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Monday, February 12, 2018

The Dark Side is Not an Evil Side (Obligatory "Two Sides to Every Schwartz" joke)

One of the things I wish Star Wars would do with its storytelling is to resolve that the Dark Side is not evil. Nothing is inherently evil in this world. Only humans (and some well-evolved animals) can be evil. It takes a good brain to be evil, because evil is gaining pleasure from the pain of others. 

So not spiders or guns or poison or magic or anything is evil. It's what you do with those powers that determines. It's why I feel bad for Slytherin house. They all get painted with the same brush. You get sorted into Slytherin, it's a death sentence for your social life. But there's nothing evil about ambition or resourcefulness or determination or self-preservation. 

It's the same thing with the Force, which is essentially magic. It's just that people who use the Dark Side of the Force keep using them for evil. But there's nothing that says they have to hurt people. That's why I like Kylo Ren as a character, and why I'm holding out for his redemption.

There are force-neutral powers, like telekinesis, jumping, persuasion, telepathy, and force concealment, (which is like "masking your scent". I guess other force-sensitives can tell what side of the coin you land on so there's a way to cover that up. Who knew?) But these powers can be used for good and evil. You can read someone's mind and invade their privacy. Deceiving others about the nature of your powers seems like it should be on the Dark Side, but it's not. And Persuasion is basically like mind-rape. I can't believe there's not more controversy about this--I guess it's okay to force your will on someone else as long as you have a wispy beard.
Midichlorian Manipulation - Create, maintain, or save life by "influencing midichlorians". This was how Anakin believed he could stop Padme from dying. Of course, no one knows what midichlorians are or how they work, so I don't know how this can be called good or evil. In fact, this might be all bupkiss, made up by Palpatine. And isn't healing others a good thing? The Light Side has healing, detoxification, revitalization, but if someone's not breathing, you just stop?

Force Rage - Tap into fears, pain, and hate, turning them into rage that can increase speed, strength, and ferocity. Well, isn't that what normal anger does? Anger isn't an evil emotion. Anger over an injustice can lead to a greater good. If your kid is trapped under a car, fear and anger lets you lift that F150 off the ground.

Force Choke/Crush/Grip - This is just telekinesis. We always see Dark Siders doing it--lifting someone and choking them or throwing them around. They're just focused on specific body parts. But it's no different than anything the Light Side can do.

Talk to the hand
Force Drain - Tap into the strengths of an organic target, exhausting it immediately. Can be used to affect a wide area, depending on how mastered in the technique.This seems to be the inverse of the Force Heal (though it's not clear if the life and vitality is transferred to the user or it just dissipates). Most of the time you see a "drain" spell, it's in the context of magic meant to harm. Final Fantasy does this. Magic: The Gathering does this. Vampires do this. Not many arguments that removing health from someone in order to gain isn't inherently evil, but there are examples. 

In Blade, the female protagonist lets the hero drink her blood to regain his strength. I think Buffy does the same thing with Angel at some point. Rogue is an X-Man X-woman X-menman X-person superhero with power-draining powers. Metroids can drain and inject energy, and we all remember the tragic ending of Super Metroid. And in real life, there are many blood-drinking insects and animals, but they're so small that they don't individually do significant harm (unless they transmit a disease). And here's a fun fact: Male garter snakes will emit and act like a female garter snake when rising from hibernation. This gets other male garter snakes to cluster and coil around them, transferring body heat and helping them wake up.(See also definition 3 of trap)

Force Slow - Cloud the target's mind, slowing them down mentally and physically. This is a weird one, but I can see instances where it doesn't need to be considered harmful. Like if you're a cop and you've got to handle some whacked-out PCP meth-head brandishing a sword at an intersection. And Zack Morris could have used it to deal with Jessie Spano.

Force Corrupt - Temporarily manipulate the mind of another sentient being to make him/her serve your own cause. Isn't this just Force Persuasion? And that was labeled as a core power. Moving on.

Force Lightning - This is just the collection and projection of energy. I consider it to be Force concentrated, like how electricity is concentrated fire (like all good science, this is based on Avatar: The Last Airbender, and not actual science). We only ever see Sith use it, and only ever to harm others, but that doesn't mean it has to. Why not repower that Moisture Reclamator and help a farmer out.

Source: Cracked
Transfer Essence - Basically, you switch bodies, or transfer your soul into an inanimate object. (Does that mean anything? Like a rock? Or a droid? Or a ship? Is this where Emperor Snoke came from? I have a fan theory that Snoke is really Palpatine, who survived the fall and Death Star II explosion using his strong connection to the Force, but that's why he's all scarred and weird looking.) As long as you can't "Project: Genesis" someone, this doesn't seem so bad. In fact, Hollywood has taught us that the results are always hilarious, like in Freaky Friday and Shrek the Third, and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

It seems like the most distinguishing characteristic of dark Force powers is avoidance of death. The Light Side has no defense against that, except for being a Force Ghost. Not to mention we've seen Luke using some of these Dark Side powers (in ROTJ, he chokes some moblins in Jabba's palace).

The best thing about Kylo Ren is how conflicted he is. He has a huge legacy to live up to. His loved ones betrayed him (Mom and Dad got divorced, Uncle/teacher tried to kill him). Everyone's always talking about his "raw" power, but no one tells him what to do with it. He's just a puppy looking for a master. His best strengths are telekinesis (holding blaster bolts) and telepathy, both neutral powers. And he can shrug off a bowcaster blast, something that sent a dozen stormtroopers into the sky.

So I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to him in the future. And I hope that it ties with how the force works in the context of Light Side vs. Dark Side. 

Thursday, February 01, 2018

My Kindertrauma: Night of the Creeps

On a very boring Saturday, our cable was out. I don't remember why. Maybe we had cancelled it early in anticipation of moving. Anyway, this was one of those odd days where there wasn't anything to do, and the timing was right (I remember it started at noon exactly), so I sat down in front of the floor model, wood-paneled, 198-something Magnavox and watched the best thing that was on. The best thing on was "Night of the Creeps".

Usually I channel flip, but this time I didn't (what would be the point with only five stations?). And Fox was still a young network at that point and in those days, the newer channels usually had the best stuff. Not like CBS's "The 700 Club" or some press roundtable or sports or, god forbid, "local programming". Most of the time it was some dumb adult program like "Born in East L.A." and "Three Fugitives" and "The Secret of My Success" but on rare occasions, you could catch "The Great Muppet Caper" or "Raggedy Ann & Andy". However, you were lucky if you didn't join in when the movie was half over. But this time, I was able to catch it from the start, which added to the novelty. And let me reiterate, I had nothing to do.

The problem when you're a ten-year-old is that you don't know what "camp" is yet. You don't know what bad special effects are. Everything looks real. Life hasn't trained you to see the puppet strings, the wires, cheap reverse motion techniques, plastic make-up. And this was not the first time a horror movie would bite me in the ass like this (see all previous Kindertrauma entries). You'd think I would know better at this age. I guess I thought I was old enough to handle it at this point.

It wasn't until I was older did I appreciate Tom Skeritt's performance, or the references to other horror directors, or its homages to B-movies. The "oven scene" is a beautiful piece of film-making you don't see in regular movies, let alone bad eighties ones. It's all showing, not telling. There isn't even much movement, just a slow tightening on the open stove while you wonder "what is that hissing sound?" Also, it was weird to see Mr. Futterman in something other than Gremlins.

From nose to toes, the movie scared the hell out of me. It's a basic concept--little slugs are spreading on a college campus, turning people to zombies. A nice guy named Chris wants to date a [GIRL] but the Jerk Jock stands between them. Think Animal House meets Night of the Living Dead. I could not get it out of my head for days, giving me insomnia. Every night, scenes would replay them in my head, like a second run. Here are some choice ones.

• The good guy has a friend named J.C. who uses forearm crutches (indicating a lifelong disability). He gets quite a bit of non-PC mistreatment by the preps, but he's a true friend. At one point, he excuses himself from Chris and [GIRL]'s walk to go to the bathroom. But an infected janitor stumbles in and cracks his head on the porcelain floor, letting a bunch of slugs escape (the slugs incubate in brains). J.C. can't get out as they're darting back and forth on the tiled floor like blind rats. In a desperate move, J.C. falls out of the stall and crawls as fast as he can (which is not fast, given he only has his arms). Cut to one of the slugs wriggling in front of him. Cut back to him. Zoom on slug. Cut to him. Zoom on slug. The slug leaps. Commercial break.

• Sequel to the above scene. Good Guy Chris finds an envelope with "LISTEN" hastily scrawled on. It's a cassette with a message from J.C. Besides the fact that this means the victims have consciousness after infection (which hasn't been shown before and challenges zombie lore), the message is haunting as hell. It plays in one shot, one take. The hero's face drops as he listens to the shaky and fading words of his only friend. The last time he'll ever hear them:

Chris. There's one inside me. It got in through my mouth. I can feel it. It's in my brain. I don't have a pulse or a heartbeat. I think I'm dead.

I killed one. I lit a match to it. I think fire will kill them. I've gone to the furnace room, the basement. If I don't come back... heat will kill them.

I walked, Chris. All by myself, I walked.

I love you. Good luck with Cynthia.

• But here's the finale. Chris actually goes down to the basement, straight out of Freddy Krueger's nightmare. He finds the body of his friend around the corner, lying face down. Near his head are the melted remains of some slugs, still hissing and smoking. We don't see J.C.'s face and that's the scariest part.

• As with all horror movies, there's a spring-loaded cat. The first one is nothing, just to establish that one of the sorority sisters owns one. Then later, an obviously real/not dead cat comes in. She picks it up again, but this time it cuts to its face--eyeless, ragged, bloody, snarling, maggots curling up in the empty eye socket. It's obviously a prop, but ten-year-old me can't tell that in a half-second shot. The weird part is that there is no follow-up--the scene just ends. This happens in the middle of the movie, before the big swarm. No one ever mentions this. You never find out what happened to living dead cat.

• The bully boyfriend gets "creeped", but everyone's too distracted about the party. So no one looks at him for the two seconds it would take to notice his gray skin, his white eyes, pallid sunken eyes.

Then the girlfriend--STILL not looking--takes him by the hand to sit on the stoop (she touches it!), thinking he's here to talk about the fight they had. While she's rambling, his head is spitting out black slugs like the world's worst PEZ dispenser in the out-of-focus background.

• There's a bus taking a bunch of frat guys (in cheap tuxes) to the sorority party. A zombie dog sits in the middle of the road and causes it to crash, killing everyone on board. Then the dog walks into the bus to let his slugs do their thing. Does this mean the slugs have intelligence? How do they know what a bus is? How do they know it can crash? Are they controlling the body's movements (which runs counter to J.C.'s actions)? Is it actively trying to create dead bodies? Or is the dog just that malicious?

• Early in the movie, during the "setup", there's a throwaway line where one of the sorority sisters needs to store some jars for biology. The jars are full of brains. The stereotypically girly girl goes "ew" and tells her to put them in the basement. This never comes up again. Not even remotely. Until the climax when, after killing frat boys with lawnmowers, the girl and guy see some slugs running for the basement. Then the girl remembers what's there.

"Aren't we lucky we were there to get all that information? It seemed extraneous at the time."

The heroes go downstairs, and there is a five-foot high mass of slugs in the corner, all wriggling and writhing, crawling over each other like maggots on a corpse, presented in classic stop-motion (which is scary by itself--all that unnatural movement).

• But wait, there's more. Cool guy detective is down there too. He's got duct tape over his mouth and is dousing everything in gasoline and letting out gas. He's about to make a heroic sacrifice, and starts counting down (letting everyone get out of the house). Some of the slugs start reaching outward, ready to jump. As he clicks the lighter, the slugs leap toward him. Then big bada-boom.

• But wait, there's still more! Unbeknownst to everybody, the cool guy detective stumbles out of the burning wreckage, smoking and burnt beyond recognition. He falls face first on the pavement. His skull cracks open. The slugs got him. (Why didn't he put the duct tape back over his mouth?)

• But wait, there's yet still more! They skitter out and speed under a gate. The camera pans up and we see that it's a graveyard. My little mind realizes how many tasty brains there are in a cemetery, plenty to start the whole thing over again, dooming the Earth.

• But wait, there's yet still additionally more! During the pan up, a spotlight suddenly snaps on a headstone. It sweeps over the graveyard. It's coming from a alien spaceship, slowly searching for the slugs. Now, this should fill one with a little hope--the aliens are taking responsibility for their experiment and trying to fix things. But when I was a kid, I didn't get this. Maybe the beginning prologue was cut from the TV version, or maybe I had just missed it. But either way, this felt like a Twilight Zone ending. The creeps are alien in origin? Stop the planet, I want to get off.

So yeah, this was a smorgasbord of childhood trauma. Of course, now I can look back at it and laugh and get the in-jokes and appreciate it. But back then, this was my Exorcist.

Monday, January 29, 2018

What is the Point of the Sith?

Sith boobies

What is the point of the Sith? They don't seem to have a goal that their reaching towards, except for opposing the Jedi. Meaning they seem to be one-dimensional villains that only exist for the purpose of the story.

They act as a counterpart to the Jedi. In fact their credo exactly mirrors all their traits. No empathy, just ambition and power and victory. But to what end? What do they want? Keep in mind Sith is not the Galactic Empire. The empire wants control over all planets in the galaxy so they can have power/unity/order. Or so other planets with a resource can't just say "mine, you can't have".

But the Sith is a philosophy/martial arts discipline, like being a Jedi. It has a credo, it has a beliefs, deities, temples, artifacts. Its main idea is obtaining of strength and power through the "dark side of the force", meaning greed, hate, anger, and fear. It's a very Klingon way of life--focus on fighting, victory, and passion. 

The thing about the Sith is that, instead of the Jedi who teach in collections and have a widespread population, there are only ever two Sith at one time. In the whole galaxy. Somehow they lasted a thousand years doing this, but this seems a real flawed way to establish a dominating force. You can't exactly take over the galaxy with two people*. Not to mention that once you become a Sith, you're either an apprentice scheming how to kill your master (which means your teaching will always end prematurely) or a master always worrying about when your apprentice is going to kill you. That's no basis for a system of government.

*Yes, I know that Palpatine essentially did that, but he used political influence and minions in addition. He could have done that without being a Sith. I'm talking about the Sith as an entity in itself.

The Jedi have actual goals--peace and prosperity in the galaxy. But the Sith don't seem to have goals. Or their goals are personal to the character, which still means the Sith simple exist to oppose the Jedi.

At first I was going to rant about Sith just being a one-dimensional villain. But maybe

I thought it was rather stupid to have an entity that exists solely to oppose the other party. Seems a wasteful life if your purpose is just to be the antithesis of this other guy. Then I heard about the "steak dinner".

It's the meeting that leaders of the Republican party had when Obama got elected in 2008. I mean, like, the day he was inaugurated. The oval office chair wasn't even warmed yet, Obama was party-hopping, and they were making their counter-battle plan. What was that plan? To do the opposite of whatever Obama wanted.

For the sake of "their side" they had to be a united front and fight him on everything. Didn't matter whether it made sense or not, whether it was good or not, if Obama wanted it, they didn't that was the policy. They didn't want to raise America up, they didn't have an issue to push, they didn't have a different morality to live by. They just wanted to oppose Barack Obama. If he said yes, they said no.

And the key was being united among all the party members on this. Everyone had to be in on it. For the sake of their team, every Republican had to click that "no" button when the president said "yes". Their goal had nothing to do with America or the country or any political issue. It had to do with hurting the other guy. You didn't win, so make it as hard for the other team as possible, no matter how petty it gets.

In other words, I thought portraying the Sith as simply opposing the Jedi was unrealistic... until I saw this. I guess it's more plausible than I thought.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Screw Your Misery Over The Last Jedi

That's it. I've had all I can stands, I can't stands no more. I'm sick of these entitled crybabies whining about "The Last Jedi". They're making fan-edits to cater to their own "vision", they're making petitions to remove it from canon. And yet they can't come up with one good objective reason for this hate. Complaining that's not how the Force works? Go ahead, make that argument. You do realize that the Force does not exist, right? That it's a construction of imagination and, therefore, it can do anything the writer wants? You're all a bunch of fucking entitled, obsessive morons who had every opportunity to succeed in life but failed. Stories belong to their readers, but that doesn't mean you can change what they are. 

But I want to talk about the biggest hot take--Luke isn't acting like I want him to I think he should Luke.

I think these people complaining see too much of themselves in Luke. They've grown old and bitter, fatigued with how the creators treat their "mythology" as a business, too influenced by MST3K and South Park, like it's cool to deconstruct everything to feel important. Finding the flaws in everything makes you feel superior. But like they say in Ratatouille, the critic who decries a work of art for being mediocre isn't half as important as the creator who made it so.

I totally believe Luke would become jaded and bitter and cynical about Jedi. Maybe, after seeing everything that had happened, he believed the Jedi's time had passed. Like Ian Malcolm says in Jurassic Park, the Jedi had their shot, and the universe evolved out of them. Let me give you three reasons why this makes perfect sense to me.

1. The Far Past

Let's assume that Luke learned the history of the Jedi he didn't have time for because he was fighting a war. A reasonable assumption, given that, as sole representative of all Jedi and teacher of the new generation, he'd want to know his legacy. There might not be many records left (authoritarian empires like to rewrite history) but the force ghosts of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Anakin were all there. They could give him an oral history (Yoda's certainly old enough). In other words, Luke watches the prequels.

And he learns the Jedi went from noble peacekeepers of the galaxy to a council of snooty politicians sitting in a room, handing out decisions about trade routes for places they had never seen. The High Council was more concerned about midichlorians, rules about marriage, and who gets into their little inner circle than actual philosophy. Maybe ten thousand years ago they were the galaxy's guardians--noble warriors using might for right--but ten thousand years of peace makes people complacent.

That brings us to...

2. The Near Past

So in learning about the Jedi Council, you have to include their downfall, brought about by a small boy. He would have seen all of Anakin Skywalker's history, what turned him to the Dark Side. Of course, Luke would want to know this--he'd want to know A) how a Jedi turned to the Dark Side, in order to prevent it from happening again and B) what the Jedi Council did in reaction, paranoid, hunting the Emperor down, the one guy who gave Anakin the time of day. Mace Windu viciously attacked Palpatine, causing the hatred that fuels Vader. Morally wrong, but justified in-character. I might do the same thing in his place.

Anakin Skywalker did everything he could to stop the thing he feared the most, the loss of his loved ones. But in the end, it happened all the same. The Jedi way forced him down the Dark Side to prevent it. So what else was there for him at the end but to embrace it totally. Especially since he's living in constant pain from what Obi-Wan did to him.

And maybe Luke sees this and wonders, if the Jedi, ten thousand strong, could have been destroyed by one man, how great and powerful were they really?

3. The Immediate Past

Luke sees all the things Darth Vader did. All the horrible deaths, torture, genocide, child murder, planet devastation, done by a single wreck of a human. For nineteen years, he cut through anyone in his way with the fire of a thousand suns, like Sherman's March. He came in like Aegon Targareyn the First, landing on Westeros and forcing the nine houses to bend the knee. He eliminated traitors with prejudice, tortured P.O.W.s, made deals with criminals. There was no moral code stopping him from victory.

But in its context, Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker was one man. One aberrancy after eons of peace and prosperity. Like a mutation. A black plague. A fluke. He may have almost wiped everything out, but there's that word--almost. It's been tough times, but the war is over. Now is the time to rebuild. The threat of the empire is over. We've learned from our mistakes, instituted prevention. For another Darth Vader to come along would take ten thousand more years.

Enter Ben Solo.

How would it feel if, after defeating the strongest dark lord, the most powerful Jedi ever seen, you find out your nephew is the same. He's been putting up Sith posters, talking about how great the empire used to be ("at least they made the Star Destroyers run on time"). You sacrificed so much to defeat Darth Vader, and here you are raising another one. It'd be like if you were the one to kill Hitler, and then you find out your grandson is a Neo-Nazi.

It doesn't matter whether Luke knew Snoke had already gotten to him or not, the damage was done. There's another potential Sith Lord in your bunk bed. Wouldn't you want to just chuck it all and say "what's the point?" Wouldn't you say "this Jedi stuff is bullshit, if it's just going to keep creating Darth Vaders". Luke may have begun to think that the force is too powerful for anyone to handle. If you have a powerful weapon, better to destroy it than let it fall into the wrong hands.


I think Luke is acting completely in character, just like how Anakin Skywalker would have been a whiny, self-centered brat, using arrogance to hide his fear that this could all go away. Your complaints didn't change anything then, they won't change anything now. Luke's been living with failure for twenty years. The whole point of the movie is that failure is not bad. Failure should not be run away from. You learn from it, use it to teach others. Luke is this movie's protagonist, not Rey. He's the one that learns something. He's the one that changed.

Besides, how seriously can I take you when "your kind" releases a fan edit that removes all people of a certain gender from a movie. Taking out Jar-Jar is one thing--he's comic relief with no impact on plot. But you can't digitally remove 50% of the cast. What are you expecting? Is this supposed to be a statement? Satire? That someone burnt calories on such a bad idea blows my mind.

MRAs are complaining that the events in Last Jedi are against canon. Where's the evidence? I don't see anything that contradicts established canon. There are things that establish new canon, but point out something that says "in Episode X, someone explicitly says they can't do Y, but they do Y in this movie". Show me where that happens, where it's not conjecture or supposition.

And it can't be a "well blah blah blah wouldn't-" No! Character errors are not errors. You don't know what Luke's been through from the Battle of Yavin to now, so you can't tell me what he would and wouldn't do. People change. People's minds change. Their motivations and beliefs change. So don't tell me Luke is the same wide-eyed farm boy turned hero from Return of the Jedi, especially after having his father die in his arms. Tell me that wouldn't change a person.


I think the people complaining are the ones who ate a steady diet of expanded universe novels between 1980 and 2015. Their Luke is the one that continued having adventures, fighting General Thrawn, falling in love with Mara Jade, established a New Jedi Order, ended several wars, including a second Civil War, etc. But this ain't that universe. The novels were "the continuing adventures of Luke Skywalker", like the legends of King Arthur or Greek myths. On-going stories, mixing and adding characters, all attuned to the time they were written.

This ain't that world anymore. This is Star Wars: The Next Generation. This is a new set of characters with their own trials to get through, and the world of Episode 4/5/6 is in the past. The universe has moved on from that point. There is a new order. And since events have transpired in a different way than the EU, yeah, characters aren't going to act the way you think they should. Because the fact is, those novels were written in a different time. Just think of the presidents that have passed through office since 1983. 

Don't watch the movies to find the next clutch of settings and characters for fan art. It's not a newsletter--Updates from a Fictional Galaxy. Don't watch it to see the same thing that made you happy thirty years ago.

Anyway, when it doesn't go the way you want, just tell yourself a wizard did it.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Year in Reading

So this time around, I set goals at the beginning of the year. I wanted to be more picky about what I read--read more good stuff, not just what I feel obligated to. Less long books, less mediocre books, more newer books, more "try before you buy", and learning when to walk away. So how did I do? 


Of course you're going to see John Scalzi and John Green on this list, so let's get The Collapsing Empire and Turtles All the Way Down out of the way off the bat. We can add Eliza and Her Monsters in that list because it seems to be cut from the same cloth.

Except for Scalzi, no science fiction books flipped my cookie this year. But for fantasy, I discovered Ella Enchanted and The Shamer's Daughter. They weren't super-fantastic life-changing "now I know what it's all for", but it's always nice to find high fantasy "swords and sorcery" that's not imitating J.R.R. Tolkien or full of jargon or needs the twelve other books to be read first.

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal was by far the funniest book I read, and maybe the most meaningful. If you're going to make me understand Christ and Christian mythology, you're going to have to put that dog medicine in some peanut butter. And Lamb is both chunky and creamy. ... this got weird.

Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded by Hannah Hart gave me the same good memoir feelings that Lindsey Stirling and Felicia Day gave me. And she's had a rougher life (although I'm not trying to rank anyone's pain). I'm amazed she writes with the same panache and positivity in her videos. 

The Hatorade 

These are the books at which I whip my hair back and forth. ("No, sir, I do not whip my hair back and forth at you, sir, but I whip my hair, sir.") I looked through my list and noted the ones that gave me a pit in my stomach.

I was not a fan of Scrappy Little Nobody. Anna Kendrick promoted the shit out of it on Twitter, and while we all love this pixie-like sass-master, there just wasn't anything inside to care about. I still resent her for pushing out a book when nothing's happened in her life. It's not an age thing: Hannah Hart and Lindsey Stirling put out memoirs of way more substance and gravity. Lesson: don't write a life story if your life isn't that interesting.

Wizard's Bane was just badly written. Good concept, poorly executed, probably written by a neckbeard raffling off some wish fulfillment. Kingdom Keepers was the same way--the literary version of those Disney direct-to-video sequels. It felt like some putz churned out 80,000 words of garbage so it could connect with a bunch of Disney Parks merchandising.

The rest were female-oriented YA--like All the Bright Places, 13 Treasures, This is Where It Ends, and The Selection. Their biggest flaws were the teenage cliches and bad takes on "issues", capitalizing on keywords for the back cover copy. Hot take junk like suicide, gothic mansions, and "how do I know if I'm in love?" 


I think Geek Love was the longest book I finished in 2017, but I read most of it in 2016. The same thing happened to The Elven. Technically I finished it in 2018, but it was January 3rd. Officially I can't count it as a 2017 book, but I read 97% of it in that year, and it took about 18-19 hours. Since I had to stare at it on my "currently reading" widget for three months, I think of it as a 2017 book. Fata Morgana was pretty long too.

This year I left twelve books in the dust. I consider that an accomplishment. I'm a bit of a completionist and have a bad habit of finishing things I start, even if they're not good or it's not fun. That's a habit I need to break. I need to bring joy back into my life, both in reading and writing. And if it's a drudge, then why am I doing it?

And of all the books I left unfinished, I don't regret a single one. I've got plenty of stuff on my to-read, I'm not going to waste my time on books that don't deliver on their promise. 


This year I want to read shorter books. I need to be more discerning about the length of things I read. I hate saying that about books--because something's long doesn't make it bad. But I want to read more books this year--different and varied authors. And that's hard to do when you're stuck in one book for three weeks. I need to learn how to tell good stories quickly and sharply. I think that's the way the industry is going, giving shrinking attention spans.

I completed 36 books in 2017. This year, I set a reading goal, my first one, for 40. Quite doable, I've done it before, but my "totals" are declining each year. Can't keep letting that happen.

All the 2017 Reviews
January - February
March - April
May - June
July - August
September - October
November - December

Monday, January 15, 2018

Should I Reup my Duotrope Subscription? (a.k.a. The Year in Writing)

Right now, I'm thinking no. Just from a cost-benefit analysis, it's not worth it. The subscription costs $50. I sent out twenty-five submissions and got only one acceptance. It seems like response times are getting longer, guidelines are harder to find, and more frequently I need to poke editors to find out where they're at. The whole process is annoying (not to mention my workplace blocks half the sites behind their proxy for no goddamn good reason).

Not to mention, I'm not writing many short stories. I never have been. Never been interested. I thought they were a way to fill a resume, but no one seems to care. I only completed one this year. Not to say I haven't been writing some short fiction, but they either died on the table or... ahem, aren't appropriate for general audiences... or specific audiences... in fact, they're oriented to quite a limited, devoted audience, if you know what I mean. Like that even publishing it on Amazon could get me banned. Ahem.

If I did something like take a class or join a writing club, something that lets me work on short story craft, I might come back. Definitely not closing the door on short stories. But I need a bigger stable to make it worthwhile. Plus I'd rather write novels than short stories any day of the week. I would be happier if I could complete three first drafts for novels this year than ten finished short stories.

That was the final nail in the coffin for realizing it wasn't worth it. I get more pleasure writing novels anyway and this year has been all about increasing joy. Getting that happy feeling from writing because that's been damn hard to do (and because otherwise, what's the point?).

This year consisted of climbing back up from my pit of despair. All I wanted to do was get back to writing a thousand words a day and do that consistently. I think I'm just about there. My next novel, I've been working on since the beginning of October and now have more than 50,000 words (of a hopeful 90,000). I don't always get a thousand a day, but it's something. And half the battle is getting butt in seat and not watching YouTube videos.

Others have relayed the same despair (like John Scalzi and Wil Wheaton) so I don't feel alone. 2017's not been kind to creativity. But still, I feel like I did better in 2017 than 2016. No new completions to speak of, but I've been keeping the chain going, making a new link every day.

I hate it when it comes to Christmas card writing time and I realize that I can't write "I got an agent this year" or "three book contract" or "look for XYZ on shelves this season!" I feel like I've down my family and myself, that I'm not accomplishing goals. But the road is long and if I can't reach the destination, I might as well enjoy the walk.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Crochet and the Human Experience

Sometimes I get down on the human experience -- centuries of bloodshed and hate, bigotry and oppression. And it seems like it's never going to end. 2017 and we're still debating whether or not a sexual predator should or should not be in a position of leadership.

And then I discover something unbelievable, like crochet. You can build things both pretty and practical, like bags, potholders, sweaters, and toys. And it's all just one long string, just knotted and looped in weird ways. If you pull the end of it, it'll all unravel. How can you make something that's so fragile and hearty at the same time?

And this was invented by little old French ladies in the 1500s. That's f***ing engineering for you. How did they figure out how to do this? Where do you get from staring at this piece of string and think "I bet if I put a bunch of knots in it, it becomes a hoodie." I mean, you're not just talking how to construct it, but construct it in such a way that varies the pattern, the design, and volume.

And the instructions are so simple, they created simple shorthand directions to duplicate results. So someone can invent a crochet pattern and everyone can copy it. It's like a 3-D printer from the Renaissance. It's as improbable as beer being invented. Who knew to combine grains, hops, and other junk and let it ferment? How many people were poisoned before they found something that worked?

There's even a Crochet Guild of America. How's that for awesome? I've always wanted to belong to a guild. I'm imagining an armored paladin with a shield cozy. Do their lances look like big crochet needles?