A Very Meta New Year

This is not a daily blog.  Your time is valuable, and I’ll not waste it by filling up empty posts with pointless material.

Posts arrive when something you might find interesting crosses my path or my synapses.  Generally, I try to post a few times per week, but as my secondary writing project – books and paid work come first – I dip out on a regular basis.

For the most part you’ll continue to see breezy analysis of pop storytelling – usually long after the new car smell has left the property – with a smattering of cultural analysis.  The heavy lifting and study is better left to minds more dedicated to deep dives than my own 1,000-foot view which attempts to synthesize such deep thoughts into something a little more actionable for you, dear reader.

Also, Happy New Year.  This is how my area celebrated – by thumbing our collective noses at the safety Karens and scaredy cat schoolmarms.

I am praying that you have an amazing 2020 filled with laughter, song, dance, and victory.

And thanks for sticking around.  It’s been fun, and will continue to be throughout the decade.

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Stopped Clocks and the Midlist Midwit Diaspora

When they are right, they are right.

Before we get to the meat of this post, let’s take a moment to recall the first rule:

A quick search for “Scalzi whatever hiatus” takes six seconds and reveals five of the first six hits betray the lie of “nonstop”.

But whatever.  That’s cheap shottery, and we’re here to give credit where credit is due.  This is great advice, and the trend toward tweet threads has been a disappointing one.  I like the twit machine as much as the next guy, but it’s not a place for serious thinkers.

Beard oil salesman notwithstanding.

I’m actually curious about the sudden shift.  For years thee Wendigs and Scalzis of the internet have been enamored of the leftwing control over the big social media spaces.  The rallying cry of “make your own space” has echoed from the right since at least the 2016 election. They know something is up, and they know their current favored son status is at risk, so they are once again following the smarter and faster thinking dissidents.  You can expect them to leap in front of this parade with claims of starting the retreat soon enough.  That’s easy enough to see.  What’s harder is figuring out WHY they are shifting their strategy to follow that of we independent hordes.

What sea change are we looking at that would cause these guys to abandon their love for digital spaces run by amenable authorities?

Is it guys like Nick Fuentes dancing through the raindrops and laughing at the left’s inability to play their own game?

Is it the impending wave of Chinese competitors who care nothing for silencing crimethinkers, a likely bolthole for political dissidents from woke culture, entering US internet space?

Or does it have more to do with a barrage of lawsuits raining down on social media giants that threaten the SJW hegemony?

We’re talking about guys who are very online and very dialed into the culture of the SJWs.  They have contacts and ‘ins’ and rumor-mills at their disposal that we plucky underdogs do not.  So their change in attitude from as recently as a few months ago means something big is in the wind.

My guess is that all midlist writers are about to get the axe from DinoPub.  We’re going to see a flood of names with moderate sized followings enter the independent space and plant their flags.  They finally have no choice but to admit that their unstable orbit is pushing them toward the publishing event horizon that guys like Brian Neiemier have been pointing to for years now.  If I’m right, we’ll have a grand time watching them twist to spin their ejection from the Eloi down to the level of us Morlocks as an upgrade – particularly after years of sneering at us.

Stay nimble, gang.  The year 2020 is going to be a lot of fun for we mammalian successors to the DinoPub propaganda machines.

[Eidt to add:

It’s the BernieBros. Backchannel discussions have pointed out to me that the Bernie supporters know that they backed the wrong candidate. As in 2016, Sanders will not be christened the candidate by the Democrat Party’s deep state powerbrokers. The cancel culture warriors aren’t sufficiently in the loop to know which candidate’s parade they should join right now. That puts them in a difficult bind. They could simply wait to learn the name of the right candidate with the rest of us, but that would entail doing something that the virtual signalers are constitutionally incapable of doing: shutting their mouths for a brief spell. That puts them in a tight spot. The year 2020 puts them looking at the sharp side of a two-sided bladed that they have been wielding for years now.

Fortunately, the Secret Kings have an easy way out. Do what the Dissident Right has been doing for years. Rebuild their own platforms, take credit for the move in that direction, and claim that being hoisted on their own petards is a sign they are doing something right. It’ll be interesting to see how they spin things to convince themselves that the Trust and Safety Councils at all of the major social media outfits have suddenly become infested with Nazis within the space of a few weeks. Who knows, they may suddenly remember that Big Corporations don’t actually make decisions with the interests of the hoi polloi in mind at all.]

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Making Meme Magic Real

My twit feed automagically deletes posts after a month or so.  That means a lot of my best meme work vanishes out into the cloud beyond my reach.  Here’s a year end post for archiving the stuff I can’t be bothered to sort and save to a hard drive.  Here’s a quick rundown of 2019’s most savable content.

It’s short because I started late.  Next year we’ll try to do it bigger and better.

Drive safe tonight, watch out for the other guy, and have a great 2020, everyone!

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Lost In Space, Part the First

At first glance, the premise of Space Family Robinson seems like an easy premise for a long running TV show. You’ve got a core ensemble cast wandering the wild frontier looking for a way home. Throw in a cocky young pilot, a cowardly and selfish professorial type, and a dumb as a box of servos robot for a heavy, and you’ve got everything you need to generate countless hours of action, drama, and suspense.

Unless you are Netflix.

And then you look at the wide-ranging scope of exploration, discovery, adventure, and think, “That stuff will serve as an excellent backdrop for what really matters – interpersonal rivalries, politics, and bickering between and among every member of the cast.”

It’s worth noting that after consuming the full initial run of Lost in Space on syndicated reruns in my youth, I’ve only since watched one or two episodes plus the ill-fated late 90’s reboot film. In my memory, this was a show about a loving family recreating the courageous pioneer journey to California while saddled with the liability of a cowardly and irascible uncle. The threats, aside from Dr. Smith’s natural inclination toward self-preservation, were largely external and presented enough problems for the crew of the Jupiter Two that the writers didn’t have to devote large chunks of time to the marital problems of the Robinsons. I could be wrong – nostalgia is a hell of a drug – but that’s how I remember things going down. The Jupiter Two would struggle to land on a planet, the crew would struggle with a new alien world and its threats while effecting repairs, and the process repeated with new planets and new threats.

Netflix’s Lost In Space chooses to focus on the relationships. And that downward and inward-looking view of the premise results in a show much like any other. The Robinson’s could be living in surburbia for two-thirds of any given episode. Their personal problems are tedious and stale and worldly. They are done reasonably well, but they run at odds to the fundamental premise of the show. They are Greeks hiding inside the wooden horse of a grand sci-fi adventure.

The grand sci-fi adventure, the afterthought shoe-horned into… Lost in Space… on the other hand, is very well done.

Through the first half of Season One (my current status) we get a few glimpses of an Earth slowly falling apart. We are teased with the threat of a meteor strike. Half-face respirators are nonchalantly worn while out and about during casual shopping trips. References are made to lethal home defense measures implemented, you know, before.
We get glimpses of a massive colony ship attacked by aliens… maybe. It all happens too fast and with too little shown to form any solid conclusions. Which makes the introduction of the menacing alien robot and his ex machina solutions to many problems feel as threatening as it is reassuring. The mystery of what happened to the Resolute and what role the alien robot played in its falling into a wormhole and thus half-way across the universe exerts a powerful pull on this viewer.

We get an alien world filled with near-earth biomes and the concomitant near-earth threats. We get badly damaged spacecraft and runabout vehicles that have limitations, and we get the star of the show, Don West. One of the bright spots in the cast, he’s the one character that signed up for an adventure that doesn’t spend all of his time complaining about having to go on an adventure. He is fun and excited and interested in what’s going on around him in a way that nobody else really is. Not only that, but with his observation that, “Everybody thinks [Space California] represents a fresh start without all the troubles of the old world. But everybody just drags all their old problems right along with them.”
He might as well be speaking directly to the writers of the show.

Which brings us to the elephant in the room. That one aspect of modern media that has to be vivisected after viewing any Hollywood production.

Identity politics.

Hoo boy is this tedious.

Let’s start with the standard issue badass black chick. This time around it’s lovely and vivacious Judy, the eldest Robinson daughter, who gets swapped out for an adopted eldest sister who excels at everything she ever does. An athlete without the build for it, and a doctor at the age of 17, she is indomitable and unstoppable. Until the writers subvert your expectations – in a good way – by having her make a huge blunder early on and confront her own mortality thanks to her misplaced confidence in her own abilities. Woah, wait, what? Hollywood actually shows the standard issue badass black chick screw up, suffer an internal crisis of confidence, and show an ounce of weakness?

Knock me over with a feather.

They also acknowledge that her excellence bears personal costs, as it opens up space for her younger sister – a ginger who managed to survive Hollywood’s gingercide – to deal with life in her perfect sister’s shadow. Appropriately enough, I can’t recall the younger sister’s name, but she gets credit for being lonely, for wanting to escape the ship and have adventures, and for being a little boy-crazy. She is a teenaged girl who thinks and acts like a teenage girl, and it works within the context of the show. She is fun and feminine and natural and likable. An amazing combination in these days of the late-stage Hollywood empire.

Next we turn to Mama Robinson, the super-smart engineer and military wife who stepped into the leadership role left by her husband’s frequent military tours of duty. Though shown as a stubborn and ruthless wrench-turner, events transpire that force her to confront the reality that without the strength and experience and wisdom of her husband, the family wouldn’t stand a chance. This aspect of her failures as a person is only highlighted when she says stupid things like, “You know I don’t like guns,” to her Marine husband – and here we have to pause for a moment to remind ourselves that she says this on a ship marooned on an alien world filled with alien threats, one of which may have just adopted her son as his personal bodyguarding mission. It’s clear that despite all the dangers she still hasn’t realized that civilization is gone. Her husband, patient and stoic, heroically stands by her side and waits for his super smart wife to realize the obvious. And the last half of that sentence isn’t a dig at the show – that Mama Robinson is clearly more at home with machines than people adds depth to her character.

No spacethots!

This post is already running long. Take that as a solid recommendation for the show. Despite its many flaws, it manages to inadvertently cobble together a kind of throwback show that melds the best of 1960s pioneering TV with the production values and more subtle relationship drama of today. And it does it without smearing too much identity political icing on the adventure show cake.

Next time we’ll look at the men of Jupiter Two, and how Netflix got them right and so very, very wrong.

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The Pinks are Revolting

Brian Neiemeir over at Kairos has been doing the blog-post convo that we’ve seen so little of since the great Twitter migration.  This time around, he’s doing a deeper delve into a tweet-thread done by Ben Kai Wai Cheah:

With all respect to Ben, this explanation puts the cart before the horse. It’s not that men don’t like to read. We know they love to read. Male-targeted fiction dominated pop culture during the reign of the pulps. It took frustrated lit fic authors-turned-editors at NYC houses to suppress men’s adventure fiction and usher in the pink revolt.

As usual, Kairos is a hotbed of stellar commentary and discussion.  My own contribution is worth expanding on a bit.

The dirty little secret here is that women go where the men are. Fempub doesn’t want to admit that they had to seize the reins of The Star War, Marvel Comics, and even D&D… because women gravitated toward those institutions. And not for their intrinsic value, but because that’s where the men were.

We’ve all known those women who use trying to be, “One of the guys,” as a Trojan horse to inject more relationship drama into things – the Devil Mouse is just doing that on a national scale.

We may be living in a golden age of publishing right now – an age when even massive niche cultures like “mens adventure” can find an audience, but that’s only thanks to the data avarice of one man: Jeff Bezos.

That man loves his data far more than he loves anything else, and he has already weathered numerous attacks by the usual crowd of digitized antifa punks.  They know what we’re doing here, and they want us to stop.  They know that masculine fiction that appeals to the masses will outcompete their sick propaganda, and they want it to stop.  Someday, perhaps even Amazon will fall, and then we will have to find another way to circuit around the blockage.

Who knows what that will look like?  It might mean a thousand mom-and-pop shops like that of my own publishers Castalia House and Silver Empire.  It might mean swapping crypto for emailed EPUB files scrubbed of identifying data to avoid the digital firemen.  It might even mean posting stories on chans for nothing but a few scraps of e-celeb.  Hard to say at this point.

Rest assured that your humble host has no intention of slacking off.  This whole enterprise what we rebels against modernity may need to morph and evolve into something unrecognizable, but so long as there remains a single conduit by which I can offer you thrilling tales of heroism, romance, and daring, I’ll be doing my best to keep the adventure flowing.  Stay on your toes, and be ready to adapt with us.  We’re going to win, we just have to be smarter and more flexible than the opposition.

And that won’t be too hard.  They aren’t sending their best.

 

 

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Peace On Earth To Men of Good Will

Here’s hoping your table is stuffed, your tree underflowing, and your family as loving and supportive as my own.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

Spoiler alert:  This story has a happy ending.  The good guys win.  The bad guys lose.  And though the road be long and hard, the battle has already been fought and won.  All you have to do is reach out and accept the prize that awaits you at the finish line.

God bless you all.

 

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6 Underground

Michael Bay still has it.

I’m just not sure what ‘it’ is.

Somebody finally gave Bay a lot of money and said, “you know what, screw it, just go crazy with this,” and go crazy he did.  It’s only on Netflix, and maybe they paid for this film – I can’t be bothered to look it up – but either way it feels like a blockbuster that just didn’t quite gel enough for Hollywood to dare a hundred million dollar ad campaign to prop up, so they cut their losses by sellling it cheap to Netflix.

His latest directorial effort, 6 Undergound, features a ragtag bunch of mercenaries who drop out of their lives, ghost away, to make the world a better place through nation building.

Turgistan has a dictator problem, and Ryan Reynolds figures that a non-CIA backed coup to replace the dictator with his democracy loving brother…hoo boy…is the way to go.  So he pulls together a discount A-Team to murder the Turgistan’s top four generals, seize Turgistan’s public television station, and capture the tyrant to inspire a color revolution that will…you know… lead to a lot less hospital bombings and chemical gas attacks.

Because that’s how these things work.

Eh.  As concepts for a mercenary team making a difference in the world goes, you could do worse.

If you’ve seen a Michael Bay movie, you know what to expect.  Plastic looking people, over the top stunts, frenetic action that never stops, weird jokes crammed into inappropriate moments, ‘splosions, lens flare, and camera work that looks like it was done by palsied trapeze artists.  It also has a lot of non-linear jump cuts with flashbacks inside flashbacks inside flashbacks, some of which work better to explain a character’s backstory than all the expositional dialog in the world.  Bay does has a knack for paying off his setups and setting up his payoffs, even if he does telegraph things for those watching from the IQ cheap-seats.  Give him credit, a lot of bigger-budget films lack that attention to story structure these days, and he does tend to turn a blind eye to most of the usual woke tropes that pollute films these days.

On the one hand, this isn’t a good movie.  On the other hand, it’s nice to see that there are still people out there trying to make this kind of movie.  The cast is drawn with the same bold strokes that Bay uses for everything, and the result is a mythic kind of tale that feels more like a cape-film than a caper film.  There’s something refreshing about a film that unapologetically paints western efforts to make the world a better place as genuine.  There’s something refreshing about a film that acknowledges that sometimes a few loose cannons can do a lot more good that any of the bureaucratic behemoths we call modern governments.  And there’s something refreshing about an ensemble cast filled with people who like each other – even if they drive each other crazy from time to time.

Apologies if this review reads like it is all over the place.  It probably is, but given the material at hand…it’s appropriate.

 

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The Witcher Has Issues

I know who this is. I’ve made my choice and stand by it.

First things first – I’ve never played a Witcher game, so I’m coming into Netflix’s Witcher series cold.

Second things second – already cancelled my subscription over their recently announced “tee-hee, blasphemy” show, and now I’m just burning through the last few things that look remotely interesting before my clock runs out.

With all that out of the way, The Witcher starts off with a great demon battle teasers that it can’t deliver on.  To get the compliments out of the way first – Henry Cavill does yeoman’s work with the material he’s given, but he can only do so much – he isn’t superman, after all.   The sets are solid for the budget they have to work with.  Although the scale of the B-plot is grander than the producers have the budget to show, they do good work with what they have.  The evil army swarms and a city burns, and it is easy to overlook where the production values fall short.

On the other hand, this show is clearly not for me.

It is for cool wine aunts to cuddle up with their fluffy dog and enough booze to help them forget their loneliness for one more night.  We meet lots of strong and powerful Karen’s – queens and witches who look like the snotty librarians that you avoid when you run down to the local library.  They all jump through the usual “don’t need no man – I’m just as good as any man” hoops you’d expect, with a few slight variations.  The streetwise urchin just wants out of her Podunk town.  The Doomed Queen carries a deep sorrow in her heart as she know her kingdom is next on the Evil Army chopping block.  The fugitive princess slash banshee witch carries herself with a righteous and naïve haughtiness that works for the character.  But the big bad witch just comes across as too try-hard to take seriously.

But so many of the show’s visual choices are lamentably questionable.  The evil army dresses in ridiculous wrinkled cloth armor and clearly awkwardly tall coneheaded helmets.  Geralt walks around in full armor until the final showdown when he finally get to strut his skills… and then he’s in bare cloth.

The big breaking point for my suspension of disbelief occurred during the big battle scene where team good and team evil just line up and race at each other, horse and foot all mixed together as one.  Our Doomed Queen plays the role of Théoden at Pelennor Fields.  Unfortunately, instead of being surrounded by an honor guard and serving as the central pivot of the fight, she just wanders around the battle fighting on her own and dressed in armor that looks exactly like everyone else until her…king?  Consort?  Advisor?  Don’t know, don’t care, and you can’t expect me to because the writers clearly didn’t.  They fight in scrums until the Queen’s man shouts, “We’re losing!” to let us know that they are losing and with no regard for the morale of the few allied knights within earshot.

It’s the cinematic equivalent of making your action figures fight by slamming them against each other with all the drama and all the import.

Look, I get it.  Military tactics are hard, and the fight isn’t important – it’s the character moments, those little events in the battle that are important.  But you really don’t have to choose.  Fr a great example, check out how Vox Day’s Throne of Bones kicks off with a major battle that reveals character through the action. One prince is impetuous and proud.  One prince is reserved and obedient, but prone to doing the right thing even when it violates orders.  It’s natural, it’s organic, and it works within the context of a battle scene that progress with twists and turns all its own, and even breathes for a moment with a pace that allows the generals to explain what is happening and what might happen for the reader.

It’s clever, it’s efficient, and it’s entertaining.

The Witcher is none of those things.

[Edit to add:  Just learned the entire writing staff is female.  That explains so much about this show.]

 

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Castalia Review: Eyes in the Walls

Not gonna make it.

Was hoping to hit 26 reviews over at the House of Castalia this year, one every other week.  In the end, I only managed to produce a total of 19.  Get ’em next time.

The good news is that we end the year on a nice bang with a creepy little ditty by David V. Stewart, whose YouTube channel is an eclectic blend of thoughts on film, music, and writing.  Only the latter appeals to me, and that in large part because he is one of the few authors whose ‘hot takes’ go deeper than shallow-end motivational clichés.

Head on over and find out about this wonderful, drug fueled mélange of vulnerable protagonist, kid-gang monster fest, and mind-bending nightmare.

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A Thanksgiving Feast of Films

The long weekend gave me a chance to soak up some much need recharge time in front of the idiot box, and one of the more charming films to keep me soma-fied was…sigh…Nacho Libre?

I know, but hear me out.  It’s Jack Black doing his Jack Black thing.  If you can’t get past that then give it a miss.  But if you do give it a miss, then you’ll be missing out on one of those little movies about an odd man with a tender heart with an odd idea how to go about doing the right thing.  Plus, luchadores.

Jack’s character is a Mexican orphan who grows up to be the cook at a small monastery, and to help make ends meet he enters the ring and gets beat up by a succession of luchadores.  In typical fashion, he succumbs to the temptation of fancy clothes and has to find a way back to the righteous path of professional wrestling…for the leetle cheeldrens.

It’s rare to see the Catholic faith presented in such a respectful manner, and for that alone I give it a lot of respect.

Although billed as a slapstick comedy – and it is that – Jared Hess directs this film with an understated charm that reminded me of the mood of Napoleon Dynamite.  Where Napoleon leans heavily on the “LOL so random” anti-humor throughout, Nacho Libre actually treats the through-going narrative with the seriousness needed to build the tension required to make the actual laughs work.  It’s a lot closer in feel to Zoolander than to a Leslie Nielsen movie, if that makes sense.

If you’re in the mood for something quirky and cute, give it a shot.  You won’t belly laugh, but the chuckles and warmth of this film provide way more entertainment value than what passes for comedy in today’s Hollywood films.

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