Friday, May 31, 2013

The doom of Westeros

Entertainment in any medium -- movies, books, games, whatever -- is about doing two things -- artificially creating tension in the audience, and then releasing that tension in a satisfactory manner. Both require some level of skill and/or talent, but the first is much much easier than the last.

The SONG OF ICE AND FIRE books by George R.R. Martin have, so far, been entirely an exercise in creating tension, and Martin has done it masterfully. But when he says "The tale grew in the telling", I personally think he's kidding himself. Yes, he made up more stuff than he thought he was going to because he's as fascinated with the fictional setting as any of the rest of us... but what he's really doing as he crams more and more and more into the story is, he's putting off the point where he has to segue from one phase (creating tension) to the much harder one (releasing all that tension in a satisfying manner). 

With SOIAF, that point is going to come when Daenarys reaches Westeros and deals with whoever is left sitting on the Throne by the time she gets there. That will be the first key step in releasing all this dramatic tension he's built up, and everything else in the book (the battle between Dark and Light, Chaos and Order, Entropic Decay and Structure/Civilization) will necessarily uncoil out of it. And the story has become so complex that this is not something that will simply naturally unfold the way a much simpler narrative (like the books I write) would. It will literally require the hands of a master composer to bring this off... it's like a symphony, and every note is going to have to be perfect.

It's why, I think, it is taking Martin so long to get to that point... a point we all expected to happen at least two huge volumes ago, a point we all assumed would occur in the book called A DANCE WITH DRAGONS. Martin keeps dragging it out, making up new characters and new arcs that are meaningless and go nowhere (can anyone say Quentyn Martell?) because (IMHO) he's afraid to move from one phase to the next. He can't handle his own creation. He hasn't got the chops.

Martin has supposedly told the producers behind his HBO show the general outline of how the story is supposed to come out, in case he dies before the show catches up with the books, or something. And I'm sure he's told them something, just as I'm sure he has some concept of how it all ends. But whatever idea he has, it's nebulous and vague and undetailed and somehow, he has to get his story from where it is now to Over There, and to do that, he's got to weave a thousand different threads together in a way that creates a compelling, convincing, and above all, utterly satisfying narrative climax... and I don't think he can do it. I've read a lot of his stuff, and he's never shown any real capacity for bringing off a satisfying ending. Even if he was "the American Tolkien", as so many keep insisting on calling him, I don't think Tolkien himself could pull this off. 

Plus, Martin has no real incentive to finish this thing. Right now, he's getting enormous amounts of attention, this saga has single handedly brought all his other books back into print and made them best sellers, and it's generating huge amounts of coin for him. And until he actually comes out with the final book, he hasn't let anyone down yet... the work cannot be judged. My guess is, he'll die with it incomplete and his publishers will hire someone... perhaps many someones, as with his WILD CARDS books... to finish it up.

Monday, May 27, 2013

She's got a brain, a super-brain... wait... no, she doesn't

So... where are all the super-smart superheroines?

For that matter, where are ANY super smart super-women at all?

Super-smart supermen are as common as water molecules in comics, on both ends of the morality spectrum.  There are dozens if not hundreds of male supertypes who employ their superhumanly keen intellects in various fields of science -- Lex Luthor, Bruce Wayne, Ray Palmer, Barry Allen, Dr. Doom, Reed Richards, Hank Pym, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Charles Xavier -- super scientists who put on costumes and punch out other super scientists in their spare time are simply all over the place.  These super scientists routinely invent way out whacky stuff like artificial intelligence, anti gravity rays, force field projectors, gateways to the Negative Zone, teleporters, nuclear powered battle armor, size changing gas, and humanoid robots that cannot be easily told from real people... and every single one of these brilliant boffins is a guy.

Every.  Single.  One.

I'm not saying superwomen are dumb.  I am saying, however, that while it's almost routine for male superheroes to be superhumanly intelligent in their secret identities, there are absolutely no female super scientists or inventors... not that I can think of, anyway.

No, wait, I've thought of one.  In Marvel's long ago, very short lived CLAWS OF THE CAT series, there is a female super scientist, Joanne Tumolo (I think).  She gives Greer Larsen her cat-like powers and a supersuit that turns out to be full of movement enhancing microcircuitry.  However, later on, she turns out to be a disguised cat-person who actually uses magical powers rather than super science, so I'm not sure she counts.

And even Dr. Tumolo was not a super-player herself, merely a supporting player and plot device.

As a general rule, superheroines created in the Silver Age largely fall into one of two generally demeaning categories anyway -- they were either created to be the Inevitable Girl on an otherwise all male superteam, or they were created as female copies of a commercially successful male character, in hopes of exanding that character's appeal to female fans.  (The Golden Age of comics was a looser, freer, more flexible time and Golden Age superheroines who still exist today, notably, Wonder Woman and Black Canary, do not have to fit into this mold, although both of them have, at some time or another, fulfilled the seemingly mandatory role of being the only female member of an otherwise all male superteam.)

Yet even superheroines created as female versions of male characters are never as smart as their male progenitors.  Spider-girl does not have Peter Parker's scientific savvy, nor does She-Hulk have Bruce Banner's superhuman brain power, simply to list two of many, many examples.  Superman often displayed 'super intelligence' when a storyline required it; Supergirl has rarely or never made use of such a power, presuming she even has it.

Now, super women tend to be smart... I mean, they ain't stupid, as a general rule.  Black Canary, Wonder Woman, Sue Storm, Hawkgirl, Ms. Marvel, the Wasp... these chicks are bright as hell.   But it seems that they are never allowed to be SUPER smart, like so many of their male peers are. They do not invent wondrous super-devices, they do not expand the boundaries of whatever field of superscience they may work in... in fact, they do not  have intellectually demanding jobs at all.

In fact, when you think of it...

Wonder Woman, in her secret identity as Diana Prince, has generally been a secretary.

Black Canary, in her everyday ID as Dinah Drake, own her own flower shop.

Sue Storm Richards is a housewife and mother.

Ms. Marvel, AKA Carol Danvers... I don't know what she's doing these days.  She's been in charge of security at an Air Force base in Florida that kept getting attacked by Captain Marvel villains, and she was managing editor for NOW Magazine.  God knows what she's doing now.

The Wasp/Janet Van Dayne is a rich heiress.  (Well, apparently she's currently dead in Marvel continuity, but I don't care.)

She-Hulk's alter ego of Jennifer Walters is a lawyer, although She Hulk hates being Jennifer Walters and rarely turns back into her.

There are, in fact, only two really amazingly super smart women I can think of in comics:  Dr. Moira MacTaggart in the Marvel Universe, who is sort of a female Scottish equivalent to Professor X, without any mutant powers, and Oracle, otherwise known as Barbara Gordon, who become a supergenius computer hacker after being paralyzed by the Joker and losing her ability to physically fight crime as Batgirl (yet another female version of a male character designed to hopefully appeal to female fans).

It's notable that Dr. MacTaggart is not a super-player, she just hangs out with them -- essentially, she's a plot device.

It's even more worth noting that when Barbara Gordon (herself the daughter of a notable male character, Police Commissioner James Gordon) was Batgirl (a female version of a stronger, more competent, obviously smarter male superhero) she fought crime physically, and was not only never as smart as Batman, she never seemed particularly intellectual at all, despite the fact that in her secret identity, she was a librarian.  It was only when her capacity to kick bad guys into unconsciousness was removed that she suddenly demonstrated superhuman mental prowess.

Along this tack, also let us look at Sue Storm Richards, i.e., the Invisible Girl/Woman, and Janet Van Dyne, the winsome, wonderful Wasp.  Both have demonstrated enormous competence and intelligence over the years, and both have been depicted as hiding their undeniable brains and ability out of fear that their boyfriends/husbands won't like them if they act too smart.

It would seem that in superhero comics -- an industry dominated by male creators, specifically targeted at an overwhelmingly male audience, it is taken overwhelmingly for granted that a smart woman is not a desirable woman/character/market commodity.  And even when female characters are created specifically to appeal to female comics fans, those female characters are never defined as being particularly intelligent... meaning, male creators not only assume male fans don't want or like smart women, but female fans share this distaste for intelligent female characters as well.

Essentially, there are very very very few female characters who have ever been introduced into comics and been shown to possess the kind of superhuman intellectual capacity that is common to many, many male comic book characters.  And when I say 'very very very very few', I mean, like, three.

And out of those three, none of them are allowed to be actively, physically superhuman.

So, as an almost universal rule, women can't be super smart in superhero comics.  On the extraordinarily rare occasion that a supersmart woman does show up... she's not allowed to really do anything.  She is allowed to exist only as a supporting character.

Women who do get to play in the superhuman theater of operations -- trying to conquer the world, or save the world -- villainesses and heroines, in other words -- aren't allowed to demonstrate great intelligence while they do it.  They can be smart... but they can't be REALLY smart.

Which is another way of saying, women are not allowed to be of primary importance in superhero comics.  They are not allowed to be dominant.  They are not allowed to be in charge.  Oh, women can take their turn leading superhero teams -- that was something that became very trendy back in the 80s and 90s; everyone from the Invisible Woman to the Wasp to the female Captain Marvel got a turn to be team leader for a while.

But they still can't really... RUN it.

Marvel even has an Illuminati group now of the most powerful characters in various different areas that run things from behind the scenes.  Who's in it?  Iron Man, Black Bolt, Dr. Strange, Reed Richards, the Sub Mariner, and Professor X.  All men.  (For that matter, they're all WHITE men, but that's a different topic... if only a slightly different one.)

So, essentially, the super people who are really the movers and shakers, the people who pull the strings and make all the important decisions behind the scenes in the Marvel Universe... are all guys.  No women need apply to be Illuminati members (no non whites, either, as previously noted.)

It's like, seriously, this is 2013, dudes.  WTF?

Where are the female Brainiacs, the female super scientists inventing cool futuristic stuff, the female super-warriors who also happen to have galaxy class intellects?  Nowhere.  Apparently, they don't exist.

I think it's about time superhero comics had a few.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Zombie Ray From Outer Space!

I love this book!

"Heroes that never say die, villains that always scream "DIE!", flying cars, giant orbital eyeballs, spaceships powered by an inertialess drive, an evil space fortress on the planet Pluto... and legions of unliving zombies! The plot starts in hyperspeed and keeps accelerating until the final page! If you love sci fi, fantasy, horror, or zombie apocalypse stories, this is the Can't Miss Book of the year!"

Thursday, May 16, 2013


President Obama just said:

"I'll do everything in my power to make sure nothing like this happens again by holding the responsible parties accountable, by putting in place new checks and new safeguards, and going forward, by making sure that the law is applied as it should be -- in a fair and impartial way. And we're going to have to make sure that the laws are clear so that we can have confidence that they are enforced in a fair and impartial way, and that there's not too much ambiguity surrounding these laws.

"So that's what I expect. That's what the American people deserve. And that's what we're going to do. Thank you very much."

Unfortunately, he's not talking about Wall Street, the big banks, defense contractors, or any of the blatantly, ludicrously criminal behavior of the Bush Administration. He's talking about... the IRS. Which, as far as I can see, did nothing except subject a group of declared scofflaws and wannabe tax cheats to the extra level of scrutiny their own behavior and frequent statements richly merited.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

You may be entitled to a good smack in the noggin

Given the general level of subliteracy I listen to every day on the phones here, it shouldn't surprise me, but still did: in the break room just now, I saw a commercial for a law firm that concluded "You may be entitled to MONEY DAMAGES".


As if there are any other type of damage awards possible in our system of civil jurisprudence. As if you can sue someone, win your case, and get... I don't know... REAL ESTATE DAMAGES. Or HOUSE DAMAGES. Or EXPENSIVE SPORTS CAR DAMAGES. Or SEX DAMAGES.

MONEY DAMAGES. Jesus wept.

Look, I know what they're talking about. Just as I know what some derptard is trying to say when they insist that they have 'cut on' their computer and still can't get online. But this usage of words? It is WRONG. It is mind bogglingly stupid. And it aggravates the shit out of me.

And now, lawyers... LAWYERS!!!! WHO GO TO SCHOOL FOR LIKE A MILLION YEARS!!!!... are proving themselves incapable of utilizing the English language correctly.

Motherfucking money damages.

Morning ruminations

Woke up fifteen minutes later than usual this morning (at 4:30 AM, instead of the more normal 4:15 or so) and lost track of time... nearly didn't get out to the bus stop on time. 

But I did, and here I am in the break room at work, waiting for my shift to begin. 

Finished a redraft of ENDGAME and tried to upload it to both Kindle and Smashwords, but ran out of time. No substantive changes, just a repolish. If my work is never going to be published in print form, well, I can just keep polishing it. I say good business is where you find it.

There are times when I absolutely cannot stand rereading my work, when I look at my own writing and flinch back from the screen, wondering how in the name of God I could ever think I was even a passable author. 

Most times, though, I'm much more egotistical than that; I quite enjoy rereading my own work and I think "God DAMN those publishers are idiots; they could be making good money off this shit". 

Having just finished repolishing ENDGAME, I have to say, it's a fun book. I like it. If I'd found a cheap, beat up paperback copy of it in some second hand bookstore and read it, I think I'd have really enjoyed it. It has fun characters, an interesting plot, great dialogue, and amazing fight scenes. I mean, a bunch of superhero roleplaying geeks get turned into their fantasy heroes by evil aliens and then have to fight giant robots and invisible dragon-snakes and shit! Plus, two of them fall in love. And then, just when you think it's all over... foul treachery! It's awesome. Everyone should read it. Well, everyone should BUY it, anyway... I don't really care if anyone reads it or not. What, I really want the same legion of dimwits who love Harry Potter and Twilight to suddenly think I'M a great writer, too? It would be humiliating. 

I also read George R.R. Martin's THE HEDGE KNIGHT on my Kindle. Interesting to see how the events of a hundred years prior have shaped the events unfolding in Martin's current series. I enjoyed the novella, but it's a remarkably simple story. Nothing wrong with that, of course... I write very simple shit, too.

But A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE is a tremendously complex story with dozens if not hundreds of important character arcs and plot threads. I've read some other books by Martin -- THE ARMAGEDDON RAG, FEVRE DREAM -- and neither of them managed to resolve their plots in particularly satisfying ways. And everything Martin has managed to do so far, in millions of words of writing, has simply been creating tension. Now, he's doing it masterfully... there's a reason these books are incredibly popular, and it's not the same reason that poorly written crap like Harry Potter or Twilight is popular (slavish adherence to an entirely moronic yet emotionally appealing formula designed primarily to target adolescents). No, Martin can WRITE... the man has real talent, and he's been doing this long enough to have picked up a lot of skill, too. 

But creating tension is just the first part of entertaining an audience, and it's the easy part. The really hard aspect is to release the tension you have created in a satisfying manner. Martin hasn't started doing that yet. We've been expecting him to do that... to bring ASOIAF to a worthy climax and then wrap it up... for the last two, long overdue, really bloated volumes... and he keeps putting it off. He keeps padding the narrative and delaying the moment when Daenarys finally brings her khalasar to Westeros and the final battles truly begin. 

And that's what most of A DANCE WITH DRAGONS felt like to me... padding and bloat. He dragged in characters out of nowhere that had no real place in the narrative, for no real reason, and then, after wasting hundreds of thousands of words on them, just killed them off and moved on. And why? Because (I think) Martin doesn't want to get to the point in his narrative where the final battles commence, because (I suspect) he doesn't really know how to end this thing. Oh, I'm sure he's got some vague resolution in mind... but it's way out there, and he has no real clear idea how to get there. How to make it all work, how to ring the correct emotional chords on the way, how to make all the various characters and plot threads work out, how to continue to weave this tapestry.

In other words, he's masterfully created all this tension... and has no real idea how to satisfactorily release it. 

I don't blame him; he's created a literary task that much, much better writers would balk at tackling. Roger Zelazny couldn't wrap this mess up in a way that people would think worked well, and George R.R. Martin is no Roger Zelazny.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Lib'rul please

The default 'reasonable liberal' response to this current IRS brouhaha - that the IRS must be completely fair to everyone - is, of course, correct. But you're applying it incorrectly in this situation.

It's perfectly 'fair' for the current IRS, or any other government organization charged with enforcement of Federal laws, to closely scrutinize conservative affiliated groups, especially those self identifying as members of the 'tea party'. It's absolutely correct and reasonable that such groups get more attention from Federal law enforcement than other groups... and when I say 'other groups', I mean, groups that have not made it a basic part of their philosophy that they should not have to obey Federal law, that the elected President is illegitimate, that any form of resistance to 'liberal/socialist tyranny' (up to and including ARMED REVOLT, folks, ARMED REVOLT) is perfectly acceptable... especially not paying taxes.

Conservatives, especially tea party conservatives, have spent the last six years screaming that, essentially, Federal laws do not apply to them. Some justify this with the presumption that President Obama is not really the President, some on the grounds that they have God given rights either never mentioned or only vaguely referred to in the Constitution, and many just say it because, you know, that's what they think and na na na boo boo.

If the IRS had issued an order to all of its examiners saying "pay special attention to any individual or group self identifying as a 'sovereign citizen' ", would we be having this kind of discussion now?

The Tea Party is every bit as crazy as the 'sovereign citizen' movement, and in exactly the same manner. If they don't like Federal law, they move to nullify it on a state level, or simply ignore it. They fume and mutter about open rebellion against the government. They sure as hell don't want to pay any taxes to the Kenyan social Muslim pretender President and his black helicopter flying U.N. minions.

At what point is the Federal government allowed to take notice of all the crazy outlaw rhetoric they've been spouting and respond to it in a meaningful way? The Feds aren't locking anyone up... the branch of the Federal government charged with collecting legitimate tax revenue is looking more closely at groups who self identify as unwilling participants in the Federal government, especially its tax code. What the hell is wrong with that?

Now, the Obama Administration's fanatical desire to lock up whistleblowers and the recent revelation that Justice has been accessing the phone records of AP reporters who were involved in a story that involved national security... THAT's a scandal. That is probably the single area where President Obama has disappointed me the most... any government needs frequent housecleanings in the light of day to be kept honest, our government most of all. We should lionize our whistleblowers and the few members of our press still willing to commit actual journalism, not investigate, prosecute, and jail them.

But the IRS going after people who are identifying themselves as probably tax cheats? Lib'rul, please.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Suck It, Geek Goddess

Just tried to read Olivia Munn's book SUCK IT, WONDER WOMAN. Despite the titillating title, I found myself disliking it for some reason and gave up after the fifth chapter.

I don't know why. I've never watched much of G4 and so didn't really know anything about Olivia Munn until she showed up on NEWSROOM (where I like her character enormously) and I started hearing all this buzz about 'the chick from G4'. Now I understand that she is apparently some sort of reigning Geek Chick Empress and neo-Goddess and I admit, yes, she's cute, and yes, judging from this book, she does seem to be a real geek and hey, she can even write okay (she's no Roger Zelazny, but who the fuck is?) 

Yet... I don't know... something about the book annoyed me. I can't figure it out. Maybe it's just how earnest she seems to be. Maybe it's just that I still have a great deal of trouble believing that someone who looks like that is actually a Geek Chick. Maybe it's just that when she starts talking about life lessons one can learn from the original STAR WARS movie, I want to put my finger down my throat, or when she says really idiotic shit like describing the Battlestar reboot as being "a TV show for geeks that is as good as THE WIRE", I want to set fire to the entire fucking Internet.

(I know what she's saying; she's saying, the dialogue was as cool and the characters were three dimensional and interesting and the plotlines were sophisticated and mature. But here's the thing, you so called Geek Chick -- the science in the new B:G doesn't make any sense. If the writers of THE WIRE had no idea how telecommunications worked and they just made shit up from one episode to the next, the show would have sucked. The writers of Battlestar have no idea how physics and science actually work, and they just make shit up from one episode to the next, but no one cares, because, ermagerd, cyborg hotties! Plus, B:G isn't science fiction -- there is no science in the entire show that changes how the people in that show live in any way whatsoever; they all act exactly like we do and other than the spaceships and the Cylons and the occasional plot devices, they all use exactly the same science we do. And while most people will not care, because to most people, 'science fiction' is anything with space ships and ray guns and robots, to a true Nerd Geek, this shit should MATTER.)

Anyway, gave it a shot, didn't like it. She's cute, she can write reasonably well, seems to have a sense of humor, and I enjoy her character on NEWSROOM. But I did not enjoy this book, for whatever reason. It's probably just me.

A lie, and no heart

So, IRON MAN 3. 

Um... no, not so much. No.

I watched this with most of the fam last night. I felt vaguely dissatisfied all the way through it, but could not put my finger on why. The characterizations felt vaguely off, the relationship dynamics didn't seem to work well... Tony and Pepper, Tony and Rhodey... in fact, the only time I really felt anything much at all other than, you know, visceral excitement and some nervousness about Tony and Pepper's various plights was when Tony ran into the movie version of Ho Yinsen in an flashback to the late 90s meant to set up the movie's main villain(s). That brief cameo was about the only thing I genuinely liked about the movie when I watched it... and this morning, it came to me that that is very indicative of just what, in general, was missing from this film:

The past.

Marvel superhero movies to date have had two kinds of roots to the past - either they had cleverly updated references to the concept's Silver Age template that, while they worked well for the modern, uninitiated moviegoer, still firmly connected that movie back to its actual origins, and/or, in the case of those movies with sequels, they had firm continuity connections back to the previous installment of the movie franchise. 

This is the first Marvel superhero movie that has largely lacked either kind of connective tissue. Nearly everything in this film is self referential. The villains, such as they are, are established entirely in this film (no, the Mandarin does not arise from the cool Ten Rings thing clearly established as a Mandarin lead in in IRON MAN). There are absolutely no connectors back to Iron Man's comic book Silver Age, such as the first two I.M. movies were rife with -- this movie is entirely a Modern Age film (based in large part on a relatively recent Warren Ellis arc). And the only connections back to previous films are the already mentioned cameo of Ho Yinsen (the movie version) and Tony's post traumatic stress stemming from the events of the AVENGERS movie, which is just there to provide a vague, vestigial semblance of a character arc for Tony to undergo in this movie.

But that's it. Other than that, this movie has no past. Everything takes place in a sort of eternal present with no history. Everything works as established, and at the end of the movie, nothing has really changed. In the first two IRON MAN movies, Tony went through definite arcs -- in the first one, he went from drunken sybarite to hero, in the second one, he finally surpassed his father and while doing so, he also created the War Machine armor and defeated a couple of really cool villains with strong Silver Age roots (and, we got to see the Black Widow for the first time, which was very cool). 

In this movie, nothing happens. It has no real history and it makes no real changes to Tony's life, except for the negative one of removing the shrapnel from his heart, and therefore, making him no longer dependent on the Iron Man armor to live. This is a bad idea; various writers and editors have tried doing this with the character in the comic book, sometimes for years at a time, but what makes Marvel superheroes work is that they are all flawed (unlike their largely Golden Age predecessors from National, who are generally perfect and therefore boring). 

But this is why I was not moved and did not feel anything deeper than the visceral while watching IRON MAN 3 -- there is nothing deeper than the visceral there. It's a throwaway movie. It means nothing. 

Now, I'm wondering if all the Phase 2 Marvel superhero movies will be like this. If so, I imagine I'll have stopped watching them long before AVENGERS 2 finally comes out.