Sunday, August 21, 2016

Excerpt from The Dragonward




Three years after the War of the Lotus, alliances have already begun to unravel. As Rowen Locke struggles to maintain peace, troubling news reaches him from every corner. Persecution of the Shel'ai has reignited in the south, spurred on by a fanatical priest. To the north, the Isle Knights are withering under the leadership of mad Crovis Ammerhel. Old friends fight each other when not drowning their sorrows in taverns. A new threat emerges from across the sea, dispatched by the same exiled Dragonkin who have been plotting their revenge for centuries. Rowen and his companions soon realize that the target is the Dragonward itself: their one and only defense against an evil so vast even Knightswrath could not vanquish it.

The blind man stepped off the barge and faced Saikaido Temple. A morning breeze blew the smell of salt off the Burnished Way, punctuated by the cry of seagulls behind him. Before him, the Shao temple covered most of the island. A splendid, ancient-looking structure of stone and painted bamboo, it had been built at the summit of a high, rocky hill and crowned with azure flags, with only one approach, which consisted of one thousand meticulously carved steps. Despite the early hour, the temple bustled with activity. Squires descended and ascended the stairs as part of their training, overseen by bored Isle Knights. A few priests moved about, as well. One, who looked to be in his early thirties, spotted the blind man and touched his arm.

“My child, if you wish, I can help you up the steps.”

The blind man erased his smile at being called my child by someone who was hardly older than he was. “I didn’t come for the temple, sir. I was told I could reach New Atheion from here.”

“Ah, of course.” The priest looked disappointed. He started to point, blushed, and stopped. “On the far side of the island, another boat can take you there. I’ll show you the way.”

“No need.” The blind man smothered a grin.

He started off on his own, swaying a staff before him as squires and priests politely moved out of the way. He passed a small town that was little more than fishing huts and a few temples, surrounded by children playing. There, everything reeked of fish.

The blind man hurried by, forcing himself to appear polite as he refused additional offers of help. He resisted the impulse to look up at the splendid temple as he circled around the rocky hill, toward the far end of the tiny island.

After the better part of an hour, he came upon a harbor at least thrice the size of the one he’d arrived at earlier. Instead of squires, Knights, and priests, that one was crowded with tradesmen. Carts were being loaded and unloaded. The smells of straw, sweat, and animal dung overwhelmed the more pleasant brine of the sea air. He winced. Then, he looked beyond the harbor and saw New Atheion.

For a moment, he could hardly believe it. He’d heard stories of the famed City-on-the-Sea for years, including how it had been sailed in its entirety from Nosh to the Lotus Isles, but seeing the impressive city for himself was quite another matter. It looked as though a brilliant, bustling city were simply rising out of the water. As he neared the edge of the harbor, he spotted countless skiffs, upon which New Atheion’s temples, homes, and shops sat like plates floating down a calm river. The buildings themselves looked to be made either from white marble or clean, white adobe. Bridges and walkways joined the various skiffs, somehow floating with the motion of the sea without shattering.

Thanks to the ancient magic of the Dragonkin…

The blind man pushed the bygone sorcerers from his mind and looked instead for a way to get across. He spotted a ferry soon enough. He hesitated when he saw it already crowded with drovers and a herd of cattle. Though he had no desire to submerse himself in such a chaotic reek, he did not want to wait until a more appealing and sparsely inhabited ferry became available. He had hardly started onto the ferry when a young man grabbed him.

“Five cranáfi for passage, if you please.”

Feigning surprise, the blind man reached into the pocket of his tattered robe and withdrew five coins, each one stamped with the sigil of a crane balancing on one foot. He pressed them into the ferryman’s hand.

The ferryman frowned. “One of these is an iron crown, sir. I’ll need three more if that’s how you’re paying.”

The blind man considered killing the ferryman for the lie. He reached back into his robe, withdrew three more cranáfi, and gave them to the ferryman. “Will this suffice?”

The ferryman grinned. “Barely.” He tucked the coins into his apron and took the blind man’s arm. “Here, I’ll help you sit down.”

“You’re too kind.” The blind man pretended to stumble. When the ferryman moved to catch him, the blind man said, “Thank you, brother. The gods saw fit to curse me at birth.” With one hand, the blind man lifted the worn strip of cloth tied around his eyes, revealing dark, empty eye sockets.

The ferryman blanched.

While the ferryman was busy staring, the blind man reached into the ferryman’s apron with snake-like speed and took back a handful of coins. “You’re too kind,” he repeated as he sat down.

The ferryman, unaware that he’d just been robbed, returned to the front of the boat to welcome and collect his fee from a few more passengers. Then, when the ferry was full, he nodded to two other men at the other end of the ferry, and they pushed off. The blind man glanced back, watching as the Shao temple shrank smaller and smaller. He wondered if the Grand Marshal was inside.

Then, he turned to face New Atheion. The City-on-the-Sea was farther than he’d suspected. As a testament to its size, it grew and grew until the blind man felt as though he were staring at a sprawling metropolis like Lyos—or even Syros, before it had been destroyed. He stood up as the ferry docked. The blind man forced himself to wait with a banal smile as the drovers and their herd disembarked, followed by the rest of the passengers. The ferrymen offered to assist him, but the blind man shook his head and started out on his own, swaying his staff and nearly falling on purpose before setting foot in the city.

A fresh wash of sounds and smells nearly overwhelmed him. Shrill street vendors were selling crisp slabs of fish and spiced vegetables. Flesh-peddlers moved through the crowds as well, smiling and barely dressed. The blind man realized he had enjoyed neither women nor food in ages but pressed on. He spied a few pickpockets, as well, but none paid him any mind. He doubted that was due to their conscience so much as the fact that he was dressed in rags.

The blind man considered asking directions then remembered that the Scrollhouse was known as the greatest structure in New Atheion and decided to simply follow the crowds. He passed from one skiff to another, making his way over bustling walkways. Though he had never heard the Scrollhouse described, he recognized it by its size alone—even though a great portion of it had been ravaged by fire. Carpenters and stonemasons still labored to restore it.

The blind man passed between twin columns of statues depicting the gods and goddesses then paused when he reached the stairs leading into the famed library. Clerics in sea-blue robes milled on the steps, along with similarly dressed guards. Both wore the sigil of the goddess Armahg: a swirl of tiny stars.

One guard came forward. “I beg your pardon, but Armahg’s Scrollhouse is not open to general admittance this day.”

The blind man glanced up. While the roof of the Scrollhouse indeed bore the flag of Armahg, he also saw the balancing crane of the Isle Knights, flying just above it. He glanced past the guard and, for the first time, saw two smartly armored Isle Knights standing in the distance, taciturn and formidable in their gleaming kingsteel. He smothered a grin.

“I have heard as much,” the blind man said, “but I’m afraid I can’t wait. I must see the High Father at once.”

The guard’s unimpressed expression indicated that he’d heard such pleas before. “I’m sorry, brother, but none but the ordained may enter today. If it’s food and sleep you’re after, there’s a temple just a little ways south of here—”

“I’m not a beggar, sir. I’m here by invitation.” He reached into his tattered robe, withdrew a scroll, and passed it to the guard. He leaned on his staff, smiling faintly, as the guard read it.

The guard’s eyes widened. “Of course. Apologies, brother!” He snapped his fingers and gestured. Two more guards hurried forward. “Show this one inside. Take him straight to Father Matua.” He handed one of them the scroll, stepped aside, and touched the blind man’s shoulder. “If you’ll go with these men, brother, they’ll show you the way.”

“Thank you.” The blind man allowed himself to be led by the arm.

The temple was crowded within and smelled of mulled wine and lamp oil. He spotted row upon row of books and scrolls, along with endless rows of tables at which clerics of Armahg sat, either reading or debating. The guards led him up a narrow, winding stairwell then down a hallway to an open door. One walked in ahead of him to announce his arrival.

Moments later, the blind man found himself in a modest office, surrounded by books, facing a plainly dressed, middle-aged cleric who sat at his desk. Father Matua had the faintly bronze skin of a Queshi. He was missing an arm, and more than half his face had been badly burned. Nevertheless, he smiled as he stood.

“Welcome. Please be seated,” Father Matua said.

He gestured, and the guards helped the blind man to an empty chair across from that of the High Father. The cleric sat back down, appeared to ponder his next move for a moment, then dismissed the guards. At his command, one closed the door to the office behind him.

When the cleric was alone with the blind man, he used his remaining arm to lift the scroll and read it again. “You did a remarkable forgery of my name.”

The blind man nodded. “Thank you. I practiced many times.”

“Where did you find a copy?”

“In an old letter you sent to a priest in Syros.”

Father Matua grunted. “I’d ask what happened to the priest, but if he was in Syros, I’m guessing he’s been dead for years.” He sighed. “Too bad I had to learn to write with my other hand after the Nightmare burned my good arm off. To be honest, my new signature resembles that of an addled child. But that’s beside the point. Who are you, and why are you here?”

“I’m not here to hurt you, if that’s what you’re asking.” The blind man flexed his fingers around his staff and leaned forward in his chair. “I’m only here for information.”

The cleric scowled. “The Scrollhouse has no secrets. I’ve seen to that. Come here on the right day, and you can read anything you want. Or I could have a priest read it to you… though I’m guessing reading isn’t a problem for you.”

The blind man smiled in grudging admiration. He leaned his staff against the Father Matua’s desk, lifted his hands, and removed the strip of cloth tied around his head. His admiration increased when the priest did not even flinch at the sight of his hollow eye sockets.

“There,” the blind man said. “Does this help reassure you that I’m not an assassin?”

“Not really,” the High Father said. “I noticed that your ears are rounded, but the tops are scarred… almost like someone cut them to make them look rounded.”

The blind man nodded. “My parents carved out my eyes when I was a child… either for my benefit or theirs—I couldn’t tell you. The ears I did myself, much later.” As he spoke, he allowed tiny embers of violet flame to ignite within his eye sockets.

He expected the sight to unsettle the priest, if anything would, but Father Matua nodded slowly. He reached out with his remaining arm, picked up a glass goblet, and took a sip of dark red wine. “I’ve seen Shel’ai before… but never one like you.”

“Oh, I doubt there are any quite like me.” The blind man paused. “My name is Algol. Do you know what that means?” When Matua shook his head, Algol smiled. “Too bad. I’d tell you, but jokes and threats are similar in that both lose something when they’re explained.”

Matua was quiet for a moment. “I saw the Nightmare once, during the War of the Lotus, when he came to New Atheion. You remind me of him.”

Algol laughed, allowing his wytchfire eyes to enlarge until they nearly spilled out of the hollow sockets. “I don’t know whether I should feel complimented or insulted.”

The High Father touched the scarred half of his face and shuddered. “Were he still alive, I suppose I should thank him. The other clerics were so impressed that I survived that they thought Armahg herself wanted me in charge of the Scrollhouse. It didn’t hurt that the four or five clerics ahead of me in line all got turned to ash.”

He’s stalling. He’s wondering if he made the right decision, sending the guards away. “I told you, I’m not going to hurt you. I just came here for information.”

“And I told you, you can have it. You didn’t have to sneak in here. And you don’t have to threaten me or anyone else. Times are different. Even Shel’ai are welcome here now.”

“Not where I want to go.” Algol paused again. “There’s a secret room at the bottom of the Scrollhouse. Most of it was burned when the Nightmare threw his tantrums, but some of it survived. That’s where you keep certain scrolls that you and Rowen Locke deemed too… sensitive for common viewing.”

Father Matua winced. “I trust you’ve already paid a visit to the Sword Marshal.”

“Not yet. But Locke and I will meet in time. For now, he’s the least of my concerns. Are you going to take me where I need to go”—Algol gripped his staff again—“or not?” Tendrils of ghostly violet flame blossomed from one hand, scouring the wood. Then the flames vanished though the wood continued to smolder for a moment.

To Algol’s surprise, the High Father chuckled. “This isn’t the first time I’ve seen wytchfire. I’ve even known a Shel’ai who can summon flaming hands to replace the ones that got chopped off at the wrist. You’ll have to do better than that if you want to intimidate me.”

“How about this? Either you help me or I’ll kill every priest and burn every scroll I possibly can. Yes, your guards will kill me eventually, but not before I turn even more of your precious Scrollhouse into a smoldering ruin.”

Father Matua raised his remaining eyebrow. “I imagine it takes a great deal of magic to see without the use of your eyes. That must be very tiring.”

Algol caught his meaning. “I’ve spent years practicing this, priest. I may not be a Dragonkin, but I assure you I am the most dangerous Shel’ai you’ll ever meet, and I have strength enough to make good on my threat. Now, do we have a deal or not?”

Father Matua was quiet for a moment, then he stood up and circled around the desk. Algol stood, too, clutching his darkened staff.

The High Father pointed at a suit of ancient-looking armor propped up against the far wall. “Can you move that yourself, or should I summon the guards?”

“Summoning the guards will get them killed… but you already knew that.”

Algol eyed the tiny dagger hidden in the cleric’s robes. He waved his hand, and the dagger sailed free of the cleric’s robes and clattered to the floor. Before Father Matua could speak, Algol waved his hand again, this time directing his attention at the far wall. The suit of armor rose in the air and floated forward, just a few inches off the ground. He waved again, and it settled with just a faint metallic rattle.

The High Father hesitated then started forward, Algol right behind him. The High Father faced a smooth wall of blank stones for a moment then pressed on one. The wall rumbled opened, revealing a passage into darkness.

The High Father glanced back and scowled. “Shall I bring a lantern?”

“No need.” Algol prodded him forward with his staff. Then he raised one hand, igniting a bright, silent sphere of wytchfire. He followed the High Father down a stairwell so narrow they had to turn sideways. At the bottom, they faced an iron door. The High Father removed a key from a chain around his neck and unlocked the door.

Algol squelched a rush of exhilaration as he prodded the cleric into the secret chamber. The room was barely half the size of the High Father’s office, with a low ceiling and just three small shelves crowded with books and scrolls. The room contained no tables or chairs though Algol spotted a luminstone on one of the shelves. He leaned his staff against the wall and waved his hand, and the luminstone sailed into his grasp. It ignited at once, filling the room with a soft blue glow.

He dismissed his wytchfire and gave Father Matua a shove. “Kneel and face the wall, cleric. Keep quiet and you’ll live. I swear it before the gods.”

The scarred cleric obeyed. Algol went to the bookshelves. He did not take long to find what he sought. Though the small, simple scroll bore no dust and did not even appear weathered, as though it had been written only the day before, the writing itself was in ancient Dragonkin. Algol read it once then read it again.

Finally, he glanced up. “You should have destroyed this.”

“We tried,” Father Matua said, half turning. “The Sword Marshal even tried using that damned flaming sword, Knightswrath. Not even wytchfire will burn it. So we hid it down here.”

“You should have hidden it in Cadavash.”

“It’s a scroll. If we can’t destroy it, it belongs here.” Father Matua paused. “Throughout the entire War of the Lotus, as bad as things got, even Chorlga refused to use that scroll. That should tell you something.”

“Chorlga didn’t use it because he wanted Ruun for himself.” Algol closed the scroll and tucked it into his tattered robes. “I don’t.”

Then he reached out and tapped the luminstone, extinguishing its magical light. The small chamber plummeted into darkness, and the cleric’s breathing quickened.

Algol smirked. “No need for fear, priest—at least, not yet. I told you, I’m not going to kill you. In fact, I want you alive so that you can tell everyone that I was here. Locke, Zeia, the Knights… everyone.” He paused. “Do you believe me?”

Father Matua shuddered in the darkness. “I have a hard time believing a word you say.”

Algol grinned and stepped forward. “Like I said, I promised I wouldn’t kill you. But I never promised I wouldn’t hurt you.”

Father Matua stood. His good hand formed a fist. “Actually, you did.”

“So I did.” Algol reached out and seized Matua’s good arm. “I lied.” Wytchfire blossomed from his grasp.

Matua screamed.

Amazon

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Nine Reasons Why Batman v Superman is Actually a Pretty Good Movie

(Warning: the following list is riddled with spoilers and unpopular opinions.)


Yes, the opening dream sequence is unnecessary. Yes, it has virtually none of the slapstick we normally associate with Superman movies, and very little of the sarcasm that helps make the Marvel movies so appealing. But I'm still puzzled by the resoundingly negative bandwagon haunting a movie that actually does have some good things going for it. Such as...

1) This is the first and so far the ONLY superhero movie I've seen that directly and pragmatically addresses the question of how much moral obligation superheroes actually have to help others, and furthermore, whether that help is good or bad for the human race in the long run. With Superman's abilities, he could probably hear literally every scream and call for help all around the world. So how many hours a day should he put in saving people, and how many hours can/should he spend trying to live a normal life in order to protect his sanity, the byproduct of which will be the deaths of innocents? 

2) Going along with that, the scene with Superman's scene father is a fantastic example of how this movie takes a much broader and more mature approach to superhero movies than others, including Civil War (which I genuinely liked). In that scene, the elder Kent (played flawlessly by Kevin Costner) talks about how as a kid he helped save the family farm from a flood, and felt like a hero, only to learn later that their efforts had actually rerouted the flood and drowned a neighboring farm. Kent adds that afterwards, he heard the drowning horses screaming in his dreams. He also adds that the only cure was meeting Clark's mother, which adds a subtle undercurrent of desperation: Superman doesn't just need Lois because he loves her; he needs her to keep the nightmares away. Yes, the Marvel movies are fun, and great at wisecracks, and tense when they need to be, but they have nothing anywhere near as chillingly human or morally complex as that.

3) Batman and Superman are painstakingly set up as mirrors of each other. We see that not only in the "Save Martha" scene, which is narratively cool but I admit plays out a little hammy on screen. We also see that in how Batman's and Superman's action sequences parallel each other at times (the literal manner in which Superman first saves Lois is repeated when Batman saves Martha, for example).

4) As for Batman actually killing people in this movie, not only is that realistic for a grief-obsessed vigilante with bottomless pockets, but it also creates an element of irony: Batman wants to kill Superman because he perceives him as dangerous, even though the former is one who's unapologetically cavalier about inflicting pain and taking life.

5) Wonder Woman... with a little help from Hans Zimmer. First off, Hans Zimmer is my favorite soundtrack composer because even though he occasionally phones it in and recycles his previous movie themes, when he's at the top of his game--as in The Thin Red Line--he's as good as it gets. And he's at the top of his game here, too. Superman's themes are deceptively subtle with a powerful but vulnerable undercurrent. And consider the theme he comes up with for Wonder Woman; It's not only catchy but unique and actually helps us get excited about a character that's usually only slightly more well-regarded than Aquaman. Even though she has relatively little screen time, thanks in part to Zimmer's music, she steals the show. In fact, she's so badass (on par with Cyclops in the Marvel comics) that she hardly even needs the requisite snappy one-liner. Just her assured, withering looks are enough. Also, did you catch the part where friggin' Doomsday smacks her down and she just laughs at him and hops back up?

6) In regards to Superman being a potential loose nuke, Batman kind of has a point. As shown in the Injustice: Gods Among Us storyline, and to a lesser degree in For Tomorrow, Superman can only take so much. And when he snaps, he's basically a flying indestructible man-slayer who can bend almost anyone and anything to his will.

7) Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of Lex Luther has been the target of much criticism ("Why does he have hair and giggle like the Joker?!") but it basically comes down to how comfortable you are with changed in the canon. This is most definitely not Gene Hackman's Luther, fussing over his hairpiece as he launches some evil land-grabbing scheme that sheds not one drop of on-screen blood. No, this is an abused kid who grew into a brilliant, neurotic psychopath that, because he's rich, is merely viewed as eccentric. I get how that's not everybody's cup of tea, and definitely skirts cliche, but it worked well enough for me.

8) Superman movies have always tended to work in a lot of religious imagery, particularly relating Superman to Christ. That's practically a requirement for the genre. But this movie finds a slightly fresher way of doing it by showing Batman and Wonder Woman lowering Superman down from the cross--I mean, the hill where he struck down Doomsday--with a big smoking hole in his chest. Also, Superman has warts. No, I mean, he's not just flawed; he's occasionally smug, needy, and disconcertingly human. For instance, we see the people he rescues basically worshiping him, but we never see Superman trying to dissuade them, or seeming embarrassed by the attention. In sharp contrast to previous Superman movies, here, Superman obviously does have something of a hero complex, and even for a nearly omnipotent being, that's a problem. Another often overlooked scene is when he's talking to Lois Lane in the tub, and he basically says that as far as he's concerned, the American government can fuck off. That's alarming to hear from Superman of all people, and even Lois seems momentarily rattled to hear such a sentiment from someone who can kill things by looking at them.

9) Yes, Batman goes a bit too quickly from Superman's enemy to his ally (not sure why, in a long movie, they didn't even throw in an extra five seconds of him struggling to come around instead of flipping so quickly).  Yes, Aquaman looks ridiculous (though he looks better in the new trailers). But the moral questions posed in this movie, which are what make it so dark, are everywhere in the Superman and Batman comics (as well as in X-Men comics), and are really only moderately flirted wit in the Avengers movies. Especially in Superman comics like Red Son, which examines what might have happened had Superman landed in communist Russia instead of Kansas, the archetype of the caped cat-rescuer is as absent as the war era's blindly patriotic version of Captain America. In other words, this is probably the most comic book of comic book movies, which--in spite of its flaws--makes its low ratings a real puzzle. I wonder if the problem is that for all their quality, the Marvel movies are also made to appeal to those who have little or no knowledge of the actual comics, whereas this movie definitely goes in the other direction.

So yeah. Trust me, I get this this movie has problems, but nowhere near as many as other box office tripe like Star Trek Beyond. It also has ambition and originality (which most movies don't) and overall, does a pretty good job setting up a version of the Justice League that your parents wouldn't have wanted you to watch.









Sunday, July 24, 2016

Fourteen Glaring Plot Holes in Star Trek Beyond

Warning: the following list is more or less bristling with butthurt spoilers about the cinematic spacewreck hilariously known as Star Trek Beyond, so proceed at your own risk.

1) Why didn't the main villain (whose name is simply too stupid and derivative to type) just use his conveniently extended lifespan, extensive technology, and swarm of salvaged alien ships to, you know, to leave the planet?

2) Why was a marooned Starfleet captain blaming Starfleet for not answering a message they obviously never received?

3) Who was the race that originally found the missing piece of the super-weapon, how did they find it, and what were they doing with it before Kirk got it? Since it seems at first to be totally useless, how did they even know it was a weapon?

4) Why did the planet on which Butthurt Supervillain and his pseudo-Jem-Hadar had been marooned have all that deadly technology abandoned on it in the first place?

5) How far did Sulu's husband and daughter travel to meet him at the Yorktown starbase if the Enterprise had already been exploring for three years?

6) Why did Mannis, Butthurt Supervillain's right hand man, show some reluctance to kill Enterprise crew members but seem totally pumped about killing another innocent woman who had been marooned on the planet?

7) Speaking of Jaylah, how did she generate the power to cloak the U.S.S. Franklin for YEARS, right under the nose of a well-armed enemy who also happened to have a boatload of scanning equipment? Is the answer really just that she's awful plucky?

8) And while we're on the subject of scanning equipment, if transmissions can't pass through the nebula, how was Butthurt Supervillain spying on Starfleet? The answer can't be Unnamed Alien Technology, because the original source of his tantrum was the fact that the nebula was preventing him from calling home (presumably, even with all the new tech he'd acquired).

9) I get the red shirt cliche but is the senior bridge crew really so unfazed by the gruesome needless deaths of at least half of their shipmates, easily more than were killed on any previous mission?

10) Scotty says he pulled some strings so Jaylah can enter Starfleet now, if she wants. Never mind the absurdity of not asking her first; is entering Starfleet really as easy as all that? I seem to remember that even supergenius Wesley Crusher had some trouble getting in. (Then again, I guess Kirk didn't.)

11) Regarding Butthurt Supervillain's motivations, even if we accept that he was so stupid that he didn't understand the nature of the nebula he'd just passed through, decided Starfleet had turned its back on him, and plotted revenge... and also conveniently discovered an abandoned fleet of alien ships... why did he sit around doing nothing, decade after decade? If he didn't want to launch his attack until after he'd obtained Unspecified Alien Superweapon, was his plan really to just wait patiently until somebody brought it to him?

12) And is that actually what happened?! I mean, did Kirk really just happen to have the before-mentioned superweapon in a locker, just kinda chillin', after he botched a mission to give it away to a different race that otherwise had no bearing whatsoever on the story?

13) Okay, if Butthurt Supervillain knew said weapon was in a locker on the Enterprise, why didn't he just send someone to steal it?! How did he know Kirk wouldn't leave it behind, or return it to its previous owners, or just toss it out a damn window since it appeared to be useless? Why send an agent to lure in the whole Enterprise and set a complex and costly trap for its arrival, when he could have just told her to pick the lock and take something nobody even cared about?

14) Lastly, whose dumbass idea was it to have the whole cast join in reciting the closing "Space: the Final Frontier" monologue, which sounded like an ultra-cringe-worthy homage to the concluding voiceover in The Breakfast Club?

There are probably even more rants I could rant, but I think that's enough to prove my basic point that this spacefaring version of Fast and Furious has no business existing in a franchise known as much for creativity and philosophical storytelling as for its epic space-battles.

Put another way: Shaka, when the walls fell

Friday, July 22, 2016

Your Daily Reminder That James Patterson is Satan

If you’re a published author, an aspiring author, an avid reader, or just somebody with a brain stem and a working sense of right and wrong, this post is for you. A few hours ago, I received an obvious spam message from a group calling itself America Star Books, offering—for just $22—to bring my work to the attention of James Patterson, that guy who works with a team of “writer-assistants” to release “a new book every two weeks or less.”

For those who don’t already know, here’s how it works: Patterson employs a team of relatively talented but generally witless people who actually write his books, Patterson claims all (or most of) the credit, and the actual writers are paid off in what I imagine are shame-tokens that can only be redeemed for spoiled meat and disease-ridden blankets at Patterson’s general store.
Full message below:
James Patterson is not only the world's best-selling author. He is also the most prolific writer. Together with a team of writer-assistants Patterson releases a new book every two weeks or less.
His work covers various genres, from crime to children's to romance to scifi. His publisher, Hachette, reportedly has a team of 16 employees working for James Patterson and his books alone. He has sold more books than John Grisham, Stephen King, and Dan Brown, combined, 325 million copies.
We're making a presentation of select titles for his team to look at. You never know what doors it may open. Maybe the publisher sees something in your work that others haven't discovered yet. Perhaps your writing style stands out. Last time we checked, James Patterson was using more than 20 other authors to get his books written. Either way:
Today the James Patterson team doesn't know about your book. At least that's something we can change tomorrow.
Go to [AddressDeletedBecauseFuckPatterson] to activate for $22. I will see to it that your book gets submitted to James Patterson's publishing team at Hachette. We'll ask them to consider your work earnestly, and to bring it to the mega-selling author's attention should they feel it is something he needs to see with his own eyes. As we always point out, no success in life is ever guaranteed. But here, for only twenty-two bucks, it seems worth a shot!

Okay, ignoring the fact that serious writers generally labor anywhere from several sleepless months to a whole lifetime to complete a single book, let’s examine the other writers mentioned in this post: John Grisham, Stephen King, and Dan Brown. Regardless of how much you like or dislike the work of these authors, notice anything they have in common? I did: they’re all separate people! We’ve all heard of ghost-writers, aka the people who actually write those celebrities’ and politicians’ autobiographies. What Patterson does is similar, sure, but only if “similar” means roughly the same as “fifty thousand times worse.”

Let’s get back to the agency that actually sent the message. To be fair, said message adds a disclaimer indicating that America Star Books is in no way affiliated with James Patterson. However, that doesn’t change the fact that Patterson is to literature what Donald Trump is to universities. So I’m honestly trying to decide which is worse: James Patterson, a guy who knowingly and actively exploits other people’s creative dreams to an extent that is just barely legal; or the soulless brain-dead leeches over at America Star Books who actually think they’re going to make money off the drippings.

Then again, the worst thing is that their little scam might actually work.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

On Death Threats as a Tool for Proving One's Civility

I just wanted take a moment to tip my hat (well, more like my graying widow's peak) to my good buddy, Jared Yates Sexton. For those who don't already know, Jared wrote about some of the ugliness at a Trump rally he'd attended. When it went viral, some Trump supporters decided that the best way to counter his claims and improve their self-image was... you guessed it... to troll him and issue death threats. 
For the record, like Jared, I don't think that all Trump supporters are bigots and cowards. In fact, what especially impressed me was how Jared treated his critics with respect and tried to reason with them like mature adults (including the raging anti-Semite who said he should be shoved into an oven). As Jared points out in this follow-up article, that approach (which I'd say is a total 180 from what Trump himself embodies) actually allowed him to reach a middle ground with some Trump supporters, to engage in something resembling civil discourse... and civil discourse is exactly what we need (deserve?) but so rarely get in this era of soundbites and e-warriors who think freedom and manliness are four-letter words.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Jeannine Hall Gailey Poetry Feature (Atticus Review)

I know we all have things to do, what with the inevitable Zombie and/or Trump Apocalypse edging closer each day, but if you have any interest in writing that can be properly described as great, hilarious, and wildly imaginative, you need to check out these poems by Jeannine Hall Gailey.That is all.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Enduring Awesomeness that is TNG



I was just thinking about an episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation (“The Outcast”) that included a gender-neutral species—the J’naii—known for actively discriminating against and biochemically “reconditioning” any member of their species who identified as male or female. This was a deeply unsettling episode for me as a kid because it dealt with issues I’d never considered, and it was also unabashedly philosophical/moral in nature, with virtually no explosions or phaser battles to distract the senses. However, that turned out to be a good thing because the episode got under my skin and it got me thinking about something that most other television shows didn’t even bother to address.


During one pivotal scene toward the end of the episode (meaning you should stop reading now if you want to avoid spoilers), a J’naii named Soren—who identifies as female and enters into a relationship with Commander Riker (because of course)—gives an impassioned If-you-prick-us-do-we-not-bleed type speech. Throughout the whole episode, Soren has been fairly restrained in her physical mannerisms, which some critics mistook for wooden acting but which I actually think was done to set up a contrast to her speech (“What makes you think you can dictate how people love each other?”). Given the fact that we're talking about the final few minutes of a serial sci-fi show, you might expect a fairly easy resolution, but Soren's speech falls on deaf ears and Soren is essentially led off to the gallows.

Predictably, the moral clusterfuck that is the Prime Directive gets brought up in this episode, though Picard’s attitude seems to be that he’s willing to turn a blind eye should Riker decide to intervene on Soren’s behalf. As for Worf (the ship’s fairly conservative traditional male warrior), he goes from being decidedly put off by the J’naii to risking his life in an attempt to save Soren from reconditioning. However, that seems to be done more out of loyalty and friendship to Riker; Worf doesn’t actually witness Soren’s courageous speech, though I wish he had because he, at least, might have recognized her courage for what it was--and not how Soren's judge sees it, which is simply as the sad ramblings of a pitiful deviant.

There’s also an important point buried in the episode: as an allegory for LGBTQ rights, it’s stating that of course it’s genetic, not a choice. After all, if it were just a choice, why would the J’naii even need whatever inquisitor-like machine of doom they keep waiting in the next room? That brings us to the episode’s gut-wrenching conclusion, wherein the writers make a bold and unexpected decision: Riker and Worf arrive too late; Soren has already been reconditioned to the point where her old identity has been completely [brain]washed away.

The backlash from bigots comes as no surprise, but what did surprise me when I researched this episode was a mention in a couple forums and on Wikipedia that it apparently also got some criticism from the LGBTQ community. As the story goes, some took Soren’s fate as actually advocating such reconditioning (or at least implying that gender identity is so superficial that it can be effortlessly wiped away). When I heard that accusation, I got all geared up to leap to the episode’s defense, and maybe even toss in a clever line about how its critics must also think that Blade Runner is secretly in favor of the enslavement and murder of synthetic humans. However, I looked around and… well, the only criticism I could actually find came from Star Trek fans who thought the episode was preachy and boring.

That struck me as odd, though, because the scenes that receive the most criticism—Soren’s speech, for instance—are incredibly emotional. That brings me to my next point: I wonder how many of the people criticizing the episode as “boring” actually feel that way (which is perfectly fine), and how many are just doing what far-right talking heads do when they pooh-pooh Jon Stewart’s scathing and hyper-articulate political diatribes by saying they’re “not funny.”

Also, the episode wisely shows Soren’s judge as misguided but seemingly earnest and sincere in her concern… just as, on some twisted level, those trying to “cure” away the gay probably actually think they’re doing the right thing. And in contrast to the accusation that the episode is ham fisted, one important scene shows Riker and Soren trying to save a couple other J’naii from dying in space. Needless to say, they activate the transporter without stopping to ask what the dying J’naii think about the same reconditioning process that has Soren living in constant terror. Nor does Riker or anyone else approach them later and ask how it feels to have their lives saved by a “deviant.” So in my loudmouth estimation, what seems at first like a passing and fairly meaningless action sequence could actually be taken as the whole point of the episode.

Indeed, this episode as a whole can even be seen as embodying the very ideas of the whole Star Trek franchise, which were always less about warp-chases and rogue nanites than the kind of moral quandaries that come about when a species wields near god-like technology but still can’t shake off the age-old problems of ignorance and moral ambiguity.