Monday, August 6, 2018

Book Review: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Hi, I'm Voss and I am always behind the times when it comes to media. Like, always. I only started watching Supernatural this year. I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower about, oh, ten years after it first got onto my radar. And let's not even talk about me and music. My most listened to station on Pandora is 90's Country. If I want to push my boundaries, I hit up 2000's Country.

I'm behind on media is the point. So of course I only just got around to reading N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season. Now, I was at the Worldcon where the whole Sad/Rabid puppies bullshit went down (Or at least where it came to a head.), so Jemisin and her work were on my radar already. But I just never picked it up. I was too busy re-re-re-re-re-reading Harry Potter and The Cyberiad. Very important work.

Now, I'm picky. I'm a super picky reader. I'm not the kind of reader who subscribe to the "I'll give it a chapter" mentality of picking a book. I give books a page. I know that I'm probably missing out on some good books by doing that…but honestly? I don't want to read good books. I want to read amazing books. And while I can't always quantify what it is about that first page that turns me away or keeps me reading, but I've always just judged that quickly on whether a book is going to hold me.

Also, I don't love high fantasy. I don't. I think when it's done well, it can be incredibly strong, but I see a lot of the same issues repeated in high fantasy/alternate world fantasy that I just can't get behind. I'm tired of pseudo-medieval Anglo-Saxon settings. I'm tired of seeing the same archetypes that you find in every beginning D and D session adventuring through the world. I'm also super fucking tired of this oddly jagged writing style you see in a scary amount of high fantasy. It doesn’t flow. It's not natural. I'm super guilty of it, the few times I've tried my hand at high fantasy, and it's honestly why I don't write it much. And when I do, it's hard work.

All of that, every bit of that 350 word spiel, is building to this point: I loved The Fifth Season. I loved it so much. It surprised me, and you might put together that surprising a writer with your writing is not an easy thing, most of the time. Authors are rarely taken unawares by plot and story progression. More often than not, we see exactly what you're doing, there. But Jemisin threw me, and not only that, she threw me in ways that I knew, in retrospect, I should have put together.

At this point, we're going to be getting into spoiler territory for The Fifth Season. Spoiler warning, spoiler warning, spoiler warning. There, I gave you four of them. Listen to whichever one you want, because I don't review without spoilers. Sorry.

The Fifth Season immediately opens with something different, something steeped in voice. And I can't stress the importance of voice in reading enough. "Let's start with the end of the world, why don't we?" Immediately, I'm interested. Immediately, you learn so god damn much. You get an idea of how this book is going to read. You learn early on that time isn't exactly a meaningful concept within these pages. It's certainly not a singular linear pathway. And you understand from this line, and the rest of the prologue, that the world we're stepping into isn't a super hospitable one. It's a dangerous place to exist.

And the writing on a mechanical level also lends to the intentionally disjointed, unstable feeling of the world. The Stillness is, ironically, not still at all. It's plagued by constant seismic activity that has to be stilled by the inborn magic of orogeny in certain people. And the writing switches back and forth—hold onto something, because the reaction to this is never good—between close third person and second person POVs. And yeah, if you'd suggested to me that a book like that could be good? I would have rolled my eyes and humored you while walking away.

But it works. Damn it all, it works when it's done here. Essun is all told in second person. You are Essun. You are learning about yourself. You are uncovering your own secrets as you read. Damaya and Syenite are both close third person. You're seeing their story unfold, and with the way this is written, it's perfect. It's beyond perfect. It's the only way it could have made sense.

Okay, I did give spoiler warnings, but I am going to give you a fifth one, because this is a big part of the book. This is the twist at the end. Are you warned? Are you feeling prepared? Okay.

There are three characters…but there is also only one. Essun talks throughout her chapters about changing who she is, becoming someone else. She's clearly changed her identity before, and Essun isn't her original identity. I kept wondering how Damaya, Syenite, and Essun would be brought together. Then she revealed that Damaya chose the name Syenite when she became a proper orogene.

I should have put the rest together at that point, but I didn't. I assumed the book would end with Syenite and Essun meeting up. They didn't have to, because after she stopped being Syenite, she started being Essun. It's all one character. Essun is written in second person because it's direct. Those other people with other stories? They are, for means of Essun's own survival, other people. They are no, and cannot be, her. If they were her, then she would be killed. Probably brutally killed. So she is no one but Essun. That's why it's structured the way it is, and it's beautiful.

The Fifth Season also shoots wide and away from my problems with high fantasy. This is not Anglo-Saxon. It's set somewhere equatorial, with a mostly black cast of characters. It instantly shifts the feeling of the book. The described beauty standards aren't written through a European gaze. The senses of loyalty, cooperation, etc are all shifted just slightly off from what's expected. It sounds like it shouldn't make much of a difference, but it does. It makes a huge, sweeping difference, and I honestly think that's part of what makes it feel like a new world. The Stillness feels like it's different than our world, and that immediately helps sell the fantasy for me. Just a tiny shift away from what's expected, like the little slips of a fault line, changes everything.

It doesn't stop with the worldbuilding though. I can absolutely see why the Sad/Rabid Puppies hated this book. They're wrong, and they're bigoted, but I see why it wouldn't appeal to them. Jemisin creates a world of casual diversity. Female black MC. Most powerful character in the whole world? An older black gay man. There's a casual mention of a transwoman, and also god damn HRT in a fantasy world. The Fifth Season is a place where diversity can live. And no, The Stillness is not a place that encourages differences. They're not supposed to be. The government in charge (The Fulcrum, the Sanzed, and Yumenes) hates difference, hates change. But they're not the good guys.

So a chill black female main character, who ends up in a three way relationship with a gay man and a bisexual man, and who travels with a pseudo-adopted son and a transwoman from noble blood? Yeah, don’t' read this if you're a bigot. You won't like it.

And with that segue, I would say there's one more group who may want to avoid this, but not for shitty reason like the bigots. If you are particularly affected by tragic, awful things happening to children…maybe not the book for you. While it always makes sense in the world, the story, and with the characters, it's a noticeable thing: children in this story do poorly. Their hands are broken to teach them lessons. They're forced to live in barns. They're kept in comatose states to serve the government. They're molested by their social superiors. And they're sometimes just flat-out murdered in cold blood. It works, it really does, but there's enough that even I think it's worth warning off people who just can't handle that. Or even if you just can't handle it right now, or without warning. You've been warned.

But all in all, The Fifth Season is the first book to leave me in a proper book hangover for…a few years, at least. I think the last one was How to be a Normal Person, and that hangover only lasted a day or so.

I'm on day three of my Fifth Season hangover as I write this, and I don't see it getting better anytime soon. So clearly I'm giving this book 5 stars. Thank you for writing this, Ms. Jemisin. Thank you.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

5 Books I'm Excited for - June 26th

Authors, as a rule, are readers first, authors second. That especially holds true with fiction authors, because how else do you get a crazy idea like writing a novel if you aren't sitting around huffing book glue during your formative years.

While most authors don't read as much as they did before the writing bug bit, it's always important, and always a good little escape to go on.

Sometimes, however, books really dig under your skin in a way that you just can't shake. Whether it's the writing, the author, or simply the force of the idea, they take root.

Well, since today is Tuesday, and that's the day most new books release every week, I wanted to share with you some books that really have me excited to read them.

(Note: any links below are Amazon Affiliate Links, and I might receive a small kickback if you go buy something after clicking. It doesn't cost you or the authors anything extra.)

5: Mech Wars by Scott Bartlett

Do you like giant robots? Because I like giant robots. I especially like it when giant robots punch each other in the face, or shoot each other, or fire grappling cables into each other. I grew up on Power Rangers and Zoids and Gundam, and my favorite TV show is still Code Geass.

Enter Scott Bartlett's Mech Wars series. Set at the beginning of a new military revolution--the introduction of piloted mechs--it follows gamer, Jake Price, who has been unknowingly training to pilot giant robots his whole life. Hand eye coordination and video game knowledge make him a force to be reckoned with as he competes for one of eight spots to pilot a mech and save the world.

And now, the entire Mech Wars series has been compiled, and is available for $4.99. It's a hell of a deal, and you should definitely go check it out. Well, you should check it out of if you like giant robots. If not, probably won't be your cup of tea.

4: Galactic Genesis by Various

Another collection of books, this is from a group of some of today's most popular, well-loved sci-fi authors. M.D. Cooper, Chris Fox, A.K. DuBoff, J.J. Green, Kevin McLaughlin, and B.C Kellogg.

But you don't have to have read their books to jump into this one. That's why it's so exciting to me. These are all new series each of them is starting. Galactic genesis is filled out with the first books of six brand new sci-fi series, and they're giving everyone a chance to try all six of them out.

Of particular interest to me are M.D. Cooper's Shore Leave, which is a new series featuring everyone's favorite space-faring lesbian, Tanis, J.J. Green's colony ship story, The Concordia Deception, which not only is about generational colony ships (Yay!), but also has a scientist as a main character, and A.K. DuBoff's Crystalline Space. You only need to see the tagline for that one:

What if save points were real?

All of that graciously offered for $0.99? I'll be weighing in on the contents when I finish, because I'm definitely buying the book.

3: Whiskey Ginger by Shayne Silvers and Cameron O'Connell

I am a Shayne Silvers fan. I'm a book fan. I'm a Supernatural fan. I'm an urban fantasy fan. And I like books that feature strong, capable heroines.

So obviously Whiskey Ginger, the beginning of the Phantom Queen series, has got me all atwitter.

Quinn, our main character, is a black magic arms dealer. She smuggles and sells dangerous magical substances and long as the money's good enough. And she does it safely, because she naturally nullifies magic. None of these dangerous spells and enchantments can touch her.

This book sets her up as an adversary to Silvers's main literary badass, Nate Temple. She makes the mistake of stealing from him and...well, that's just not a good idea.

The series is also being released rapidly. The first three books are already out, with book three coming out just this week, and the fourth is on pre-order for an early July release date.

But when a series opens with a vampire snorting crystallized hemoglobin, it's kind of hard to go wrong. The books all run $3.99, so you're not breaking the bank, and you're not going to have to wait a year between parts of the story. Win-win.

2: The Darkest Time of Night by Jeremy Finley

Jeremy Finley is an award winning investigative journalist, and he's now set his sights on the world of fiction. And boy howdy does The Darkest Time of Night tick all the boxes for me.

Children disappearing in dark woods? Check. Other children rattling off mysterious phrases? Check. Political intrigue with proper research from years of journalistic experience? Check.

Oh, also the main character is a grandma. Older, competent female characters with a mysterious past? Double, triple, quadruple check for me.

Combine all of that with a character rich voice that straddles the line between literary and fast-paced, and Finley has turned out one hell of an opener into the world of fiction. Being from a New York publisher, unlike the others on the list so far, this one runs a little pricier at 12.99, but when else are you going to see badass astronomy grandma take on corruption, and possibly aliens?

Before we get to the number one book, the one that I kind of have to have in my life right now, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Hannu Rajaniemi's Summerland that launched today. I love alternate history, particularly set in the 1930s, and I have an obsession with a specific and hard-to-find trope that's present in Summerland: a human-constructed God. It's definitely on my list to check out, but it was just slightly edged out of the top five for the week.

And now the big one, the one that has my blood all excited and shit.

1: Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Guys. Guys, you can't understand how much this book gets me going. Like, you just can't. You know I love diversity in fiction. This is a book by an indigenous author about indigenous characters. It's also set on an Earth ravaged by climate change, so most of the land has flooded. The former Navajo reservation is now argubaly the most inhabitable place in North America, protected from destruction by magic.

That should excite you. If not, check your pulse...and then keep reading, because I'm not done.

The main character is a monster hunter. The book takes a dive into Navajo myth and legend, plus Navajo culture in general.

It's written with a sense of immediacy and speed, while also conveying the character immediately and throughout. And unlike a lot of other books I tend to stumble across, we're not halfway through the series or anything: Trail of Lightning is the first book of The Sixth World. Which means that A: there's no playing catch-up and B: the book needs some serious love in order to keep the series alive and kicking. At 7.99, I wouldn't even hesitate to buy it.

Also, I didn't even hesitate to buy it. Yum yum, time for reading.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Manic Monday: The Art that Came Before

So, if I haven't mentioned it on here before, I'm a country music fan. Yeah, I know, I'll get half a dozen links to that 6 song country mashup video. Ah, ha ha ha. That's stadium country, and yeah, a lot of it sounds the same. Welcome to popular music. Ever heard of a four chord song? It's been used forever.

Anyway, I digress. Last night was the 53rd Academy of Country Music Awards. It's one of the, like, 4 award shows we have every year (3? 4? There's a lot more than there probably should be, at any rate.). But being a fan, I watched it. I honestly am not invested enough in their music and goings on to care who wins what award. Like, it's nice when someone I like wins an award, but I don't watch it for that. I watch it because there's some good country music on these awards shows, and I like to hear it.

But there's something I've noticed about country music. This isn't the first time I've seen it, but it did sort of crystallize. See, if you listen to country music, you're listening to everything. So many songs are part of what came before them in some way. Whether it's Jennifer Nettles referencing Jolene, or Maren Morris singing about Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, there are links back to the past that I just don't see in most genres of music (Classical/orchestral/symphonic not withstanding.).

And you see it at the awards shows, too. One of the reasons I like to watch the country awards is because I know they're going to dust off something I haven't heard in a while. Or they're going to dust off someone I haven't heard in a while. Like when Charley Pride stepped back on stage a couple years ago to perform "Kiss an Angel Good Morning."

And you could realistically expect that to happen and for people to applaud quietly, but that's not the case in country. The fans and the artists all love that shit. And it was the same when Alan Jackson stepped back on stage, or even Toby Keith. And especially for me, hearing Reba McEntire do "Does he Love You?" She was my favorite singer as a kid, and I've never gotten over that voice of hers.

But that's the thing: it's not just me. The fanbase gets excited about these older songs getting played, and it's not just nostalgia. It's because it's all a part of our country. I don't know anyone who won't sing along to "Friends in Low Places" when it comes on. Who doesn't love Johnny Cash, or Hank Williams. Country has been, for a long time, looking backward. Moving forward, but never forgetting Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty. And part of that is that older artists are still current artists in country. It's not a big deal when Reba McEntire or Kenny Chesney puts out a new album, because they hit the scene and they never left. Country stretches far, far back into its own history in the everyday, and I think that's something beautiful and unique.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Top Ten Trope Thursdays: O.O.C. is Serious Business

*Note: I'm going to remain completely in character, but this is still serious business: spoilers are in here. You've been warned*

Well it's time to go at this again: tropes. Who does them well, who does them the best, and…well, I would say "who does them that I don't know," but I don't know them…so we won't be seeing those.

This is one that I'm fond of, but I honestly can't think of a time I've gotten it into any of my own work, which is just saddening. So for now, I'll just have to enjoy it in other work. What is it? OOC is SeriousBusiness (OOC meaning "Out of Character.").

We've all seen it: the normally affable, light-hearted character suddenly narrows her eyes and speaks in a brooding, deep tone about the awful looming shadow behind them. Turns out that it's Horgoth of the Eternal Nightmares and shit just got real.

One of my favorites that just didn't quite make the list was Luna Lovegood, our quiet and distant girl who sort of lives in her own world, shouts across the way at Harry because, damn it, he needs to hear what she can say…and he does.

But as I said, that one didn't make the list. But here's the ten OOC moments that did make my list.

10: Gordon Ramsay
I'll get it out of the way right now: he's on the bottom of the list because he's a REAL FUCKING PERSON. This isn't a plotted character moment designed for impact. It's just his personality.

But with that out of the way, Gordon Ramsay's public persona, especially in our modern online culture, is almost centric on this shift. He got popular for being "that angry British chef" in the states. The guy we saw on Hell's Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares. And, yeah, I love that angry British chef. I may or may not have attempted to write a character similar to him in high school.

No you can't read it. It went nowhere. Stop asking. Stop. Stop. Stop.


But then in comes Master Chef Junior, and we saw Gordon Ramsay get serious about these kids. With adults who supposedly know what they're doing, he doesn't have time. They've already learned – it's his job to whip their shit into shape.

With kids, he takes it a lot more seriously. He calms down, because he's a professional chef and it's his responsibility to teach them. He wants to get them from being remarkably talented kids to being actual, proper chefs. It's a damn duty to him, so of course he's not going to scream and call them all fuckers and idiot sandwiches and donkeys. Gordon Ramsay made his name swearing and shouting and getting (rightfully) upset at professional chefs. So when you see him stop that? You know it's time to perk your ears up.

9: Bleach
Ah, Bleach. You had such promise and power and potential and other words that start with P, probably. I'm not actually a huge fan of…well, anything after they actually capture Aizen. But in regards to this trope, Bleach does an amazing job in both parts of the series.

See, there are inherent powers and evolution of said powers in Bleach, but the main thing I'm focusing on here is the zanpakuto. Short description: soul reapers have zanpakuto, which have two power levels to them. Shikai is a powerup, and bankai is almost like a nuke. Very powerful, very hard to master.

Bleach shows how serious the situation is through the zanpakuto a lot. Because there are restrictions put on soul reapers to what they can and can't do, and what they should and shouldn't do, you see a lot of times where they won't pull out their bankai until things are really, really serious. It goes for heroes and villains, too.

So, just to run through some of the better examples really quickly: in the Thousand Year Blood War, Yamamoto and Kyouraku both unleash bankai for the first time. Two of the strongest, most devastating bankai in the series. Kyouraku's actually kills him when he uses it, so you know it's for real serious. Soi Fon hates her bankai, because a massive "fuck you" missile launcher is surprisingly not stealthy, which she hates. The first time Isshin is ever revealed as a soul reaper and not a bumbling father is when the first Arrancar shows up. And a lot of the soul reapers, and later the espada, show you that the battle is actually getting difficult when they bother to release their zanpakuto/resurrecion.

So yeah. Bleach uses this trope a lot. But I saved one out, because to me it's special and a little more plot/character potent than the other myriad examples. Who is it? Well…

8: Yumichika Ayasegawa (Bleach)
Oh, Yumichika. Introduced pretty early in the series, and also one of the very first shikai we ever see with Fuji Kujaku. It turns his sword into a four-bladed kopis. And that's about it. Honestly, kind of lackluster compared to a lot of other shikai in the series.

Except not, because this trope. So, for background, Yumichika is in Squad 11. The martial squad of the Soul Society. There's an unspoken rule that all members of that squad should have "melee type" zanpakuto.

Cut to way fucking later down the line. Yumichika is trapped in a dome with his enemy…and shit gets real. What should be a fairly desperate situation makes Yumichika smile like a bastard. Come to find out, that four-bladed kopis is not the power of his zanpakuto. He was suppressing it. His real zanpakuto, Ruri'iro Kujaku, is kido based. Magic based. And now that no one is around to see him use it, he unleashes it and kicks ass.

But even that's not the full extent of this trope for Yumichika. Near the end of the series, when it got kind of shitty overall, people were really dying and struggling. And Yumichika releases Ruri'iro Kujaku in front of everyone. Things are as bad as they possibly could have been, and he's there to show you that.

7: Sam and Dean Winchester (Supernatural)
So in early Supernatural, the big thing was demons. More specifically Yellow Eyes. In this universe, demons have to possess humans to be on Earth. Otherwise they're just black smoke.

Sam and Dean, being hunters, took care of demons. They exorcized them and sent them back to Hell. They hated killing people. And yeah, sometimes humans died during their travels. It was miserable for them.

Until the end of season 2. They have the Colt, which can kill anything. And Yellow-Eyes, who killed their mother and is generally not very nice. He's in a human host, and without any real hesitation they murder the fuck out of him. And his human host. And while, going forward, they seem less careful about killing humans, up until this point they had serious reservations about killing people in the process of their hunting.

6: Yoda (Attack of the Clones)
Yoda, Yoda, Yoda. Confusing you are. Okay, not really.

This is one of the scenes people were looking forward to forever. See, for four movies, Yoda has been this little wise old green dude. He's strong with the force and shit, but we never even see his lightsaber.

Until we do. When Count Dooku is royally wiping the floor with Anakin and Obi Wan, Yoda comes in. He catches and redirects force lightning. And he acrobats the shit out of Count Dooku. He actually beats back Count Dooku, one of the most accomplished lightsaber fighters in the Star Wars universe.

Don't piss off Yoda. It takes a while, but you won't like him when he's angry.

5: Molly Weasley (Harry Potter)
You know exactly what scene I'm talking about. Deathly Hallows. Battle of Hogwarts. Bellatrix Lestrange curses Ginny, and that's it. "Not my daughter, you bitch!"

It's glorious, but important for Molly. We needed to see this. She's been built as a loving mother, sometimes overbearing, for seven books. But she's also a member of the Order of the Phoenix and…that's weird, right?

Turns out no, it's not. It takes something in line with her character (Protecting her family) to get there, but she does it. It has to get serious for Molly personally, but then she takes on one of the most accomplished, fervent Death Eaters in the series, and god damn it if she doesn't win.

4: Alexander Dane (Galaxy Quest)
RIP Alan Rickman. A major loss to the acting community and one we still sorely miss. One of my favorites was him as a high-class actor relegated to a sci-fi show he hates being attached to. It's never more obvious than when he says or even hears his catchphrase.

"By Grabthar's Hammer, by the Sons of Warvan, you shall be avenged!"

It's a running joke all the way through the movie (BTW, if you haven't seen Galaxy Quest, go watch it. For real.), and Alexander is just so exasperated by the whole thing.

Now, there's also Quellek, the ship's science officer who idolized Dane's character (The aliens think that the actors from Galaxy Quest were actually on a space mission. They think the characters are real.). Toward the end of the movie, Quellek is mortally wounded, and he says how much of an honor it was to work with him.

And Dane gives him the line. Sincere as he's been the whole movie. And I'm not crying, you're crying.

3: Richard Castle (Castle)
Castle is great popcorn television. It's a super-formulaic detective show, and Castle, a writer, is generally lovable and charming and roguish. I mean, it's Nathan Fillion. That's what he plays best, arguably.

But there's a two part episode where his daughter, Alexis, is kidnapped. And Castle doesn't take it well, weirdly enough. At one point, they get someone who knows what's going on. He's standing in the way of Castle getting to Alexis.

And Castel very calmly asks for some time alone with the guy. He makes all kinds of hideous threats on what he's going to do to this guy. But then it cuts away to outside, and you just hear the guy screaming.

And Castle, our lovable, kindly writer, comes out with the information he wanted.

2: Saitama (One Punch Man)
OOC is Serious Business is a huge part of Saitama's character. He's the One Punch Man. He kills everything with One Punch. It's the whole schtick of the series. So he rarely needs to try at anything.

But now and then, we see him get…drawn better. More in a "traditional anime" style, as Americans understand it. That only happens when he actually feels things and has to try in a fight. It's quintessential, 101 OOC is Serious Business, in the starkest and most obvious terms.

But I don't think it's handled quite the best of all the things I've seen/read/watched. That goes to a very special, beloved character.

1: Hawkeye (M*A*S*H)
Fucking Hawkeye. I love him. I love this whole show, but I love Hawkeye. He's maudlin and irreverent and just a general cacophony of a human being. But he's almost always a lighthearted war surgeon. Yeah, if you haven't seen it, it's as weird as it sounds. Also…why haven't you fucking seen it?

But what makes Hawkeye marvelous in that particular way is when he's not funny and irreverent. He gets dark. Hawkeye, more than every other character combined, is our reminder to the vagaries of war. We see him break, and it's a reminder that not only are they in war, but war is…well, not hell. "War is war and Hell is Hell."

There are lots of great lines and scenes that show it. I really like the one where he and Margaret are trapped in a cave together. But the biggest one for me is when they bring in Sidney Freeman. Hawkeye is literally, psychologically broken. And to the viewer, that's scary. Hawkeye can't pull himself together. He has to get a psychologist. It's…it's powerful. It's not anything to shy away from for this show.

Hawkeye, because of how integral he is in the success of the show, and how well the trope is handled in regards to his character, is my top OOC is Serious Business example.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Manic Mondays: On Cirque du Soleil and Life-Changing Art

So I'm a big Cirque du Soleil fan. I was always a fan. My mother loved them, so I watched a lot of the recorded shows on public access.

But in high school I got to go to live shows twice. Those were, without exaggeration, life-changing experiences for me. And I really had to think about that today. I'm still thinking about it...hence writing this. See, I put up a post on my personal Facebook profile, basically saying "Hey, you probably can afford to see Cirque. It's only, like, fifty bucks a ticket." But I used the descriptor "massively inexpensive."

Oh boy, did that get some hackles up. Apparently fifty bucks isn't massively inexpensive. Which, if the people jumping on that had been poor like me, I could have understood. But they were people who were more well-off than I am, so it really threw me. They were people I knew went to movies (I don't) and concerts (I don't) and took trips (I literally cannot remember the last time I took a trip that wasn't business or necessity related.). So I knew right away there was a disconnect.

And I realized it had to be from me, because I'm a penny-pincher. I grew up poor, I'm still often on a shoestring budget...a frayed, frayed shoestring. Though not as much as we were when I was a kid. I have actual physical nausea if I spend money. So I knew there had to be something about Cirque that made it okay to me.

And that was when I realized how impactful it was on me. Cirque du Soleil pushed the boundaries of my mind. What live performers can do. What the human body can do. What artists can do. It fundamentally shaped a part of my soul, seeing those shows. And that's not something that can be communicated effectively, I don't think. See, to me that fifty dollar price tag isn't insane, because Cirque is something otherworldly.

And for the mere price of fifty dollars, I find out that I can take another piece of that otherworld with me into mundanity.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Top Ten Trope Thursdays: Even Evil has Standards

*Note: Spoilers, spoilers, cha-cha-cha. They're in this article cha-cha-cha*

Welcome back to Top Ten Trope Thursdays. This is where I pretend you care about my opinion, and you pretend that I'm witty, charming, intelligent, and don't have crippling self-esteem issues.

As I gear up to hit some solid villain/antagonist related tropes, I had a thought about something I just absolutely love. It came to me watching Supernatural (You'll see why when we get to that point.). And, as with most fictional tools and building blocks, TV Tropes has a name for this one: Even Evil Has Standards.

If you don't know what it is from that, I promise you've probably seen it. Especially in spec-fic, where our villains tend to really chew up the scenery and monologue like everybody and their grandmother is watching, it's a common occurrence. This is where our villain says "I'm evil, but I'm not that evil."

I think the most familiar example for most people comes from the Joker. It's not on the list, but it's TV Tropes's example, and it really illustrates the point. In a crossover comic with DC and Marvel, the Joker teams up with Red Skull. He things the Nazi paraphernalia is just a get up. That's his villain theme.

But when he finds out that's not the case? That's when this trope is enacted. "I may be a criminal lunatic, but I'm an American criminal lunatic."

See, for all the evil and chaos that the Joker has wrought, a Nazi? Nazis are right out. He doesn't play that game. And while this trope can be played for comedic effect, I'm sticking as much as I can to the more serious examples I've seen. If you're favorite is missing? That means it's likely I haven't seen it, so I can't speak to it.

With all that said, let the list begin. Because I may be long-winded, but I'm not long-winded and pendatic.

10: Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean)
This is at the bottom of the list for two reasons: Jack Sparrow is hardly evil, and this comes from a deleted scene, so it's of questionable canonicity. But it's so good I had to put it on the list.

So we have a scene with Sparrow and Beckett, where Beckett is talking about how Jack got labeled a pirate to begin with. He was apparently found "liberating some cargo."

Jack pauses and then replies, very simply, "People aren't cargo, mate." Jack Sparrow is selfish. He's a drunkard. He's a pirate. He's a murderer. He's a thief. But he's not a slave trader, and he won't condone it.

9: Mirage (The Incredibles)
You remember her? It took me a hot minute to remember her name when writing my notes for this article. She worked for Syndrome, long silver hair, nearly strangled to death by Mr. Incredible? Yeah, Mirage.

Again, I never considered her evil, so she doesn't place too incredibly high on this list, but she was willing to watch multiple superheroes get killed to further Syndrome's plans, and was complicit in getting them there and convincing them to fight.

But where she drew the line was blowing a plane with children on it. Superheroes have dangerous lives. Children…they're innocents, and Mirage just couldn't blow them up, immediately setting her up as more likable than Syndrome.

8: Crowley (Supernatural)
Ostensibly, it doesn’t get much more evil than Crowley. He's literally the King of Hell. And while that's not thoroughly and completely true in practice, it doesn't make Crowley a nice dude. He tortures people, physically and psychologically, and orders considerably worse done to humans where he doesn't have to dirty his hands. Selfish, conniving, and all around just not the sort of gent you want to invite around for tea…partially because you'd probably have to sell him your soul.

So what's the line for the King of Hell himself? What's too evil for him? Well…nothing. This is as close to a comedic example as I'm willing to touch, in no small part because it inspired this entire list. But also, it does speak to Crowley's character if you're willing to dig a bit.

When he finds out that one of the demons under him has opened a sex trade/prostitution ring to collect souls, he immediately orders it shut down. Why? "I'm evil, that's just tacky."

See, not only is it not the right thing to do, enslaving innocent, unwilling women to be your prostitutes, but it's also not the way things are done. Crowley is always presented as not necessarily the lesser evil, but certainly the more sophisticated, honorable evil. And this plays into that. If he's going to get your soul, he's going to do it the old-fashioned way, god damn it.

7: The SCP Foundation (The SCP Foundation)
(CW: Sexual assault, rape)
This is the last of my "Maybe they're not really evil" entries for this list. The SCP foundation is actually a good organization. They keep our world safe and secure so you and I can live without immortal, genocidal lizards eating us, among other nasty things.

Specifically stated by them, they are "cold, not cruel." They won't do anything beyond what is necessary, but they will do what is necessary to keep everything "Secured, Contained, and Protected."

This example comes to us from SCP-231, which is a Keter class. It will cause extensive and irreparable harm to the world and human life, potentially ending everything if not contained. SCP fans are already cringing, because they know what's coming.

Without going into huge detail, SCP-231-7, the last remaining instance of the entity, is a young woman. To contain the SCP, they administer Procedure 110-Montauk. It has to be administered by six felons with sex offense backgrounds. SCP-231-7 has to be monitored only by medical professionals who have not taken the Hippocratic oath. And the point is to cause intense emotional and physical stress that also keep her from giving birth to…something. That's why, ever 3-4 days, she's given drugs that erase her memories, so she can experience it all as something brand new. That's pretty much what we know.

Now, the implication and most widely accepted explanation is that she's brutally raped by the six felons until she miscarries. The Foundation tried and failed to find other techniques that would keep the world from being destroyed, and nothing worked.

All of this is obviously pretty fucking awful. So where the hell do they invoke this trope? It's a really small thing compared to what happens during 110-Montauk, but if one of the felons tries to go beyond what is necessary for the procedure, they're killed on the spot.

Cold, not cruel.

6: The Capitol (The Hunger Games)
What the hell kind of redeeming qualities could the Capitol have? They cheer for and pay to watch children murder each other once a year. It's a massive spectacle and they love it.

Well none is the answer, but there's one sort of throwaway line. It doesn't make them good people, but it does make them…less evil than they could be? As I talked about in the Guile Hero article, Finnick is forced to prostitute himself to the wealthy. But when talking about that, we find out that he was safe until he was sixteen.

So…so yeah, it's really not much of a redeeming quality. But the point of this trope isn't necessarily to redeem, but to show that evil characters do have their own boundaries. And the Capitols' boundary is "prostitutes should be at least sixteen years old."

5: Simon Phoenix (Demolition Man)
Kidnapper, mass murderer, possibly quite literally the most violent man in the world, since they've pretty handily eradicated violence at this point in the world.

You'd think it would be hard to find something he's got boundaries against, be wrong. As this trope does its best to demonstrate, everyone has lines they won't cross, things of which they can't approve. For Simon Phoenix, he sees the government robbing people of their free will, and that's what drives him to kill the man who removed him from cryogenic suspension. The very man who gave him freedom wants to control the will of the people, so Simon is more than happy to turn on him, because that's fucked up.

4: The Comedian (Watchmen)
Hey! It's Negan!

Okay, that's out of the way. The Comedian is a bastard and he always has been. We see that all the way back in the Vietnam War. He got a local woman pregnant, so what does he do? He shoots her in the stomach, kills her, and obviously destroys the fetus.

Also he rapes the first Silk Spectre and gets her pregnant. Doesn't murder her, at least…I guess that's something?

But no, the real something is that this flaming rapist bastard does have lines. When the second Silk Spectre, his daughter, implies that he's trying to sleep with her, he shoots that right down. He's a bastard, but what kind of person does that with his daughter? And also, though he's willing to kill indiscriminately, genocide? That's a big nope. Not because he doesn't want to die, but because that's just not what you do. Killing everyone just isn't right.

3: Maleficent (Once Upon a Time)
I have a love/hate relationship with Once. I used to love it…now I really think it's trash. But when it was good, it was so good. Part of that is the cast of villains. Maleficent was a minor part, but there's a great bit very, very early in the series where we see Regina going for the Dark Curse…which Maleficent has.

Now since these are fairy tales, a lot of the villains are fully aware that they're evil. But Maleficent is the first time we see one of them with some sense of general humanity left. The Dark Curse is some of the most evil magic available, and Maleficent doesn't want to give it up. She'll help you put people into a nigh-irreversible nightmare coma, but the Dark Curse? No. Why? It's too intense…or as she puts it, "Whoever invented that monstrosity makes us look downright moral."

2: The Thiefmaker (Gentleman Bastards)
(CW: Rape)
I'm a big fan of this series. It's dark and gritty and complex, and it has thieves as the main characters, so I'm immediately sold.

The Thiefmaker is a central part of the backdrop. He takes orphans off the streets and trains them to be thieves…and, you know, if he thinks maybe they'll be a danger to him, he has no problem "handling" things and getting rid of them. Children. Orphaned children who rely on him as their guardian.

Now also in this world are the Jeremites. They're from another land and are not necessarily the nicest folks, but one thing stands out above all others: they think redheaded girls are of special, magical prominence. Specifically when they're raped to death.

Oh yeah, it goes there. You have an STD? Well, raping that redheaded girl will cure you. You can get money or fame or really anything. And it's especially potent magic if you're the "last one riding her" when she dies.

Now excuse me while I shower with bleach real quick.

As it turns out, one of the Thiefmaker's charges, Sabetha, has red hair. This penny-pinching, semi-murderous thief goes out of his way to buy her hair dye, because even he can see that's horrid. Far beyond anything he could condone, even on his worst day.

1: Johnny (Johnny the Homicidal Maniac)
Oh, JtHM, how I love thee. It's certainly not for everyone, but Johnny the Homicidal Maniac is the perfect thing for the grown up Invader Zim fan. It's early Jhonen Vasquez, and it carries all that quirk and darkness we know from Invader Zim.

The title character is, as it says on the tin, a homicidal maniac. He has multiple levels in his cellar designed to torture and kill folks. And he does it admittedly and gleefully. There's an entire arc about how he's so terrible that he goes to hell. Johnny is a bad, bad, bad man.

But in two specific situations, we see that there's some sort of rule to be had in even his life. He becomes famous enough that he gets a copycat killer, but the killer is also a rapist.

No go. Johnny won't condone it, and Johnny never rapes. Period. So he kills the copycat. I mean, I guess that's sort of what you do when you're a Homicidal Maniac.

The other thing we see is his protection of children. Specifically his neighbor Squee. A pedophile tries to have his way with Squee, and Johnny comes right after him…again, with the killing. He's Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, that's kind of his only move.

And I consider Johnny's character a prime example of this trope because, for how awful he is, Johnny is our main character. He's evil, no doubt, but he's likable, and in no small part because of these tropes. He kills because he's a homicidal maniac, but sex crimes? No. He's an engaging and interesting evil character with his own personal rules and boundaries…because Even Evil has Standards.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Manic Mondays: Dinosaurs are Awesome

I like dinosaurs. I think everyone likes dinosaurs, and I think anyone who says otherwise is lying, or just not thinking about it enough. How cool is a triceratops, right?

Seriously, really think about it.


More than that, though, dinosaurs are fascinating because…well, because they aren't here anymore. We can accept that they were truly and completely massive. Powerful. Cool. They reigned for a long, long time. And then they didn't. Dinosaurs are a lens against our own mortality as humans.

Because right now, we're the dominant species. But tomorrow our climate could take a massive shift and tardigrades would rule for the next forty-thousand years. Which honestly, I think they're our current most likely successor. Long-live our resilient overlords.

Now I'm an SF/F writer, so my brain has to wonder what we don't know. How right and wrong were we about dinosaurs? Did they have palaces and religion and, because we just don't understand, we assume they're stupid?

Probably not, but it's always a possibility, right?

So more than just a lens against our mortality and nearly inevitable extinction, dinosaurs also show us how little we really know.

So dinosaurs are cool…but I guess they're also kind of dicks, bringing up all that stuff.