Is This It?

@LivingBlueinRed: “White rural America was cool with democracy until it was faced with the possibility of becoming a minority”

@FrankConniff: “I don’t get it. Why would Trump prefer immigrants from Norway over immigrants from Haiti and African countries? What’s the one factor that makes Norwegians different? Am I missing something?”

This is one of those days where I wonder “is this it? Is this the bridge too far that will finally make Republican lawmakers place the defense of our form of government over ideology, policy agendas to gut the safety net, party affiliation and just pure tribalism?” And then Paul Ryan comes out and says that the president’s shithole comment is “very unfortunate and unhelpful” and I despair.

And then I think back on pussy grabbing and saying that white supremacists and neo-Nazi’s had some very fine people and I begin to think this grand experiment in representative government is over.

The dream and hope of America was never about racial or ethnic or religious identity. It had been about a shared belief in certain unalienable rights and the values enshrined in the Constitution and none of those are dependent upon your race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or national origin. When a person comes here they agree to live by those precepts and the members of Congress swear an oath to defend that Constitution that enumerates those rights and obligations. It’s about time those Republican lawmakers remembered that.

Skating Past the Consequential

If you haven’t seen Thor: Ragnarok there are some minor SPOILERS and also a couple of SPOILERS about The Dark World in this post so read no further if you are dismayed by spoilers.

Recently I had a similar reaction in two very different mediums within a few days of each other. The first was when I went to see Thor: Ragnarok. (I love the Thor movies and I don’t think it’s entirely due to Tom Hiddleston as Loki.)

For those of you who share my passion for all things Asgardian it was made clear in the first two movies that Thor’s relationship with Jane Forster the brilliant astrophysicist is profoundly important. In fact Thor gives up the throne in The Dark World for love of Jane.

So now we get to Ragnarok — which I enjoyed vey much — apart from this one exchange that threw me right out of the movie for several minutes. It’s during an exchange on the sidewalk between Thor and Loki as they are regarding a demolished building. Thor states that he and Jane broke up and implies that it was totally his choice to dump her. Two lines. A throw away.

No, you don’t get to do that. For those fans who have been following the series this deserves more then a casual remark that is treated as comedic moment. The ending of this relationship should be worth more than that. Either don’t bring it up at all or deal with it in a thoughtful way.

The other experience was reading a novel whose story is set in a gaming universe I particularly enjoy. A potentially explosive moment between the young king fighting to free his country and his best friend and general was detailed in past tense and in an omniscient view point.

Again, no. Just no. You dramatize moments like this. The old saw of show don’t tell completely applies in this case. When your best friend casually suggests that it would be best if you murdered everyone in a town you’ve just liberated so no one can convey this news of your victory to the enemy — and mind you these are your own subjects — this should not be a throw away line that the suggestion was quickly rejected.

Show me that confrontation. Show me how this revelation of a dark nature in his friend affects the young king. Something this important should have repercussions through the rest of the novel. Even if those repercussions are subtle.

There are times (in the immortal words of Walter Jon Williams when a simple declarative sentence is your friend. But not at consequential moments. If it’s going to matter to your reader or viewer you as the writer better show as much concern as them.

Political Musings on a Monday Morning

Here are my thoughts on the probable outcome of tomorrow’s special election in Alabama. Roy Moore is probably going to win. I’d like to hope it will be a squeaker, but I fear that whatever the margin it will be a win for the sexual predator.

And inevitably Democrats and liberals and independents and progressives are going to get depressed. Don’t. The fact we will have come close to sending a Democrat to Congress from a fire engine red state is pretty remarkable.

Remember that the Republicans are snake bit in the butt and gonna die either way. Either a moderate Democrat comes to the Senate while at the same time voters won’t forget that they were all in on Roy Moore, or the GOP is going to have to deal with having a serial molester of underage and teenage girls who places his batshit religious views over the Constitution, thinks that America was great back in the 1840’s even with that whole slavery thing, is homophobic and Islamophobic, supports a religious test to serve in government, and feels that women voting has caused a lot of problems serving in the Senate.

And how are they going to deal with that? An ethics investigation that can last several years and then they take no action? How do you keep Moore from spouting off his batshit crazy views? On what committees is he seated? They have to know the press is going to be all over this guy waiting for his next insane mouth eruption. All of this while they are going into 2018 having passed nothing except (probably) a deeply unpopular tax bill.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Let me repeat that — No good deed goes unpunished. Sadly that may come to pass as one major political party becomes ever more unmoored from basic decency and ethics and determined to place the retention of power over the retention and protection of our Constitution, our institutions, and our very democracy. Meanwhile the other tries to maintain standards, to “Go high” in the words of our previous First Lady and is rewarded for this by seeing itself losing the ability to protect those very institutions because the Democrats are bringing nerf balls to a fight where the Republican’s have machetes.

I was going to write up my thoughts about sexual harassment and sexual assault and my concern that if everything is the same then nothing matters but now my thoughts on that matter have to be folded into the events surrounding Senator Franken’s retirement from the Senate.

First, let’s set some basic ground rules. Not every offense is the same. There has to be agreement that there is a scale, a range of behaviors that cannot and should not be treated exactly the same. Otherwise we risk a tremendous backlash at a time when we finally have a chance to change this age old gender dynamic in the workplace.

At the top of that scale is a Roy Moore who has been credibly accused of the predation of underaged girls or a Harvey Weinstein who has been accused of grotesque behavior up to and including rape. Obviously these men have engaged in criminal acts that could have been prosecuted if they had been brought to light at the time of the malefaction.

That’s the top of our range. So how do we react to lesser offenses? Should mansplaining cost someone their job? How about telling a dirty joke? Making suggestive remark? Now we are starting to get into situations that can make a woman in the workplace deeply uncomfortable. Add to that the surroundings. I was forced to attend meetings alone with my boss at nine at night after everyone else had left the office and there I was the recipient his salacious remarks. The isolation and vulnerability made the remarks even harder to endure.

Next step — the unwanted and unsolicited touch. I’m a hugger, always have been. Now I wonder am I sending a signal that could be misconstrued? How much more difficult for a co-worker to parse that decision, or an underlying to refuse the embrace from a boss. Should a boss never embrace an employee? I don’t know the answer to that, but my instinct now is to say no, no more hugs.

But there are touches that go beyond the hug. There is a man touching a woman’s butt. I’ve had men say, what’s the big deal? I can’t explain why, but it is a very big deal. It feels more like possession than friendly affection. It’s just not the same when a man does that to a woman than when a bunch of male football players pat each others rear ends. My new rule is keep your hands where they can be seen.

The kiss. There are layers to this too. The air kiss, the continental peck on each cheek, a very affectionate kiss on the cheek. How about on the lips? In some cultures that’s accepted. When does the kiss become predatory? When you feel like you can’t refuse it. That’s when.

And then there is the man who currently occupies the White House. He has admitted on tape that he has not only forced kisses upon women without their consent he has forcibly groped their genitals because his position of power allowed him to treat those around him as objects. Nineteen women have accused Trump of various levels of sexual harassment and assault. (Personally I’m beginning to think this is the initiation ritual to join the League of Extraordinary Creeps since it happened to me. And yeah, you want to feel violated and humiliated that will sure as hell do it.) But back to Trump. He has denied the allegations, called the women liars and threatened to sue them — and he’s still President.

The pièce de résistance is Roy Moore. A man who was banned from a mall, from the YMCA, where police officers at high school games were warned to keep him away from the cheerleaders. A man who approached a fourteen year old girl at her mother’s custody hearing, and lured her to his home where he undressed and forced her to fondle him. Despite overwhelming corroborating evidence Moore, taking a leaf from Trump, has chosen to deny and vilify his accusers. And he’s probably going to end up in the United States Senate where his Republican colleagues will tut tut and do absolutely nothing to have him removed.

Contrast that with the Democrats who have demanded the resignation of Senator Al Franken for admittedly gross and immature conduct. Franken admitted his bad behavior and taken responsibility, and for that he has been vilified from the White House podium as a creep while the far more offensive predator in the Oval Office skates because he denies everything.

In the House the Democrats demanded that Congressman Conyers resign over his harassment of staff and he complied. Meanwhile Blake Farenthold continues to serve after using tax payer money to pay off an accuser. A woman whose life has been ruined by his assault. There has been no call from Republicans for Farenthold to resign.

More importantly there has been no promise that Moore will be removed from the Senate or calls for the president to face consequences for his sexual assaults and harassment.

So what’s the take away from all this? Deny and skate I guess.
Look I’m disgusted with Franken’s behavior just as I was disgusted and infuriated by Bill Clinton’s debasement of the Oval Office. (Yes, she was of age, and yes it was consensual — sort of. When you have a profound power difference — President/Intern — it’s a little hard to see how a person says no.)

However — I’m very much afraid that in this modern day Washington Game of Thrones that the Democrats are Ned Stark and they and by extension our institutions and our very democracy are going to end up on pikes along Pennsylvania Avenue.

I get it that the Democrats are trying to show a clear distinction between themselves and the Grand Old Pedophile party, and it may make all of us feel warm and virtuous, but if the party leadership thinks it’s going to shame Republican leadership or bring over a percentage of the cult – like Trump voters…. well I have a bridge to sell them. We go high and all we get is a shiv in the kidneys.

I never though I would say this, but maybe it’s time for us, the majority of this country, to fight as dirty as the other side. Which is a sad commentary on how depressed and despairing I have become. I want to believe in the American experiment, but as we slid ever closer to authoritarianism I find my hope dimming. I’m going to hope that 2018 turns back the tide. That people who value decency, and a society and economy that work for all regardless of race, religion, national origin, gender or whom they love will triumph.

So let’s all work for that, and allow me to end thusly: If anybody votes for a Republican going forward… well, they can go straight to Hell.

Hamilton and Other Founding Fathers

So I saw Hamilton last night. And yes, there is a reason it won every Tony it could possibly win. And yes, I’m so glad I spent the money and bought a ticket.

Because it’s L.A. and just getting anywhere is always a challenge I left the house at four o’clock to drive to the Universal City Metro Station to catch the Red Line to Hollywood and Vine. I bought a tap card, loaded on some credit and headed to the trains. The station at Universal is very modern and a bit SciFi in its look, but it was nothing as compared with the Hollywood & Vine station. As you can see from the photo this is a visual love letter to the movies.

Metro Station

The station exit is literally across the street from the Pantage’s Theater. A bit of personal trivia. My dad and Rodney Pantages were business partners so when I was a little girl I used to go and watch movies for free at the Pantage’s back when it was still a movie theater. Back then it was dingy and a bit run down. Not like today when it has been lovingly restored to its former Art Deco magnificence.

I had arrived very early so I went off to have dinner at the Running Goose restaurant. The meal was lovely. The restaurant is in a tiny building that is mostly open to the air with an herb garden out back. I had their tostada appetizers and make the mistake of having two — one with corn, the other with carrot. There were great, but it meant I couldn’t finish my main course of short ribs and pumpkin dumplings in a rich red sauce. And of course since I hadn’t driven it meant I had no place to stash the leftovers so I had to abandon them.

I walked back to the theater and waited for the doors to open at 7:30. My seat was in the orchestra but back enough that I had a perfect view of the stage. Any closer and the sight line wouldn’t have been as good.

I met two lovely ladies who are readers and aficionados of old Hollywood so we chatted about books and television and show at the Pantages. In between I studied the stage. It’s a single set, movable stairs and old bricks with a hint of dormers and windows. Each scene is set by the chorus and dancers moving chairs, stools and tables in and out. Very minimal and very effective because you don’t want anything that takes your attention off the performers.

Then it was time and the show began. First, this is not a traditional musical. It reminds me far more of opera in that virtually everything is either sung or rapped. I think there were maybe four words that were actually spoken. The audience also didn’t behave like a typical audience. There were loud, enthusiastic reactions to the arrival on stage of certain characters and to certain lines. One in particular got a big cheer when Hamilton and Lafayette shake hands and say “Immigrants we get the job done!” The cheers shook the roof and it was great.

The show covers decades in two hours and it’s an amazing tour de force. Most of us who write for the screen wish there was a way to cover that much time in a movie, but it often falls flat. Films tend to be immediate covering only a few days or weeks, sometimes only a few hours and they can lose their narrative drive when they try to cover too much time. Hamilton does it brilliantly.

The young men performing Burr and Washington were phenomenal. I had a bit of trouble understanding the young man singing Hamilton in the first act as his diction wasn’t as crisp as the other two. It got much better in the second act. I also think the second act is stronger than the first act. But perhaps that’s because of my background in Constitutional Law so I found all of the exchanges fascinating. There must have been a staggering amount of research done by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

There is a nice bit of comedic respite provided by King George, and I loved the way the costumes helped sell the passage of time. We went seamlessly from 18th century panniers to empire style dresses. (Yes, that word choice was deliberate.) I learned something too — about the fate of Hamilton’s son and the accomplishments of Hamilton’s wife Eliza after her husband’s death.

This is an important piece of art. It’s an important celebration of the men and women who created a new nation out of dreams and hard headed analysis of how to craft those dreams into reality. The use of a racially diverse cast highlighted for me the irony (and horror) of a country conceived in liberty that held a million people in bondage at the time of its founding.

I’m going to buy the soundtrack so I can really listen to the dialogue which is far more consequential then the usual musical comedy fare of croon, june, moon. Not that I don’t love those other style of musical. I’m a huge Broadway fan, but like I said, Hamilton is important.

If you get a chance — See it.

Perfection the Enemy of Drama

I am a naif in the ways of Amazon so today a good friend, Sage Walker, was guiding me through how to look up Amazon rankings, etc. As you all know I don’t read reviews. If they are positive you get a swelled head. If they are bad it just makes you feel shitty and helpless because at that point your book is published and there’s not a damn thing you can do to fix whatever the reviewer (or random person on Amazon or Goodreads) thought was wrong with the book.

But as I was discovering where to find one’s ranking (and I’ll never do that again) a review happened to catch my eye. Apparently this person was really, really upset with the second book in my space opera series IN EVIL TIMES because my protagonists, Tracy and Mercedes, proved to be rather flawed. They are both products of their culture, buying into and propping up a really terrible political structure, and both of them treat the second class citizens in my universe i.e. the aliens badly. This person also was very upset about how the Solar League was just terrible. Yes, that was deliberate. I wanted to talk about issues of gender, class, and xenophobia. I didn’t want the Star Trek Federation, but I also didn’t want Nazi Germany. I wanted a more nuanced society so readers could perhaps think about parallels to our current world.

But this person’s reaction got me to thinking about perfect protagonists and utopian settings. I had dealt with both when I was working on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and let me tell you it made it damn hard to come up with compelling stories, and it made for ultimately boring stories and dull characters. At one point The Powers That Be pulled in the writing staff to complain about how the conflict for the scripts was being generated outside of the crew of the Enterprise. Our response among ourselves was “yeah, no shit, Sherlock” because we had been given the directive that the crew of the Enterprise were perfect, they had no flaws and they didn’t want anything because in the 24th century all want had been removed. With those strictures on the stories it was no wonder we had to generate conflict outside of the Enterprise.

Because drama is ultimately about conflict. As William Faulkner said “the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about.” We read because stories help us process our own experiences and hopes and fears.

We’re inspired by the courage of these fictional characters, we mourn when Beth dies in Little Women, wonder if we would have the courage and honor to save a wrongly accused man from prison at the cost of our own freedom as Valjean does in Les Misérables, cheer when Sam goes from faithful servant to ultimately the real hero of The Lord of the Rings, and I’m sure people can think of a thousand more examples from literature that have transported us, terrified us, or made us laugh or cry or shiver in wonder.

But if the characters in novels never suffer from doubt or fear or jealousy or despair then they won’t seem real and we can’t identify with them. I can’t help but feel that books in which the good guys are very, very good and the bad guys are very, very bad are ultimately empty calories.

A book works on a number of different levels. There’s the plot — the stuff that happens. There’s the theme — why the stuff that happens matters. And there is the protagonist’s personal journey, how they grow and change and perhaps fail, but even in the failing they (and the reader) have learned something. Joseph Cambell wrote about this in his seminal work The Hero with a Thousand Faces which has now been reduced to a rather trite formula in Hollywood, but Cambell wasn’t wrong. A protagonist’s journey is vitally important if a book is going to rise above being a simple bagatelle — momentarily enjoyed but quickly forgotten.

I had one interviewer tell me that they thought I was “courageous” for making my hero, Tracy, at times unpleasant. I was startled by that. I had thought he was a man shaped by his society and his upbringing but comes to question as events puncture those assumptions. I guess I feel that reading shouldn’t be like a warm bath. A good story should make us uncomfortable, make us question, think about how we would react in a given situation, and see that just as a character can begin to heed the better angels of their nature maybe there is hope that we can do the same.

Star Trek: Discovery

I hoped but I feared.  Then I watched and my fears were realized.  While Star Trek: Discovery looks beautiful I found the teasing first episode to be disappointing.  Not horrible just not good.  A friend of mine who also works in the industry had the perfect word that incapsulated all my problems with the show.

It’s lazy.




The writing is lazy with terrible on the nose and obvious dialogue.  And because the dialogue is poor it leads to poor performances.  Michelle Yeoh is lovely, but Sonequa Martin-Green is put in a dreadful position with how she is written.  How can I support and root for a woman who takes such crazy actions against her beloved commanding officer?  Against everything that Star Trek was supposed to represent?

Yes the cast is diverse and we have two women in command and that’s cool, but not when they present one woman as a hysteric.  Burnham’s supposed to have been raised by Vulcans, but you’d never get that from her behavior.  And of course she is Sarek’s adopted daughter.  Another lazy choice.  Look, I love Sarek, but I didn’t need him in this show and it just felt like a cynical attempt to mollify the old fan base.

They have once again taken another step to make the Klingon’s even more alien.  While I can applaud that idea as a science fiction novelist the writer/producer thinks it was a terrible decision.  The actors look like the are doing battle with their costumes and their make up particularly those teeth.  The appliances make it almost impossible for them to emote, and for god’s sake fire up that universal translator.  The use of this guttural version of Klingon through the entire show became tedious as hell especially when our Klingon leader looked like he was just mouthing sounds that he had laboriously memorized but didn’t understand.

The direction was flat and dull.  Too much time was spent on pointless scenes.  Like that teaser which seemed designed only to provide a squee when the footprints form the Star Fleet logo.  I guess it was supposed to show the close relationship between the Captain and Number One, but first what they hell were both of them doing on a planet together with no one else along and in a clearly hostile environment.  I try not to be too literal with TV and movies that was an utter Oh Come On moment for me.  That and the damn torches on the Klingon ship.  Both knocked me right out of the show.  The long lead up to Michael Burnham’s spacesuit flight.

A reviewer for Ars Technica gave a breathless review calling the show gorgeous and fascinating.  As I read her review I thought she was straining to add meaning that simply wasn’t on the screen.  I wish I had seen the show she was watching, but I just didn’t.  As one of my bosses, Ira Behr taught me — “If it ain’t on the page it won’t be on the screen, and if it ain’t on the screen it ain’t there.”

When I was a little girl and the Enterprise flew across our TV screen (the first color television in our neighborhood.  All the neighbor kids came over to watch Star Trek at our house for that reason) I fell in love.  It was my dreams made manifest, but more than that I met people who became my family — Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Sulu.  Trek has always been about family despite differences in gender, race, species, national background.  This new show gave me no family.  It gave me a woman who had found to be the antithesis of what I think Trek represented, one weird alien who talked about cows and a terrific captain who is apparently going to die so we lose not only the only really interesting character, but a great actress.

Television is at its core about company.  We invite these people into our homes.  In the old days it used to be once a week.  Now we binge and spend hours at a time with them so they better be people with whom we wish to spend time, people we can like.  The only person I saw last night that I want to see again was Captain Philippa Georgiou and apparently I’m not going to get to.

I know I criticized bringing in Sarek as too much of a call back to the older shows, but there is one thing that I think was the show runners having amnesia about the old show.  Yes the costumes worn by the women of original Trek were sexist as hell, but this show is set ten years before Kirk and Spock.  So where are those uniforms?  Was the Federation aware of the need to outfit all crew members in sensible clothing, and then Trump became the president of the United Federation of Planets and suddenly we have micro mini-skirts?  I think you have to be very careful as you are picking and choosing among which bits of canon to use and which to ignore and this one again left me head scratching.  It might have been better to place this in JJ Abram’s alternate Trek universe to explain these odd differences.

The Arstechnica  review states “It’s not so much that the future feels darker in Discovery. The future just feels more realistically complicated. We’re not trying to make the galaxy a better place anymore, kids. We’re in the real world.”  If that’s what I had seen I might be plunking down money for CBS All Access, but I didn’t.  And I think CBS and the show runners missed the show that could have done that.  I have always wanted to see a Trek show about the people who don’t fit in, who chafe under Federation rule, but aren’t militant assholes like the Klingons and Romulans or flesh and blood creatures trying to turn into robots, the Vulcans, or crass capitalists like the Ferengi.  I want Harry Mudd.  I want the people living in the cracks, trying to make a buck, pull off a con, and try to avoid the judgmental eye of Star Fleet.  That’s the real world too and I think it would have been fun to write and more fun to watch.

Maybe someday Star Trek will get that broomstick out of its ass and we’ll have that show.

Don’t Become What We Oppose

I know this is probably going to earn me blowback, but I’m becoming increasingly concerned over the behavior of the Antifa protestors. Home grown Nazis and white supremacists are praying that some Antifa member kills someone. For god’s sake don’t give them that cover or the satisfaction.
I understand that Antifa members placed themselves between vulnerable members of the clergy in Charlottesville and rampaging Nazis and supremacists, and acting as a blockade is fine, but attacking and beating these goons gives fuel to the argument that there is no difference between the fascists and the anti-fascists.
MLK set the standard for how Americans can protest, march, resist. Let’s honor him and the brave civil rights activists who marched at his side and not descend to the level of those we oppose.

Airplane Movies

I thought I take a break from organizing photos and trying to capture the wonder of my trip, and talk about the two movies I watched during the long flight back to Los Angeles.  And yes, there will be SPOILERS so please nobody have a MELTDOWN OVER THE SPOILERS.


As most of my readers know I love Tom Hiddleston.  His range from Loki to Jonathan Pine in the brilliant miniseries The Night Manager is extraordinary.  So I wanted to see KONG: SKULL ISLAND because he was in it.   I had missed it in the theaters but was able to catch it on my flight.  Was it big dumb fun?  Well, sort of, and it did have some things going for it apart from Tom.  There was the interesting choice to set it at the end of the Vietnam war, there was the charming performance by John C. Reilly as the stranded WWII pilot.  There were a couple of interesting soldiers but most of the group were just numbnuts and monster fodder.  I found Samuel Jackson to just be a cliche which was a shame because I really enjoy watching him.  I ended up fast forwarding through a lot of the “Blow ’em up real good” scenes.

I try not to get too bogged down in minutia with these kind of movies, but there were moments where the character motivations really had me scratching my head.  The John Goodman character.  Apparently he knew this was Monster Island and that the Hollow Earth gibberish was true.  (Let us for the sake of this movie assume it was true), but he had them drop bombs to break holes into the hollow earth… so… the monsters could…. get out?  So he could… prove…something… something.. (to quote Jim Wright) gazpacho????   Bottom line — I got nothin’.  Tom was handsome and square jawed and rational and brave — in short another cliche, but at least a pretty one and there was at least an attempt to give him some kind of backstory beyond Heroic Guy with the lighter his daddy had given him before he flew off to fight Nazis.  We had the obligatory spunky girl — at least she was a war photographer.  Then there was Sam Jackson being more concerned with Kong then with the other Big Ass Monsters that were killing his team.  Why?

I did like the end where the stranded pilot goes home and meets his son and finds his wife still waiting.  As much as I love Reilly I found myself wondering what it would have been like if the pilot who survived on the island was the Japanese pilot rather than the American.  I think that would have been a more interesting choice.

Now GHOST IN THE SHELL.  This movie got a lot of hate over cultural appropriation because of the choice to cast Scarlett Johansson rather than an Asian actress and truthfully I’m not sure why they made that choice.  Because they thought she was a bigger draw?  I think anybody who loved the underlying material would have gone to see the movie so why piss them off with this casting choice?  That being said that wasn’t the only problem with the movie.  The biggest issue for me was the first 20 minutes of that script that featured some of the most pedantic, plodding, on-the-nose dialog I  have ever heard.  Hey, Hollywood Execs I have a tip for you.  The viewers who go to see science fiction films are pretty damn sophisticated about science fiction tech.  They really don’t need to be spoon fed about how they made a robot body and put a human brain inside.  Hell this has been old hat in the field going way back to the lovely story The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey.

I didn’t think enough time was spent on the villain/tragic victim of the piece.  I wanted a bit more about his relationship with the Major.  I actually did find the idea that the estranged daughter returns to her mother at then end to be somewhat affecting even though I know it was a sop to try and ease the outrage over the casting decision.  Maybe because it had some resonance for me.  I thought the movie looked cool but it did have a let’s rip off Blade Runner vibe to it.  I was expecting some really interesting fight scenes, but they ended up being muddy and rather opaque.  Maybe because of the small screen on an airplane, but I really was hoping to see some great martial arts work.

So there are my thoughts on the brain candy movies.  Now if you want to see something great go rent THE NIGHT MANAGER.  You won’t be sorry.





I would like to have had more then a day in Tallinn, but it does rank right up there of cities to which I would like to return.  But Stockholm — I adored this city.  Everywhere I looked there were beautiful views.  I snapped this as I walked along the river on my way to dinner on my first night.

As I walked past the imposing town hall (A copy of a Renaissance Italian palace) I read that this was the site of the Nobel prize ceremony.  And immediately I began to see scenes for the next Edge book.  I already had a fight sequence planned for Tallinn so now I had another piece of the puzzle for this next and final book.  The weather was lovely and the wind off the water carried a delightful chill.  Lining the edges of the river were all manner of boats.  Some of them were mere shells that didn’t look like they had left their mooring for decades.  Since I’m a desert rat and know nothing about boats and water I asked Stephen a few days later who explained that the mooring was probably very valuable so you hung onto it even if you only had a dingy.

I had flown to Stockholm and spent my first day walking to a laundry to wash clothes.  Even well out of the tourist areas there was a charm to the city that I found irresistible.  The next day my friends arrived via ferry and we set out to go exploring.  Our primary focus was the Vasa museum (Yes, we decided to give the Abba museum a miss.)  I love ships.  Over a decade of playing Privateers and Gentleman with Walter Jon as our game master has given me a broad appreciation so I was eager to see this salvaged ship.  Here’s the amazing thing — over 95 percent of the ship is original.  The lack of shipworms in the waters off the coast of Sweden and the cold water helped protect the ship until it could be raised in 1961.  Apart from a bit of red on the tongue of a lion the colorful paint is gone, but the beautiful sculptures remain.  Here is a shot I took of the stern castle.

The Vasa sank on her maiden voyage.  And it wasn’t like she was heading off to war or a voyage of exploration.  The ship was being moved to a different shipyard to try and address the fact she was horribly unstable.  Why was she unstable?  Because they built her exactly to the king’s specifications, and the king knew squat about shipbuilding.  He just wanted something Huuuge and impressive (remind you of anybody today?)  The master builder knew the ship was too high and too narrow, but nobody argues with the king so they built it as indicated.  I wondered why they didn’t just fudge the numbers and tell the king they had done as he asked — I figured he wouldn’t know the difference — but I suppose people of that era, 1628, actually did accept all that divine right of kings business.  So a gust of wind dame through the hills, hit the Vasa and she heeled over.  The open gun ports were below the water line, water poured in and the ship sank.  Here is a model of the ship in her glory.

I grabbed another picture of the elaborate tower structures to either side of the stern and the captain’s cabin.  I’d never seen anything like that on the British ships of the 18th century that I’ve toured.  I admit the character I played in P&G had a yearning for a ship that magnificent but with a broader keel.

We spent hours in the museum, but were very glad we had gone early since the crowds at noon were overwhelming.  We headed out and caught a tram back to the city.  We passed this lovely park with these beautiful gates.

The next day we went exploring the royal palace, the armory, and the old city.  It wasn’t quite as spectacular as Tallinn, but it was pretty amazing, and once you got off the main tourist street it was clear that people actually lived in the lovely old buildings.  It was in one of the little squares that would open up unexpectedly that I found this statue of St. George and the Dragon.









I loved the armory.  There was a cavalry officers uniform that I desperately wanted, and horse accoutrements that I believe would meet Vento’s approval.  The two jeweled items are aigrettes for a horse’s forehead and this was a saddle pad.










They also kept losing a lot of kings in battle.  In one case they preserved the king’s beloved horse Streiff – which was ridden by Gustav II Adolf when he was killed at the Battle of Lützen in 1632.  Yes, that is the actual horse.  This seems to be a thing in Scandinavia.  There was another stuffed horse in the royal stables in Copenhagen.


It was also in Stockholm that I had the best meal of my trip.  A friend made a reservation at a traditional Swedish restaurant and I had this tender and flavorful beef dish with onion and horseradish, and, of course, potatoes.  One of the other guests gave me a taste of her blood pudding with lingonberries and it was delicious.

There is a tradition of charming little horse figurines in Sweden and I picked up a couple.  One is Vento and the other my late lamented Steppi.  I also grabbed a lovely Nordic sweater that I will only be able to wear in New Mexico since there is no winter in California.


I’m out of time — I need to head to the barn soon.  So next time — on to Copenhagen.

Scandinavian Journeys

I decided to write a blog post rather than the more ephemeral Facebook post.  I’ll go back and grab Helsinki, but right now I want to talk about Stockholm and my first day in Copenhagen.  So far Stockholm still has my heart over both Helsinki and Copenhagen.

Copenhagen is a lovely city, but despite the colorful older buildings lining the broad boulevards it has a very modern feel.  Stockholm’s Old City and the walk along the river past City Hall was more charming.  Not as old as Taillin, but people were living there so it didn’t have the feel of a Disney set despite the main street filled with shops and restaurants and tourists.


Once you got off onto the side streets you discovered charming little squares with sculptures such as this St. George & the Dragon. 

On our final full day in Stockholm we returned to the royal palace to tour the armory.  We had seen the crown jewels and the apartments the day before, but the armory was the most interesting for me.  A lot of horse tack and clothing as well as weapons.  I want this cavalry outfit.  I also want these aigrette’s for Vento.  The got on the forehead and the tail, and I think my vain boy would approve.  .










The Swedes seemed to lose a lot of kings in combat (as well as one to assassination Gustave III at a masked ball which  became the basis for a Verdi opera Un Ballo in Maschera.  (I sang the page boy Oscar in that one.)  Anyway you get to see Gustav’s blood stained waistcoat and the pistols used by the assassin.  There is also King Gustav II Adolph’s horse he was riding at the time of his death in 1682.  No, not a model of his horse — the actual horse named Streiff.  There was also an elaborate bridle, but check out the vicious curb bit with its incredibly long shank.









There was also a beautiful 18th century coat with breathtaking embroidery, but it was impossible to capture the sheen and the workmanship through the glass.  There were a couple of 18th century ladies dresses with absolutely absurdly wide panniers.  I really loved the armory, and in the coach exhibit there was a beautiful sleigh.  Because of course there would be a sleigh in a northern kingdom like Sweden.

More on visiting the Vasa museum later.

Dunkirk — A Meditation on the Nature of Heroism

I cannot talk about this film without talking about specific scenes.  SO THERE ARE GOING TO BE SPOILERS!  IF YOU CAN’T STAND SPOILERS DON’T READ THIS!  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!



I loved this movie.  Of course I am a massive Anglophile.  I’m also a student of World War II.  I wrote a screenplay set during the war that turned into a novel that, sadly, I haven’t been able to sell so this film was catnip for me.  I’m a writer who loves dialog so this was an interesting lesson in how to tell a story with virtually no actual dialog.  My friend Kate Elliot said the film was a tone poem, and I think that is a perfect description.  Nolan allowed the chatter of machine guns, the scream of planes diving and bombs falling and the subsequent explosions as statements.  Most of the characters are not named.  They are presented as humans with whom we can all identify who find themselves in a terrifying place.

About halfway through the film I realized this is a movie about heroism, but real heroism not the fake, plastic version that we’re offered in most summer movie fare.  I love the big Marvel movies (and at least one DC movie), but they present a world in which people with near god-like abilities react to stress and fear and danger with a quip or a growl.  Where a fall from a ten story building is shaken off as the fight continues.  It’s fun, it glossy but it’s not real.  Dunkirk was real because the moments of heroism and basic human decency were so small and yet so significant and powerful.

And nobody starts out brave.  We often see them doing the small and craven thing first.  The young soldier who takes the uniform off a dead man.  Who joins with another soldier to carry a man on a stretcher in an crass attempt to get aboard a medical vessel carrying the wounded of the beach.  Eventually we discover he’s a French soldier who has gone AWOL and is trying to escape with the retreating British.  There is a young Brit who join up with a group who try and take a beached freighter.  His attitude is to hell with everybody else.  I’m getting out of here.  Then when a debate begins about who to force off the ship so it will float on the incoming tide he defends the French soldier when all the other frightened men are trying to throw him off the boat.

It’s the old man (the amazing Mark Rylance)  and his son taking his pleasure boat across the channel because our boys are trapped there.  It’s the young friend who goes along not for any patriotic reason but because his chum is going.  It’s the spitfire pilot who knows he has to take out this German bomber before it can sink another ship.  He’s running out of fuel, but with no drama, no bombastic speech he just taps the fuel gage, sighs and gets on with the business at hand.  He is able to bring his plane down safely on the beach in France knowing he will fall into the hands of the Germans and will be a prisoner for the duration of the war.

There is the frightened soldier who none-the-less stays as a ship is sinking after being struck by a torpedo to open a hatch so some of the men and the nurses below decks can escape.  That was a particularly haunting scene for me.  The battered, frightened young men were in the hold being give bread smeared with jam and tea.  Like little boys in the nursery.  Thinking they were safe and then… disaster.

That same soldier who helps free the trapped men ends up alone on the keel of the capsized ship and is rescued by our elderly man and his son.  The soldier is deeply shell shocked and he tries to force them to turn the boat back, return to Britain.  In the struggle he ends up pushing the young friend down the stairs into the hold where he is badly injured.  Rylance’s character has a choice to make; return to try and save the boy or keep on heading for France.  He makes the hard choice.  As they sail closer and closer to Dunkirk they rescue a pilot who has ditched, numerous men in the water.  Eventually the young friend dies from his head injury.  And when the soldier who pushed him asks how the boy is doing we see Rylance’s son hesitate, then say his friend was fine.  Rylance gives his son the tiniest nods of approval.  Because that was an act of heroism too.  Not to lash out and lay this guilt on an already emotionally devastated man.

The scene where the son lies was a powerful moment for me, but the real gut punch for me was when the son remembers a conversation with his dying friend.  About how the friend had always hoped to get his name in the local paper so the son goes to the paper and has his friend’s picture and an article naming him a hero placed in the paper.

Back in France the unnamed British admiral chooses not to leave on the final boat, but stay “for the French” as he puts it.  Another act of understated quiet heroism.

Much has been made about the way Nolan played with time in the editing of this film and it was great and innovative, but for me the power of this film was in its celebration of the human spirit in small acts of kindness and bravery.

Grabbing Eyeballs

Ah, the teaser, the hook, the opening scene of a book — whatever you want to call it it is absolutely necessary that you have something that grabs a reader’s eyeballs and brain when they casually flip open your book and skim that first page be it at the bookstore or that online sample of an ebook.  Robert Heinlein is reputed to have said that you have one page to convince a buyer to spend his or her hard earned money on your book rather than a six pack of beer so it better be a great first page.

I’ve been putting cards on the board outlining book four — The Currency of War — for the past week.  The first thing that went up was the final scene that ends the book.  The end of act three as it were.  Then I added in the act outs for acts one and two.  I started filling in the scenes that would have to be there in order to get to those act outs.

But the teaser was eluding me.  I tried one from Mercedes point of view.  Nope, that didn’t work.  I tried Tracy.  Nope.  Then Boho.  Nope.  What kept sticking in my head was a scene with one of the alien characters from book three.  Jahan hadn’t been a view point character, but now it seemed like the right choice.

A choice I really didn’t want to accept because then I have to do a lot of work fleshing out Isanjo culture, family life, politics, etc. etc. and that wasn’t where this series was living.  The idea for IMPERIALS started because I began to wonder about a universe where we humans were the evil invading aliens and it all grew from there so I was keeping the focus on the humans, not the subjugated aliens.  Now Jahan kept knocking at the back of my mind and she finally won the argument. 

Another very pragmatic reason to resist character proliferation is that every time you add another view point character your book gets 100 to 150 pages longer.  If you are going to give that character any heft and meaning you need to spend time with them.  What ultimately made me decide to put Jahan on stage was I saw they way to keep her in the mix past the first opening moves.  And considering what my male protagonist has to accomplish she will be a valuable ally.

So the die is cast and I’ve got the first few pages of book four.  Now back to the word mines.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

This is my critique so there may be SPOILERS though I haven’t finished (and may never finish so I’m not sure how much I can actually spoil).  So here goes —
Playing Mass Effect: Andromeda has begun to feel like doing homework. Not fun and like my parents will be really pissed if I don’t get my work done after I spent money for this so I better play some tonight.  
Wondering if it was just me I went looking for some reviews and, my god, they are scathing. Almost every complaint mirror my own. Tiny things first — the navigation is impossibly hard and incredibly annoying. I waste so much time trying to find stuff, and I hate the straight line radar rather than the circular radar screen in the Dragon Age games.  I also end up with so many waypoints that I can’t remove that I’m constantly getting lost.  I think I’m heading for a lost drone, but find out I’ve ended up where there’s a dead body instead.  I know I need to scan the body, but damn it I needed to recover that drone and that’s what I wanted to do.
I’ve found all the companions to be really dull.  Apart from Drak and the engineer Gil they are tedious and annoying though Jaal does have a voice like dark velvet. The voice actors are average to mediocre — not something I expect from BioWare who usually have such outstanding voice talent.  I don’t want to romance any of these people.  
The game is filled with boring fetch quests that don’t seem to accomplish much in terms of the larger narrative, and I don’t give a damn about the main storyline.  I don’t believe the people on the Nexus are going to starve if I don’t get all the vaults up and running.  I have no relationship with anyone on the Nexus and I’ve got a cool ship so why should I care?  My sister in a coma has no relevance to me since I’ve never interacted with her from the moment the game begins.  She’s just in a coma.  I seem to have a more personal relationship with the AI.  There’s this big ship eating cloud that wrecked the human arc, but it’s no where as interesting as Tali investigating the death of the sun in Mass Effect 2.  You tell me the Scourge is a construct that suddenly appeared, and bits of Scourge appear on planets and will hurt you even through your armor and shields, but then it just gets dropped.  It seems like the Scourge is the thing that messed up the environment on or colony planets, but that doesn’t appear to be the point of the main quest.  It seems to be the Kett — who are just low budget Reapers in that they change their prisoners so they fight their own kind.  The other major alien race the Angara are barely developed they just seem to be gentle with big eyes and mystical.
Some of the little easter eggs — finding out Zaeed Massani had a son was a momentary buzz but all it did was remind me how much more I liked the first game and how much I miss those characters; Rex and Kaidan and Zaeed and Anderson and Liara and Garrus — always Garrus — etc.
I hate the voice actors for the male and female Ryders and the dialog seems flat.  Maybe that’s due to the delivery, but I don’t find the conversations all that interesting.  My Dragon Age Warden and my Inquisitor and my Shepard became very real for me.  They had lives and backstories and hopes and dreams outside of the game.  Hell I ended up writing a 140 page novella that was my ending for Mass Effect 3 because I was so annoyed with the ending BioWare provided.  That is more than a bit of identification with a character when a professional writer takes time from paying work to give their character a satisfying ending.  Ryder is so dull he’s just a puppet I’m pushing around the screen.
The fact that the animals on every planet are basically the same whether it’s a desert, jungle or snow planet was just lazy and the there is a stultifying sameness to the vaults.  I’ve now opened three of the damn things and it’s the same damn dungeon crawl every time.  The combat is good, but if I just wanted to shoot things I’d play Halo.  I’m playing a biotic this time who has weapons skills, but it’s really hard to figure out how to change my skills.  In the old games it was easy.  I brought up the combat wheel and picked.  Now it’s mapped and I haven’t figured how to switch to say a tech power use rather than biotic.  I hated this change in Inquisition too in that once you’ve mapped the skill you are stuck with it until you stop and remove and remap them.  At least I figured out how to do that in Dragon Age: Inquisition.  I’m still trying to figure it out in Andromeda though truthfully I don’t care enough to try all that hard.
It’s just heartbreaking to see a once great company becoming mediocre.  I had some hope after the debacle of the end of Mass Effect 3 and the mess that was Dragon Age: 2 when  Inquisition seemed to regain their mojo.  I had hoped they would show the same return to form with Andromeda.  Instead this game has left me utterly cold and I think I’m going to give up and either finish my replay of Inquisition, replay the first Mass Effect trilogy which was brilliant apart from the final 15 minutes or download Witcher 3 and start that game.  By the way, I replayed Dragon Age: Origin while I was home in NM and that game is still the gold standard despite the advancements in graphic design and game play — Because The Story Is So Good.
Yeah, whether we’re talking movies or games it doesn’t matter if you’ve got whiz bang effects and big boss fights if the story is shite and you don’t care about the people.
Hey studios both movie and game studios — It’s the Story Stupid.

The Musketeer (Wait? What? Aren’t You Missing Several of Them?)

There are going to be spoilers in this post, but if you take my advice you won’t watch this movie so it won’t matter.  But YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED — SPOILERS AHEAD!
I made the mistake of watching part of The Musketeer while I ate dinner. Oh Lordy (my new favorite phrase thanks to Mr. Comey) what an awful mess. This mess dates from 2001. They should have just remastered and reissued the 1973 Richard Lester version staring Michael York, Oliver Reed, Christopher Lee, etc.
So, the new movie. They had to make up a new villain in place of Rochefort who could be even badder! (that’s a term of art) than Rochefort played by Tim Roth who seems to specialize in playing mincing bad guys. And (gasp) he’s the evil baddy who killed D’Artagnan’s mommy and daddy _in front of him_ when he was just a little boy.  Why, oh why does every studio exec thinks there has to be some tragic explanation for a young man wanting to become a musketeer?  Why does everybody had to have an arc?  Dear god with Princess of Mars they kept trying to give John Carter an arc by having him a hopeless coward until he finds courage because of the love of Dejah Thoris.  Or a hopeless alcoholic tormented by memories of the Civil War until he becomes sober because of love of Dejah Thoris, and in John Carter they seemed to settle on his arc being that Carter was a truculent asshole at the beginning of the movie and he becomes somewhat less of an asshole because of the love of Dejah Thoris.
But back to The Musketeer.
Athos who is such a powerful figure in the ’73 version and as I recall in the novel as well is just a surly dude who never does much.  Both Artemis and Porthos are scarcely present.  Planchet ended up being the most interesting character.  The actor playing D’Artagnan began life as a male model and I was no impressed.  He also had this sort of valley boy accent and style of delivery which jarred me right out of the movie almost every time he opened his mouth.  It was at the point where he apparently decided to ride his horse to death that I checked out.  Spoiler — the horse makes a miraculous recovery.  Truth is when a horse is forced to run until they literally collapse beneath the rider they almost never get up again.  So yeah, I didn’t stick around for the thrilling conclusion.  I watched my recording of Dr. Who instead.  Much more satisfying.