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.

Is This Where the Brownshirts Show Up?

I can’t believe I’m typing this, but I’m worried we are now entering the Sturmabteilung (brownshirt) phase of the Trump presidency.  There were t shirts worn and sold at Trump rallies that said — Rope, Tree, Journalist, Some Assembly Required.    And now we have what occurred in Montana.  A candidate for congress assaulted a journalist for merely asking a question.  That was appalling but even more appalling and worrisome  is the fact that some on the right are trying to excuse this assault.  Worse the republican controlled House of Representatives will seat this man thus giving tacit approval to an act of violence.
In Putin’s Russia they just kill journalists who investigate the massive corruption of Putin’s oligarchy.  When the president of the United States calls our free press the enemy of the people we mustn’t delude ourselves that it couldn’t happen here.  At least we still have in place legal and judicial norms that would result in the arrest and prosecution of that person, but we are on a dangerous path.
And this isn’t limited to just the rightwing. When a professor was sent to the hospital with a concussion after she and Charles Murray, author of the  Bell Curve were attacked at Middlebury College (and trust me, I’m not advocating for the very dubious conclusions drawn in the gentleman’s book)  Bell Curve Author Attacked  everybody — democrat, republican, independent, libertarian, socialist need to step back and say — no.  Not in America.  Not in the country that enshrined only one profession in its founding document — the press.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Without a free press to inform a citizenry we are all operating in the dark.  And democracy dies in the dark.

When Less Is More

This is going to be a post about GUARDIAN’S OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 so there will be SPOILERS!!!!!  SPOILERS!!!!!  SPOILERS!!!!  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.



I like most of the Marvel movies.  I really liked the first Guardians movie.  I liked Ant Man.  I adored the first two acts of Captain America: The First Avenger.  I liked Thor because of the fascinating family dynamic and charismatic villain.  The first Iron Man film.  Winter Soldier.  Are you starting to see a pattern here?  What I like are movies that don’t lose sight of their characters and their themes in a dizzying kaleidoscope of special effect and CGI battles.

Which meant I had high hopes for the latest Guardians movie.  I had been waiting eagerly for this film.  And when it was all over I felt let down.  I’m not saying the movie was bad.  It wasn’t especially when you consider that the bar had been set so low that it was practically underground by Batman versus Superman and X Men: Apocalypse, but this lacked the authenticity and kindness of the first Guardians movie.

Yes there was humor though some of it felt forced as it was squeezed between CGI spectacles.  There were a lot of characters and subplots that didn’t seem to go anywhere except to set up the next movie and since I haven’t read all these comics I had no idea of the significance.  Case in point — Yondu being thrown out of the Ravager clubhouse because of Quill.  I’m not sure what it added.  I think we could have had the Ravagers show up for the funeral without that first scene.  Did those batteries Rocket stole ever actually ever pay off?  I think they might have been part of the big kaboom at the end that killed Ego’s planet, but by that point I was sort of numb from all the CGI to be sure.

Just because the technology allows you to design and code these bloated sequences doesn’t mean you should.  Contrast all the computer wizardry in this film with the initial fight sequence in the first film between Gamora and Quill with Rocket and Groot orbiting on the outskirts as they try to capture Quill.  And then there is that the gonzo, totally fun escape from the Nova Corps prison.  Those were joyful, comedic, exciting and interesting sequences in the way a great Jackie Chan fight sequence just leaves you wanting to pump the air and dance.

This second film also hit one of my buttons.  I understand these are superheroes or aliens with strange physiologies, but there is a point where the punishment being meted out to the characters makes me go “Oh Come On.  Every bone in their body is now broken and no, you can’t outrun a massive explosion.”  And in that moment I have been kicked out of the movie and it has failed to transport me out of my own humdrum world and into this cinematic adventure.

I wanted more of Peter talking about growing up without a father.  The whole David Hasselhoff riff was terrific.  I would rather have had one less pointless space battle with the gold people who sounded like a bunch of valley girls and boys and seen more of Ego with Peter’s mom.  Drak seemed schizophrenic vibrating between outburst of wild laughter and making remarks that hit me as more cruel than funny.  There was a moment where Mantis finally touches the pain that Drak carries and it felt like this was a moment that mattered, but then it was gone in the blink of an eye.

Quill comes out pretty well in this installment.  Baby Groot was cute.  I felt like Rocket and Gamora were the most short changed.  The two characters that were far and away the most interesting were Nebula and Yondu.  Their storylines actually addressed issues of loneliness, loss, fathers and sons, sisters, jealousy, rejection, the inability to speak honestly and emotionally to the people in your life.  Throughout the film there were questions about the human condition and the human heart in conflict with itself that had meaning and then another giant CGI action sequence would stomp through and crush them.


If you don’t have a story and a theme underlying that story no amount of effects is going to make up the deficit.  People are hungry for stories that tell us something about ourselves, illuminate deeper questions.  If all they get is spectacle they will go away unsatisfied and empty, and the real shame here is that there was a story with heart at the core of this movie that got lost under all the frenetic action.

I’m for Debating Anything

Stephen Hopkins: “Well, in all my years I ain’t never heard, seen nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn’t be talked about. Hell yeah! I’m for debating anything. Rhode Island says yea!”  1776 Musical.

This line from the musical 1776 came back to me as I’ve been reading about the uproar over the appearance of Ann Coulter at Berkley and the subsequent cancellation of her speech over outrage from some parties and security concerns on the part of the university.

Look, I despise Ann Coulter.  I think she’s a grifter making money off outraging liberals and delighting conservatives.  Yes, much of what she says is hateful, but I’m with Hopkins on this one.  Hell yeah, let her speak, let her be condemned by her own vile words.  Debate her passionately.  Offer a better alternative.  Bring in a speaker to counter her.  Try to educate people and change their minds.  Demonstrate that her positions are wrong and dangerous in a civil society.  All this has accomplished is to make her a martyr and make liberals seem intolerant instead of the woman who is truly intolerant as evidenced by her statements about immigrants, liberals, environmentalists, feminists, etc.

The general public thinks that the First Amendment applies to all speech.  It doesn’t.  It’s designed to prevent the government from curtailing speech. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (Emphasis added.)

And of course the right is not absolute even if the government isn’t involved.  Everyone has heard the old “you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater”, and this is probably the rational for worries over Coulter’s talk — that her appearance would lead to violence.  And those are real and valid concerns, but it’s a hard line to draw.  When does unpleasant speech tip over into hate speech? Is this another instance as with pornography where Justice Stewart wrote in Jacobellis v. Ohio, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it,” The problem is that people’s sensitivities vary based on their life experiences.  What might merely anger me might be devastating to another individual and vice versa, but law is about setting societal standards not guaranteeing that no one is ever offended or made to feel uncomfortable.

We also have the added dilemma of fake news or alternative facts with which to contend.  It’s hard for truth to be heard when the air is filled with the dust and chaff of untruths.   A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.  But I guess I’m an eternal optimist and I want to think that Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes was right when he wrote in his dissent in Abrams v. United States —

“But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.

That, at any rate, is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment. Every year, if not every day, we have to wager our salvation upon some prophecy based upon imperfect knowledge. While that experiment is part of our system, I think that we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.”

Are the Ann Coulters and Milo Yiannopouloses and Alex Joneses an imminent threat to country?  That’s what we have to decide.  Overall I think it’s better that we allow them to show their faces, rip away the mask, turn over the rocks to reveal the neo-Nazis and racists that inhabit our country.  I’d rather have them out in the open where I can keep an eye on them, and counter their dangerous beliefs then have them plotting in secret and manipulating behind the scenes.

So let’s bring the gentleman from Rhodes Island another rum (you’ll understand if you’ve seen the play), get one for ourselves and be ready to defend our beliefs and values.

At Last – Wild Cards to Broadway

In case anyone missed it.  Big news on the Wild Cards front.

Wild Cards to Broadway

The Whore Syndrome

Or to put it another way — Women-are-just-so-alluring-that-men-can’t-control-themselves-so-the-women-have-to-be-denied-opportunites-so-men-don’t-lose-control.  Which is insulting as hell to men and puts women in a symbolic burqa.

Why am I writing this?  Because I just read an article about how Mike Pence will not dine alone with a woman.  Nor go to an event where there will be alcohol unless his wife is along.  Seems quaint, right?  It’s also deeply pernicious in terms of a woman’s ability to advance in her career.  Here’s why.  If your male boss takes that stance you as a woman can’t be mentored by him.  You can’t travel with him to meetings, conferences, etc.  If you are an executive it’s tough to make that big sale or merger if you can’t meet alone with a potential client because sometimes you need to have that one-0n-one conversation.

I have a young woman friend whose boss is a powerful Hollywood producer.  He made her his personal assistant and she was at his side for every meeting, at the Cannes and Toronto Film festivals, sat with him as he pondered which projects to green light.  In other words she learned the business from the ground up from a man at the top of his game.  She she holds a senior position in the industry.  In Mike Pence world she would never have had that opportunity.

The boys club is pernicious in other ways.  In Hollywood a lot of business is conducted on the golf course.  A friend suggested I take up golf, and how I could “play with the wives.”  I pointed out to him that playing with the wives does fuck all for me.  I need to be playing with the men, but of course I’d never be asked to join a round of golf with the boys.

Another venue for networking was a weekly poker game frequented by studio and network execs, writer/producers, writer/directors.  No women.  Once again the levers of power are out of reach.

When it comes to business we’ve got to stop seeing color and we’ve got to stop seeing gender.  We’ve got to start seeing humans.

Killing Your Babies (Literarily Speaking)

No, this is not a post about my abortion.  Literarily not literally.  Anyway —

Let me tell you how THE IMPERIALS SAGA came to pass.  Years and years and years ago I was on a panel about the third Star Wars movie The Return of the Jedi.  Among its many failings was the fact that I could not accept that the imperial senate would ever approve the vast sums of money necessary to build a new Death Star after the Emperor and Vader had let a farm boy blow up the first one.  I mean, I know he’s a terrible dictator but damn a government budget does have some limits.  And suddenly I had a character, a fussy older man, the Chancellor of the Exchequer for a galaxy spanning empire.  A man who decides to join the rebel cause while still holding power because he’s got a taste for forbidden alien girls and he falls for an exotic dancer.  There was another main character, a resentful young man who had been taken from his home when the League came in and conquered his Hidden World.  He had been fostered with a noble family.  He’s playing at revolution and learns that it has very real consequences.

I wrote about 70,000 words on this novel.  I read sections of it a conventions.  That’s where George heard me read, and fell in love with the universe I had created.  George suggested we develop Imperials as a shared world like what we had done with Wild Cards.  I invited in some friends, George and I hammered out the details.  We would follow these seven characters through their lives as they loved and fought one another.  We envisioned six books.

At this point I had realized that the novel just wasn’t working so I put it aside and embraced the shared world approach.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) we didn’t succeed in selling the project, and I put all of it in a drawer.  I had created my character for the shared world, the son of a lowly tailor, resentful of the upper class, but brilliant enough to win a scholarship to the League’s military academy.  A young man who falls in love with the heir to the throne.  Those of you who have read THE HIGH GROUND, the first book in my series will see the direct line from shared world to novel.  Tracy was also based loosely on a character I had played in Walter Jon Williams Privateers and Gentlemen campaign, a paper and dice role playing game.  (Don’t let anybody tell you gaming is a waste of time.)

Years passed and George and Gardner Dozois invited me to write stories for two anthologies, SONGS OF LOVE AND DEATH, and DANGEROUS WOMEN.  I found myself mining the old, almost forgotten manuscript for ideas, and ended up writing a story about Tracy and Mercedes and one about Tracy and a ranting drunk who tells Tracy of a vast alien conspiracy.  All of which made me remember how much I liked the universe I had created.

So I threw out the entire premise of that abandoned novel, came up with a new first book, but kept the idea of following Tracy and Mercedes through their lives, wrote some seventy pages of the book, a detailed outline of the world, the characters and the five books it would take to tell the story and sent if off to my agent.  Who sold all five books to my publisher Titan Books.

The point of this story is that sometimes you have to accept that a project just isn’t working and throw it in a trunk and forget about it.  That doesn’t mean everything about the project was a waste.  Pieces of it can be resurrected, but you have to have the ability to acknowledge when something isn’t working and stop wasting time messing with it.

If something is taking more than a year to write I’d take a hard look at that project and decide if it’s time to move on to something else.

A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds

“A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”  Basil Caesarea. 

Why am I quoting a Saint?  (I was going to use Galatians  6: 7-9 but that particular quote seemed more ominous than encouraging so I went with Basil.)  But back to the question — why a quote about good deeds?  Because they really do come back and reward you and I have a living, breathing example.  Tuesday afternoon I attended George’s announcement of his latest undertaking that only came to be because of all the good George has done for our city and the state.  But first a little backstory. 

There was a brilliant, philanthropic resident of Santa Fe named David Weininger.  Weininger was a scientist, entrepreneur, inventor.    He was a science fiction fan, and in fact he bought the Santa Fe home formerly owned by Roger Zelazny.  He was a musician and a test pilot, a star gazer.   Mr. Weininger had watched George’s efforts on behalf of Santa Fe — Meow Wolf,  Cocteau Theater, screenwriting prizes, etc., and when he learned he was dying he gifted to George the office building that had housed Weininger’s company, Daylight Chemical Information Systems.  All Weininger asked was that George “do something good with it.”

And George has done just that.  On Tuesday with Santa Fe’s charismatic mayor Javier Gonzales and people from the various film festivals, managers of studios, rag tag writers hanging around 😉 , etc. gathered George announced the formation of The Stagecoach Foundation.  The building will be used to house film and television productions at a very nominal fee to encourage those productions to come to Santa Fe in particular and New Mexico in general.  The first production to utilize the offices will be the Coen Brothers for a new film they will be filming in the area.

In addition to providing office space for production staffs the foundation will provide help to the young people of Santa Fe who might want to pursue a career in film.  It’s going to be a resource that will bring investment to the area and provide young people with an opportunity to work here rather than scattering to Los Angeles or New York.

Here is the logo for the new foundation created by the very talented Raya Golden.

If It Quacks Like an Anti-Semite….

I hate to even link to this Tweet.  The man is vile on every level, but you have to see the genesis of what came out of Trump’s mouth today.  So a few days ago David Duke, former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and all around racist, anti-Semite, neo-Nazi tweeted the following.

President Trump, do you think it might be the Jews themselves making these calls to get sympathy to push their ethnic agenda?

 (I removed the link.  I refuse to link to this dumpster fire of a human being.)  Point being that today the President of the United States made the same comment to an assemblage of State Attorneys General that the rise in bomb threats to Jewish community centers and the attacks on Jewish cemeteries was a “false flag” operation.  Trump, False Flag.  It has already been established that while he was a candidate the now president retweeted vile and racist Tweets from known white supremacist sites so it’s not surprising that he might have imbibed this heady evil brew directly from the fetid swamp that is the mind and soul of David Duke.  We know that Bannon who is Trump’s closest advisor is an avowed white nationalist.  We know that the Holocaust remembrance day message provided by the State Department referenced the Jewish people and that the White House removed that mention.  White House scrapped State Dept. Statement.  I don’t care that his son-in-law is Jewish and his daughter converted.   That is a fig leaf on a dangerous and potentially deadly trend.
The feeble excuse that “lots of people suffered in the Holocaust” is not sufficient.  The Nuremberg Laws directly targeted the Jewish citizens of Germany.  At the Wansee Conference the sole purpose was to discuss the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”.  I toured the house which is now a museum when I was shooting a TV pilot in Germany.  It is chilling and leaves you sickened.
We have children and infants being rushed out of Jewish community centers in response to bomb threats.  We have Hispanic families being torn apart by an emboldened ICE.  We have had four mosques burned in the past seven weeks.  Mosques Burned.  Don’t kid yourself that it can’t happen here.  Right now the courts and the press are working to protect vulnerable minorities in our country.  Let’s help them by donating to the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, subscribing to actual news outlets.
And let us Never Forget.

Arrival & Rogue One

I ended up seeing ARRIVAL and ROGUE ONE relatively close together.  I liked both movies a lot, and have been mulling over the similarities and differences for the past month or more.  I think I’m ready to take a stab at talking about them.

***********************************USUAL WARNING SPOILERS!!!!*******************

In many ways they have the same theme — courage and sacrifice are sometimes worth the pain.  In one film the sacrifice is personal.  In the other epic, but at their core that’s what they are both exploring.

There are also huge differences.  Rogue One has giant action sequences, explosions, ships colliding, cities destroyed.  In Arrival there is one action sequence which lasts all of two minutes if that.  The tension is generated by the ticking clock, the sense of days, weeks passing, the stakes growing ever higher, but quietly which makes them seem all the more significant.  Sometimes a whisper can be as powerful as a shout.

Both films have at their heart a woman.  Both embrace loves that cannot last.   Both act out of love of family — one for a father, the other for a child.  Both embrace hope despite knowing that ultimately everything ends in death.

I’ve heard some quibbles that the explosion aboard the alien ship in Arrival came out of nowhere and felt like a studio note.  I don’t agree.  I thought it was set up well, but this was a movie that required enormous focus and concentration.  Three times they go to the officer who ultimately sets the bomb aboard the ship.  He talks with his wife.  He watches an Alex Jones/Infowars type figure, he talks with his fellow soldiers.  Ultimately he acts out of fear and with the only tools he has — violence and killing.

What can I find to critique in Arrival?  Not much.  Perhaps Jeremy Renner.  I didn’t totally buy him as the brash, brilliant physicist.  I thought Amy Adams was damn near perfect.  It’s a brave actress who allows herself to be shown as older, rumpled, dressed in cargo pants and a tee shirt.  Not since Ripley in Aliens have I seen it handled so well. 

I have more quibbles with Rogue One — I wanted a bit more of Jen’s life before she was a criminal in a work gang.  I thought they wasted Forest Whitaker.  All of the companions were appealing though Baze Malbus got short changed.  His gun seemed to get more attention then him.  It also might have been interesting to have one of those characters be an alien rather then all humans. 

I thought the references to the Force felt out of place and didn’t mesh with the first film where everyone viewed the Jedi as quaint figures and the Force as something silly.

I was fascinated with Vader’s choice of a home base.  The world where he was maimed and lost the love of his life?  He decides to build a palace and live there?  Really?  Wow that guy has some real psychological issues.  And it was also an incongruous moment given the fact Vader seemed to be a lackey of Tarkin in A New Hope.  Now he has a palace and a majordomo?    

I thought the use of the Death Star twice undercut the point of the first film where it kills a planet.  I also didn’t believe the Empire would blow up its base where they stored all their data.  I was ultimately willing to buy the shield that could cover a planet, but I did have to swallow hard a couple of times.

The recreation of Peter Cushing was uncanny.  My first viewing of the film was just a few days after we had lost Carrie Fisher so it was a very bittersweet moment to see our princess at the end.

I would have liked to have seen a bit more of villain in this film.  He was interesting and more complex then most.  I also would have wished for more from Mads Mikkelsen.  He’s a wonderful actor.

There were also some very uncomfortable resonances to real life.  The images of the stormtroopers moving through the crooked streets of the city with a tank grinding along in the midst of them, the exotic dress, the stone buildings brought to mind other images of occupying troops.  One couldn’t help thinking about American troops patrolling ancient cities in the Middle East.  And we were being asked to cheer and root for terrorists.

Which is the point where the two films diverge.  One explicitly embraces violence as a tool for change.  The other eschews violence, begs for patience, for communication, for understanding.  Near the beginning of Rogue One Cassian kills an informant, a man who has been helping the resistance because he fears he’s become a liability.  I still found Cassian yummy; he broods so well. 

The aliens in Arrival tell us they are bringing us a weapon, and it turns out to be the gift of language.  A new way to see the universe and ourselves in that vastness, and a new way to communicate.  The impending war is averted with a message from a dying wife to her beloved husband.

What both of our heroines accept is loss and death.  Jen knows that she and her companions are on a suicide mission.  She eschews love and life for the greater good, and perhaps there is a sense of expiation of her and Cassian’s sins.

Amy knows that her daughter will die.  That the man she loves will not accept that inevitable death and will leave her.  Embracing love and motherhood is going to hurt, but she accepts the pain and the sacrifice so that she can truly live.

All in all a very good year for science fiction movies.  I hope Arrival wins Best Picture though I know it won’t so may it win the Hugo and the Nebula.  In a year without Arrival I would be cheering for Rogue One, but ultimately Arrival is the deeper more compassionate film.

The Marketplace of Ideas

Last night the campus of Berkley was roiled with protests that turned violent, led to objects being thrown, fires being set, and ultimately the cancellation of a speech by noted alt-right gadfly and baby Nazi Milo Yiannopoulos.  This is not a productive way to resist, people.  Let us not fall into the trap of the anti-war protestors during Vietnam who turned a complacent middle class against them, led their, perhaps, persuadable parents to vote for and support Richard Nixon in a backlash against the violence.  I wrote a story for an upcoming Wild Cards book dealing with the chaos at the Democratic convention in 1968.  I did a lot of research and what became horribly clear was that the violent clashes between police and protestors help put Nixon in the White House.

Now before everybody starts yelling at me —  I’m not saying don’t protest.  By all means protest, but protest smart.  Follow the example set by the gigantic marches the day after the inauguration — not a single arrest while millions took to the streets around the world.  (I was at the giant Women’s March in L.A.  It was a joyous, uplifting and empowering experience.)  Be pro-active.  Schedule a speaker opposite Yiannopoulos who will counter the loathsome bile being spewed by Yiannopoulos and his ilk.  Since the illegitimate president has made crowds such an issue see who draws the bigger one and make sure the press covers it.  Make that the story.  By causing chaos we take attention away from a dark and divisive message that will shock most decent people.  Instead of isolating Yiannopoulos and revealing to the world what he and the alt-right stand for the protests have become the story and the white supremacist gets to play the victim.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are bedrock foundations for this country, and while, as a nation, we sometimes stumble and take a few steps back we have so far managed to move forward because we allow for vigorous debate and the hateful, violent, evil ideas lose when measured against truth and justice and American ideals.

Let them talk.  Let them reveal their crabbed and shriveled souls.  If they call out an individual by name then be prepared to help that person with the cost of hiring a lawyer and going after them.  That’s how the Southern Poverty Law Center brought down a number of branches of the Ku Klux Klan.  Not by throwing things and setting fires, but by taking them into court and destroying them with the rule of law.

Justice Holmes in his brilliant dissent in Abrams v.United States wrote:  “The ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.”  

This standard was based on the writings of English poet John Milton “And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”

What’s An American?

A friend of mine just posted a long and very moving post about his father who managed to get to America out of the ashes of the Holocaust.  It got me thinking about these white nationalists and the angry Trump voters who want America for the Americans and would shout out the Nazi tainted slogan “America First”.  You want to measure who gets to be here.  How about this?

My father’s ancestors came to New York (what was then called New Amsterdam) around 1690. Dad thought that distant Snodgrass was probably fleeing a charge of horse stealing. I found a reference in a book in Edinburgh to a Snodgrass in that period being prosecuted for the crime of dueling so maybe it was more interesting than being a horse thief. Clearly he was one of those “bad dudes” the President was Tweeting about today.
Whatever the circumstance my family has been here a long time. I had a relative who fought with the Swamp Fox in the Revolutionary War and my Great-grandfather was a Yankee cavalry officer who fought in the Civil War. You can’t get much more DAR then this.  On my mother’s side my grandfather was half Cherokee.  I would point out the irony, but many on the Right seem to be irony impaired.  Perhaps this will help them grasp the concept.
So to these people who think they are more American then everybody else and are slamming the door on desperate refugees — bite me! I’m pretty sure my American credentials are just as good if not better then yours, and more to the point I trying to live up to our American ideals starting with the Constitution you all profess to love that explicitly rejected religious tests, and the laws of this country that banned the pernicious use of national origin to block immigrants.  If you don’t recall who we profess to be —  let me remind you.

Lots and Lots of Wild Cards

So Tor has a special on a Wild Cards book bundle.  If you’re interested to jump in here’s a way to start.  Wild Cards Book Bundle.  There is a new Youtube interview up where a number of us talk about Wild Cards.  Wild Cards Interviews.  And finally here is the cover for Tor’s reissue of ACE IN THE HOLE.  The amazing and really creepy cover is by the very talented Michael Komarck.


Some Wild Cards Goodness

We have a Wild Cards Website, and every so often various writers who play in our shared sandbox write blog posts.  Stephen Leigh who has been with us since the beginning of the series has done a blog post about one of our most iconic villain — Senator Gregg Hartmann.  It certainly feels relevant at this particular moment.  You can read it here:

Pulling Strings; the Saga of Gregg Hartmann aka Puppetman