Accountants, Arrivals and Other Strangeness

I got caught up on a few movies the past couple of weeks.  I thought I’d try to gather my thoughts about all of them in one place rather then single posts about each.  YES, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.

THE ACCOUNTANT — this was almost a good movie.  it wasn’t horrible, but it went completely sideways in the final third.  When it was about an autistic child then man trying to cope in the world, and when it was about forensic accounting it was really interesting and well done.

And then it became a study in studio notes.  I felt like I could hear every script meeting that took place and I expect some of them occurred while they were actually shooting the film.  They kept pasting things on in the hope they would stick.  The geeky girl — maybe they can have a romance?  Whoops, no, that isn’t working.  Forget her.  Abusive dad?  Or maybe he really loves his sons and they love him?  We could never decide you, audience, try to figure it out.  The treasury department agents — woman with dark secrets, boss who is a bad guy, or maybe a good guy.

I was okay with our hero not only being a math savant, but also a bad ass with a gun and in physical combat.  Dad was a crazy military dude so okay, but when they had his nemesis be his brother?  That was when the shark was well and truly jumped.  They couldn’t even figure out that relationship.  Did they hate each other?  Love each other?  Brother blamed our autistic hero for dad’s death, but it seemed like dad wanted to go to mom’s funeral.  And if the brother was going to be a big deal then he needed to be feathered in a lot more gracefully than he was.

There was one nice surprise at the end of the film, but that relationship was also short changed so they could try to make the abortive romance work.  Ben Affleck did some nice work, but it ultimately ended up feeling desperate.

DR. STRANGE —  It’s a Marvel movie.  Upper middle of the pack I’d say.  Enjoyable.  I liked it better the second time.  I am struck by how these lesser known titles are turning out to be really charming movies — Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy which I adore, and now Dr. Strange.  Cumberbatch is very appealing and seems to be having fun which meant the audience had fun too.  I also quite liked the fact they took the curse off the cloak (cloaks always look silly in modern day) by making the silly thing a character.

My biggest problem is that I share the arrogant doctor’s attitude about mystic mumbo jumbo.  Start offering to balance my aura or telling me about Uri Geller and I’m likely to get a blank stare and a polite but frozen smile.  I like the Marvel universe when it’s about aliens and infinity stones.  They dealt with the Asgardians by saying they seem like gods, but their not really gods.  Now we have magical powers.  I share Thor’s desire to drown his woes in beer.

THE ARRIVAL — What can I say?  It’s elegiac.  A science fiction movie built around linguistics.  A theme that life, no matter what tragedies it may hold, is worth living to the fullest.  It’s also a beautiful celebration of smart people doing smart things.  You know… the elites using their education and their brains to solve complex issues as opposed to people setting off a bomb to fix a perceived problem.  I want to see it again so I can really study the structure and the nuance.

Small Things That Might Help

I have been living in fear for months and last night my fears were realized.  Here’s what I fear is coming:

The climate change accord rejected.

Planned Parenthood defunded so no more cancer screenings and birth control for low income women.

The ACA repealed.  Millions without health care once again.

The nuclear agreement with Iran revoked.

A new Supreme Court that may well overturn Obergefell granting gay people the right to marry.  What happens to those couples and their children?  And will they finally get their wish to criminalize abortion?  There was a girl in my high school who died from a botched back street abortion.  Is that again in our future?

An abandonment of NATO, an organization that has kept relative peace in Europe for seventy years.  Putin has been massing troops and supplies on the borders of eastern European countries.  Will he move on them?  And what will we do it he does?

Families torn apart if this deportation force is actually created and sent into the streets.

Stop and frisk being used against minorities.

All morning people keep asking me what can we do? I don’t have a lot suggestions, but here are a few. Make donations to Planned Parenthood so they can keep the doors open. Think seriously about the candidates for House and Senate for 2018 and give them early support. If we can retake at least one branch of government perhaps we can mitigate some of what will come. And in a very small, personal way we can protect vulnerable people in public places– religious minorities, LBGTQ individuals, Hispanics and African-Americans.

And here’s a guide on how we can do that.  Protecting Against an Aggressor  While it was created to primarily deal with Islamophobia it can be used in any situation where a person is being threatened and abused.

What Trump’s Misogyny Really Says

This is long so I apologize for that.  It’s also a post that I hesitated to write because I’m very private person, and I’m telling you a lot about myself.  But I think this election is just that important that I’m willing to open up.  So here goes —

I’m younger than Secretary Clinton, but I want to give you a look at how the world appeared and still often appears to a woman.  Especially a woman who is driven, ambitious, smart and educated.  I’ve talked about being a child and my frustration over adults constantly telling me what I couldn’t be because I was a girl — astronaut, jockey, President of the United States.

Let’s move forward a few years.  I’m 17 and I’ve just started college.  I enrolled in a geology class.  There weren’t a lot of women in that introductory course, but I found it fascinating.  Seated behind me was a very cute boy.  We began chatting and he proposed a contest.  Which one of us would get the best grade.  The loser buys coffee or lunch.  After all these years I don’t remember the exact terms of the bet.  I’m sure he thought he had a sucker’s bet.  I was a girl how could I possibly do well in a science class?  Clearly I was in college to earn my MRS. 

I might not remember the stakes, but I clearly remember what happened next.  First exam I had the highest test score in the very large class — A+ 100%.  I show my grade to the cute boy, and begin teasing him — I think he pulled a “C”.  I remember his eyes narrowing into slits and the words.  “Shut up you fucking cunt!” spewing from his mouth.  I was shattered and shaken.  I moved to a distant part of the lecture hall after that.

I loved geology so much that I talked to my advisor about making it my major.  The man dismissed the idea out of hand.  I didn’t want to do that, he said with a head shake.  That’s not the right thing for a woman to study.  Maybe English or get a teaching degree until I got married.  The sad thing is — I listened to him.

In due course and after a side trip to Austria to study opera I went on to graduate with a major in history, Magna cum laude, and a minor in music.  I enter law school.  I was part of the first really large wave of women entering law school and in the first week the male students made it very clear that they expected the women to type their papers for them.  Some of us refused.  Others didn’t, they knuckled under maybe to avoid being called fucking cunts.  The dean found out and to his credit it put a stop to that nonsense.

At the end of three years I graduate in the top 10% of my class, pass the bar and go looking for a job.  Eventually I end up in a corporate law firm.  Literally the first day I’m at work I’m in my small office in the back when I hear loud male voices in the outer office.  “I hear Charlie went and hired himself a girl!”  “Lets go see the girl.”   And then standing in the door of my office are six or seven men all staring at me.  I had that sick feeling I’d experienced back in college, but I was older and tougher so I made Oook oook noises and pretended to scratch under my arm like a chimpanzee in the zoo.  They got the message and vanished out of my doorway.

In that office working on a brief in the library late one night the son-in-law of the owner of the firm tells me to get him a cup of coffee.  I told him I liked mine with a lot of milk.  We never got along very well after that.

I quit practicing law and become a science fiction writer.  Overall I found the community to be welcoming and encouraging.  I only had one editor indicate that a visit to his hotel room at world con might land me a book contract.  I declined his offer.

Then I hit Hollywood.  It was here that I discovered that apparently for creepers and gropers grabbing a woman by the pussy is a thing with them.  I had already endured “notes” meetings with a particular boss that started at nine at night after all of the staff had gone home and the notes were frequently interspersed with sexually explicit comments.  I tried to avoid him, but at one meeting he made me sit beside him.  There were over 20 people in this meeting, and I had this man’s hand reaching under my skirt to grab…. well you know the rest.  I sat there schooling my face to impassivity and weighing my job against the pleasure of hitting him.  I also knew if I reacted the humiliation I was already feeling would only be amplified by making a scene in front of so many other people.

Thankfully I haven’t faced anything that overt in the years since.  Getting older and meaner — or being a nasty woman as Mr. Trump would phrase it has some benefits.  If you’re wondering why I made this walk down memory lane it’s to say that, yeah, I think that sexism is at the base of a lot of the crap that gets thrown at Secretary Clinton.  How dare a woman be ambitious, driven, intelligent, well educated, older and no longer meeting the standards of beauty that society forces on women?  Here’s a link to an article about the correlation between supporting Mr. Trump and hostility toward woman. The Correlation between Trump Support & Sexism.

Which brings me to the campaign.  I’ve seen all the ads that show us Donald Trump in his own words.  Particularly the words he has directed at women.  The usual summation is that Donald Trump doesn’t “respect” women. Paul Ryan even said that “Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified.”  Which is itself a demeaning of women implying that we are fragile, weak and must be protected by men instead of accepting us as equals and fully realized human beings.

But I think that analysis is too simplistic.  All the experiences I described and the attitudes displayed by Mr. Trump aren’t about sex, or sexual harassment, or respecting women.  This is about power and the exercise of power over others.  Remember, rape isn’t a sexual act — it’s a violent assault.  And the same goes for sexual harassment — it is also about power, putting women in their place.  When you realized that what drives Mr. Trump is his almost pathological need to dominate other then the dangers of a Trump presidency become horribly clear.

There are many things that frighten me about the Trump candidacy — the racism, the lies, the threats to jail a political opponent, the lack of understanding of the most basic fundamentals of our democratic republic — but it is his glib discussion of sexual assault, the fact that many woman have come forward to attest to this behavior on the part of Mr. Trump that show me who who he is.  To touch a person without their consent is less about an out of control libido than it is  about raw power, an attempt to dominate and exert control.  How Mr. Trump behaves toward women gives me a chilling picture of how he might behave should he have the powers of the Executive Branch of government under his control. 

Just think of the power and dominance he could exert over anyone who has slighted or challenged him.  The I.R.S. could be used against businessmen who mocked him or even declined to support him.  The freedom of the press could be curtailed by the loosening of libel laws.  Investigation could be launched against citizens using the F.B.I.  People will be profiled based on their ethnic backgrounds or their religious beliefs.  We’re already seeing glimmers of this future in the behavior of the F.B.I. in these final days of the election.  And once an investigation, justified or not, is begun a President Trump could have his hand picked Attorney General bring charges through the Department of Justice.

I understand it’s probably easier to make the ads about respect for women, but again, I think that is too simple.  Because it isn’t about sex, it’s about power.

If You Can Keep It”

I recently posted on Facebook a link to a story out of Texas about students walking out of an anthropology class over the discussion that modern humans evolved in Africa.  I got push back that this was unfair to Texas, on overblown story because only a small number of students walked out of a class of 390, etc.  Then I realized that what disturbed me about the story is that there is a percentage of our American citizenry who is truculent, ill informed, proud of that lack, and suspicious of “elites”.  Elites which include not only the people who work in our institutions of government, and those institutions, but scientists and the facts that science discovers and explains.  To quote Neil DeGrasse Tyson

“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”

Which brought me to the discussions I shared with George R.R. Martin over dinner last night.  We enjoyed one of our wide ranging talks — everything from Wild Cards, writing — what it means to us, TV shows we are watching, and of course the election which has both of us obsessed. We talked about the fall of the Roman republic and what was really behind the collapse.  (We were in a role playing game run by Walter Jon Williams for a number of years and ended up reading a lot of history about the period.)

Point being —  it wasn’t the orgies. It was the concentration of vast wealth in the hands of an elite few which sent citizen farmers to Rome once they lost their land, and the most profound gridlock created by an insane political structure. Two consuls serving on alternate days, often with incompatible ideas, and ten tribunes any one of whom could veto any legislation passed by the senate.

That brought me back to a fascinating interview with former Supreme Court Justice David Souter about the dangers of an uninformed electorate. Here’s a link to what was said and clips from the Maddow show where she highlighted this interview.  Souter Warning.  Here is a portion of what the retired Justice said:

“I don’t worry about our losing republican government in the United States because I’m afraid of a foreign invasion. I don’t worry about it because I think there is going to be a coup by the military as has happened in some of other places. What I worry about is that when problems are not addressed, people will not know who is responsible. And when the problems get bad enough, as they might do, for example, with another serious terrorist attack, as they might do with another financial meltdown, some one person will come forward and say, ‘Give me total power and I will solve this problem.’

It’s this that makes me worry for the country, and why my linking to the story about students objecting to anthropological facts is relevant.   In 2014 a Gallup poll found that 42% of Americans believe in creationism rather than evolution.  In these complex times we need a well educated populace.  We have to understand the dangers of climate change, how monetary policy really works, how tariffs help fuel the financial collapse in 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression, the concept of herd immunity and the efficacy of vaccines, etc. etc. etc.

Let us contemplate the words of Benjamin Franklin at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention when asked by a lady… “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

 

 

Drama Versus Reality

Reality is so damn unforgiving.  I’m working on the third book of the IMPERIALS Saga, and one of my main character is the heir to the throne. Her aides aren’t going to let her go into actual combat unless it’s absolutely unavoidable, and she’s not stupid enough to lead the charge.  She’s also now an admiral in command of a large battle group that’s going in to rescue some captured soldiers.  So, she’s on the bridge, giving orders and others are carrying out those orders.  They’re going to be the bullet magnets, not La Infanta.

But I’m a TV writer and a very visual writer so this is making me crazy.  All the exciting stuff is going to be happening on this orphan moon, and my view point character is on a ship far removed from the action, just watching through the helmet cameras worn by her troops.  But if I put her in the thick of the action she looks like an idiot, and I look like an idiot for making that choice.

So I’m balancing the frustration of readers who might feel dissatisfied by the lack of a big action sequence versus the readers who will decide I’m an idiot if I let the freaking heir to the throne lead a party of marines staging a rescue, and thus give up on reading my books.

Okay, back to the Word Mines.

Too Little and Way Too Late

“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” Edmund Burke (1729-1797).

I first heard this quote while watching a performance of the musical 1776.  The representative from Georgia, Dr. Lyman Hall, was sent to the Continental Congress with the instruction not to vote for independence.  After listening to John Adams passionate cry of “Is Anybody There?” he quotes the line from Burke and changes his vote to aye.  That quote has been much on my mind over the past 48 hours since the revelations of Donal Trump’s sexual predation.  As a result over the ensuing two days large numbers of Republican senators, representatives, former office holders, etc. have begun running for the exits.

Really?  Now?  This is the thing that made you abandon a man so clearly unqualified for the office he seeks?  What about his mainstreaming the racist “Birther” conspiracy?  You all winked at that.  What about his false claim that “thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated after 9/11”?  What about his mocking of a reporter with disabilities?  The unconstitutional statement that he would use a religious test to ban people from this country?  The accusation that undocumented Mexican immigrants were rapist and murders?  The degrading of respect for the judiciary with claims that a judge of Mexican/American heritage could not fairly judge him?  The demeaning of a veteran and war hero?  The attacks on the grieving parents of a fallen soldier?  The incitements to violence at his rallies?

This is but a small sample of the grotesque statements and stances taken by the Republican candidate for president.  So forgive me Republican leaders if I’m unimpressed with your road to Damascus moment and your sudden conversion.   Frankly your cries of shocked outrage carry as much weight as Captain Renault’s in Casablanca — “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

Donald Trump never hid what he was.  You all knew.  You’ve known for five years when he began the racist Birther movement but you stayed silent.  Sadly the Republican party began its dance on the edge of the abyss long before the rise of Donald Trump.  It began with Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”, with Ronald Reagan giving a speech about states rights in Philadelphia Mississippi the site of the brutal murder of three civil rights workers in 1964, with Willie Horton; please listen to the statement by Lee Atwater on how to use racism to win elections and be warned there is offensive language in this audio recording.  Lee Atwater Southern Strategy.

Everyone is shocked with Donald Trump’s calm discussion of using his status, wealth and power to grope and fondle women without their consent (and yes, that is sexual assault.  I say this as a women who has endured exactly what he described doing — and I don’t mean the kissing.)  Yet this is a party that has been unrelenting in its efforts to control women’s bodies and choices.  All of these men un-endorsing Mr. Trump talk about how they have daughters.  Well you could start to protect and honor your daughters by not treating women like children or chattel.

So how does this all relate back to Mr. Burke?  If establishment Republicans had heeded the advice of the man often credited with being the founder of modern conservatism they would have stopped Mr. Trump at the Republican convention.  Yes, millions of people voted for him, but that was a terrible choice and these elected figures in the Republican party knew that.  But instead of using their judgment they acquiesced to the opinion of angry, low information voters who are unwilling to accept that this is becoming a minority-majority country.  The brave thing would have been to set aside Mr. Trump and select a normal candidate.  I probably wouldn’t have agreed with the policy positions of a John Kasich or Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, but I wouldn’t have been embarrassed to be an American in the eyes of the world.  Yes it would have angered those primary voters and the Republicans probably would have lost the election, but they would have maintained their dignity and honor while they lost.  Now it appears they are going to lose anyway, and they are left without even a shred of dignity and decency.  They bear the stain of Donald Trump — his racism, his misogyny, his authoritarian attitudes.

Did I say that Republicans were running for the exits?  That’s too kind.  This is rats abandoning a sinking ship; a ship they should never have boarded in the first place.  I hope they can tread water for a long time.

Guarding the Ephemeral

A Man for All Seasons – Act One

Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

Written by Robert Bolt (1924-1995)

This is the major reason I fear a Donald Trump presidency.  Not the outrageous tax cuts or the trade war he has threatened either of which will crash the economy.  Not the ridiculous spats he will launch against world leaders.  Not even his control of the nuclear codes because I have to believe that the people around him are smart enough not to want to die in a nuclear conflagration.

I fear him because he has displayed a fundamental disrespect and lack of understanding of the Constitution of the United States, and about the role of the judiciary in our country.  Without faith in the rulings of our courts and the primacy of the Supreme Court everyone’s personal safety is at stake.  If a president says he can flout the rulings of a court then political opponents can be thrown in jail (we’ve seen this attitude on display at Trump rallies).  Unpopular minorities can be harassed, arrested, deported without regard to our laws or our founding documents — a stated goal of Mr. Trump’s and one that has been vigorously applauded by his supporters.  Voting rights can be eroded and ultimately removed.  Remember it has been the courts that over the past few months have reversed blatant attempts by politically motivated legislatures to deny the franchise to vulnerable segments of society.

There is a crises of faith in all of our core institutions, but I think this constant assault on the judiciary is the most alarming.  It can be seen in a Cliven Bundy who refuses a court order to pay the required grazing fees.  In a Senate who will not seat a ninth justice to the highest court in the land in direct contravention of the Constitution that they swore to uphold.  A supreme court justice in Alabama who refused to accept the ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States as regards the right of LGBT people to wed.  A county clerk (a government position) who refuses to issue marriage licenses and placed her religion over the law of the land and the rights of minorities.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

We can achieve none of these things unless we all agree to honor certain core institutions.  This is not to say they can’t be improved, the rights expanded, the meaning of “we the people” broadened, but we all have to agree not to burn down the edifice that has been built for us with the sacrifice of those who came before us.

I fear that Donald Trump believes he can fly above the flames and use them to propel him to what he wants, and that many of his supporters have forgotten in their anger that oft times the arsonist can be immolated along with the building.

 

A Man For All Seasons

Essential Writing Tools — The Hatchet

There’s a saying in writing that you have to be able to “kill your babies”.  Which means that sometimes there is a scene or a character that you just love, but it has to go.  It can’t stay in the narrative.  I’ve faced two of those in the past week.  Both times, on the Wild Cards story and on the novel, I wrote a scene or in one case a set up, and in the back of my head a tiny little voice went “Ah, come on!”

It behooves writers to listen to that tiny voice because when your reader or viewer hits that moment it’s not going to be a tiny voice it’s going to be a bull horn going “AH COME ON!!!”  When that happens you’ve lost the audience’s trust and that’s death for a book or a movie.  There is a compact or a contract or a promise that flows between writer and reader/viewer/player and it all rests in trust.  I believe you are going to take me on an adventure and not disappoint me.

The audience gives us money and in return we promise that we’ll play fair.  We won’t tell you the book is one thing and then not deliver.  Now that doesn’t mean we can’t surprise readers, but we can’t violate the promise we make in the beginning and if we are good at our craft we keep reinforcing that promise all the way through the book until we deliver a satisfying conclusion.  We have to be authentic.  A reader can spot inauthenticity from a hundred miles away.  If a writer is just doing romances because they sell and doesn’t actually love that genre 99% of the time that will show.  That’s also a form of cheating your readers

But back to making cuts — this inability on the part of some writers to lose things they love is why Hollywood is so wary of allowing the author of a book to do the screenplay adaptation.  You’ve got to be brutal when adapting.  Keep the theme, the feel, the basic narrative but the exact moves that told the story in prose form may not work in this different medium.  Scenes are cut.  Other scenes are added.  Multiple characters get merged into one or cut out all together.

My advice to anybody starting out in this business is “if it doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t.”  I don’t sit down to write without a detailed outline, but this is one place where I do listen to my hind-brain.

It’s About The Theme, Stupid

Over the past two weeks I’ve seen two movies.  STAR TREK: BEYOND and last night SUICIDE SQUAD.  I only went to see the Trek film because I had been asked to do an interview about it.  I had been actively looking forward to Suicide Squad.  My reactions to both were polar opposites of what I expected.

NOW THERE ARE GOING TO BE SPOILERS!!!!!!!  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

I ended up enjoying Beyond far more than I expected, (I kept murmuring to myself, “why oh why couldn’t we have had some humor and charm in Next Generation?” while I was watching, but I digress.  It wasn’t until I sat down for the interview that I realized why it worked.  And it all comes back to something that I write about with great regularity — Simon Pegg who penned the script, had an actual theme. 

Kirk in the opening is a man who is finding his role as captain of the Enterprise confining.  It’s routine missions, patrols.  Nothing very exciting is occurring.  He chafes in the harness.

Krall is a former Star Fleet officer who had led men into battle against alien threats.  When the Federation was formed and forged peace with many of these former adversaries Krall was furious and disgusted.  He viewed the peace as a betrayal of the men and women who had fought.  Then his ship gets stranded, Star Fleet doesn’t send help and his bitterness becomes rage.

Of course in his own mind he is the hero of the piece.  Krall is a man trying to make it clear that human kind can only advance through conflict, war, loss, and ultimately military victory.  He leads the assault on the space station partly for vengeance, and mostly to shock the humans out of their complacency.  He does not believe that through unity there is strength.

Krall is the cautionary tale for James T. Kirk.  During the course of the film Kirk realizes that his chafing at the confines of the Federation could lead him to the same place as Krall.  He accepts that his duty is to his crew.  It is in this movie that his full maturation occurs.  He was a callow, cocky man in the first film.  The second film — well, lets just pretend that one didn’t happen.  In Beyond Kirk becomes a man and a leader.

There is a wonderful visual moment at the end of Beyond when Krall sees his reflection in a shard of glass and realizes he has become a monster.  Which led to one of the major missteps for me in the film.  If this had been classic Trek Krall would have recovered his identity as Captain Edison and helped Kirk save the station.  Instead he continued to fight.  I actually viewed the final fight through that lens and assumed he had helped Kirk, but apparently that was me reading into the moment.

There were silly little things in the movie that bugged me.  How is it that Krall and his remaining crew forgot where they parked their ship?  Why didn’t anybody stop by now and then and check on the old bucket?  How did they learn that the missing part of the alien bio-weapon was aboard the Enterprise?  And who flies around with a motorcycle parked on the bridge?  But again, those are nits.  What worked was there was a narrative that had subtext, dealt with larger issues and didn’t beat me over the head with The Message.  (I couldn’t help but feel the script was a direct rebuke of Trumpism, but of course that is serendipity.)

And then there is Suicide Squad.  *sigh* I have no idea what this movie was trying to say.  That the only way you accomplish anything is to be a stone cold killer?  Even our supposed good guy Amanda Waller portrayed by Viola Davis (who made a heroic effort to salvage this film) is a murderous psycho.

Will Smith also gave it his best to inject some humor and honest emotion into the movie, but it fell flat.

When a movie has to spend the first, at least, thirty minutes doing a “let’s look at the files and give you the backstory” to introduce the characters you’re in trouble.  Truthfully it felt like an hour had passed while Waller briefed government guys.  When Rick Flag was introduced I thought he was going to be the tough but compassionate commander who brings them all together.  At last, I thought, this will become the Dirty Dozen.  Instead he had all the personality of a wet dish rag.  I can’t fault the actor.  He literally had nothing to work with. 

The story was an incoherent mess.  Was the Joker the villain?  The Enchantress?  Granted she was building a big unexplained argle, bargle, gazpacho (hat tip to Jim Wright Stonekettle Station for this wonderful turn of phrase) machine to destroy all the humans.  Because they no longer worshiped her and her brother?  Hey, honey, if you kill all the humans then there’s no one at all left to worship you.  Tiny flaw in your plan.

If I’m incredibly generous I could say the theme of the film was people acting out of love.  Deadshot out of love for his daughter.  Flag for the archeologist.  Joker for Harley Quinn, El Diablo trying to expiate his sin for not loving his family enough or the right way.  But man am I being generous.

An Armed Society is….Terrifying

I can’t believe I’m writing about this again, but as I type three more police officers have been killed today. Three others are in the hospital.  As the shooting was occurring the Baton Rouge police were putting out warnings about men armed with long guns — _In a state with open carry_.  I know this is going to earn me howls and objections, but can we stipulate that in a civil society open carry is crazy? 
At this point police forces around the country are worried if not down right terrified.  If you are wandering down to the Starbucks or Target to do a little shopping and you are packing you are adding to the tensions rising in the country.  You are making the work of the police so much more difficult.  Apparently this tragedy today was the work of a single gunman, but for a long time they thought there were three shooters.  How can the police tell if the armed man they see on the street is just a guy “exercising his second amendment rights” or one of the shooters?  In this climate can we reasonably expect them to wait to find out?
This is not to diminish the problems of overly aggressive policing in minority communities.  Too many people on all sides of this discussion are ending up dead.  We’re the United States of America not downtown  Mogadishu.  I shouldn’t be afraid that if I go out to Starbucks or shopping at Target that some citizen is going to decide to stop a shoplifter by pulling their gun and shooting up a parking lot.  Bystander Firing at Fleeing Shoplifter.  Or a man looking at an air rifle in Walmart ends up killed by the police.  Man with Air Rifle Fatally Shot.  I shouldn’t be afraid of dying in a movie theater because some mentally ill man can buy an arsenal.  And god help me if some bystander decides to whip out their gun and start shooting in a dark theater filled with terrified people in an effort to stop the shooter.  I have no confidence in the NRA’s vaunted “good guy with a gun”.  I’m pretty confident they’d just add to the death toll.  Apparently neither does the police chief of Dallas.  Armed Civilians in Texas ‘increasingly. challenging’.
We have got to have a serious conversation about race, about guns, about how we face the future.  We have a President who has asked for careful and judicious words, to bring down the rhetoric.  In response we have the presumptive Republican nominee who has used racial anxiety to win the nomination Tweeting — “Our country is a divided crime scene, and it will only get worse!”
I am a liberal and a gun owner.  But this is madness.  The rule of law does not mean that we take the law into our own hands.  That we answer grievances with a bullet.  Let’s try words.  They can be very powerful.

When Guns Replace Words

Over on Facebook I’ve been nattering on about horses and the World Science Fiction Convention  because I truly cannot make sense of Dallas.  Or perhaps it’s all painfully obvious and understandable, and I’m trying to avoid facing it.
We have a divided society with economic and social inequality. We have a fraught history as regards race in this country which we have never honestly faced. We have an increasingly militarized police force and minority populations who feel separated and disenfranchised from their country, government, society.   Who feel that their lives don’t matter as they are denied decent housing, education, and protection.
 
And we have guns.
 
So many, many guns and people who have come to think that guns are how you solve disagreements. Or get yours. Or make a statement.  Or prove you still have power.
 
We desperately need to learn to put away the guns. Pick up words again. Learn to talk. Learn to listen. Learn to hear.  Learn to look past superficial differences and see the common humanity braided in our very DNA.  

Enchanting New Mexico

I am so glad to be home. No moon, so the sky is like black crystal. The Milky Way looks like a gossamer shawl thrown over Heaven’s shoulders. The longer I look the more stars seem to appear. There are the big, bold ones trying to see who can throw the most light, and then the small, shy ones peeping out from behind them like elf children.  There is a soft breeze carrying the scent of piñon and juniper, and making the trees sigh and dip. My wind chimes are singing to each other.   Together they create an A sharp major chord.

And the quiet.  Oh god, how I’ve missed the quiet.

X-Men Apocalypse

**************************************************************HERE BE SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!*****************************************************************************************

Saturday night I took myself off to the Cinepolis to see the new X-Men film rejoicing in the rather ominous title X-Men: Apocalypse.  I’ve greatly enjoyed X-Men First Class and Days of Future Past.  I’ve been a big James McAvoy fan and Fassbender is perfect as young Magneto so this wasn’t going to be a hardship. However, I was dubious about this new film because it looked like character proliferation which usually leads to a frenetic mess as they try to service all the characters.  I’m also getting really tired of apocalypses.  I’m reaching the point with these superhero movies where I’m like — “Okay, just destroy the world already!”

I came away from the movie feeling like it was two films that had melted together, and I liked one of the films much better than the other.  The small, personal stories were lovely.  Scott’s brother, Alex, getting him to Xavier’s school.  Mystique/Raven being a hero to mutants around the world. Magneto having made a life for himself.  Quicksilver in search of family and father. Charles as gentle mentor and wise teacher.

I liked the dark underbelly where mutants are used and abused in fight clubs.  (We went there in the last Wild Cards novel Lowball, and it makes sense), but I didn’t buy that there was all this mutant hate and distrust after the events in Days of Future Past.  Also the time line between the final scene in Future Past with Wolverine back at the school and everything fine and dandy, and this new timeline where entire cities had been destroyed and millions killed had my head spinning.  How exactly did that happen?

But I get ahead of myself.  So our big villain, Apocalypse, arrives and once again we had a megalomaniac determined to destroy the world because…. why?  Exactly?  And after the destruction of major cities and the deaths of millions we’re going to all end up back at the mansion with the school just humming along…..?

Character motivation was another problem for me.  I didn’t get why the three kids joined up with Apocalypse so willingly?  I could buy it with Magneto.  He had lost everything so Let It Burn seemed like a place he would go, but Storm and Angel and Psylocke ?  Wouldn’t they want to get an eight track, and some tapes and go on a date?  I guess there was some hint they were mind controlled but it felt very forced to me.  Rather like the engineered conflict between Batman and Superman in what had be this year’s absolutely, positively worst superhero movie.  It’s like nerd wet dreams — Wouldn’t it be cool if Batman and Superman fight.  Even cooler if various X-Men fight just ‘cause.

There were points where I thought I was going to end up liking Apocalypse better than Civil War, but ultimately X-Men lost me when it went to a very comic book place in the final scenes.

Putting aside for the moment  the fact that Cairo was completely destroyed and millions of innocent people were killed not to mention other cities with massive destruction, we have Eric murdering six or seven cops because a terrible accident occurred.  The cops had come to confront Magneto because of the events from 10 years before.  He was, in fact, a wanted criminal.  It wasn’t just mutant hate.  Then things go pear shaped his daughter dies, and he kills them.  Next up the whole world destroying thing, and then the school gets rebuilt and Charles wistfully suggests that he wishes Eric would stay.  We once again have the “farewell, old friend” moment.  Your old friend just murdered a gaggle of cops and then wiped Cairo off the map!

I’m all for redemption and salvation, but there are some crimes that are beyond forgiveness.  Magneto’s actions fall into that category for me.  But again, no consequences, no revulsion from Charles or Quicksilver, or Jean, or the pious (and darling) Nightcrawler. 

I understand these movies are fantasies, but at least nod toward the bigger issues.  And that’s where ultimately Civil War ends up being the better film.  I still felt like the fight between Ironman and the Cap was forced, but at least they were discussing big issues about a world in which there are superpowers.  Ultimately in Apocalypse the blood of innocents cried out from the sand and rubble, and no one answered.

Stasi Anyone?

If only it were a delicious frothy drink.  Or a fun game to be played at picnics.  But it’s not.  The Stasi (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit) was the secret police of East Germany.  The organization that had neighbors spying on neighbors and citizens reporting each other.  It’s a common creation of authoritarian states.  Stalin had the NKVD.  Nazi Germany had the Gestapo.  I wonder what President Trump will call his secret police?

Here are a couple of quotes from the presumptive Republican nominee for president made on Monday June 13th, 2016 —

“If it can be proven that somebody had information about any attack, and did not give this information to authorities, they must serve prison time.” 

“We need to make sure every single person involved in this plan, including anyone who knew something, but didn’t tell us, is brought to justice.  These people need to have consequences, big consequences.” 

An entire class of American citizens has been deemed guilty and worthy of suspicion solely on the basis of their religion.  That is the very definition of unAmerican.  It is contrary to our founding documents, our ideals, our sense of ourselves.

If it doesn’t send a shiver down the spine of any thinking citizen then the grand experiment that was American representative democracy is truly ending.

And The Dreams Die

I’m still trying to process yesterday’s horror. What I can’t understand is the retreat to the political corners and simplistic binary choice — it’s either guns or it’s terrorism.  As the President pointed out this morning in his statement from the Oval Office — it can be both.  It is both.  In fact it’s a three dimensional mess because it’s also blatant homophobia. Yes, this gunman had been self-radicalized. Yes it was ridiculously easy for him to purchase an assault rifle. But he picked Pulse for a reason. Because that nightclub was a place where LGBTQ people found friendship, and community and a place to dance and have fun.  In short safety in a world that still doesn’t accept them as equal citizens, and where major religions still demonize and attack them and some more outrageous voices call for their deaths and deliver those deaths.
 
Why are these people who commit these ghastly acts so afraid?  Why do they hate so much?  At the most basic genetic level we are identical whether we’re black, white, asian, gay, Muslim, Christian, male or female.  Each time this happens — a Planned Parenthood clinic, an elementary school, an African-American church, a movie theater, a Christmas party, a college campus…… (There’s too many to list) my hope that a united humanity will reach the stars dies a little more.
Apparently we are going to choke on our own bile on a world we are systematically poisoning.

Appearances

  • Boskone, February 19th - 21st. Boston MA.
  • MidAmericacon August 17th - 21st, Kansas City MO
  • Bubonicon August 26th -28th, Albuquerque, NM

Social Media

Friend me on FacebookFollow me on Twitter