The kinds of jobs that pay $134,000 a year have titles like Deputy Administrator Physician of Intermountain Health and crap like that. But in 2016...which wasn't that far could buy a house and have a title like "assistant baker." That's how broken everything is. The thing that needs to happen (and it won't) is for housing prices to be cut in half, or wages need to rise so that $134,000 is what the assistant baker makes. The Deputy Administrator Physician of Intermountain Health...their wage should rise to $300,000.

The out of whack crazy that the modern world has become has been fascinating for me to watch, especially when I watch all of the conservatives around me with houses full of kids stress over what they are going to do with everything being so expensive. Some of them are self aware enough to know the truth. Some of them saw a sister or a cousin make off like a bandit when a trades person with a stay at home spouse suddenly became millionaires owning a ranch because they sold two houses and now they can drive around town in a Mercedes G-Wagon. But anyone who looked (historically) at that kind of thing would realize that this isn't how it was supposed to be.

It's like a huge truck of money got crushed on the freeway and people ran over and started grabbing and some got rich that were right there and stashed it all away and there was enough that got it all that it literally ruined prices for everyone everywhere. Ugh...what a mess. I'm glad I don't have kids who need to try and sort all this crap out and try to figure out a way to make that magical $134,000 salary fresh out of college as a "good place to start." In the meantime (and with it not sorting out) there are more homeless people than ever. Downtown Salt Lake looks like an episode of The Walking Dead because there are so many homeless people shambling around, looking filthy and muttering to themselves. This is what all of that greed bought. I guess I should count myself lucky that I got a home prior to all of this, and no greedy person can just jack up my rent "because the market says I can!"

That's the end of this rant and my "unpopular opinion." If you have a different opinion or want to call me out for "being wrong," feel free to do it in the comments.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

For the April 2024 edition of the IWSG we talk about blogging and how it has changed and what I like about it.

I hate April Fool's Day. However, it's only one day a year, and my roommate reminded me that one day isn't all that bad to put up with people's practical jokes if you don't have to put up with them for the rest of the year. That's one way to look at it at least. But with April 1st now over and done with, it is time for April 3rd and that is the Insecure Writer's Support Group Day. Before I answer the monthly question, here's what it is about for newcomers who find my blog.

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 do y'all post?: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group Day. This is when you post your thoughts on your own blog. Other ideas include talking about your doubts and the fears you have conquered or discussing your struggles and triumphs. You may want to offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling and visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer: aim for a dozen new people each time and return the comments. This group is all about connecting. Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog. Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

The motto of the Insecure Writer's Support Group is "Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!"

The X (formerly Twitter) handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the April 3 posting of the IWSG are Janet Alcorn, T. Powell Coltrin, Natalie Aguirre, and Pat Garcia!

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.

April 3 question - How long have you been blogging? (Or on Facebook/ Twitter/ Instagram?) What do you like about it and how has it changed?

Oh wow! I think I've been blogging fourteen years, and it's changed a lot in that time. When I first started, it was recommended by many experts for writers to have an online presence. It took some time for me to understand that the reason they wanted you to do this was so that you could sell stuff to other people and not because being "online" meant anything magical. That's all books are at the end of the day. They are a product that you create kinda like sewing mittens or 3D printing a little rabbit for Easter and posting it on Etsy. The whole "blog" thing was a "kind" way for publishers and agents and other people to let you know that you were the best person at marketing your product. And they absolutely are correct. You are the best person, which is actually a huge letdown. That's why people who are already famous can sell a bunch of books. But it was easy to get confused, especially if you were a person on the autism spectrum, that being online was about "other things."

It honestly reminds me of a time in high school when I used to watch the special education students clean all of the lunchroom tables after everyone had finished eating. At the time, I thought it was kind of cruel. These were people that were already struggling, and they were using them as free labor to clean up the lunch tables after all of the other kids made them dirty and then went to class. I'd see all the special ed kids wiping everything down. It was years later when I realized, "oh crap...they are teaching the special ed kids a trade. This is so that they can be useful and get a job as a janitor because that's really all that they are probably going to be able to get." And that is the truth. The schools were teaching the special ed kids a trade.

Publishers and agents putting out the demand from authors to "make an online presence for yourself" is the exact same thing as telling the special ed kids to wipe down tables. It's letting you know that you are solely responsible for any money you make, and that they aren't going to do all that much, and that it is brutal out there and that you need to lower your expectations a lot. It's like the first step of making yourself your own business, but instead of snow shovels and mittens and 3D printed garbage, you are trying to sell your words (and that is a tough sell when words are so plentiful). It really is kind of arrogant if you think about it...that you could just write something down and someone else would give you money for it. And if you aren't a people person or don't have all that many friends and the camera doesn't love you...then you might not be "marketable" and you probably shouldn't quit your day job.

It didn't used to be this way, but it's what happened when all the gates were destroyed and everyone could just buy things online or read whatever they want. And now with a.i. writing tons of things for free and print on demand becoming so good, your ability to market is bar none the most valuable thing that there is. There are days when I miss the gatekeepers. But there really is no use crying over spilt milk. It's done, and every single one of us will have a harder time in the future trying to find something that a real person actually wrote and then every single one of us will have to ask, "Is this actually better than a machine could have written or am I just being nostalgic and loyal to humans? Blech. I wonder if any of it actually matters."

So, what do I like about blogging still even if it isn't for marketing, which was the whole reason to do any of it anyways? I'm certainly not marketing a single thing on my blog these days.  Perhaps it is just standing on a soap box and saying things that pop into my head. That's probably it. I've also become friends with several bloggers. There's Liz who knits things, and Patrick who keeps it real, and Alex who plays his guitar and talks about sci-fi movies and tv shows. For the most part blogging is actually dead, I think. I haven't kept up with what publishers are demanding these days, but if I had to guess, it would be demanding that authors are on Tik Tok or doing "ask me anythings" on reddit and certainly writing books that appeal to the greatest number of readers.

For the most part though, I think publishers are just watching with jealousy as people like Brandon Sanderson rake in hundreds of millions of dollars in kickstarter/pledge manager campaigns for books that have already been published and have been just gussied up to look beautiful with all leather bindings and gold foil and crap like that (it's all vanity). They've probably got one eye on that and another eye on you (the disappointing child) wondering why you can't make all that lightning happen just like Sanderson did. And the answer to that is always a combination of 1) luck, 2) writing the correct thing, 3) finding your audience, 4) having the discipline to finish all the projects you start, and 5) being likeable. If people don't like you, you will not get far at all. Religious people in particular understand this last part: if you want your religion to succeed then the people who are your missionaries should be really likeable. It seems so obvious, but it isn't really.

Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate all of you insecure writers. It's fun networking with you once a month on all these deep questions.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Karma is a ridiculous concept to explain why bad things happen or why life is difficult.

I had a kind of ridiculous moment yesterday (Easter). After a difficult week of traveling several hundred miles out of my way to finish up some legal paperwork, I came home to a bill from Xfinity/Comcast where the exact same services I had the month before were now $100 more per month. Literally, nothing changed. So, I called them up and was talking, transferred, talking some more, transferred, and finally ended up in South Africa somewhere. The agent I spoke to was really great at customer service and after all was said and done and my morning was essentially *poof* gone with the wind...I saved about the same amount on my bill as someone would save that ordered a burrito through Doordash (Doordash is grotesquely expensive). Was it worth it? Maybe yes? Maybe no? I have no idea. The whole process is so convoluted that it feels like trying to decipher a gordian knot. 

It became painfully apparent that the good ole days of paying $230 a month (I'm being facetious here because I thought $230 a month was expensive) were gone and that now $330 a month was the new reality. The package I was on had expired. There was no new package, however, I was told to call back in at later dates to check if new packages arrived ( in and lose an hour of your life whenever you like). And when I tried to axe certain products for some reason the bill actually went up (that's what the rep told me) because bundled all together, I guess, is the only way to do things instead of individually. was horribly confusing, and so I just settled for $295 a month which in the future will realistically look more like $308 a month. And that will last a year before the new package expires I guess. Whatever. It's all just horrible.

So, in a moment of peace, I googled: "Why is life so difficult for some people, and so easy for other people?" One of the top answers I got from the internet was simply: "karma." This actually made me laugh. I was like...what? Do people actually believe this stuff? And yes...yes they do. There are many people out there that think that if your life has speed bumps, or if things derail you, or if a terrible thing happens to you, it is due to something bad that you did in a previous life. In other words, karma is this external force that rights a wrong that you apparently did in an unproveable scenario and thus, you had it coming.

I don't know why this kind of thing affected me the way it did, but it sent my brain racing down the rollercoaster of absurdity. For example, think of a landlord raising the rent on hundreds of units and then chuckling to himself: "all those people had bad karma. They musta done something bad in that previous life to deserve this painful hike in rent." Or another example: you walk across the street and just punch a random person in the face and then say, "Wow! you must have done something really bad to deserve that!"

This whole concept of karma being responsible for the ills that befall a person is a fascinating thing, especially when you consider that it allows for bad actors in our society to essentially be blameless for anything. This whole thing (when examined closely) just doesn't make any logical sense at all and is actually pretty infuriating. I wonder if the reason people seek out super simplistic answers (like Karma) for tough questions is because they want people to remain blameless and blame some nameless other for their ills. I'm perfectly comfortable not doing that and just saying, "Comcast is really greedy and put in a big price hike to charge people more money for the same services that they were enjoying." None of us should be letting corporations or people off the hook so easily. to what I'm going to do about all of this? The answer in the near term is that I'll probably just pay for it. It takes time to research other service providers (and mental energy) and canceling one thing and going with another puts a big disruption through the way your life works. It's more complicated for me due to roommates. So I may have to wait until they move on at some point. Then I could decide to just completely cancel all of my Comcast services, go without for a month, and then subscribe to new services as a new customer to get all of the new customer discounts. It's still a pain in the butt though. But it isn't "karma." It's end-stage capitalism and greed that force us all to do this kind of thing.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Masters of the Air on Apple TV plus is kind of a strange watch.

So, before I go further, there's going to be some spoilers in this post. If you want to be completely spoiler free, you should probably check it out after you've watched Masters of the Air. With that out of the way, as I'm watching this show, I have some knee-jerk reactions to it. Yes, it is based on real life people. The soundtrack is awesome, and the opening credits pull at the emotions as you see so many young and beautiful men doing the jobs they were assigned to take on the big bad evil of the twentieth century: Adolf Hilter and his goons. You can't help but feel for every single life lost in this series, which is absolutely the intent. But from a storytelling point of view, it's difficult to follow because entire crews flying the airplanes just die off/get killed. So, you really don't ever get to know anyone except for maybe Rosie, who is extraordinarily gifted in leading his crews to safety amidst towering odds. Like...literally his plane is the only one that survives a bombing mission in one particular episode.

But the thing is: the story doesn't follow Rosie. He's just part of it. So you've got all of these other characters that are only there for a brief moment and then they're just gone. Dead. Shot down. I'm not sure what I would correct or advise if I could to fix this except...maybe...they should have tried to tell a smaller story? I think there were too many storylines going on and for many, they just didn't seem fulfilling because (again) they were just abruptly ended when the character/person got killed.

By starting so far back with the Bucks, they couldn't follow the same crew at all. So that meant more characters, less time to bond with them, and it was essentially a revolving door of turnover. At one point it was really difficult to figure out which character was which. The prisoner of war storylines that they explored were interesting, because it gave us a break from that "in the sky" narrative. Also, I love Austin Butler, but I really wish he'd stop acting like he's the new Clint Eastwood with the whispering and the Elvis-esque acting that he's continued to do since he starred as Elvis in the movie. It feels a lot like Austin Butler has kind of adopted Clint Eastwood in the same way that Christian Slater went full on Jack Nicholson early in his career (and that bugged me too as Christian Slater was not Jack Nicholson). For reference, watch the movie Heathers. It's an ancient movie by today's standards, but if you ever watch it, you will see what I mean with Christian Slater basically acting like Jack Nicholson. It's kind of ridiculous.

However, I don't want to leave you with the impression that I didn't like this series. I loved it, and I'd recommend watching it. But I didn't love it so completely that I feel it is above my criticisms. It had excellent action sequences, cinematography, and acting. If anything, the storytelling suffered because sticking with real men and trying to cover so many at once managed to create a story where nothing really significant got touched upon in any meaningful detail, unless you count "killed in action" as a meaningful thing.

I will be away from the blog all of next week, but thanks for visiting. I'll return for the April 3rd posting of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. I've got some things I need to take care of that require my attention.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

In the Acolyte it apparently isn't Palpatine who makes the Republic crumble this time around.

Yesterday, Disney+ dropped the trailer for "The Acolyte," which is their latest story that the Star Wars universe wants to give to us. Yes, it appears to take place in a crucial and unexplored period of Star Wars, mainly that the story is set 100 years after the High Republic's zenith and taking a look at how the Republic and the Jedi start to crumble. In other words, it's a story about how darkness rises in an age of light. However, I feel that I've trod down these paths before, and I'm not certain why no one else feels this way.

Let me say this another way: haven't we already seen the republic crumble? I's a different era, but I think what I'm getting at is that democracy and a grand republic falling down doesn't feel like it is breaking any new territory. Admittedly, maybe no one including myself comes to Star Wars seeking anything other than lightsabers, Sith, and bad people doing isolated acts of destruction in an otherwise well-functioning system. Maybe the point of the series is for these bad actors to act freely until so much bad stuff has happened that it pulls down civilization itself.

Is that the only interesting story that there is to be mined from Star Wars? Maybe I should just be taking the title literally. It's telling us that there is a "war" in the "stars" so...I guess...everything must be about that war or more wars or different versions of a war. The war (in fact) may never end. If it does, it's time for another war. I guess that's the part that ruins my suspension of disbelief. But as a caveat, what do I know? Maybe war and conflict are the only stories worth showing, and all we need for the other bit is to say "there was a thousand years of peace," and then get back to the war.

Has anyone ever bothered to ask why the Republic in Star Wars is always crumbling? Is my age showing? Do I appear jaded? I'm still going to watch "The Acolyte." I guess I'm just complaining. Here's the trailer if you haven't seen it yet.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Warner Brothers has plans for a Teen Titans movie

Okay. James Gunn has surprised me. I never thought there was going to be a Teen Titans movie, and then Warner Brothers (and James Gunn who is heading their DC Reboot) announced that they were going to film a Teen Titans movie. As a Gen X-er who was into comic books, this made me really happy. I grew up on the Teen Titans, and as Marvel's star appears to wane, I'm looking forward to the stories that can be told in the DC universe that haven't been done yet. We have an as yet "untapped" Darkseid, a Trigon the Terrible, and a Lobo just to name a few. Trigon himself could be a villain on the level of Thanos if done correctly, and a slow build up over several movies that culminate in a face-off against Trigon could be just the kind of thing that the doctor ordered.

The only thing I'm a little confused about is the order of how these things are supposed to arrive. For example, you need Batman before Robin/Nightwing and a new Batman always seems to be in the works. Is Robert Pattinson still Batman? I have no idea at this point. You need a Wonder Woman before Wonder Girl/Troia. They just got rid of Gal Gadot. You need Flash before you get Kid Flash. You need Green Arrow before you get Speedy. And last but not least, you don't really get Aqualad before Aquaman. And they just sunset Aquaman.

I have no idea how any of this is going to work. Maybe the plan is to start with the superheroes fully formed, so you don't need origin movies. I guess you could assume that everyone already knows who Wonder Woman is and probably Flash and then Green Arrow. So you wouldn't need to involve them beyond maybe some flashbacks and some exposition. However, it's going to take some clever play to get all of this done. You know...superhero movies must be a pain in the ass to keep on track year after year in a shared universe. And does everyone actually know that Dick Grayson became Nightwing as an adult? I remember finding that out in the eighties and being surprised by that. I think that most people still probably think of Dick Grayson as Robin. But maybe I'm wrong and they think Tim Drake is (or some other version). We'll just forget Jason Todd at the moment.

Also, we need a good Lex Luthor. We haven't had one in years. I think my favorite Lex of all time was Kevin Spacey, but he seems troubling to use as an actor at this point. I'd want someone to play Lex that has the gravitas that Kevin Spacey brought to the screen. Anyway, if you're a comic book nerd and reading my post, do you have any theories as to how they are going to launch a Teen Titans movie without doing any of the legacy superheroes first?

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

No matter how hard I try I think I'm just not meant to get why the Last Airbender is so cool.

I've been kinda/sorta making my way through Avatar: The Last Air Bender on Netflix. This is one of those shows that I'm watching out of the corner of my eye while doing something else. However, I do like it. But it's also not really my cup of tea. None of that makes any sense (probably) if you stop and think about it. To try and clarify, I'm glad that it's getting the love that it deserves, and I'm glad that it has been renewed for more seasons at Netflix. I just don't ever think I will personally understand why anyone finds it to be good. Does that sound any better? Probably not.

I have a good friend that really loves the show, and she's an adult but quite a bit younger than me. When she talks about Avatar, her favorite series of all time, I just smile and nod and because I know the story, I'm able to kind of share in their love of it. And I can fake it quite a bit as in, "Wow! This show is so great. It's incredible what they've done." But I wish I knew why people loved this show so much. I think maybe I just was too old for it when it hit the screens for the first time so that I was forever unable to relate to it in a meaningful way. Or maybe it just really is not all that special and the people who are watching it have no life experience to compare it to anything that is actually good. Or maybe I'm the jaded one, and I just can't stand kid actors (the more likely culprit). I mean...I think that the element bending looks cheesy, the plot is meh, and I think that the acting is bad. But I'm only saying this, because my blog feels like a safe space to air these feelings.

If you don't know what this show is about, it has some really big themes built around a world that is not earth but "earth adjacent." People are separated into tribes for their prospective elements, and one of the tribes (the Fire nation) committed an act of genocide on the Air Nation so that they could remain the most powerful. Is this awful? Yes, yes, it is. Did I cry when the Air Nation died? Not really...none of those characters meant anything to me. The main character is a "chosen one" kid who must rise to the occasion and embrace all of his power to make right the various injustices that occur in the world in the absence of an "all powerful avatar" able to wield the four elements. And the rest of it just seems to be fascism gussied up with elemental magic and this chosen one character is the being who will be the anti-fascist and put everyone in their place again and stand up for the weak (which apparently everyone is except for the Fire Nation). It doesn't help much that the whole world of Avatar minus the Fire Nation seems to be a metaphor for the Democratic party in America (clearly not its intention). But if the shoe fits....

So that you are on the same page as me, here's how the New York Times described democrats from an article just this week:

"Why are democrats so congenitally weak? Why did it take a group of former Republicans--the Lincoln Project--to create the nastiest, most effective anti-Trump ads in 2020? There are several reasons, which are impossible for Democrats to admit in public. The first is that they have a reputation as the favored party of the American Bar Association, they're rife with lawyers, they see poetry in a well-turned codicil. They are also the party of the so-called helping professions--teachers, social workers, speech therapists, home health aides, ivy-clotted academics. In general, these are not people comfortable throwing a fierce left hook. And they are the party of identity politics, always sensitive to insensitivity, often to a fault. They care a lot more about appearances, and propriety, than Republicans do."'s the thing: I'm a Democrat, and I'm wondering why everyone who seems to vote like me is so weak. It's actually kind of frustrating. I know so many people who just basically let others run them over, and the only way they seem to be able to find any strength at all is in vast numbers. Standing up for yourself is difficult (I get it), but there seems to be a phenomenon now where everyone is just collectively depressed, anxious, and kind of paralyzed like a deer caught in some headlights. It's kinda like watching the Fire Nation run everyone over to be honest, and I don't like it at all (but it is what it is). And then to go from that reality to a show like Avatar that seems to celebrate this kind of weakness by literally showing that none of these people are ever going to be capable of standing up to the Fire Nation without a godlike being who has their's a message that I don't enjoy a lot. And I wonder why some people do? Because in real life...there is no avatar coming to save anyone.

But maybe I'm just digging too deep on this kid's show. People probably just love it because it features different cultures working together, some good humor, and characters who grow over time. Kids also probably just love the magic...the bending of the elements...and the aesthetic of "that's cool." Wouldn't it be amazing if we could all just use magic to solve our problems? Yeah...maybe I'm just too old to appreciate a kid's show. But I can fake that I like it to fit in. That costs me nothing.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Today I'm sorting out the things about the Walking Dead The Ones Who Live that I don't understand completely.

The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live
is a spinoff of the original The Walking Dead, which I stopped watching in season 9 when Rick left the show. This new iteration, the third of which I have watched following Dead City and Daryl Dixon feels a lot like The Walking Dead I remembered. But a lot of it doesn't make sense (probably) because maybe I missed something by skipping out on how The Walking Dead ended. However, everything I read about The Ones Who Live explicitly stated that the series would stand on its own, and that I wouldn't need to know anything from the prior series to understand the events in this series. But just so I can kind of see it all written down, I'm going to go through the things that I don't understand that are in this show as of just three episodes. This is your spoiler warning:

1) There are three cities I guess in the former United States that decided to draw boundaries and keep out the dead. They enacted a form of martial law, built barriers, educated their populace, and essentially became military states. And somehow, this allowed up to 200,000 individuals per metropolis to basically exist as if it was the times before the big event that made the zombie apocalypse. How is it that we are just now hearing of this? Especially when they have helicopters flying everywhere, munitions, and other things like electricity and water treatment and sewage treatment plants. One of the cities in like episode two finally collapsed. So this is like...ten years into the zombie apocalypse (still a hell of a record I think). We don't know all of the details, but it sounds like it just got overwhelmed by a dead army or something weird. I wonder if this has more to it...kinda like maybe they are exploring intelligent forms of undead and there was maybe a leader or something that whipped up all of the zombies. It's easily the most supernatural and interesting lead that this series has dropped, but there hasn't been any more exploration of the potential of that in the remaining episode I watched.

2) Rick cut off his own damn hand. This was...I dunno...unnecessary? Rick was on a tight leash to prevent his escape, and he was doing his job, which is to cull zombies. This particular branch of zombies was on fire for some reason--it wasn't explained. But in order for him to get off the leash, he needed to cut his hand off. It's a parallel to an event that happened in the Daryl Dixon show, because a tertiary character was handcuffed and in order to escape, needed to cut his hand off to get out of the bond. When Rick did it by choice, it just seemed so unnecessary. What was his plan exactly? To run into a forest of burning zombies with no food or water and in pain and dripping blood from a hastily done amputation? It was easily the dumbest thing I've seen, and I just can't imagine why Rick would do this as he's an intelligent character. But he did get a cool prosthetic out of it with a switchblade, and I suppose it also demonstrated how desperate he was to get away from the people in this "secret city." But in the end, this particular thing fell flat with me, and I have questions/don't understand why it happened.

3) There was a whole lot of exposition about the kinds of people they want in the city of 200,000 (referred to as CRM in the series). For one, I guess they don't want any "alphas." They don't want any leader types, and those kinds of people just end up dead. They just want "betas" or people who are relatively good at being sheep to follow whatever shepherds that they have running the government. This is really weird to me. Why is being a person who wants to be in charge a bad thing? People who are driven and don't need someone to take care of them are exactly the kinds of people I think you'd want in an apocalypse. Things are tough already, and these...let's call them "type A" personalities are the kinds of personalities that I think would end up being the most valuable in an apocalyptic scenario.

4) There's a character who is already dead in the show who was named "Okafor." His whole background, which seems kind of pointless at this time since he's dead, was that he was in the military, and that his own wife wanted him NOT to bomb Philadelphia. So, he killed her, but then he refused to bomb the city anyway? It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but maybe I missed an important detail somewhere? However, since the character has already kicked the bucket, I'm not sure I can justify a rewatch since it's apparent that none of it mattered anyway other than to say that there are people in the CRM who don't follow orders. And maybe that's the point. If there are people who are in leadership positions (like Okafor) who want to bring the whole government structure down, it sets the ground for some chaotic grasps at power for Rick and Michonne to make in the new world of the Walking Dead.

All that being said though...I'm still going to watch this thing. It's Rick and Michonne, and those two are characters I love and feel like I know after being with them for so long. I'm excited to see what unfolds and what those two decide to do in their post apocalyptic lives.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

For the Insecure Writer's Support Group post I'm talking about a.i. and how I use it in my writing.

The Ides of March will soon be upon us! But, the Insecure Writer's Support Group is already here, whether or not the Ides of March will truly care. And if you don't know what the Ides of March are, maybe a more contemporary metaphor will due in its stead: "March Madness is upon us!" And with that song and dance out of the way, let's get to the real reason why you are here: my March 2024 Insecure Writer's Support Group post. But (before that), let's talk a little about this monthly blog celebration that was started by Alex Cavanaugh many moons ago. First things first, if you are interested in participating, you will want to click HERE and go and sign up. I promise you that none of the writers who participate will bite you.

What is the purpose of the IWSG?: It's 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 y'all post?: The IWSG blogs on the first Wednesday of every month. This was chosen by Alex way back when, and I'm not sure as to why that was the official day. Anyway, it is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day now.

What do you post?:  Anything you want that has to do with writing. 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.

Do y'all have a motto?: Yes. It's "Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!"

What about an X (Twitter) presence?: Yes, the official "X" handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the March 6th posting of the IWSG are Kristina Kelly, Miffie Seideman, Jean Davis, and Liza @ Middle Passages!

What if I don't have any ideas?: Well, 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.  But remember, the question is optional. Below is the March 6th question:
Have you "played" with AI to write those nasty synopses, or do you refuse to go that route? How do you feel about AI's impact on creative writing?

The A.I. that I use the most is ChatGPT, and yes, I've been using it on just about everything. I run a Dungeons & Dragons game and I've had it generate dream sequences for characters and backstories for characters in seconds after I fed it a few prompts. When I read them out loud, my players at the table have no clue that I didn't write it, and they have been received very well. I've used ChatGPT to write boring passages that are fun to read but which I cringe to write. I've also used it to generate ideas for modules for my Dungeons & Dragons game, and the ideas that it comes up with are excellent. It kind of blows me away each and every time I use it. And yes, I've used it to spruce up my own writing a lot. I think that ChatGPT is incredible, and for the most part I believe that the business end of creative writing has been irrevocably damaged by it. But as supporters of the A.I. products that are out there have said, "You can always create your own art. No one is stopping you. It hasn't taken that away. It's just taken away any money you can make from it." And...that's true. It's also how I feel about it. Write away all you want. Just don't expect anyone to pay for it at all.

But let's clarify my comments a bit. What A.I. has done is just completely decimated what we call "the mid-list." So now, basically the only way I feel like a person could make money in the arts is by being a nepo baby, by being connected to a religious community that is cultish in the way it puts some on a pedestal, or by being a genius business influencer like a Kardashian or something similar. This is way different than it was even a few years ago. Everyone else will just make along the lines of what a monthly welfare check might pay or less, and you'll definitely need food stamps. A.I. has also decimated art. I honestly don't know how graphic artists can expect to even be paid in the future. A.I. art for concept art and editorial art is faster and better than what a human can do. People can get insulted by it all they want, but the volume in which it creates and the level of detail continuously blows my mind. I've had thousands of hours of art training, and I haven't done a single picture since I saw what Midjourney and Stable Diffusion could do in seconds now. My phone is literally brimming with a.i. pictures I've collected. They all look so real and so fantastic. I could never compete, and that's just self-awareness.

However, I have not (nor do I ever) plan on having a.i. write any of my blog posts. The stuff you read here is all me. You may ask me why? Well, the simple reason is that I like organizing my thoughts through writing. I can't do that if I have a.i. just generate my content. If I don't feel like writing, I won't post. But lately, I've had plenty of thoughts I've wanted to share, so I continue to post. Maybe someday that will change. But rather than feed any visitors some a.i. generated garbage, I just won't post. So, it's all me. This flies in the face of experts who have weighed in on The New York Times and on NPR who have both said that within 5 years, 90% of everything we read online will be a.i. based. If I'm still around in five years, I will be part of that 10% that isn't, and I'll probably find some excuse to rant on something at that point that is different than what I rant on these days.

And now for the final question: do I use a.i. to write a synopsis? I haven't yet. But if I need one, I probably would try. A.I. is a really impressive thing. If it's going to take all your money away and make all the hard but creative and rewarding work essentially worthless, you might as well use it to do some of the boring stuff, right? Who knows? You could land an agent and sell a book that maybe makes you $15,000 dollars for two years of work. Even though that won't even buy you a good used car, maybe it's enough to put down for some land-locked swamp land somewhere. If you want my advice on how to be a wealthy and famous writer, work on being a nepo baby or join a cult and market your book to its members. In the latter case, just make sure you exploit the cult for free labor in getting your books ready. And also, make sure you have a spouse that has a full-time 40-hour a week job. That way they can support you while you work really hard and make peanuts. But the reward isn't the money, is it? It's the fact that you get to exercise that creative muscle. Thanks for visiting :)

Friday, March 1, 2024

Will a Neuromancer series be able to overcome the insurmountable challenge for books that are simultaneously super influential and super dated?

We're in a weird place with television and movie adaptations. On the one hand, I love what is happening. For example, the first two premiere episodes of Shogun on FX were nothing short of spectacular. Their adaptation is so faithful to the book material, and it all just looks so good. On the other hand, decades of people desiring to either get a side gig, become rich, or become famous by telling stories has resulted in a flood of material that is so deep, that the original (that may have kicked it off decades ago) seems derivative. actually have to tell people that Dune and Star Wars got their ideas from Asimov's Foundation. If you don't, then anyone who looks maybe at Apple TV's version of Foundation will declare it as a "Star Wars knockoff done poorly." It's very rare when writers of new ideas and the media (that we consume) go hand-in-hand. This happened for Rowling with her story of a wizarding school. But if she'd been just a decade or more late...The Magicians by Lev Grossman might have told the first wizarding school story that hit it big and then people would have declared that Harry Potter was just an English knockoff, when it's clear that The Magicians is the actual knockoff.

Now, we are set to have another such phenomenon land. A favorite book of mine that won both the Hugo and the Nebula is set to be adapted on Apple TV plus. And it's about time. This book, called Neuromancer is the singular book that started a ton of ideas. Neuromancer gave us the terms we use today for things like "the Web" and "Internet." It was the thing that inspired movies like The Matrix which has an incredibly original world. Neuromancer invented cyberpunk. But for one reason or another, William Gibson's incredible novel has been stuck in development or non-development hell for decades. Meanwhile, all of these other projects got greenlit around it while Neuromancer just floundered despite its enormous fanbase at the time. And that's crucial to understand. It has been almost forty years since that book was published. Millennials and GenZ for the most part will have no idea what Neuromancer even is. We've had Shadowrun tabletop games come and go. We've had hundreds of cyberpunk video games. And now that Neuromancer is finally getting a ten episode season, it will be hard...almost impossible not to succumb to the "John Carter Effect." I define this as an intellectual property that will seem derivative despite being the originator of so many tropes of the genre. It's a case of too little too late, I've already seen all that. This is 100% the insurmountable challenge for books that are simultaneously super influential and super dated.

All that being said, I'm pretty excited for this. Apple tends to actually spend money on their shows, which certainly helps, too. And they don't seem to want to cancel shows, unlike Netflix which frequently chops off 80% of the shows that it green lights for a season one. TV is also (probably) a better format for Neuromancer. It will give the novel the time to highlight the slow burn qualities that are present within the work. Still, I wish there had been a movie in the timeline between 1986 to 1994 or so, before the novel's influence started to percolate into popular culture via games and other media. There's definitely a cinematic, vivid quality to Gibson's prose that, in the hands of a skilled director, could translate into a stunning thing to watch.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on Neuromancer. Next week, I'm only blogging on Wednesday for the Insecure Writer's Support Group post. I'll resume my normal blogging schedule on Monday, March 11th.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Let's talk about True Detective season four.

This weekend I finished up True Detective: Night Country. In this post, I'm going to talk about the five episode season, and in reviewing it, I don't think I can effectively avoid spoilers for it. So here's your spoiler warning.

If you haven't watched any True Detective yet, then the thing that you should know is that it is wildly inconsistent from season to season (season one was great and seasons two and three were terrible). Each season (also) is a tale unto itself with some very minor attempts to tie it all together with recurring imagery. But each season has new actors who don't know any of the other actors, and they are usually immersed into some kind of plot that seems supernatural at first, but that is ultimately explained by the end of the show. However, they take great leaps and bounds with suspension of disbelief.

For example, if there's a one in a million chance that something actually could happen, you get to see that 1 in a million thing in True Detective. And because it is so kind of buy into the idea that something supernatural may be occurring. But by season's end, that balloon has been popped, and you are once again grounded in the reality of what actually happened. Anything supernatural gets explained away by schizo-affective disorder, pollutants that cause hallucinations, severe abuse that causes dementia-like imaginings and etc. And usually there is some utterly corrupt and terrible person(s) behind it all that get exposed for the terrible things that they have done and the manipulations they have initiated.

There is inevitably a character who is so wrapped up in their faith, that they speak of the unknown in terms of vengeful spirits rather than do the hard work to figure out what is happening. There are also plenty of unreliable narrators who are walking vessels of their trauma that they just can't let go. This too makes the deciphering of clues really hard, because they are dealing with their own shit which is probably being triggered by the crime being investigated in the show. Having people like this around the main detectives serves to muddy the waters and provide plenty of opportunities to just say, "ghosts did it" or something like that and call it a day. But the "True Detectives" of the show never fall for this, which is why the show exists. They persistently go after clues and the truth up to the point that it completely endangers their lives.

The "True Detectives" of season four, called "Night Country" stars Jodie Foster as Liz Danvers and Kali Reis as Evangeline Navarro. The story is called "Night Country" because it takes place in a small town named Ennis that experiences more than a month of night every winter, and because the native Americans who live there refer to the ice caves under the permafrost as the "night country" and use these rocks with swirls on them to indicate where the ice is dangerous so that you don't go there and fall through. My favorite of the True Detectives was Jodie Foster's character, Liz Danvers. And this is simply because she was the more reliable narrator of the two.

The other one, Kali Reis (Evangeline Navarro), was a walking bag of trauma both from the unsolved murder of a native American girl (stabbed 37 times and having her tongue cut out) and from her deeply disturbed sister who commits suicide halfway through the show by walking into the freezing ocean (she had obvious schizo-affective disorder among other things). Additionally, Evangeline was unreliable because she was "deeply spiritual" and felt a "connection" to the land and the spirit guides and so on and so forth. Whatever. The point of all this was that she became deeply unreliable in the episodes because every time the story was told from her point of view, she saw things that simply couldn't be there or made no sense that they were there at all. Yet, as a viewer of the show, you have no choice but to buy into the "there's something supernatural going on here" narrative. Ultimately, she's a good person, but still it's aggravating to try and suss out all of these things on your own when so many things you are shown aren't real.

There are also clearly scripted plot points that stand out to me as a writer. They probably wouldn't be so obvious if I wasn't familiar with the fact that to tell a story, you need to kind of loop things back around again. One of these is that Danver's invites Prior (a character played by a Finn Bennett that I really liked) to stay over in her freezing shed purely so that he can be there for when his dad shoots his gun. It also makes me realize that his wife was there purely for plot point reasons. She needed to get upset at Prior to drive him out of the house so that he'd move in with his dad and find that to be toxic so that he would end up staying with Danvers. It seems really contrived, and I don't like when I can see behind the curtain so easily.

Anyway, that's my analysis of season 4 of True Detective. Overall, I did like it, but I don't think I'd rewatch it. Once is enough. So...maybe 3 stars out of 5. Thanks for visiting.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Foundation season two was really good.

I'm not an abject fan of Asimov's Foundation trilogy, as it is rather dry and boring in ways that The Silmarillion by Tolkien is also dry and boring. It takes place over huge swaths of time. Characters rarely last more than three chapters. So you're switching out constantly with new characters who are following the decline of a galactic empire and trying to make sure that instead of 30,000 years of darkness and lack of knowledge, that it only lasts for 1,000 years. But one of the things that the Appl plus series did to correct this was to make concessions for the story that really rile up the "Die Hards" of Asimov's fanbase. I think these changes are a huge bonus to the story. But (I think) people will always be divided between what works in storytelling and what is sacred and should not be altered in any way. My thoughts on this are simple: sometimes big stories are two big for one mind. I think this is the case with Game of Thrones, which functions much better when there's a small village of people providing input than it does with one person's brain who tires and quickly reaches the limits of their imagination and falls short of filling in all the blanks. So what are these changes exactly? There are spoilers ahead in case you intend to watch Foundation, which I hope you do. It's an incredible science fiction series...maybe one of the best in modern times. Okay, now to answer that question.

The first of these is that Hari Seldon gets to die and yet through computer programs and cloning and what all else, he's a continuous character that not only gets to exist to establish the Foundation, but he continues onward as a primary protagonist throughout the narrative. He doesn't just "appear" in the vault as a pre-recorded message every fifty years or so like he seems to do in the book. 

The second thing that Apple's staff of writers did was establish a genetic dynasty of emperors named "Cleon" that continues on and on and on, and is in fact one of the main reasons the whole thing is collapsing.

The third thing they did was bring in the character of Demerzel, who is the real power behind the throne...her story comes to full bloom in season two. Demerzel is the most fascinating character in the show, full stop. Demerzel is the last survivor of this event called "The Robot Wars," which occurred between man and machine thousands of years ago. And her story is extremely sad, having been sliced up and imprisoned for countless centuries within a room, fully conscious of who she was, and just having to stay there without company only to then be freed by a morally ambiguous Emperor who had romantic designs that had to do with her, would force her to love him through programming, and would force her to be a caretaker of his clones for even more centuries to come. How awful would that be?

And the fourth thing they did was invent Gaal Dornick, who is Hari's protege and who they've managed to figure out how to hurl through the centuries as a living person (they use hybernation pods for this to slow down metabolic processes). She's the tape measure by which Hari's plan can be measured. You see, Hari has got this timeline of events that need to be overcome due to what he's learned from his mathematically-based psycho-history. With Gaal Dornick, she's a living person, and thus she can have children. If (for example) a child dies outside of when it is supposed to (as predicted by psychic dreams and prophecies), it means that the future can be changed. I really liked Gaal's kid named Salvor, and I was sad when Salvor died at the end of season two. But this is exactly what shouldn't have happened but did, and because of that they know that the next big bad that they will face, called "The Mule" will be overcome because Salvor wasn't supposed to die when she did (if that makes any sense).

Anyway, I get why some of the "die hards" are upset at all of these changes. But they make for some really good storytelling if you can let go of a stoic adherence to Asimov's actual writing. We have gotten quite a few good things from the books. The Hober Mallow/High Cleric-Brother offshoot of the Foundation arc was fantastic. We also got the Riose-Mallow-Constant arc that was a genuinely interesting adaptation of the books. That arc emphasized the Foundation from Terminus using their soft power. Season 2 also gave us the necessary Second Foundation introduced into the story via the mentalics arc, and we now have Gaal becoming the single most important person in the universe because she has nigh on "magical" powers that are probably aimed at an upcoming boss fight with "The Mule." Even though the writers have had to do a lot of hand wavy, science magic to keep characters from aging out of the story, I think the sacrifice has paid off in spades. And the nothing but spectacular destruction of the planet of Terminus left me awe struck. The way the show has been doing the ships "faster than light" travel is to have each of them use a micro black hole that serves as the engine. Well, they crashed one of the big ones into the planet Terminus, and I never really put together that the singularity in those ships could in fact tear apart a planet, but it totally did. One of the best pieces of special effects I've seen in sci-fi shows.

Anyway, thanks for visiting. On Wednesday I plan to talk about HBO's fourth season of True Detective called Night Country.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Invincible season 2 comes back in March and I have a few thoughts on the first half of the season.

season 2 is coming back for its second half in March. I'm not sure why Amazon decided to split the season, but it is nice that there are more episodes that I haven't watched that I can look forward to viewing. It's a good series with a very strong comic-book vibe that live action usually misses (and which cartoons seem to miss as well). When I watch it, I feel like I'm reading a comic book, and that (I think) is the true magic of Invincible. I think that overall, the storyline does feel a bit weaker than it did in season one. Season 1 set up Omni Man as the ominous threat waiting to destroy the Earth. Each episode drove us a little bit closer to that final confrontation of him versus everything that Earth could throw at him with little chance of success. Season 2 on the other hand is a lot different.

We got introduced to Angstrom Levy who I thought was supposed to be this season's bad guy, but then we hardly see him and hardly understand how much of a threat he is supposed to be. And then in a move that surprised me, we got introduced back to Omni-man living in exile on another planet (and he's fathered a baby with an alien being) and he wants his Earthling son Mark to join him in a fight against the Viltrumites who have come to extinguish Omni-man and his progeny. This was a kind of crazy thing that I absolutely didn't see coming. 

This also does seem to be the season where many of the characters are trying to figure out what their place is in the crazy world of superheroes. For example, Atom Eve has this tug of war where she doesn't want to be a superhero, but then she changes her mind and gets angsty. Omni-man too seems to be going through some soul-searching. In season 1 he practically demolished his own son. Now in season 2, his cruelty has been really toned down, and he somehow now has empathy for at least the bug people that he rules over. 

Anyway, it's a lot to process. But here's my predictions of things that will need to be addressed when the show returns in March:

1) Will Mark return with Nolan's second son, forcing Debbie (his mother) to come to terms with how fast Nolan moved on from his previous life on Earth?

2) Will Angstrom Levy become more of a villain?

3) Will Mark and his girlfriend, Amber, break up? He kinda did just up and leave and go to another planet to fight alongside his dad.

If you have anything to add regarding Invincible, I look forward to reading your comments. 

On Monday, I'm going to blog about the spectacular season 2 that Foundation put in on Apple Plus. I finished it up last night, and I've got oh so many thoughts regarding the events that played out. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

My spoiler-filled review of He-Man Revolution on Netflix.

Kevin Smith's reboot of Masters of the Universe landed first with "Revelations," and it continued with "Revolution." It seems weird to market it that way, but "Revolution", which landed on January 25th, was basically just season 2 of the show. This "second" season is much shorter, being only five episodes long. But there is still some good lore nuggets that got dropped, and (with it) the "Prince Adam" character has finally become an adult with his father's death.

It's a strange thing to see cartoons evolve with real life events like the death of a parent or some other thing. In Adam's case, the entirety of the second season was mostly about the succession. When not fighting Motherboard and Skeletor (who was a cyborg masquerading as He-Man's friendly uncle) there was always this question of "who would be king?" should the need arise. At this point I'd like to note that I was pleasantly surprised to hear William Shatner's voice as the scheming "Keldor." And it turns out that (at least as Kevin Smith sees it), Eternia's ultimate fate is to become a democracy (maybe borrowing a page from the ending of Game of Thrones?). So, no more kings. Just a democracy with powerful magically enhanced protectors to ensure that the bad players of the universe don't meddle in what the people of Eternia actually want from their government. Maybe that's the only real way a democracy can survive the strong man personalities that are out there. It's too bad that Earth doesn't have a super moral, magically enhanced protector, looking out for democracy. We could really use one.

I do have my criticisms though. Again (just like in season one), He-Man is the most boring character. Hordak as the ultimate villain was great, and Mark Hamill as Skeletor is perfect casting. That character is so absurd that the campiness of his villainy is just entertaining to watch. The second season also could have used more episodes (8 might have been just right). There were multiple storylines that needed more development, and some missed opportunities to give the characters more depth. The new "man-at-arms" could have gotten a bit more screen time, and I think I could have used more time to get used to referring to the character of "Evil Lyn" as "Good Lyn." That transition though does feel earned, even if it doesn't immediately roll off the tongue.

The final epilogue scene also drops two reveals for the next season: Horde Prime is coming and has a masked female servant named Despera. I believe that in the original series, Adora went by that name while brainwashed by the Horde. These are also part of the She-Ra intellectual property license. So I think there's probably going to be a crossover soon, and that seems fresh and exciting. All in all, I like these new cartoons, and I recommend them for anyone who also shares a love for He-Man cartoons.

Thanks for visiting. On Friday, I think I want to talk a little bit about Invincible season 2, as the second half is returning in March on Amazon Prime. Until then, may you all "have the powa!"

Friday, February 16, 2024

All the Light We Cannot See on Netflix was a poignant and moving drama that has made me want to read the book.

I watched All the Light We Cannot See on Netflix. This very moving four episode mini-series was a fictional account of several lives and how they all intersected during World War 2. The first character is Werner Pfennig, played to a tee by Louis Hofmann. This character is one I absolutely fell in love with. He's a real whiz at making and fixing and using radios, and the big hook for his character in the story is that (during the rise of Germany) he listened to illegal broadcasts from France. In particular, he learned a lot from a professor who spoke at length about science, and this professor made learning fun. The caveat then of all this learning is that Werner gets instilled with compassion and ends up with a lot of what we'd call modern liberal values at a time when everyone in his entire country is going far right, straight into fascism and brutality. There's a very uncomfortable scene in this show that is difficult to watch. It takes place in Berlin's most exclusive school of learning for radio construction. In this scene, Werner is forced to undergo a physical exam, and the racist instructor of the school (who is also clearly a pervert) is dead set on proving that Werner deserves to be there by virtue of his Aryan blood (and he's going to prove it by measuring every single thing on Werner's naked body). If he fails (of course) then Werner will just be killed. He does pass the test, but the scene feels extremely rapey, and I think its meant to be this way to illustrate how horrible these people actually were.

The second character that we end up spending a lot of time with is Marie-Laure LeBlanc, who is a blind girl that takes over broadcasts from within the French city of Saint-Malo. We see her (at first) broadcasting a reading of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea over a radio (we later learn that it is the same radio that the "professor" used years earlier to broadcast his science program and where he garnered listeners like Werner Pfennig). Sometime later, we learn that the braille book she's reading from is being used as a kind of code to the allies who are listening in on the broadcast, and they are able to bomb areas of Saint-Malo (thanks to these readings) that are infested with German soldiers hiding out. Because it is a fictional story, most of us can overlook how contrived these events are that bring Werner together with Marie--he being someone whose very work is listening to the radio and she being someone who broadcasts over the radio but is at odds with the fascist German military to which Werner owes his allegiance. If you can manage to overlook this contrivance that fictional tales often need to do, then the whole thing kind of comes together in a gorgeous dance of these two beautiful souls who must endure the harsh reality of the world around them.

The last character that really plays a strong part in this show is played by Mark Ruffalo. He's basically the "dad of the year." That's what I labeled him, anyway. He's the dad of Marie-Laure, incredibly accomplished...he's entrusted with all the keys of the museum of natural history in Paris and is essentially an expert on everything. What he doesn't know is probably not worth knowing. Into this enormous walking bank of knowledge is poured a ton of empathy. He's super soft-spoken, loves his daughter immensely (and treasures her despite the blind disability that he may believe he could have caused), and will stop at nothing to be a good teacher to his daughter. When they were living in Paris, he constructed (in miniature) the section of town they were living in out of wood. This diorama was how he taught his blind daughter where they lived and how she could find her way around town. When they fled to Saint-Malo after the Nazi occupation, he built another one so that she could learn her way around this new town. Into this then is a McGuffin of sorts that is introduced into the storyline: a gigantic diamond known as the "Sea of Flames." I'm not sure what purpose the diamond serves other than to add a layer of superstition and magic to the story. Legends say that anyone who touches the "Sea of Flames" will be cured of all things and live a wonderful life. But their loved ones will be struck down by something horrible. This is the thing that Daniel LeBlanc struggles with as he wonders if he is responsible for his daughter's blindness. Thus, the phrase "all the light we cannot see" becomes a really strong metaphor for the goodness in the world that exists in places where they eyes cannot detect it, and how souls can shine even in the darkest of days.

All in all, I really enjoyed this mini-series. I wish it had been longer. Four episodes did not seem like enough. It's definitely got me invested in reading the book, which I discovered won a Pulitzer Prize in 2014. If there's anything to complain about, it's maybe that the Nazi characters did come across as a bit cartoonish. However, the banality of evil is one of the most terrifying aspects of Nazi Germany, and that may be difficult to show on screen when you are given only four episodes. In some could be a Hallmark film since it has a happy ending (does that sound bad?). I've been told that the ending isn't happy in the book, and since I'm going to be reading that after Shogun, I'll be able to see all the changes. In the end, I love Louis Hofmann who is the actor that brought me to this show and it was the first time for me to see him speaking in English (he's basically the Timothee Chalamet of Germany). If you have a few hours to kill, I highly recommend you give this one a watch.

I won't be blogging on Monday, as it is a holiday (President's Day). So I'll see you back next Wednesday. This brings me to the end of the backlog of things that I wanted to talk about that I watched over the holidays. So, now I'll have to work on new material.