This Year in Books (2016)

This Year In Books (2016)

So, it’s December 30th, and this fetid colostomy bag of a year has almost gone down. I’ll try not to die before I finish this article, at the very least.

I’ve been doing this “Year in Books” for a while, just running a quick rundown of the books I’ve been running this year. I didn’t read as many books as I normally do, but I also got a lot more writing done and also my son started walking. So I spend most of my time on Toddler Suicide Watch, which cuts into reading and video game time somewhat.

January: The Walking Dead Compendium 2 (Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard)

Why I Read It – Last year this (former) Walking Dead TV show fan finally took the dive and tried out the comics, specifically the first compendium, which covered issues 1-48, or, from the beginning to the prison arc. I chowed that thing down in like two days, so I decided to check out the second run, which covered issues #49 to #96, or the “Hunters” arc all the way past “No Way Out” at Alexandria to “A Larger World” where they meet other towns.

Did I Like It? – Absolutely! The pace of these comics is insane. People are always getting murderlated left and right, and the storylines open and close quickly . . . unlike the TV show. There’s a bit of a detriment – you don’t feel like you know the characters as well as you do in the show – but damn if they aren’t page turners.

I thought the show did the cannibal arc and the “throat-bite” better, but the comic did the whole Alexandria thing and “No Way Out” better. In the comics there are WAY fewer zombies, so what they do to deal with them makes a lot more sense than in the show, where they upped the herd of zombies to like 10,000 but kept the same solution.

This compendium was also notable because it’s near where I stopped watching the show, and what I know of what happens next, it’ll probably be where I stop reading the comic. I just don’t care about Negan. Sorry, superfans.

February: The Crimson Campaign (Brian McClellan)

Why I Read It – Because the first book in this series, “Promise of Blood,” was one of my absolute favorite books of 2014. A fantasy war story mixed with a Victorian noir mystery set after a French Revolution-esque conflict on another world? Where specialized soldiers called “powder mages” snort gunpowder like cocaine to fuel their magical powers? Uh, fuck yes.

Did I Like It? – Loved it. Loved everything about it. I’m obsessed with running a tabletop RPG set in that universe, that’s how bad I’ve got the hots for this series. This one ups the stakes of the first story, and sees Tamas trapped behind enemy lines, Taniel Two-Shot facing court martial while trying to hold a ragtag front together, and Adamat dealing with a collapsing capital. Plus you’re treated to a lot more backstory about all the characters, and it’s all solid storytelling.

This series is a must-read if you care even a little bit about books or fantasy.

March: The Magician’s Land (Lev Grossman)

Why I Read It – Because the previous books in the series, “The Magicians” and “The Magician King” were subversive, thoughtful, funny, sorrowful takes on the “normal guy sucked into a magical world” stories. They’re Harry Potter meets Narnia written by Kurt Vonnegut. It’s great stuff. So I had to finish the series.

Did I Like It? – Endings are difficult, but Lev knocked the ending of this series into an alleyway and then beat it with a broken mop handle. I’m not going to ruin anything, but I am going to say that the story somehow managed to wrap everything up and yet also leave plenty to the imagination. It’s a difficult trick, and maybe not everyone would appreciate how it’s done, but the ending is as clever as the rest of the story, and does justice to all the main characters that have drifted through the series.

April: The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)

Why I Read It – My wife yelled at me to read it so I read it.

Did I Like It? – Yes! As a huge fan of sci-fi dystopias in general, this book delivered. It’s a slog in the beginning – I kept ribbing my wife about the three pages it took to describe eating an egg (that’s real, by the way, THREE PAGES) – but, that’s kind of the point of the story. Offred’s journey is about the mundane, the day-to-day horror of submission to fascist rule, and all I can say is that it’s a classic for a reason.

May: Woken Furies (Richard Morgan)

Why I Read It – As you can see, I continued/finished a lot of series this year. Woken Furies is the third book in the Takeshi Kovacs series, after Altered Carbon and Broken Angels. Woken Furies returns to the cyberpunk nature of the first novel, finally showing us Kovacs’ home and diving deep into his backstory.

Did I Like It? – Of course. Richard Morgan has convinced me with Altered Carbon and Broken Angels that he’s the heir to the William Gibson throne, the father of cyberpunk. The dude is a master. Woken Furies digs into the character of Takeshi Kovacs himself and it’s a fascinating ride. The ending is beautiful and sad and horrible and great, everything you want out of cyberpunk. There are ninja surfers and clone doubles and murderous robots; just check it out. Start with Altered Carbon.

June: What is the What (Dave Eggers)

Why I Read It – Because I’d been reading so many series that I needed to cleanse the palate. Try something new. My wife suggested this non-fiction story of sadness and something.

Did I Like It? – I honestly didn’t finish it, which means, as usual, I’m not qualified to review it. I can say that the writing is good, but I couldn’t deal with the pace. I tried my damnedest to finish this book, but after like two months of flailing I gave up. There’s an exhausting framing device to the story as it switches between past and present, but the “present” situation is dragged out and completely without tension. The main character is in a bad situation, but instead of trying to do anything about it he just lies on the ground and feels bad for himself. While he thinks about the past. For 12 chapters.

It honestly made the main character so unlikable I had to check out. I know it’s a true story, and I feel bad for the guy, but holy crap I need some agency in my characters.

July: Red Harvest (Dashiell Hammett)

Why I Read It – Dashiell Hammett is one of my favorite writers – he’s the godfather of noir mystery. I like the dude so much I named my son after him. Really.

Did I Like It? – It was the “flow doggity,” as the kids are saying. If you’ve seen “Yojimbo,” “Fistful of Dollars,” or “Last Man Standing,” you know the basic plot structure, because all of those movies were loosely based on this novel. Dude comes into town, plays two factions against each other, bad things happen, etc. This book is smart, fast, and written with the soiled-soul poetry that noir is so famous for. Highly recommended.

August: Red Seas Under Red Skies (Scott Lynch)

Why I Read It – Because the previous book in the series (sensing a pattern), “The Lies of Locke Lamora,” was dope. It was Ocean’s Eleven meets Kill Bill in a fantasy Venice and if that doesn’t entice you then you’re dead to me.

Did I Like It? – Yarp. It mixed up the story, introduced a high-seas pirate element, and told an emotional tale about true friendship. You gotta check it out.

October: Ghost Story (Jim Butcher)

Why I Read It – Blah blah, series, blah blah.

Did I Like It? – Except for the epilogue, it was perfect. The last book, #12, took Dresden through the meat grinder and took everything away from him. This story changes the formula up and tells a unique story about stuff I can’t talk about without it being a total spoiler. To keep it short: the whole book is rendered kind of pointless by the epilogue. It’s the only complaint I have.

November: The Diviners (Libba Bray)

Why I Read It – Another suggestion from my wife, and another unfinished book. The idea sounded great – a ’20s, flapper period piece urban fantasy story during Prohibition.

Did I Like It? – Yes, and no. Again, I didn’t finish it, though I threw like a month and a half at it. Libba Bray is a FANTASTIC writer, and I absolutely mean that. The prose is mouthwatering. It’s hilarious when it’s trying to be funny, it’s horrifying when it’s trying to be scary, it works. The characters are great, the setting is fully realized and well-textured. The pace, however, was just too slow for me.

I made it half way through the book and the protagonists hadn’t done anything yet. Like, at all. The main conflict and the villain were all over in this box, and the protagonists hadn’t left their starting position yet. The characters were great, and I liked reading about them, but at some point they needed to get off their asses and do things, and by 50% they hadn’t. I just couldn’t hang any more. I will absolutely check out more by Libba Bray because she’s such a good writer it gives me jealous, heart-stabbing spike of pain in my chest.

December: Star Wars – The Final Prophecy (Greg Keyes)

Why I Read It – I guess I felt a strong urge to finish as many of my lingering series this year as I could, probably because everyone in 2016 was dropping off like George R. R. Martin characters and I was worried about being next.

Did I Like It? – Sure. Okay, listen. I’ve been reading this 19-book Star Wars series (“The New Jedi Order”) since I was a sophomore in high school, which means I’ve been off-and-on following this particular series for 16 years. Half my life. Are Star Wars Expanded Universe novels good? Meh. The best ones are fun and the worst ones are excrement, and this one qualifies as “fun.” It’s the second-to-last story in the series, and since I haven’t read any of the series in like four or five years, I decided I should just knock this bad boy out.

It follows a few of my favorite EU-only characters that I really like, Tahiri Veila and Corran Horn, and it has a decent little “enemy mine” situation between the two Jedi and a trio of snakey Yuuzhan Vong that COULD BETRAY THEM AT ANY TIME.

I dug it, it was fine, but I’m most excited to just read the last book of the series and put a bow on 16 years of reading.

December: End of Watch (Stephen King)

Why I Read It – Well, it’s the end of a series (!!!!!!!!!!!), so there.

Did I Like It? – I haven’t finished yet – I just got it for Christmas – but it’s already doing some interesting twists and turns. The first two novels of the series, “Mr. Mercedes” and “Finders Keepers” were straight detective novels, a rare genre for Stephen King. Without spoiling anything, I’m just going to say that “End of Watch,” the last novel, is COMPLETELY different. And since I’m the kind of guy who likes when a story changes genres, I’m all about it.

Favorite Book of 2016

As is often the case, we’ve got a two-way tie: “Red Seas Under Red Skies” and “Woken Furies.” So, pirate-con artists and surfer-ninjas.

I like weird books, okay, DEAL WITH IT.

 

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A Walking Dead Quitter Tries the Mid-Season Finale

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A Walking Dead Quitter Tries the Mid-Season Finale, “Hearts Still Beating.”

Spoilers up to episode 7.8 of “The Walking Dead.”

Today, a former-Walking Dead fan gives the Mid-Season finale a shot and asks the question . . . is it a good time to get back into the show?

Why You Quit, Quitter?

In my last article about AMC’s hit mega-hit “The Walking Dead,” I swore off The Walking Dead Totes 4EVER. The show had gone from “must see, gather around the TV” to “this show can eat roughly 100 dicks” all with the execution of one incredibly dumb and bad cliffhanger, which a panel of multi-discipline scientists concluded to be “the worst.”

I haven’t seen a single episode of season 7, but I have been reading spoilers and summaries to keep an eye on the show. Why? Probably for the same reason you haunt your ex’s facebook page. Anyway, I read a summary of Sunday’s big “mid-season finale,” and it sounded, dare I say, not-terrible. I thought to my self, “Self, I know you’ve sworn the show off, but what if you could get back into it? What if you could feel the way you felt before? What if the show is lonely and misses you and is sitting by herself in those little boy-shorts you like so much?”

So I called her late at night and asked her if she was busy. This is the ex-girlfriend metaphor, it’s still going. And like calling up your ex-girlfriend, or executing an extended metaphor, it was a bad idea.

Why Now?

The next question is thus – why didn’t I check this season out until now? What kept me away? Spite, for one. But also, the episode summaries I was reading online were doing nothing for me.

Episode 1 – takes 30 minutes to find out who died, it’s exactly who you thought would die, and the rest of the episode is Rick crying like a hungry baby. Conclusion – Nah, bruh. Nah.

Episode 2 – Carol meets a new community, there’s a tiger. Conclusion – Ehhh, so they don’t touch on the emotional aftermath of the first episode? They’re still stretching that shit out? Tiger? Pass.

Episode 3 – 45 minutes of Daryl being tortured. Conclusion – Wow, they’re really dragging this bad boy out. I’m all good, I’ve seen Daryl’s “angry sad” face, I can just imagine that for 45 minutes.

daryl

Episode 4 – Negan shows up to Alexandria and acts like a wang to everyone for 60 minutes. Conclusion – That sounds like literally the most boring story of all time.

Episode 5 – Hilltop episode. Trevor from GTA acts like Trevor from GTA, and the most suspensful part is “Which closet is Maggie hiding in?!” Conclusion – Literally fuck no.

Episode 6 – A Heath and Tara episode. Conclusion – Hahahaha

Episode 7 – Carl, the only character who has balls, cries multiple times because Negan is mean to him. Conclusion – Fart noise.

So Why Was the Mid-Season Finale Bad?

Because, if you couldn’t tell from that list above, this season has been nothing but filler and padding. I’m not sure if filler and padding are really different things but I’m listing them both. For filler and padding purposes. So, what happens in the Mid-Season finale?

The Escort Mission of Daryl Dixon

Daryl escapes from his prison cell at Savior Central. When I read the summary, I was like, “Hey, I could watch that!” What actually happens in the show is that someone else gives Daryl a key, he opens his cell, and walks out of the Savior compound with absolutely no resistance. He runs into exactly one person, the one who happens to have Rick’s revolver, and kills him without a fight. He then escapes because Jesus is there with a motorcycle, thus robbing Daryl of any actual agency the entire episode. You could not write a more boring escape from the villain’s hideout if you had set out to write the most boring escape from a villain’s hideout.

The entire point of the Saviors is “omg ho shit look how many there are,” which is even made a plot point IN THIS VERY EPISODE, and yet the Sanctuary is a ghost-town when it’s time for Daryl to stroll out? Sometimes the Saviors are ultra-competent whistling forest ninjas who know everything you’re doing, and other times they’re all the mookiest dudes in all of mookdom. So, what happened?

what-happened

What happened is the writers needed to fill the first half of the season, so they locked up the most volatile character who would actually be pushing the group to do something. Once it came time for filler-season to end, the writers quietly unlocked his cell and let him out. The note that came with his key might as well have said, “Dear Daryl, Have a great time! All the Best – AMC.”

I think anyone would have enjoyed an episode of Daryl escaping super-jail (with actual consequences and conflict) over a Tara episode about how sand is scary.

The Mouth Flaps

Is bad. As a dialogue enthusiast, it’s a legitimate struggle. There is not one line of dialogue spoken by any character that resembles words that would come out of a real, human face. The entire cast speaks in homilies and speeches, and it’s exhausting. The writers go for “vague and poetic-sounding” instead of “actual words” everytime. Mad Men, a far superior show, occasionally had the characters dip into this kind of “interpret for yourself” dialogue, but A) it wasn’t every goddamn line and B) the characters were all over-educated creative types or people putting on airs. For the most part, every character in Walking Dead is a blue-collar normie from the South.

The dialogue is so deep-fried in attempted-allegory that there’s an entire scene between Michonne and a female Savior that is indecipherable. I have no idea what the Savior was saying, and Michonne’s responses were vague enough to have been written by a computer that speaks solely in Mad Libs. Then they both look at something really far away that the audience can’t really see, and the Savior says “there’s a silencer in the glove compartment.” Then they drive away and we don’t see the Savior again.

So the Savior was suicidal? And Michonne capped her in the face at her vague request? If someone asked me to kill them, I’d need a little more than “there’s a silencer in the glove compartment” to convince me that was REALLY their intention. And the scene suffers from it – they were going for quiet desperation and achieved loud eye-rolling. When the character doesn’t seem real (the female Savior who’s apparently suicidal but I can’t tell because she speaks like she has to pay by the word), the sad things that happen to them don’t seem real, so they don’t connect with the audience.

Example: Marvel movies. Marvel movies are great and also ridiculous. Thor is a Norse God who hangs out with a weather scientist. Why does Thor work? Because the people around him talk like normal people. They react to crazy things like a normal person would. They have normal-people wants and desires, and it sells the ridiculous aspects of the movie. Zombies, by contrast, are also ridiculous. In the early seasons of the Walking Dead, the characters actually talked to each other. They told funny stories. They sang around the campfire, they went on quests for booze. So when they were suddenly fighting a one-eyed pirate with a tank, you could buy it, because the world AROUND the one-eyed pirate seemed real.

governor

Now we’ve got a guy praying to his evil baseball bat in the middle of what is supposed to be a dramatic scene, and because nothing “real” has happened, and all of the characters are jokes, the whole thing collapses in on itself.

The Jeffrey Dean Morgan Of It All

Let me freeze-frame and do a big jumping ’80s high-five here – I love Jeffrey Dean Morgan. He’s incredible in Watchmen, he’s great in Supernatural. The dude can act. He’s a known quality. So when I rip into him right now, know that I’m not really blaming him – either he made a bad choice and has to stick with it, the higher-ups are pushing this comic-book Negan thing, or the writers are simply giving him nothing to work with. But, let’s get real: Negan is bad.

Not “baseball bat your friends’ craniums into strawberry yogurt” bad. More like, “I’m embarassed to be seen watching this show” bad. Negan, as presented on the show, is ridiculous. He’s too skinny to be intimidating, he’s too subdued to be audaciously funny, he’s too juvenile to be likable, it’s a mess. A villain needs to be scary, fun, or relatable, and Negan hits none of those notes. He’s just kind of a dumb corny asshole who can play one trick, which he plays badly.

They’re pulling his lines wholesale from the comics, “I guess the guts were inside you the whole time!” without realizing that some things that play in print don’t work in live-action. For instance: The Governor, in the comics, is a cartoon character. He’s an R-Rated Cobra Commander, basically, a completely off-kilter psycho with no redeemable qualities or even an ounce of realistic motivation. This is fine in a comic book, because your brain tends to see written dialogue and spruce it up or gloss over it.

That Governor, if transported 1-for-1 in to the show, would have ruined it. Instead, we got a nuanced portrayal of pride and rage tearing a man’s mind apart. And in so adapting, they made the Governor work for their show, which has always played at being a realistic drama in spite of the zombies.

JDM has also picked up some weird character ticks and is playing them full tilt without a break. The “Leanin’ Negan” meme is no joke – Negan performs what I’m calling the “Negan Maneuver” roughly twenty-five times in the Mid-Season Finale. The Negan Maneuver goes like this:

Negan says something shitty / cornball.
He grins.
He leans back and pops his knees.
Optional: Swings Lucille vaguely at the end.

negan-lean

The Negan Maneuver represents roughly 75% of Negan’s body language. He also delivers every line in exactly the same smarmy, grinning tone, but it’s too relaxed to have any impact. For a pro like JDM, it’s inexcusable. Negan can work one of two ways in live-action: A) make him more serious and sinister or B) make him the Joker. Just a loud, insane, unhinged maniac dropping stupid jokes and butchering people – but, then you can’t make him leader of a thousand hardasses and a wannabe emperor.

Grim, sinister Negan could manage something like the Savior organization, but cackling-insane Negan couldn’t. The writers are trying to have their cake and beat it too, and it tears any sense of reality right out of the show. No one would actually follow a baseball-wielding murderer who steals your wives and makes fun of you all the time. A Savior who got tired of Negan sticking it to his wife would gently place a grenade in Negan’s bed while he was sleeping and call it a day.

It’s not good. I hope it’s danger-sirens and frantic meetings at the AMC headquarters right now. To put it plainly – every scene with Negan subtracts roughly 50 points from an episode.

The Timely Re-Penising of Rick Grimes

By the end of the episode, Rick has located his testicles (and his Colt Python) and is ready to fight Negan. For . . . reasons. Killing Abe and Glenn didn’t seem to motivate him, but the deaths of Spencer (the guy who hates Rick) and the character whose name is I THINK Olivia finally pushed him over the edge. You could say, “Well, Rick thought if he behaved that Negan wouldn’t kill anyone anymore,” but that only makes Rick look like the dumbest motherfucker on the planet. You mean the grinning psycho who bashes brains in and takes photos of their bashed brains and threatens to make you cut your son’s arm off isn’t a TRUSTWORTHY GUY?! Ho-lee-shit, stop the fucking internet presses everybody.

Then why, why oh why, is Rick suddenly becoming effective again? Because the plot calls for it. After 8 excruciating episodes of Rick being a total poo-swah, they have to start progressing the story. Even they know that 8 episodes of filler is a little fucking much for most audiences. So instead of an organic in-story reason for his dramatic turnaround, it’s just “shrug, okay, let’s be my ACTUAL character again.”

Considering they’re planning on stretching this arc out into two seasons (Jeffrey Dean Morgan even said as much), don’t get too excited about the back-half of season 7. Though things are FINALLY starting to move, bet your ass these next seven episodes are going to be more of the same (except with slightly fewer shots of Rick weeping).

rick-gun

How Can they Fix It?

If I were to be arrogant enough to suggest a solution (and I were), it would be this: back off the comics a little. The past season or so has featured the TV show hewing closer to the comics than ever before, with whole scenes lifted line-for-line. If the Walking Dead subreddit is anything to go by, the comic fans are loving it. If the perilous drop in ratings (and the comment section of every review on the internet) is to be examined, then it’s clear the casual fan is getting bored.

The problem with cleaving to the comics is this: the show hasn’t really been doing that up until now, so the scenes and characters aren’t matching up. Watch the pilot episode and ANY episode from season 7 back-to-back and tell me they’re even the same show anymore. Where began a thoughtful character-study in the apocalypse there lives now a goddamn cartoon. Okay, so the comics had a CGI tiger in them – that’s not this show. It doesn’t fit. It’s weird and silly. So Rick caved to Negan in the comics – who cares?

Rick in the comics and Rick in the show are completely different people. It makes sense for Rick in the comics to play it more carefully – he’s missing a hand. His people are less competent than show-Rick’s people. He doesn’t even have a Daryl. Comic-Rick fought like four “hunters” and it was a harrowing experience. Show-Rick and his team slaughtered AN ENTIRE TOWN of well-organized cannibals at Terminus. They’re not the same people, they haven’t gone through the same shit.

Show-Rick, if he was acting in-character, would have never submitted to Negan. This is the guy who, at Terminus, was belly-up to a  cattle trough, a knife at his throat, a baseball bat to his head, and yet  still promised to kick their asses. And for all he knew THEY WERE GOING TO KILL AND EAT HIM AND HIS SON. But the idea of someone cutting off Carl’s arm is his breaking point? What the fuck? “You can kill and eat my kid and I’ll still be a badass, but threaten his arm and HERE COME THE WATERWORKS.”

rick-crazy

It doesn’t make sense. Rick didn’t cry and weep when Joe and the Claimers were literally about to rape Carl. He bit Joe’s fucking throat out, even though they were outnumbered and overwhelmed. Show-Rick is a certified badass psycho-dad. Show-Rick is not the kind of guy that breaks, he’s the kind of guy that snaps.

Having him suddenly “break” to Negan’s dumb theatrics when he’s faced WAY worse is nonsense. It’s “following the comics” when it no longer makes any sense to follow the comics. Show-Rick would have hatcheted Negan to death in the RV, grabbed his machine-gun, and sneaked out the back of the RV and jumped the Saviors from behind.

Hell, show-Rick would have just machine-gunned the first Savior roadblock and roared through it on his way to the Hilltop.

So, What’s the Plan?

I really, REALLY wanted to be seduced by the Walking Dead again, but after a half-hearted tug job and some mutual weeping, I left the apartment unsatisfied and slightly disappointed in myself for the relapse.

I won’t be continuing. If the season finale sounds inviting I MIGHT check it out, but considering we probably won’t see Negan’s inevitable downfall until the finale of NEXT season, I’m not expecting a lot from this show.

riker-chops

(Article originally appeared on “Agents of GUARD.”)

 

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3 Movie Conspiracy Theories That Gotta Die

As movie fans, we love digging into the meat of a movie’s plot like a cyborg velociraptor with obesity issues. We even love constructing new narratives within existing narratives, like Russian nesting dolls shaped like cyborg velociraptors.

Unfortunately, just because a theory sounds cool, doesn’t mean it holds any weight, much like how the tiny hands of a cyborg velociraptor have difficulty holding weight. Here’s three AMAZING theories that are completely bullshit, ranked from least bullshit to most bullshit.

3.) Skyfall’s Villain is M’s Son

THE1

Skyfall’s enigmatic villain “Raoul Silva” was one of the better Bond villains to emerge in years, and was played with a fascinating yawning malevolence by Javier Bardem. One of the scarier things about him (besides his melting face) is his mystery – even after the credits roll, we never quite learn what Silva’s deal was. We get vague hints: he was an MI6 Agent, he worked in Hong Kong, he got a little too big for his britches and M had to trade him to the enemy to grease some diplomatic wheels. Still, by the end, we never quite learn why M seemed so disgusted with him, or why Silva appeared to be nutbars in love with her, or even what kind of man he was before his transformation.

Stephen L. Carter, a writer for the BloombergView, released an interesting theory about the movie last November. According to him, the answer lies in anagrams. He posits that since Raoul Silva’s self-made name can be translated into an apropos anagram – namely, “a rival soul” – that Silva’s message to M – “THINK ON YOUR SINS” – must also be an anagram as well. I’ll save you the trip to grab a pad of paper – the anagram, according to Carter, unfolds into “YOUR SON ISNT IN HK.”

HK stands for “Hong Kong,” which is where Silva was operating before he was betrayed by M. Thus, Silva must be M’s son. It explains the strange love he has for her, the weight of her betrayal (and later his own attacks on her). The reason he hesitates when killing her at the end, and the reason she hesitates to kill him when the gun is stuffed into her palm.

THE2

LET THE SKYYYYFAAAAALLLL

Why It’s Wrong: It’s an interesting theory, and I enjoy gliding my brain-jet through the theory’s air-hoops. I’m a big anagram nerd (whilst reading the second Harry Potter book, I figured out on my own that “Tom Marvolo Riddle” translated into the name of our favorite dark lord), and the idea that a huge plot point would be stuffed into an anagram makes parts of my anatomy stiffen.

Unfortunately, it completely misses the point that the movie is trying to make. Skyfall is about who we become, not where we came from. It’s about duality, and outlining the paths we take. Bond and Silva are supposed to be similar – Silva even explains that once upon a time, he was M’s favorite agent. Silva (really Tiago Rodriguez – anagram “A Gooier Drug Zit”) was the one saving the world, getting the girls, and being kind of a dick.

Silva’s origins are left smoky because so are Bond’s. Like Silva, we get small tastes – we visit Bond’s childhood home, we meet his groundskeeper, we learn his parents died and he didn’t take it very well. However, when M tries to explicitly ask Bond to share his origins with the audience, Bond himself steps in to preserve the mystery: “You already know. You know the whole story.” What he’s really saying is “it doesn’t matter.”

Not Pictured: Fucks Given

Not Pictured: Fucks Given

This is proved later in the story when Skyfall burns around him. We expect some kind of grand moment of catharsis where Bond makes peace with his unhappy childhood (or maybe even squirts nostalgia), but all he says is “I always hated this place.” Then he actually takes part in making sure the building is demolished, without a hint of pathos. He knows his origins don’t matter – he isn’t where he was born. He isn’t what happened to him. Bond is Bond because of his actions, and nothing else. He’s not even a man who puts much faith in words.

Bond, in the very beginning of the story, is betrayed by M. She orders Bond’s partner to take an unsafe shot that nearly kills Bond. In fact, everyone thinks he’s dead for a long while. Bond plays the part of the retired agent, but when he spots a dire news report he straps on his Walther and goes back to work. Silva, as a direct contrast (“a rival soul”), turns into a murdering, raving loon after being betrayed by M. Silva tries to get us to sympathize with him, something M starkly brushes off – there’s never any hint of guilt on her face. This is a spy’s game, and though she felt a connection with Silva (like she does Bond), his actions are his own. Silva wasn’t forced to become the thing he became. He chose to, and he’s going to pay for it.

For England

For England

Silva definitely views M as a mother figure – as does Bond. But the idea that M is actually Silva’s mother is taking a beautiful metaphor and crushing it beneath the boot heel of literalism. It doesn’t matter where Silva came from. It just matters what he chooses to become.

Plus, anagrams are like prophecies – they can mean whatever you see. For instance, “James Bond” breaks into “a job mends.” Pretty revealing, for a deeply-flawed person who’s only redeeming quality is the work that he performs. THINK ON YOUR SINS can break down into lots of phrases, like “Honky Intrusions” and “Uh try onionskins.”

2.) Ferris Bueller is a Figment of Cameron’s Imagination

THE4

You know the theory – like Fight Club (spoiler alert?), the milquetoast character’s raucous best friend is actually a mental projection who doesn’t exist. Jack had his Tyler Durden, and Cameron Frye has his Ferris Bueller.

The theory goes that Cameron is suicidal from loneliness, and is deeply ashamed of the lame nobody he’s spent his high school years as. His dad hates him (and abuses him, let’s be honest), his mother is distant, and he lives in a cold museum-like home that appears to actively disdain children. The only attention Cameron gets is from playing sick, which he frequently does whenever he succumbs to his boredom and melancholy.

Enter Ferris Bueller, the ridiculous, over-the-top, supernaturally successful high school star that everyone loves. He’s got a beautiful girlfriend, he’s always the smartest person in the room, and all the other students seem to worship him for no real stated reason. Ferris Bueller then goes on to fake an illness (Cameron’s constant move) to skip school. It has the side-effect of garnering attention – except, unlike Cameron’s illnesses (that gets a slight nod from his parents), Ferris’ illness sparks a grass roots “get well” campaign that would rival something created for a fascist dictator.

THE5

Throughout the movie, Cameron learns to embrace the wild side as he starts to perform the actions that “Ferris” does, and the story culminates with him finally throwing off the shackles of his abusive father and demolishing his beloved car.

There are actually two versions of theory – the more “Fight Club” theory where Cameron is actually doing what Ferris does, and the “complete fantasy” version where Cameron imagines the whole adventure from the comfort of his sick bed. Then, having had an epiphany, he goes into his father’s garage and wrecks the car as his first stepping-stone to becoming a strong person.

Why It’s Wrong: The theory is cute, and it’s definitely a fun lens through which to rewatch a classic that you’ve probably seen dozens of times. Ferris Bueller is practically effervescent in his puckish charms – it’s not a stretch to wonder if he’s even real to begin with. That’s pretty much the only way to view this theory. Taking it seriously is just sillypants.

THE6

Neither version of the theory works because of perspective – mainly, the story is told from multiple viewpoints. Fight Club, by contrast, is told from Jack’s perspective. Every scene features Jack, because he’s hallucinating. Fight Club plays fair – it’s possible to figure out that Tyler Durden and Jack are the same person. In contrast, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off tells the story from Ferris’ perspective, Cameron’s, Principal Rooney’s, Sloan’s, and the most damning of all: Ferris’ sister Jeanie.

What the hell is Jeanie doing in a story about Cameron’s imagination? She clearly lives in a different house than Cameron, and has a whole adventure that only marginally relates to Ferris (and has nothing to do with Cameron’s coming-of-age story). Cameron would have had to imagine her story from whole cloth for no other reason than to add an interesting side plot to his own story, which is a level of insanity reserved for Daffy Duck and fiction writers. Jeanie adds nothing to Cameron’s “becoming a man” fantasy. Principal Rooney at least creates an opposing force for Ferris to humiliate. On the other hand, Jeanie’s plot ends with her and Ferris learning a lesson about family. Cameron is an only child. Ferris isn’t real. Cameron and Jeanie don’t even interact in the story. This lesson is nonsensical if either she’s fictional, Ferris is fictional, or they’re both fictional.

THE7

Sloan herself also presents a problem. If she’s real, then Cameron has a beautiful, charming, confident girlfriend – hardly someone who would hang out with a perpetually ill, mopey, delusion loser like Cameron. If she isn’t real, then what’s her function in the story? They don’t have sex, so boner-bait is out. He sees her naked once, but that’s a pretty lame fantasy life. And, they’re on the verge of a potential break-up due to college – again, another odd thing to fantasize about.

The “Cameron imagines the whole thing from his bed” angle is preposterous for obvious reasons: every movie could be just a hallucination starting from the first scene. Actually, all movies are made-up starting from the first scene, so it’s kind of a pointless “revelation” that doesn’t improve anything. So yeah. Cameron, take us out:

THE8

1.) Deckard from Blade Runner is a Replicant

This is one of the oldest fan theories in modern cinema – the insidious idea that Harrison Ford’s “Rick Deckard” is in fact one of the human-looking replicants that he’s been hired to hunt down. In the original cut of the film, proponents claim there are a few hints – the sterile photographs in Deckard’s apartment, and the fact that he never answers the question when Rachel asks him if he passed the replicant-identifying “Voight-Kampff Test.”

THE9

Those are both pretty thin – the photograph complaint can be dismissed out of hand, and the test non-answer is easily a character move. The person asking him the question in the movie is an angry replicant being subjected to that very test – it would be like screaming at an IRS agent and asking him if he’s ever been audited before. Silence is basically an attempt to let the other person calm down, and to not argue on their level.

The biggest damning evidence actually comes from the Director’s Cut released years after the movie, the one that inserts a deleted scene where Deckard dreams about a unicorn, and is later handed an origami unicorn by a smug Detective Graff. This, proponents of the theory claim, is Graff trying to tell Deckard that he’s a replicant, and that his dreams were implanted.

Conspiracy theorists love it because it’s subversive – look at the big hypocrite killing his own people. Plus, it’s twisty, and people like twisty – it’s fun to imagine that the whole story has been flipped on its head. People feel smart for guessing it. After all, it’s certainly possible within the context of the universe, so why not? There’s also another reason this theory has survived the ages – its biggest fan is the director himself. Ridley Scott believes that Deckard is a replicant, so he must be, right?

Robo-Rachel is not impressed.

Robo-Rachel is not impressed.

Why It’s Wrong: The biggest reason it’s wrong is that, like the Skyfall theory above, it completely pooch-fucks the message of the movie. “Blade Runner” (and the book it’s based off) is about living life. It’s about succumbing to the grind. It’s about learning what to live for and embracing it with all your heart.

Deckard (the human) is a nine-to-five kind of guy. Sure, his job is exotic (hunting mandroids through a cyberpunk megalopolis), but that doesn’t make Deckard any less of an empty shell. He’s a classic workaholic – he eats crappy food, he goes home to his empty apartment, and he works. He doesn’t have a girlfriend or a family; He seems to barely exist outside of his job – like a robot.

His prey, whom he murders, is the exact opposite. They only have a tiny lifespan (as opposed to Deckard’s science-improved long lifespan), were built for one purpose (unlike Deckard), and yet seem to be adore life. They’re fascinated by art, mechanics, even fucking rain. They are gripped with perpetual child-like wonder – they live every moment to the fullest. They cherish all the amazing emotions and experiences they’ve been given. The replicants are literally “more human than human,” the ironic tagline of the company that created them.

THE13

“Einhorn is a man!”

Deckard (the “hero”) murders them one-by-one, and we’re treated to a fantastic reversal in the final reel – though Deckard is the underdog (because he lacks Roy Batty’s enhanced strength and senses), he’s actually become the villain. Roy Batty wants to take revenge on Deckard, not just for murdering Roy’s friends, but for wasting his life. For Deckard being an empty automaton in a magical world. Roy laments his own approaching death and lives his last moments like Deckard never will.

After Roy dies, Deckard actually learns the lesson. He takes his short-lived replicant girlfriend and decides to flee and live what life he can.

If Deckard is a replicant, the whole message of a human learning how to live from a robot is completely obliterated. It just becomes a weird robot-to-robot mentor message that sinks all the irony and beauty in the name of Shyamalalalamanian twistiness.

THE11

“Quiet. Daddy’s talking.”

If that’s not enough to convince you, consider this: Philip K. Dick (the author of the novel), Hampton Fancher (the writer of the screenplay), and Harrison Ford (Harrison Ford) all thoroughly intended that Deckard be a human being.

Philip K. Dick said it best: “The purpose of this story as I saw it was that in his job of hunting and killing these replicants, Deckard becomes progressively dehumanized. At the same time, the replicants are being perceived as becoming more human. Finally, Deckard must question what he is doing, and really what is the essential difference between him and them? And, to take it one step further, who is he if there is no real difference?”

THE12

Article originally published at Agents of GUARD.

 

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The Wafflers Review of Star Trek: Beyond

STB1

So, I just caught up on the newest entry in the NuTrek saga, and boy was I surprised.

I REALLY took the piss out of this movie when that first, widely-maligned trailer debuted. It seemed like it had been concocted primarily to anger Star Trek fans: rock music, sweet dirt bike jumps, the Enterprise being destroyed IN THE TRAILER, and “from the Director of Fast and Furious.” For me, the only thing that’s fast and furious in Star Trek should be Worf at the helm of the Defiant.

See, it’s a fast ship and he’s angry, so that’s a joke. The joke I just said.

I (and the internet) heaped so much abuse upon the trailer’s back that the writer of the film (and co-star) Simon Pegg had to come out on social media and both A) apologize for the trailer and B) insist that it didn’t truly capture the Trekkian nature of the final film.

So, was Pegg right? Could the director of Fast and Furious make a good Star Trek film?

STB2

Kinda

Okay, so I had a hard time writing this review/essay, primarily because it took so long to process my feelings about the flick. I’m still not 100% convinced of how I feel, but I figured this review might help me find my own thoughts. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll help you find yours.

The question is: was it good? Yes? I think yes.

Let me explain my reticence – Star Trek Beyond is EXACTLY what I thought it could never be: an old Star Trek movie. What’s an old Trek movie? As a lover of Star Trek, I gotta say this: those movies aren’t GREAT if you don’t like Star Trek already. In fact, I’d argue that as stand-alone movies they don’t really work. Not to say that they’re bad (most of them aren’t), but they are very much tied to the assumption that you know these characters, you care about the world, and you’d rather see them in action that worry too much about filmmaking. They are big-budget episodes of the show WHICH IS FINE because they’re for people who watch the show. Like me.

As contrast, let’s look at the last two movies. Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek: Into Darkness are BOTH movies that I really enjoy, both as a Star Trek fan and a general movie fan. However, I would say that they weren’t made for Star Trek fans. They were meant to be blockbusters, standing on their own without any knowledge of the Star Trek universe. My wife, who didn’t give two rat turds about Star Trek LOVED those two movies. She loved them so much it kindled a curiosity about Star Trek, one I was happy to sate with choice TNG episodes and old Star Trek flicks.

Now, why? Well, because J.J. Abrams wasn’t a big fan of Star Trek, and wanted to make movies that appealed to EVERYONE. Which, I can’t say I blame him – there are a lot of upsides to his approach. The characterization is really tight because they don’t assume you know the characters. The stories are self-contained and fast-paced. There’s a lot of action and spectacle, and it’s done in an entertaining way.

So, why is Star Trek Beyond different?

STB3

It’s For Fans

Yeah, really. Justin Lin (who it turns out is a big Star Trek fan) directed a movie that feels like a Star Trek: The Original Series episode on tetrameth. Unlike the cranked-down polish of the Abrams movies, Lin instead went with the humor, character moments, techno problem-solving, and philosophical bombast of a true Star Trek episode.

It’s a relatively small story, and could easily be paired down into a 45 minute episode. Visit weird planet, get in adventure, fix a tech thing, credits.

Now, I’m not saying one approach is better than the other – I think Beyond might be a worse movie than the Abrams movies. However, it is paradoxically a better STAR TREK movie than the other two, which is a weird contradiction that hopefully you understand after that setup from earlier.

The movie is filled with character interaction – you could say the whole plot is just an excuse to pair off the cast and have them bounce off each other. The whole middle of the movie is just Spock/Bones, Kirk/Checkov, Uhura/Sulu, and Scotty/Jayla exchanging dialogue and overcoming natural obstacles, and it’s GREAT. Really.

Also, and this is the part that shocked me the most – remember that scene in the trailers where Kirk decides it’s time to abandon intergalacatic diplomacy and officer-decorum and start doing sweet jumps on his dirtbike? It’s actually pretty organic in the movie, and makes perfect sense in context. I know, it shocked me too. Why in God’s name would Kirk have a dirt bike? Explained. Why is he using it for transportation? Explained. Why did he just do a jump off a ramp? Honestly? Explained. By the time the sequence ended it didn’t bother me at all.

Destroying the Enterprise – which is not a spoiler because it’s in the fucking commercial – wrenched my guts. I’m not sure if I hated the scene because I love the Enterprise or I hated the scene because it was unnecessarily pornographic in its glee for destruction, but it made me sick to my stomach. In Star Trek: Search for Spock the Enterprise explodes, and it explodes/crash lands in Generations. But the way it’s done this third time is actively gross, and it really bothered me to see it go down that way. There is an incredible upside to the scene, though – it’s probably the hardest the Enterprise crew has ever worked to keep the ship alive.

No self-destruct, no immediate “abandon ship” when things start looking grim. The crew fight tooth and nail for every square foot of deck plating, and they don’t so much give up on the ship as the ship just doesn’t exist anymore by the time it’s over.

That's . . . that's not really relevant here.

That’s . . . that’s not really relevant right now.

The Villain

The real downside to the story is the plot, which is basically an after-thought. The villain (who faciliates the plot) is equally under-developed. Like Star Trek villains of old (looking at you, Christopher Lloyd), his job is to walk on stage, kick the crew in the balls, and then be safely dispatched before the credits role. His backstory makes no sense, his motivations are both unclear and kind of unbelievable, and the source of his incredible power (and the effect it should have had on the sector) is swept under the rug. Don’t worry about why he wants a McGuffin when his current tools are WAY more powerful than the McGuffin he’s trying to obtain.

The Dumb Climax (No Spoilers)

I’m going to avoid spoilers here, but I am going to say there’s a sequence near the climax which is somehow both the DUMBEST thing I’ve ever seen in a Star Trek movie and also one of the most AWESOME. I think I loved it, but man was it dumb. Still had a grin on my face the whole sequence, though.

So Which Is It

My wife, lover of nuTrek, thought “Star Trek Beyond” was worse than the previous two movies but still entertaining, which I agree with. Hardcore fans of Star Trek seem to think it’s WAY better than the other two movies, which I agree with.

So, I guess I’d say “go watch it.” You’ll find something to like (or love), and it’s definitely not the reeking dumpster fire we all thought it would be. It’s a fun-ass movie with great moments, and I highly recommend it.

stb4

Article originally posted by B.C. Johnson on “Agents of GUARD.”

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Deadgirl Sequel Out Now, Author Pees in Excitement

Hey, good and gentle peoples who read this blog! I try not to spam you guys because you’re all so attractive and swell individuals, but it’s not every day the sequel to your first book comes out. Which it did. It does. For me. I mean.

My book is out today. Kindle / Ebook / Phone right now, but the paperback is coming soon. Anyway, I’d really appreciate it if you checked it out or at the very least sent the word along to someone you think might dig it. Anyway, here are the links to Amazon and then I’ll leave you alone I promise.

Here are the Amazon pages for Deadgirl: Ghostlight and the original Deadgirl if you missed it. They’re basically Buffy the Vampire Slayer-style adventure/thrillers narrated by a smartass.

ghostlight review sheet

 

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Smile!

LucyClose

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The Asshole’s Guide to Editing: #4

Assholes Guide Banner

Previous Guides: #1#2, and #3.

Last time: Solin walked down a single street. No, seriously. Also he vaulted over a cow, I guess?

EXCERPT

The Morali land was large, but Solin was soon at his destination (passive – watch those “was”es). A copse of trees rose up in the middle of the plains, following the course of a wide stream that broke off of the Sabrienne river to the east. As he got closer he slowed down, both for fear of disturbing his friend and simple exhaustion. He slowed to a jog, and finally a brisk walk (unnecessary comma, the sequel), allowing his muscles to stretch out and his blood to slow down. (Okay. This is a common move I still have to try hard to keep out of my writing. So first I said “he slowed down.” Then, in the next sentence, I DESCRIBE what slowing down is. In case you don’t know. It’s partially my tendency to over-explain, and partially an artifact from the first draft. This kind of thing is okay in a first draft because it’s really just telling the story to yourself. Later drafts need to be leaner. Take out the tell “he slowed down” and leave a punchier remnant of the show, like “His run decayed into a jog, then a leisurely stroll.”) It felt good to be tired, properly exhausted. Solin didn’t fear toil; he was just terrible at it. (STAHP. We get it. We all get it.)

Solin moved into the shadows of the trees then (Delete “then.” Why is that even here?), great willows that stretched their wispy canopy over his head. In the center of the copse the stream passed (Yoda, is that you?), crystal clear waters from the Sabrienne, a river that traced back to the great mountains to the north (Second time you’ve described the course of a distant river for literally no reason at all – well, kinda. Spoiler alert, this river starts somewhere mystical, which is why I felt the need to mention it twice. It’s still ham-handed, though). The stream split there beneath the willows, and most of the water cut south and no doubt hit the sea at some point (“No doubt?” It does or it doesn’t. Pick one). But Rion’s father had dammed up a portion of the stream along (two words there, son) time ago, and created a little shimmering pond. Solin and Rion swam and played there in their younger days. Frayed lengths of rope still hung above the pond, aching to be swung on. (Great imagery trapped in a pretty good sentence, even with the preposition wonkiness. So far, the count of pretty good sentences is “2,” for those keeping track at home.)

But that was a while ago, and Rion used it for fishing now. He claimed that was the only reason he came down here, but Solin knew better. (Delete this and inject it into dialogue later. Have Solin bust Rion’s balls. “Waxing nostalgic?” “Not at all. Trout are jumping this time of year.” “Oh yeah? Is that what the sketch pad is for?” Or something. Bring it into the character’s actions, not pork-fingered exposition.) It was a place of memory, and reflection, and at dawn or dusk Solin always thought it had a magical look to it. The way the willow branches crept down and filtered the light into shining specks that danced across the water. (By the way, this is the REAL reason Solin likes getting up early. See how unnecessary all the times he hemmed and hawed about it earlier? All those can be cut completely).

Solin noticed a handful of trout hanging by hooks from the branch of a low-hanging willow. (“Hanging” is twice in this sentence. Fix.) A few extra spears were leaned up against the tree (“A few extra spears leaned against the tree.” Boom. Passivity gone. Watch those “was”es and “were”es, right?). A pair of boots sat just on the edge of the water.

Solin leaned against the willow and watched.

Rion ett Morali stood on the shallow bank of the pond. The biting cold water (This could go either way, but Solin doesn’t know that the water is biting cold. Sure, he could deduce, but it feels like perspective flopping. Cut it) lapped around his ankles, though it didn’t seem to be bothering him. His long brown hair fell in waves to his shoulders, and high above his head his arm was in an arc, aiming the spear in his hand toward the waters (Not horrible, but the wording is so clunky. It just needs a clean rewrite). His back was to Solin. He couldn’t see his face, but it was no doubt arranged in its perpetual look of peaceful concentration, with nary a wrinkled brow to give away his thoughts.

(YUCK! Solin just described something he isn’t seeing just so he can describe the character to the audience. Also, don’t be so quick to description – you don’t need to fix your description in the mind of the audience right away. In fact, and this took me a LONG time to realize, you really don’t need to describe your characters at all.

I know that sounds weird, but bear with me. Your job as a writer is MUCH easier if you let the reader take over some responsibilities. Let’s say you have “Helen,” and Helen needs to be beautiful for the story to work. And I mean, NEEDS to be. The plot hinges on it.

You don’t have to go into crazy detail. Don’t describe her eyes, the upturn of her nose, the slender calves, whatever turns your key. Have other characters react to how beautiful she is – have men constantly hit on her, have woman envy her, have a photographer stop her in the street and ask if she’d like to do some modeling. Have her blow off all of these advances in a nonchalant way, letting us know she deals with this all the time.

That’s how you make Helen beautiful. The reader will then pick up on this and conjure a beautiful woman in their mind, and their beautiful woman is going to make the Helen of your tedious description look like a pig. Reading is interactive, if you let it be. Let it be.

Hypocrisy alert: You’ll find some in-depth descriptions of characters in my books, and I regret almost all of them. If a physical signifier is 100% important to the character – Morgan’s stunning beauty in Deadgirl, for instance – then include the stuff I talked about. If it doesn’t really matter, don’t put too much energy into a physical description. Let the reader fill it in, and they’ll never forget the character they conjured.

I’m still working on this because it’s a really hard habit to break, especially for us visual types. But remember, books aren’t a visual medium. Use the best tools at your disposable. Don’t try to hammer a nail in with a saw.)

Solin had tried to get him to play cards with some of the guys in town; Rion wasn’t much for games (Semi-colons again, you old dog, you!). He’d win a lot of money with that unreadable gaze, too. Solin moved forward a step, about to break the silence, when Rion lunged.

His arm moved in a blur; (Oh shitttt, makin’ it rain semi-colons) Solin could barely follow the path of the spear. Droplets of water flew through the air around Rion, and he gripped the submerged spear with both hands and tugged it out of the water. A monstrous trout squirmed on the tip of the spear, and Rion turned and whipped the spear above his head. The fish sailed through the air, and Solin jerked to just narrowly avoid its flight. (There are some repetition problems here I would fix. Air, water, spear, air, water, spear. Maybe just delete a lot of it).

“Want to hang that up for me?”

/EXCERPT

I’ve seen a lot, A LOT, worse. It’s not good, don’t get me wrong. To semi-quote one of my agents – “Look at every paragraph – can it be condensed into a sentence?” You’ll find it often can, especially if you tend to overexplain, overdescribe, and overwrite (like, for instance, me).

Here’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about:

“Solin had tried to get him to play cards with some of the guys in town; Rion wasn’t much for games. He’d win a lot of money with that unreadable gaze, too. Solin moved forward a step, about to break the silence, when Rion lunged.”

Well, in all honesty I’d just delete everything but the last sentence and then perk it up bit: “Just as Solin opened his mouth to break the silence, Rion lunged.”

The stuff where I nearly break my back trying to not use the phrase “poker face” is unnecessary and should go. Rion will either seem stoic to the audience or he won’t – stop telling them who people are. If Rion is relatively quiet and strong in his actions, then we’ll get it. But don’t just unzip the sentiment and ram it home – romance the audience a little.

I’m still not convinced anything in this chapter shouldn’t be cut entirely. In fact, once we get to what I think the starting point should actually be, I’ll let you know. See you next week for I think some actual danger/conflict. I think.

My memory blocked out huge chunks of this book for safety reasons.

 

 

 

 

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A Selfless Reminder

Just a completely altruistic, non self-serving reminder that the sequel to a book I wrote is coming out in one month. Which I also wrote. I wrote both, is what I’m saying.

DG Date Banner2

Check out the first “Deadgirl”

And the new one, “Deadgirl: Ghostlight”

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The Asshole’s Guide To Editing: #3

Assholes Guide Banner

Previous Guides: #1 and #2.

Last time: Solin tried to help the blacksmith, taught an adjunct class on how to use a dolly in excruciating detail, broke some shit, and then ran down the street.

I took a week off because the Walking Dead finale broke my shit, but I’m back.

EXCERPT

A block or two later, his heart calmed, and he was sure Jayne wasn’t following. (“Heart calmed” is a nothing phrase – we’re here to evoke emotion. Even a cliché like “his heart stopped pounding” is at least evocative and descriptive. I’d also reorder this sentence – “His heart calmed a block or two later when he was sure Jayne wasn’t following.” Get rid of a few unnecessary commas and bring the action out front.

However, what I’d really do is reorder the sentence as above, getting the subject and verb out front, AND I’d give it more active language with an amusing voice – it was supposed to be a funny scene, after all.

So, something like this: “His heart found its old familiar rhythm three blocks later when he was sure Jayne wasn’t chasing him with a rake.”)

Still, he’d done enough harm to the populace for today. Time to go see ‘ole long face. (The voice is a MESS here. Thinking something like “he’d done enough harm to the populace” is something a robot or a snarky college professor might say. But then in the next sentence it’s “time to go see ‘ole long face.” Folksy language. Voice is important, and this neophyte writer didn’t spare one moment to even think about it).

Solin’s destination was on the edge of town (passive language alert), and so it allowed him to observe Bowen’s Rest in its waking moments. He was not a fan of being up so early, (passive language alert) but between bad dreams and insomnia, it was a time he was unfortunately familiar with. (Not sure why Solin can’t think in contractions – “He was not a fan” “it was a time.” He’s 17-years-old, loosen the collar a little).

He welcomed it, grudgingly. It was a better alternative to the dreams, and the cold air filling his lungs seemed so vibrant and alive. Solin also liked the feeling that he was witnessing something that few people see (Except earlier you said the whole town wakes up early – the problem here is the writer is injecting his own thoughts into the character, whether they’re appropriate or not). Most wake up and the world is going on without them. So early in the morning, Solin felt strangely wise. As if all those who missed the sunrise were left out.

Maybe he did like being up early after all, and grumbled and complained for the sake of others. (This shit is infuriating. In the beginning of the chapter, he said he hated to wake up early. Then, just now, he liked it. Now, here, Solin offers a THIRD OPINION about his feelings about the morning. This is shameful, self-indulgent naval-gazing at its most embarrassing, and worst of all, it’s slapping the reader in the face and saying “I don’t care about your time.”) He shook his head. At that hour, with an angry blacksmith possibly on his heels, Solin wasn’t much for self-reflection. (ARE YOU SURE?! WANNA GO BACK AND READ THE LAST NINE PARAGRAPHS, YOU FUCK?!)

Ironic, considering where he was going and why. (There’s irony all over this sumbitch, but it’s not for that reason). He wondered if sourpuss would be awake. Of course he was awake. He was always awake. (So, everyone in town wakes up early again? Is this early-onset medieval fantasy Alzheimers?)

The cobbled street became dirt, and the buildings to either side blended into rolling farmland. (“…blended into rolling farmland” might be one of the few non-passive, non-forever-taking bits of economical writing in the whole book so far). To his left, on the east side of the road stood a field of golden corn. It looked ripe for the picking to Solin, but he admitted he wasn’t much for farming. That was another trade Solin had attempted, to little avail. He had apprenticed at that very farm. Farmer Yeven had watched him break two plows, a fence, and a mule before asking him politely to “try a different trade.” (This is actually pretty considerate of me to remind you again and again that Solin is a screw-up, because there is a very real chance you, the abused reader, fell asleep during an earlier passage and missed something.)

To his right, on the west side of the road, was grazing land, and a vast fleet of cows roamed across it (I think this sentence needs more commas). Solin was pretty sure a group of cows wasn’t called a fleet, but he didn’t really care either (and neither does the reader).

That land he knew quite well. It was his best friend’s, or his best friend’s father’s, though most in the town knew that Rion ett Morali, the son, pretty much ran the farm by himself. Rion tended the livestock, the small field of corn behind their house, and even dealt with the finances and sold the farms excess. He was well respected, for his hard work if not for the pity most felt for him about his father. (Way, way too overwritten. How about: “Everyone knew Rion ran the family farm, no matter whose name was on the deed” and delete the rest of this paragraph. Maybe the chapter. Potentially the book).

Solin vaulted the low wooden fence into the Morali farm, his boots crunching into the sparse grass (there’s some simultaneous action happening here – if his boots really must crunch, they should do it in their own sentence. This somehow implies his boots crunched the grass in mid-vault, which gravity doesn’t particularly care for). A cow just at the edge of the fence turned its head up toward him, (just “A cow at the edge of the fence turned its head,” no need for “up toward him.” We get that he’s spurring the action, cut the stage direction) and Solin patted the big animal on the forehead. Its large eyes blinked once, and it never stopped chewing. After a moment, it returned to its patch of grass. Solin shook his head and laughed, and wondered if he would have got the same reaction if he would have lit the cow on fire and jumped up and down screaming. Probably. (Some readers might get that this is a joke, but other readers would probably assume Solin is a weirdo or a psychopath. Maybe save animal mutilation jokes until we know the character a little better).

Far off to his right he could see a house, and barn with a silo beside it. (Unnecessary Comma should be the name of my band). Solin turned south, checked his belt, and took off running. (“Checked his belt?” Why include such needless detail? “Solin’s mind sent signals down his spine to his large muscle groups compelling them forward into what could be called a ‘run’ by modern scholars. This was much faster than a walk.”) It was a fine day for it, and the cool air flooding through his lungs brought a smile to his face. His legs pumped, his arms moved in tight lines beside his waist, and he threw his head back to feel the biting wind. (Oh, shit, I got ahead of myself. I really did describe what running is) Solin’s shaggy blond hair caught the wind, and he laughed again as he ran. A cow rose up before him and Solin leaped, catching the cows back with one hand and vaulting over it with all his momentum. He crashed into a roll on the other side, but came up running just as quickly. (He just jumped a cow. What is happening?)

He wondered if he could ever get Cow Jumping to take off as a sport. (Insert audience laughter)

/EXCERPT

Okay, so that was (pardon my Swiss-German) fucking brutal. We barely made it through 500 words of prose there, and literally nothing happened.

Things Solin thought about: 1) Morning time, 2) Working on a farm, 3) Lighting cows on fire

I’ll see you next week for – GOD WILLING – some actual narrative beats. Maybe. No promises.

Next: Read “The Asshole’s Guide to Editing” #4

 

 

Categories: The Asshole's Guide to Editing, writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Walking Dead Finale, Cliffhangers, and You

Yes, I know – you’re tired of reading “open letters” about the Walking Dead finale.

Trust me, the fans are tired of writing them. This ground is well-tread, and the game trail has been widened into a goddamn highway with repeated use. Yes, we’re pissed. Yes, we’re unsatisfied. Yes, we’re kind of hungry.

But the anger is real. I’m angry. The people who love this show are still angry. I was debating with myself how I would express my particular flavor of dissatisfaction, just to get the poison out of my system, and I’ve come to this:

Stop defending the finale as a cliffhanger. It wasn’t. Or it was, and cliffhangers don’t work. Or, maybe, we all disagree on what a cliffhanger actually is. From their interviews, showrunner Scott Gimple, producer/director/make-up god Greg Nicotero, and even non-offensive “Guy Smiley” Chris Hardwick have their take on “what a cliffhanger is,” and the audience has another.

Why Use a Cliffhanger?

Traditionally, a cliffhanger is used to keep interest going after a story or scene has (or would have) ended. I’m a writer by trade, and I can tell you that we’re encouraged to end every chapter on a cliffhanger. Introduce a new threat, change an allegiance, slap in a new complication, someone’s head falls off unexpectedly, etc.

Now, like any writing tool, it has its function, and a most appropriate time and place for its use. I don’t recommend ending EVERY chapter that way, no more than I would recommend ending every story with a boss fight. Sometimes the best way to introduce excitement for the next chapter is to make sure that THIS chapter tells a great story. Sometimes (editors, cover your ears), a satisfying conclusion makes an audience think to themselves: “Wait a minute, isn’t the story over? How is there a next chapter?”

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” Season 1 ended with all of the story lines wrapped up and the Big Bad Evil Guy dead as fried chicken. I remember thinking: “Wait, what is Season 2 going to be about? Where the hell do they possibly have to go?” That didn’t turn me away as a audience member. That DREW ME IN. Because the first season told a complete and satisfying story, I used my cause-and-effect brain equipment to go “hey, do you think they’ll tell another complete and satisfying story in season 2? Oh sheeeet.”

And I watched it. And they did.

What is a Cliffhanger?

Here’s where language fails us, and I have to go off-book. My personal definition of a cliffhanger is “an incomplete story designed to manipulate the audience.” I’ve always held that belief, and I always will.

I would make a distinction, though, between a “sequel hook” and a “cliffhanger.” To me, a cliffhanger is garbage. A sequel hook, on the other hand, is a must in serialized storytelling. A sequel hook gives us a new twist or piece of conflict that HAS NOTHING TO DO with the arc that was set up the entire story. It opens a new road, it doesn’t drop a gate across the road we’re already on.

Gimple/Nicotero/Hardwick and Robert Kirkman have insisted that the end of the Season 6 finale was no different than the ends of other beloved works. They’ve made comparisons to “Empire Strikes Back,” the most recent season of Game of Thrones, and even the famous “Fire” cliffhanger from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

All I gotta say to that is: nope. Nope on fucking toast.

Your Examples Are Bad and You Should Feel Bad

Let’s start with “The Empire Strikes Back” comparison. First and most fore: the Empire Strikes Back doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. It ends on a sequel hook. How can you tell? It’s easy, you just have to look at the story.

A complete story is a question, and an answer. That’s it. Here are the questions asked in the beginning/middle of “Empire Strikes Back,” and the answers that the movie gives us by the end.

Will Han, Leia, and Chewie escape the Empire after the disastrous Battle of Hoth? (No)
Will Luke Skywalker complete his training as a Jedi? (No)
Will Yoda and Obi-Wan be able to tame Luke’s more Anakin-like impulses? (No)
Will Vader be able to capture Luke Skywalker and bring him to his Emperor? (No)
Will Luke be able to face and defeat Vader? (Yes / No)
Is Lando really a dickhead? (No)

That’s it. Those are the questions that are set up and answered. Empire Strikes Back is a complete story, contrary to popular opinion. Are there twists and sequel hooks? Absolutely. But you can tell they’re sequel hooks and not cliffhangers because they ask NEW questions that the movie didn’t ask before. Here are the questions introduced at the END of Empire Strikes Back:

Is Vader really Luke’s father?
Can Han be rescued from Boba Fett / Jabba the Hutt?

Neither of those questions were asked in the beginning/middle of the story and simply not paid off.

If “Empire Strikes Back” was the Season 6 finale of The Walking Dead, on the other hand, it would have gone a little differently. Season 6 has been setting up the Saviors most of the season, and what do the Saviors say at every SINGLE encounter? “We always kill one of you, to get our point across.” Our heroes are plucky enough to escape their first few encounters, but the audience knows what’s going down. That’s called foreshadowing, that’s called ASKING A QUESTION. It’s storytelling. By beating us over the head with “we always kill one of you,” they’ve let the audience know that one of the crew is getting whacked. It’s going to happen, no matter how much we dread it.

The season, of course, ended with us not knowing who got whacked.

The Empire Strikes Back, by Scott Gimple

To continue the comparison, that would be like if “Empire Strikes Back” had a scene early on where Luke is sitting alone and says, “I wish I knew more about my father.” Then, later on, an Imperial officer is talking to Vader, and Vader goes “I know who Luke’s father is. And that shit is going to be surprising.” And then, during their climactic duel, Vader leans in and says, “Luke. Your father is not who you think he is. Your father is really . . . “and then the sound cuts out, and we focus on Luke’s face. Then Luke bellows “NOOOOOOOO” and we cut to credits.

You can say, “Oh, well, the story is actually about whether or not Luke is happy with who his father is,” and then you could say, “Look, Luke is pissed, which means it’s bad. That’s a story.” You can say that, but you’d be wrong.

If that had happened, the movie would have asked a question, foreshadowed an answer, and then not finished the goddamn story. That would be a “cliffhanger,” which is manipulative and cheap. Would people havestill  gone to see “Return of the Jedi?” Sure. Would they be majestically pissed that they gave their time and money to go see a movie and then didn’t get a complete story? Bet your ass. Would “Empire” be the beloved film classic it is today? Take a guess.

If the producers of the Walking Dead wanted hashtag social media controversy, they would have had it if they’d finished the story. “Oh my God, Negan killed Charlie Maincharacter. How is Charlie’s wife/husband/brother going to handle this? Does that mean Charlie’s storyline with Jake Sidecharacter is over? Who’s going to fill the role? Do you think Charlie’s dad is going to commit suicide? Become a hardass? How is Rick going to take revenge and gain the respect of his people again? Is Rick a broken man after Charlie Maincharacter’s horrifying death?” You’d get “Remember Charlie” t-shirts and hashtags, and “Rick Will Remember That” memes, and “Official Charlie-Whacker” on the side of toy nerf bats. You’d get it all.

Guess what? People were talking about Empire Strikes Back, I promise you that, and it told an absolutely complete and satisfying story.

Now, to the Game of Thrones comparison, real quick, I promise:

Game of Nopes

Here be spoilers for the last season finale of “Game of Thrones,” obviously.

Was Jon Snow’s scene a cliffhanger? No. Jon Snow’s story this whole season was “can he unite the wildlings and the Night’s Watch to fight the real threat. Can old prejudices be forgotten?” The answer, at least from the Night’s Watch, is a resounding “fuck no, Olly.” And Jon pays the price for his lack of vision. The season ends with him stabbed roughly one jillion times, lying dead in the snow. That ain’t a cliffhanger.

Was Dany’s scene a cliffhanger? No. Her story this whole season was “can she tame and rule her dragons, her man, and the city of Mereen?” No. Her dragon, while it saves her, takes her away and plops her in the middle of the boonies, all alone. Her man is a free spirit that she doesn’t control. And the City of Mereen is lost, at least to her ruling hand. Sure, she ends up in a precarious situation that we don’t know the end of (the Dothraki appearing and circling her), but that’s a sequel hook. It’s an unexpected new twist on the story. If the question of the season had been “will Dany control the Dothraki,” and the season ends with uncertainty on whether the Dothraki are going to hurt her, that would be crap. But that’s not what happened.

Was Stannis’s scene a cliffhanger? No. His god and priestess abandoned him, his army was crushed, and he died. No cliffhanger there.

Was Breanne’s scene a cliffhanger? No. She purposely abandoned her vow to save Sansa to fulfill the vow to kill Stannis. Which she did.

Arya’s scene? No. Because the question this season wasn’t “will Arya’s sight return?” The question was “Can she follow the rules of her new life, or does Arya still exist?” That’s a big fucking “yeah, she exists and her new masters are pissed.” Another complete story (with a sequel hook at the end, surprising and unannounced).

Cersei’s scene? No, she was defeated and humiliated by the Sparrows that she helped create. The question asked at the beginning – “Was empowering the Sparrows a good idea?” – was answered whole-heartedly in the finale.

Will Jaime bring his daughter back to King’s Landing? Nope.

Do you get what I’m saying? Those aren’t cliffhangers, which is why they’re good. A cliffhanger stops a scene in the middle, which is what “The Walking Dead” has been doing all season long. It’s sloppy, manipulative storytelling, and it deserves every ounce of anger it’s asborbed.

In Concussion

Viewer time is precious, and having no respect for it is inexcusable. Having fans is one of the greatest things in the world, and treating them badly is shameful. Replacing good storytelling with carnival barker nonsense is, not to put too eloquent of a point on it, bad and dumb.

Nobody finished the totally-complete Season 1 of Walking Dead and said, “Eh, story’s over, fuck this show.”

EVERYONE came back for Season 2.

You done forgot your roots, guys. And the fans are pissed. Take your lumps like men. Own it, apologize for it, admit it.

Remember: if you have to eat shit, best not to nibble.

Categories: Review, writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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