Monday, December 21, 2015

Monday Movie! "Star Wars"

Bonus post! 

(Actually, it's more like an "early-bird post," because it doesn't look like I'll be able to do a post this weekend due to the craziness that is the holidays.)

I think it's stupid that I've been waiting a whole week to review the movies that I see on the weekend, and I saw Star Wars both Friday (with my dad) and Saturday (with my dad and my brother). 

So, from now on, whenever I see a new movie over the weekend, you guys get a bonus post (or in this case, an early post) called Monday Movie! Hurray!

--




There seems to be two camps whenever someone does a remake or a sequel to a classic: the "This thing sucks so bad I'm so disappointed how could they possibly deface the original they may as well have shot [insert original director's name here] in the face" camp, and the "This is fantastic! They made an amazing thing even better!" camp.

I am squarely in the latter. :)

(Which is kind of disappointing, because my uncle always ends up in the former, so it may very well come to blows on Christmas and someone's gonna get a bloody nose, someone's gonna cry, and someone's gonna call the cops. Again.)

Full disclosure: I've only seen the original Star Wars and the disasters that were the prequels once each (though I think I've made up for it by watching the Family Guy parodies a dozen times). I'm only 20, I've had college to deal with, and frankly I've always been partial to Star Trek. Spock is simply fascinating.

That being said, it was very easy to recognize the style, storyline, and characters in The Force Awakens. They even used the old-fashioned scene-changing technique (and of course they used the original soundtrack).

Normally, this is the part of the post where I talk about everything that annoyed me, poke fun at it, and then go on to the spoilers. Usually this has to do with how the creators marginalized the women, and maybe a few racial minorities, too.

...yeah, I got nothing. Finn (the Black storm trooper turned Resistance) was awesome. Rey, the female lead, was amazing. And badass. And smart. And Harrison Ford was so snarky and funny and a perfect Han Solo (he gets more smartass with age; I love it). The villain, Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver)...wow. Terrifying and commanding and sexy. Reeeeeally sexy. He looks so good in black, like ten feet tall and slim, and the voice. Sweet mother of God, the voice...

*ahem*

No, wait, I got a problem! But it's a spoiler (R2D2 does a Deux ex Machina in the end).

There's also Rey learning how to use the Force way too quickly to be realistic, and successfully using it against Kylo Ren (who's had years of training) just seemed odd. Then again, Luke Skywalker picked it up unnaturally fast, too.

Also Kylo Ren makes some very strange decorating choices...

That's a bold look.

Still an amazing awesome movie everyone should see and my uncle is an idiot.


Spoilers!


Similarities and differences between the originals and the sequel:

Original: R2D2 is chased across the galaxy because it's carrying a message from Leia to Obi-Wan.
Sequel: BB8 is chased across the galaxy because it's carrying a map to Luke Skywalker (who's missing, and everyone wants to find him, either to kill him or to pull him out of retirement because the galaxy's going to shit again).

Original: Luke Skywalker is Darth Vader's son (hopefully that's not a spoiler for any of you).
Sequel: Kylo Ren is Han Solo's and Leia's son (oops).

Original: Darth Vader actually did his job and did it well, while the British officers f***ed everything up.
Sequel: The British officers do their job and do it well. Kylo Ren's the one to mess it up.

Original: the Storm Troopers suck. They can't hit the target, they can't fight in close quarters, they have no personality...
Sequel: the Storm Troopers are BA. Finn gets his butt handed to him by a random ST who recognizes him as a traitor and has an electrical club of sorts. The only reason Finn didn't die is thanks to Han Solo.

Original: Darth Vader cuts off his son's hand (one of the many reasons he doesn't get Father of the Year).
Sequel: Kylo Ren kills his dad, Han Solo. And yeah, it sucks, but you see it coming a mile away. Why else have the two come face-to-face on a bridge above a giant pit unless you're going to chuck a body down the pit? And you know it can't be Kylo Ren who dies because then who's going to be the sexy bad guy in the next movie?


The Deux ex Machina with R2D2 happened at the very end, when all's said and done but we still don't know where Luke is, because BB8's map is incomplete. But then R2D2 "wakes up" (it was in low power mode and essentially off-line ever since Luke went missing), and looky here! It has the rest of the map! (Seriously?)

--

The best quote was Han Solo's (no surprise there), when they're breaking into the bad guy place (essentially a Death Star on steroids), and Solo thinks to ask Finn what his job was as a Storm Trooper, anyway, and Finn did sanitation. He doesn't know how to drop the shields they desperately need to drop, but don't worry!

Finn: "We'll figure it out. We'll use the Force!"
Han: "That's not how the Force works!"

It's a sad day when Han Solo knows more about how to use the Force than everyone else in the room.

The best scene was at the end when Finn and Rey run into Kylo Ren in the woods, and Rey gets knocked out (temporarily; at least these writers understand how a concussion works). Finn and Kylo Ren square off, and I'm okay with this, because Rey's already been awesome and can chill out as a damsel for this one scene.

But Kylo Ren beats Finn and slices open his back like a candy wrapper, right around the time Rey recovers and gets her hands on a light saver.

And then Rey kicks Kylo Ren's ass.

And it was glorious. :)

--

Thanks for reading!
If you have any questions, concerns, or requests for future blog posts that you don't want to type in the handy little comment box down there, just contact me and I'll get back to you. :)

Friday, December 18, 2015

Book Review: Bodyguard of Lightning

What's this? A review? An actual review? A real blog post? 
Then...this must mean...
Oh, rejoice! Thy dreaded finals week has passed! 

--

Bodyguard of Lightning by Stan Nicholls


On a scale of "Burn it" to "Best book ever! Erect monuments in its honor!" I put it at:
"A very-well written cliche. No one knows cliches more than Stan Nicholls."

It's also super gory and includes a rape scene. NC-17, people.


Book I of the "Orcs" trilogy.

You can also find it in here. It has a much more badass cover and all 3 books.

I did enjoy the book, and I'll probably read the rest of the series, if for no other reason than to solve the mysteries of the artifact and the villain's plan and the weird visions the main character keeps getting...

The story's about a band of orcs called the Wolverines--led by Stryke (the main character)--who are on a mission to bring an artifact to their queen. They don't know what it is, nor do they really care, until they get the artifact, and then lose it to a bunch of kobolds. Honest mistake, right? Unfortunately, the queen isn't exactly the forgiving sort. She's like the hardass professor who won't accept your twenty-page paper that you stayed up until 4am to write but simply forgot to print out because you were so sleep deprived and thus you fail the course (lucky for me, I don't have that professor :P). By the time they reclaim the artifact they know they're far too late to be spared the wrath of their queen. So they become outlaws.

The story has the unique concept of being set in a classic epic fantasy, but all the protagonists are orcs. It parallels modern racism and stigmas and has some interesting claims about religion (I get the feeling Stan Nicholls is anti-religion), and it also talks about the environment and how humans are completely screwing it up (I also get the feeling he's not a fan of humanity, either).

But there are some problems.

Number one (and those of you who regularly follow my blog probably already know what I'm about to say) is the lack of strong women. 

Oh, there are very strong women here. The evil queen is one (more on that later). Coilla is another. She's a corporal in the band of orcs. She's also the only female orc we meet other than the queen, which means she's really only there as a token (and I pray that she doesn't get put in a relationship with Stryke, because that's the only cliche Nicholls has avoided so far).

I'd be less antagonistic about it if girls were even briefly mentioned in the band. But everyone else is male. Realistically, in a patriarchal society as established here and in the military, Coilla would be the target of extreme sexism and hatred, and once they're outlaws, almost certainly sexually assaulted and raped. But we don't get so much as a hint of that, and I'm disappointed that Nicholls didn't even mention this very real social concern when he seems to mention every other social justice issue.

All the Wolverine soldiers and officers are male. All of the other soldiers and leaders (with the one exception of Queen Jennesta, who is the main villain and should not be held up as any kind of role model) are male.

The hostages, victims, and characters on the sidelines are women and children.

And Nicholls didn't even use it in regards to Coilla! She's just kinda...there. No explanation of why she's a corporal when all the other orc women mentioned are hanging back in villages taking care of the kids. No explanation of why none of her male comrades don't have a problem with this.

If he had used it as a way to showcase the shit women face in the work force and the sexism and violence and all of that, I wouldn't mind as much, because it's a real issue that needs to be addressed. But it's not talked about. Not one word. Unlike the racism and environmental ravaging that Nicholls spends a lot of time talking about.

Number two: the villain is way over the top. And I mean, jeez

Her name is Queen Jennesta, and she's a half-orc, half-human sorceress who controls the Wolverines until they turn on her. She is interesting, and there are a lot of questions that are unanswered at the end of Book I that I hope are answered later in the series, such as her parents (apparently her mom was this super-powerful orc sorceress, whose power was only surprised by her human lover, who killed her; no, I don't know why), her sisters (she has two, and they don't get along), and her plan (apparently this is all to help the earth, which is being destroyed).

But Nicholls goes way overboard in showcasing how evil she is. In every scene with Jennesta, she kills someone. The first time we meet her, she rapes a man as she kills him for some sort of magic ritual. She's like the pretty girl who needs to be told over and over again that she's pretty. You're pretty! You're pretty! And so very evil!

She's so comical in her cruelty I can't take her seriously. Her plan to help the earth probably involves genocide (she's evil, in case you missed that).

Number three: cliches. 

Nicholls hits almost every single cliche out there, with the one exception of the romantic subplot (and I pray he doesn't add that, because if that's the only reason Coilla's a female in the all-male war band, I'm out).

You have the oppressed people (the orcs) rising up against their tyrant (Jennesta and the rest of the world).

You have the oppressed people with this super-fearsome reputation (orcs eat babies, orcs are soulless...) but hey, they're actually not that bad, guys! They're crusty characters with hearts of gold.

You have the super-evil villain with little to no apparent depth.

You have the quest that, if successful, will change the fate of humanity (or in this case, orc-manity; more on that in spoilers).

You have a bunch of main characters that, despite facing insurmountable odds and countless deadly situations, don't ever seem to die, for no reason I can determine other than the fact that they're the main characters.

There's the mean bully, who says they should leave behind the wounded and carry on, only to get sick himself and have to be tended to by everyone else.

During the most dangerous part of the book, the woman (Coilla) has to stay back and "stand guard" while all the men do the big scary dangerous thing, only to screw up this one simple task and be put in mortal danger by an unforeseen threat and probably need rescuing from the men.

And of course the lone racial minority, the dwarf (Jup), who gets picked on by the racial majority, especially the bully (Haskeer), until the minority does something outrageously dangerous and heroic to show that he's just as good as the rest of them.

Actually...I don't really mind that last one. Because when it works, it really works. It's one of those feel-good friendship stories that carries an important moral of brotherhood, camaraderie...(as well as the additional moral that ethnic minorities' best shot at acceptable is full integration with the majority, eliminating as many differences between them as possible, and to do the majority culture way better than the majority itself to be on somewhat equal footing with them; so instead of being accepted as a dwarf, Jup had to be more Orc than the orcs and put his life on the line in a super-dangerous mission just to get some goddamn peace and quiet from his bullies).

Unfortunately, before the reconciliation could happen, Haskeer went batshit insane and ran away (more in spoilers).


Once I realized I was in for a bunch of cliches, I enjoyed the book. I want to solve the mysteries. I'm invested in (some of) the characters. So I'll probably stick it through the rest of the series. But it's one of those books where, while it's a great premise, it could've been done better.


Spoilers!


We start with the battle between the Wolverines and a human town, where the Wolverines successfully steal a cylinder (what it holds, they don't know) for Queen Jennesta. They also find pellucid, which is this world's most expensive, classy drug.

So, to celebrate a job while done, the entire band gets high.

And they miss the deadline to returning to their extremely volatile, cruel, evil queen.

While hung over and rushing to get back, the Wolverines run into a band of kobolds, who steal the cylinder. They chase them down. (Meanwhile Jennesta's in her palace being evil and angry at the Wolverines for being late.)

When they do get it back, they also find a gremlin, who's a scholar who was kidnapped by the kobolds for the purposes of...whatever's in the cylinder.

The Wolverines' leader Stryke decides their best chance at surviving Jennesta is knowing what's in the cylinder and using it to bargain with her. They open it, revealing an artifact--a metallic star of sorts--as well as a scroll in a dead language only the gremlin can understand. They learn that there are five of these artifacts hidden in the world, and that together, they could change the coarse of orc-kind.

The thing is, in this world, orcs are little more than slaves. The Wolverines themselves were given over to Jennesta by their previous lord (and none of them are happy about it, but until now they've just sucked it up). They're also furious at the humans, especially those who worship one god (called the Unis, who are also racists and believe that everyone else should go to hell--literally). They are, somehow, draining the world of its magic, slowly destroying it. The northern lands are being covered in glaciers that are moving south with every human.

The humans are at war with each other, Unis against Manis (who believe in multiple gods and are a bit more tolerant of the other races, even allying with the occasional orc band to fight their enemy).

So Stryke sees this as an opportunity to free himself, his band, and all other orcs from eternal servitude, as well as possibly saving the world itself from global warming as caused by magic deprivation. The war band follows him.

They go to a town called Trinity, because the gremlin told them that the kobolds planned on going there next to obtain the second star. Trinity is a Uni town, super religious, and based on Puritanism. Despite their hatred for all other races, these humans are hiring dwarfs for menial labor.

Enter Jup, who goes undercover.

Around the same time, Jup's racist bully Haskeer (who's constantly giving him shit about being a dwarf) falls ill with a near-fatal fever. More on that later.

Also, in between ritually killing a bunch of innocent servants, Jennesta has the Wolverines declared outlaws and is making their lives difficult by sending more war bands and dragons after them.

Jup gets into the city and finds the star, as well as a green house that's growing a bunch of poisonous plants. The Wolverines realize Trinity is going to poison the water drunk by the other races in the area. While stealing the star, Jup burns down the green house. The folks at Trinity are not happy with this development and join the chase for the war band.

Next the group plans on going to the troll stronghold, which they think has the third star (due to something Jup overheard in Trinity). Haskeer has woken up, and is acting weird. And I mean reeeeeeally weird. He suggests talking with the trolls instead of fighting them.

Which makes sense. I mean, they still have the pellucid, which is worth a lot. Why they risk a head-on assault instead of, I don't, negotiating with the trolls is beyond me. Must be an Orc thing.

Coilla is told to stay behind with Haskeer (who's still a bit out of his mind and should not be left alone or in charge of anything) and a foot soldier while the others go into the troll caves. She holds the pellucid and the two stars, with orders to leave if Stryke doesn't come back and do with them as she wishes.

In the caves, Stryke and another soldier get separated from all the others, and are captured by trolls who are about to sacrifice them to their gods. On the plus side, they find the star! (It's attached to the handle of the knife that the king's going to use to kill them.)

Outside the caves, Haskeer goes batshit, knocks out the soldier and Coilla, steals the stars, grabs a horse, and runs. Coilla recovers first and chases after him. But she gets caught by some of Jennesta's people.

$100 says Stryke'll have to go in and save the damsel in distress. Assuming he gets out of the whole sacrificial ritual thing, which he will, because none of the main characters have died so far. If any of them do die in Books II and III, it won't be Stryke.

So yeah. That happened.

The end!

--

Thanks for reading! :)
If you have any comments, questions, or concerns that you don't want to type in the handy little box at the bottom, feel free to contact me.

Friday, December 11, 2015

A Contemporary History Project on the Alien Refugee Crisis

Yay! More scifi poetry!
(stupid finals)

It's obvious from the title, but this was primarily inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis. 

Enjoy! 

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A Contemporary History Project on the Alien Refugee Crisis


“Earth in Nuclear War!”

History homework:
always the worst.
Almost as bad as the news
blaring hate across sound waves,
the screen filled with
pink and brown
bodies
some marching
some fleeing
some dead.

“CSAM conquers American capital,
holds much of the continent’s eastern shore”

We hear it so often
I forget what it means,
have to scramble for my notes.
What words create such
terror, rage, hate
burning bright in the belly
of an entire planet?

CSAM:          
Christian State in America and Mexico

It’s beneath the page
on the Un-aldu—
human translation:
United Alien Coalition—
should be
Useless Al-iinsan Club
but I guess it’s not as catchy

The reporter’s face fills the screen:
green skin and treetrunk hair a
welcome, familiar sight, spilling
unwelcome, familiar words,
like emerald acid
pooling in my ears

“Food and fresh water shortage on earth—
Billions starve”

News titles wrap around me
printed on paper ultra-thin.
Black words on white fields,
hate and terror and blood and bombs are
soft between my fingers

“Our prayers are with the humans”
and
“Head Priest pleads with the gods for mercy on the humans in public ceremony”
Which is funny, because now
“'We don’t want these Christian terrorists!’ majority cries”
even though
“Un-aldu prime minister says terrorists are ‘a fraction of a fraction of a percent’ of Christians”
And never mind fifty years ago, when
“New planet discovered! Inhabited by billions of aliens!”
that
“Murder of Al-iinsans by humans, motivated by fear”
because
“Earth-aliens’ first contact: no policy for Al-iinsans”
But then
“Earth welcomes Al-iinsans, thanks to human Pope”

It’s funny,
our short memory.
Makes me laugh ‘till I cry.
Or do I cry ‘till I laugh?
I have to remind myself why
I want to study history, that
it’s never fun
learning from our mistakes

“Al-iinsa joins human civil war, bombs Mexico, America, and Canada”

What’s next makes me ashamed
of my four lavender eyes
of my three-fingered hands
of my violet skin
wrapped around me like a
coat of privileged shame

More bodies on the screen.
They’re alive, this time.
Wrapped in dark rags, they’re
pushing into rockets amid white
acid snow pooling around their boots.
Now they’re pouring out of rockets
to blue and green and purple
masses of hate

A picture,
famous now:
an Al-iinsan in an
orange ocean guard vest
carries an infant human—
drowned—
on the beach.
Caused a stir
at the time,
Now
no one cares

“Millions of humans dislocated, homeless from war”

The reporter’s still talking.
A few humans,
two or three, are
arrested
imprisoned
executed
because
“Human terrorists attack Ba-ris in mass shooting”
and now
“31 Al-iinsan nations reject human refugees”
Even though
“Ba-ris proudly welcomes refugees”

The reporter turns to
the Emporer’s son:  Prince Dun-alid
the picturesque Al-iinsan:
rich, his robes a pale purple
believes in the gods, but not too much
deep violet skin, not like former slaves of blue
male, with four lovely wives, 
He speaks:
“We don’t want these
violent
childish
humans.
They destroyed their planet—and you know what?
They’re bringing those bombs.
They’re bringing nuclear weapons.
They’re bringing drugs.
They’re bringing crime.
They’re rapists—
And some, I assume, are good people.”

Ha.

It’s scary,
the people who cheer
undying love, unyielding faith,
following their prince like slime from a snail
bellowing hatred and anger to all else—
how can stupidity be
so powerful?

I don’t want to be
the same species
as that.

“Un-aldu prime minister says Al-iinsa has provided
‘far less help’ on refugee aid than needed”

Disappointing, depressing, nerve-wracking—
no wonder no one pays attention anymore.

“Prince Dun-alid tells human refugees ‘Go Home’”
but
“Scientists declare Earth ‘Completely Uninhabitable’”
so
“Reports show 56% of all homeless are human”
though sometimes a
“Retired couple in Nor’Shamal opens home to human refugees”
and yet
“Violent crimes against humans at an all-time high”

“'Don’t fear us’ human refugees tell Al-iinsans”

I read that one closer:

“Don’t fear us
Don’t hate us
Please

We are human”

--

Thanks for reading!

Know a good movie, show, or book?
Do you have a suggestion for a future blog post? (you can see what I'm currently reading/watching here)
Any questions or concerns?

Then PLEASE contact me.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Martian Red

This week's post was originally going to be another installment of my Demonology Files (I'm looking at the jinn, or genies, of Arabian culture). But instead I had to research an 18th Century Baptist named John Leland who helped James Madison create the Bill of Rights and freedom of religion in America (such as it is). 

Finals are in a week and a half and then I'll be gloriously free!

For about another week and a half. Then I have a January class. :/

Anyway, the point is, no Demonology Files or review for this week. You all probably don't want to read my half-finished history paper, so instead I'm posting a pessimistic poem I wrote about Mars for my creative writing class (which I am so glad I took because this is the second time I've used an assignment from that class to save my blogging butt; I'll probably do it a third time next week, too).

Enjoy! :)

--


Martian Red


Red
is warm
          hot burning
                    fire
                          molten lava
breath from deep in a dragon's belly

Here
it's cold.
White ghosts
escape our lips--
          blue, like our
                    fingers if we don't have
                              money for mittens and
most don't


Red
is usually
          danger!
          stop!
blood on
          your shirt
blood dripping
          from your nose
blood on the
          ground
          wall
          pavement
everywhere
but where
it's supposed to be

Here
that's true.
          The whole planet:
          no blue
          no green
          just one big  
stop
          sign that reads
danger
          so
stay away
          please


Here
red
pours from the
holes in people's
bodies
as they choke on more
red--
          coating the knife
          of a thief
          no, they're just--
                    surviving
                    requires food
                    just want some food
                    there's no--
                              water
                              dried and shriveled
                              man-made lakes
                              that were too small
                              too new
                              to quench so many--
                                        people
                                        there are millions
                                        fleeing snow and storms
                                        from their broken Mother--

Earth is a white
frozen ball
as cold as
here,
where it's
red

--

Know a good movie, show, or book?
Any questions, comments, or criticisms?
(I'm not made of glass; if you think it sucked, tell me.)

Then please contact me!

Thanks for reading! See you next week.
:)