Category: media stuff

Arrival – Part One

Arrival is one of those strange movies that you hear a lot about despite that fact that no one really talks about the movie itself. Now that I’ve seen it, I understand why. On the one hand, any discussion of the film’s critical plot points necessitates spoilers. On the other hand, any discussion of the underlying ideas beyond, “OMG, so smart”, would betray the fundamental stupidity of this movie.

I’m going to dissent from the closed mouth analysis of this movie and ruin both the plot and the precepts that underlie this movie. That can’t be done without copious spoilers, which I’m laying out on the table in the supreme hopes that I can dissuade you, dear reader, from wasting your time on this dullard in philosopher’s clothing. The hard part is not talking about the elephant in the room, it’s picking which of the three elephants to start with.

(And I’m not even including the elephant of Forest Whitaker’s presence making the film actively worse. The man is a charisma black hole, and how he continues to appear in big budget films is a mystery for the ages.)

First, the basic plot rundown. Aliens come to earth and hang out until Amy Adams deciphers their written language which grants her the ability to see through time. She uses that ability to stop the Russians, Chinese, and Pakistani’s from attacking the clearly superior tech of the aliens, who are called Heptopods because they have seven hand/feet/mouth/tentacle appendages. The gift of the magic aliens carries with it a curse, as it shows Amy that her marriage to Hawkeye will end in divorce and that their daughter will die of cancer, a fate she accepts because ‘tis better to have lived and lost etc.. Brilliant visuals combine with long, lingering wide shots and intensely personal close-ups of actors emoting so hard they almost break the camera to produce a film that allows the audience plenty of time to:

  1. consider the deep and multi-layered meaning of the ideas presented in Arrival,
  2. to huff their own farts and feel smug about how much better they are, as people, than the dullards in the next theater enjoying giant robots punching themselves amid an unfollowable storm of motion and noise.
  3. both of the above.

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Jaded Consumption And Secret Fandom

Photographic proof of the dealer’s room.

Inspired partially by a binge listen to Diversity and Comics and partially by several young daughters who enjoy finding ways to fly their own nerd-flags, I found myself at a small local comic and toy expo this past weekend.  After milling about and finding a few things for the girls, I left empty handed.  A shame, really, but the old IP just doesn’t sing to me the way it used to.  All the star wars and Marvel paraphernalia that once would have intrigued me just looked stale and lifeless.  What’s the point of finding a Captain America shirt at a show like this when you can’t turn around inside a Wal-Mart without finding one staring back at you from the shelves?

A part of me also found it harder than ever to part with my hard earned cash for a banner to nerd culture that would make me feel needlessly conspicuous were I to hang it someplace where others could see it.  Sure, it would spark a few conversations, but as a guy with serious reservations about all of the recognizable IP out and about these days, those would be awkward conversations.  It would present me with the choice of talking like a hipster who “liked it before it went Disney” or trying to explain the Pulp Revolution in a light, water cooler conversation.

And let’s face it, the vital role the PulpRev is playing in the gathering cultural storm isn’t exactly the kind of fluff that flies around the modern day water cooler.

Instead, I found myself walking down memory lane with no real desire to buy a house there.  All I wanted was my Alt*Hero shirt…

Which leads to an interesting observation about how Alt*Hero offers not just a return to the glory days of comics, when the story and the action and the adventure all came before the politics and the messaging.  It also offers a chance to recapture that sense of being in on an open secret.  Thirty years ago, it took a sort of bravery to wear an shirt with a d20 on it in public – it marked you as somebody who enjoyed things that polite society took a dim view of, but which you recognized had a meaning and value they just couldn’t grasp.  It was, in some sense, a thumb in the eye of the accepted social norms. An admission that you didn’t care what others thought, you were going to let your nerd flag fly.

Eventually, the nerd flag became cool.  Largely because of the brave souls who stopped caring what others thought.  The indifference to the opinions of others that nerds developed put them in good stead for events like GamerGate and the Hugo Puppy Fun, and eventually earned nerds the respect of the general public.  (Well, the indifference and the lucrative careers and effective use of the IP by the marketing departments at Marvel and Lucasfilm, but I digress.)

Backing Alt*Hero feels exactly the same.  It feels like you are in on something great, something that the vast masses have missed out on, and which they might never understand, but which you recognize instinctively.  This time around, with experience on our side, we intellectual and political rebels have more hope that the masses will circle around, but just as before, we sleep easy in our apathy toward their opinions.  It would be nice, but if they always reject the Alt*Hero brand…it’s not skin off my nose – I’ve still got the books to enjoy.

Needs More Bender

“None of this makes any sense,” says the latest bargain bin Ripley in this year’s Alien: Covenant. Truer words were never spoken.

What is it about the Alien franchise that makes it so susceptible to climbing up its own butt? The last several movies have tried to be both exciting, suspenseful thrillers and deep, thoughtful commentaries on mankind’s place in the universe. In each case the film-makers wind up with a movie that is neither fish nor fowl and suffers greatly for the lack of clear vision.

To save time, let’s just run down the usual obvious blunders:

  • No clear rules for the aliens. Sometimes they are bulletproof, and sometimes not.
  • No clear rules for the aliens. Groups can be chased away with a little light flare, but a single one is willing to attack a ship alone in broad daylight.
  • No clear rules for the aliens. They can reproduce in new, magical ways that defy sense.  In the space of 20 minutes, alien spores consume and transform 30% of a grown man’s mass.
  • Yes, I said that one three times.  You can’t have suspense if the rules of the game are not clear.  Telling the audience that the aliens change in unpredictable ways tells the audience not to anticipate what comes next.  Anticipation is the whole point of suspense.
  • The people tasked with protecting 2000 colonists and 1400 test tube babies are clearly not the best and brightest. They make the usual stupid mistakes, running headlong into danger for no clear purpose.
  • The cast is shown to be stupid and incompetent and unlikable. From the very beginning. The audience is expected to like them because…well, here they are, what else are you going to do?
  • The second in command, forced into the captain’s chair early in the film, doesn’t have the leadership fit to lead the local McDonald’s franchise, let alone a ship carrying 3400 colonists halfway across creation.
  • The film lacks all romance, despite the frequent first act references to, “muh wife,” and “muh husband”. The closest thing shown is a sudden late-game shower sex scene between two characters who we’ve been given no reason to expect are an item. This literally feels like a case of, “Well, we need a sex scene, and you two are the only ones left alive to serve as monster chow. Get naked and vulnerable, the plot needs you!”
  • Hiding the ‘sudden reveal’ of which robo-twin survived the fight with all the subtlety of a knife to the eye.

These glaring missteps are first order mistakes. Digging deeper, one finds a more structural flaw. Even if one fixed the above items – made the aliens more consistent and the cast more likeable and smarter – the huge disconnect between the film’s desire for cheap thrills delivered in the middle of a cerebral commentary on what it means to be human cannot be resolved.

It can be done. Nolan has some success splitting that baby. The Joker uses the Prisoner’s Dilemma to deliver heart wrenching suspense. Interstellar plays with the effects of time-dilation on relationships while bringing some gut wrenching actions. Heck, the original Total Recall gives viewers a stupid action film set on a Mars where people aren’t smart enough to plant a few trees in their habs while simultaneously asking profound questions about how large a role our memories play in making us who we are.

Alien: Covenant wants to ask those high-minded questions. It sets them up in the initial scene between a deranged genius billionaire and his genocidal Pinocchio creation. The Fassbender twins have repeated conversations about creativity versus duty, (nevermind that those two things are hardly mutually exclusive,) that go nowhere and serve no purpose. Then the movie throws its hands up and gives us a couple of fun action sequences, the latter of which is completely negated by the underlying questions about why the clearly evil robot is helping the last two survivors kill the xenomorph – questions that the film never answers.

The biggest disappointment of all though? If you’re going to have a robot that wants to kill all humans, you should really just cast Bender and have done with it. David lacks Bender’s charm, charisma, and shiny metal ass, three things that all would vastly improved this terrible film.

Dragon Awards – The Allied Vote

It’s award time for fans of fantasy and science fiction, and that can mean only one thing – DragonCon ballots are up and ready for completion.  The red fiery trophy is the new hotness that all the cool kids want to win, and my on-line social circle has a heavy presence on the ballot.  Fortunately, Kai Wai Cheah already put together a handy primer and list of this year’s best of the best, so I don’t have to. Go read his blog post for a complete breakdown.

Best Science Fiction Novel: The Secret Kings by Brian Niemeier
Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal): A Sea of Skulls by Vox Day
Best Young Adult / Middle Grade Novel: Swan Knight’s Son by John C Wright
Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel: Rescue Run by Jon Del Arroz
Best Alternate History Novel: No Gods, Only Daimons by Kai Wai Cheah
Best Apocalyptic Novel: Codename: Unsub by Declan Finn and Allan Yoskowitz
Best Horror Novel: Live and Let Bite by Declan Finn

Unexpected Classical Music

Lately I’ve been enjoying a lot of saxophone quartet music while writing.  Saxophone quartets are grossly underrated.  String quartets get the headlines because in the small parlors of the 1700s, the lightweight and soft tones didn’t blast the audience seated just a few feet away, but I’m partial to the sound of the woodwind, myself – and not just because I came of age listening to the sax-heavy soundtracks of the 1980s.  There’s something clean and pure in this particular woodwind that lends itself to a quartet.  The natural blend of the different sizes of a saxophone, and the natural volume you get from them makes these perfect instruments for listening to on the streets and in the concert hall. 

But that’s not what this post is about today.  Today’s post is about the classic modern masterpiece that is the theme from “Super Mario Brothers”.  Check this out:

Four movements.  Three styles.  Peppy, breezy, maniacal interlude, menacing, then back to the original theme with a huge flourish at the end.  That’s a real crowd pleaser.

Speaking of which, have you ever been to a concert where the performer broke into this song?  It’s electric.  Those first few bars are not just recognizable, they are beloved.  Everybody knows them.  Everybody loves them.  The intro of this song makes the crowd sit up, laugh, and pay attention.  They make people of all ages smile, and it’s a safe bet they will continue to do so for the next 200 years.

More Concrete Writing Advice

Today’s writing advice comes from the department of “you should have learned this in high school, but didn’t.” Jesse Abraham Lucas isn’t just the advice giving sort.  Instead of opining that somebody should start a website for the #PulpRev, he went out and did it.

The final form of this new site will take isn’t clear to me yet, but he has my support.  And with a kickoff post like Prose That Flows, you can bet it’s going to be something special:

Tell me which sentence scans faster:

I ducked into the alleyway, squeezed off a few shots, and vaulted over a fence.

I ducked into the alleyway and, squeezing off a few shots, vaulted over a fence.

The first sentence is the correct answer.

Find out why the first sentence is the correct answer here.

We writers aren’t one trick ponies.  We are readers first, drawn to write by a love of the language and a love of storytelling.  While that gives us a breadth and depth of experience with the written word, many of us wind up ‘writing by ear’ in the same way that a guitarist might not be able to read music but can still play a jamming solo.

The problem here is that reading and writing really are two different skills.  The former is passive and the latter is active.  If you really want to become good at the latter, you have to spend time thinking about how you do what you do.  Advice like Jesse brings helps make us all much more contentious and deliberate with our words and, in this case more importantly, our punctuation.

Here Jesse demonstrates not just a fluency with words, but a gift for explaining how to use them.  The former can make for a decent writer, but the latter makes for a great writer and editor.  And those are two skillsets that combine to elevate decent writing to a new level.

Appendix N: The Generation Gaps

The recent series of posts over at Vox Popoli relating to the sins of the Baby Boomers and GenXers set my mind wandering down strange paths.

That the true giants Burroughs, Howard, Moore, and E.E. Doc Smith were forgotten and the fraudulent three – pervy Heinlein, snowjob Asimov, and pedo Clarke – elevated by the Baby Boomers for political reasons is beyond doubt.  Anyone looking at the field of science-fiction with an impartial eye cannot deny the influence enjoyed by the former to this day, nor can they deny the steady downward trend in science-fiction’s inspirational qualities or creative vision that was concurrent with the rise of the false trinity  (I won’t dignify that slight by capitalizing the words.)

There may be more to the situation, however.  The Baby Boomers are notorious for believing that the world began with their generation.  We see this in their writing on film, art, politics, and literature.  Everything is viewed through a lens of “what did they ever do for me“, and they gleefully ignore the culture that allowed them to live out their sheltered lives relatively free from the frothing cycles of history and economics that have always plagued mankind.

“Don’t trust anyone over thirty,” was the catch-phrase that highlighted their ignorance of the past, and so pervasive was that attitude that it only makes sense it would infect the field of science-fiction.  If Dad liked to read Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard then that old stuff just had to be substandard compared to the new hotness of edgy writers like Damon Knight and Harlan Ellison.  You know they are cool because they are total dicks, man.

They rejected the things their fathers honored like selflessness, romance, virtue, and…well, honor itself.  And you can’t read Burroughs or Howard without being infected by those ideas, so in order to preserve their carefully manufactured worldview that put them at the center of everything good and right and just, they had to treat the hard working and creative men and women who built the world of science fiction just as they had memory holed everything about the Silent Generation that wasn’t focused exclusively on how great the Baby Boomers are.

It might not be quite as great a sin as squandering the financial wealth accumulated by the west over hundreds of years, but squandering the cultural wealth of Burroughs and Howard certainly serves as just one example of how they left the world a worse place than the one they inherited.

On a surface level, there is a certain irony in me – a GenXer myself – repeating the cycle and rejecting the actions of the generation before me.  But where the Boomers rejected everything that came before and assumed that they could create a better world from whole cloth in a generation, we GenXers are looking back beyond those poor misguided fools to the generations that came before them to see if we might heal the world they poisoned in order to leave a better world for our children than they left for us.

We don’t reject the wisdom of our predecessors, we just reject the foolishness of our immediate forebears.  And it’s this focus on the lost wisdom that will allow us to reject their false promises and build a better world.

And that includes a better science fiction culture.

Salon Admits Jeffro Was Right

Jeffro’s detractors have called him a crackpot conspiracy theorist for daring to point out the concerted effort by major publishing houses filthy with secular midwits and tedious intersectionalists to commandeer the ship of science-fiction and steer it away from the open waters of action, adventure and heroism and onto the deadly rocks of collectivist thought.  They don’t want to see that attempts to weaponize science-fiction is straight up non-fiction and so have ignored all of his cogent observations and connections.

Well, Slate (ramping up for the Hugo Awards – these stories always hit the press in greater numbers in June in order to help establish street cred for their garbage reporting on the Hugos) let the cat out of the bag.  I’m not linking to that fake news site, but here’s my proof:

A few choice quotes:

If you’re surprised to hear that that science fiction might actually have a meaningful real world impact, you haven’t been paying attention. Science fiction and science reality have often found themselves in a feedback loop.

Okay, that’s not exactly news.  We all know this to be true.  The article takes a turn for the sinister when it reports on an organization seeking ways to bridge the gap between dreaming of SJW futures and implementing them:

The newly announced Science Fiction Advisory Council, composed of a stellar selection of 64 bestselling sci-fi writers and visionary filmmakers, has tasked itself with imagining realistic, possible, positive futures that we might actually want to live in—and figuring out we can get from here to there.

Does anyone think that this council will be inviting Dragon Award winning author Brian Niemeier or best selling science-fiction (and non-fiction) author Vox Day or even a Nick Cole?  Beuller?  Beuller?  Yeah, didn’t think so.  No room for badthinkers when you’ve got towering luminaries like Cory Doctorow, Charlie Stross, checkbox hire Malindo Lo, and colossal douche Neil Gaiman.  Although, you have to give ’em credit for including a few tokens like Niven and Mike Resnick.

This is a council interested in directing the future along paths that are pre-approved by the Narrativists and they cannot welcome guys with clear vision and deep understanding of how humans actually operate rather than how they might operate if only they would surrender control over their lives to the SFAC.  So you won’t see even moderate voices like Larry Correia, John C. Wright, Brad Torgerson, or Sarah Hoyt win that Golden Ticket.

Bear in mind that this council goes well beyond previous instances of science-fiction writers – actually engineers who write science-fiction – advising the US military on potential new technologies.  The SFAC lists numerous roadmaps designed to steer the future along a “preferred future state” including “Planet & Environment; Energy & Resources; Shelter & Infrastructure; Health & Wellbeing; Civil Society; Learning & Human Potential; and Space & New Frontiers” (emphasis mine).

Anyone want to bet that the civil society they envision will include criminal sentencing for rodeo clowns who wear the wrong mask, but plenty of room for staged political assassinations (when the assassins’ target is on the wrong side of the political divide?   Anyone want to bet that a big part of the roadmap for civil society will be finding way to reduce or eliminate the influence of Christianity, free speech, or the preservation of European culture?

 With a council like they have assembled, that’s a sucker’s bet.

But take heart.  Their roadmaps will be clumsy, ineffectual things.  They will be predicated on the same false notions of humanity possessed by most of the members of the council.  As their view of humanity is so fanciful, their roadmap will be a rainbow bridge built on dreams and wishes and just as effective at carrying vehicle traffic.  This is largely a collection of authors whose works do not resonate with readers, whose works have driven mainstream readers away from books, and whose only recourse is the ever popular appeal to amenable authority.  Their roadmaps will all be less about maps and more about traffic laws and ensuring that they control the highway patrol to force humanity to drive the direction they want, regardless of what the people want and regardless of what will be healthy for humanity.

Unfortunately, although their plans are guaranteed to fail, there’s no telling how much damage they might do to civilization in the meantime.  So do your part to help stave off their inevitable dystopian futures – don’t read anything written after 1940, and if you must, don’t read anything published east of the Hudson River.

Hey, here’s something that meets the latter criteria
and it’s a heck of a lot of fun, to boot!

They Know

Politics is downstream from culture.
One of the reasons that the publishers in New York are doing everything they can to isolate independent writers and publishers like Castalia House is that they know it plays a vital role in establishing what kind of future we will have.  We represent a threat not just to their pocketbooks, but a threat to their goal to completely secularize all life in America.  Science-fiction grounded in a Christian worldview – even if it isn’t explicit in the way of C. S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy – serves as a counter to their efforts, and as one grounded in truth and beauty it represents a far more appealing vision of the future than anything the secular nihilists living in NYC can possibly offer.

In the run up to this year’s Hugo Awards, the mainstream media is once again turning its attention to pushing back against rebellious newcomers like yours truly by fluffing up the credentials of the intersectionalists, secularists, and just plain Marxists.  NPR’s Big Picture ran a typical overview piece that mistakenly reports science fiction’s birth in the 1950s and repeats the lie of the false Trinity of the pervert Heinlein, the hack Asimov, and the pedophile Clarke.  No mention of Edgar Rice Burroughs or E.E. Doc Smith – at least in the first 30 minutes of the show.  I grew bored hearing the usual lies and distortion repeated and as such could not stomach the rest.

I did hear them mention and thereby tacitly endorse authors like boring Kim Stanley Robinson, a Marxist who wields global warming as a political club, and Margaret Atwood, author of the latest rage amongst the “haven’t read a book since Harry Potter” crowd.  Her mediocre and contradictory book, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is an explicitly feminist tale based in profoundly stupid understandings of how people work, but which has nevertheless proven to be a popular means of fearmongering by the elites.
Brace yourself for a wave of this sort of typical midwit writing by Fake Science Fiction fans writing stories about fake science fiction.  For far greater insights into the state of science-fiction today, watch the following video.  The narrator is talking about Marvel comic books, but his insights are accurate across all media.  He might as well be talking about the Hugo Awards.

If you can’t stomach fake science fiction, why not give the real thing a shot.  I’ve got a post-apocalyptic tale featuring real people, real adventure, and real science fiction:

Dangerous Gamers – The Book

From day one The Frisky Pagan has been a reliable source of passionate, well considered, and funny commentary over at the Puppy of the Month Book Club.  Lately, his production has fallen off a bit (he’s not alone in that), and now we finally get a chance to see why: Dangerous Gamers

You already know who these commentators are, and you have seen their works everywhere. They thrive in the worlds of on-line journalism, blogging, news aggregators, click-bait journalism, and social media. Their ranks have swollen, and they have problematized everything under the sun. And without more worlds to conquer, they have set their eyes on entertainment and video games.

If you are a regular at The Puppy of the Month, you know that Frisky has the writing chops to do a topic like this justice.  In its first day of publication it hit #16 in “Media Studies” and #27 in “Video Games”, beating out some pretty impressive titles.  Be a sport and help him crack the top ten in both categories, would ya?