Thursday, March 22, 2018

Top Ten Trope Thursdays: Science Hero

*Note: My father was in the hospital for surgery, and I moved back home to help out for a week. Hence the lack of a post last week. Apologies.

Also...spoilers ahead, me mateys.*

We did the cunning, witty, charming Guile Hero. We did the "rush into battle" Action Hero. So there's only one part of the triangle left. Get out your beakers and test tubes, we're talking about the Science Hero.

Now, this isn't someone you see very often anymore. The Science Hero had something of a golden age while science was still this growing, thriving wilderness that needed to be hacked apart. Science for the sake of science rather than science for the sake of man. That was a big thing back in the day, but as that attitude changed we saw the Science Hero give way to our other archetypes. And, as far as I can tell, we actually saw the rise of Villainous Scientists. It coincided roughly with World War II and I think it was fueled by the experimentation done by Nazi scientists.

But all that speculation aside, we're here to talk about Science Heroes and…okay, I have to be frank with you, Action Heroes are my least favorite of the three in general terms. Guile is my favorite, but science is right up there. Especially in science fiction? We should have scientists at least sometimes. So these are my personal top ten examples of Science Heroes…or sometimes Anti-Heroes.

10: Kurotsuchi Mayuri (Bleach)
In the Guile Hero list, we opened with Kisuke Urahara. Now, his counterpart…replacement…whatever. Largely acknowledged as being not quite as brilliant as Urahara, Mayuri is still a solid scientist and researcher, and he's made incredible strides in his research. From hacking his own body and his own zanpakuto, to manufacturing an entire soul reaper from scratch, to a serum that can regrow limbs after they've been cut off.

Mayuri places low because, at best, he's an anti-hero, but even though I'm putting him on this list, I can't fully get my support behind that. Left to his own devices, Mayuri would be kind of an evil mad scientist. He tortured people and performed vivisection. He implants bombs into his subordinates without telling them so he can use them in battle. And he's invented countless horrific things in his experimentation. Even his zanpakuto modification was awful: poison that starts to kill on contact…unless you're related to Mayuri…and it spreads into a 200 meter wide area and just basically kills everyone.

He's a hero because people annoyed him, or a fight intrigued him intellectually, or he knew he wouldn't be able to complete his research with them destroying X, Y, or Z. And so he worked for himself, but certainly not for anyone else.

9: Bruce Banner (Marvel Comics)
The Incredible Hulk is, in a lot of ways, nothing but a modern Jekyll and Hyde story, just written for the nuclear age instead of the chemical. But the Hulk is, at best, an Action Hero, and at worst a force of nature.

However, Bruce Banner himself is a brilliant scientist, and hardly the only one in the Marvel Comics universe. He's easily the preeminent nuclear scientist in the comics, especially where it comes to how radiation changes biological tissue…I mean, obviously, right?

He's got other smarts to lean on as well, can build computers and all that stuff. But nuclear physics, that's where he thrives. It's where his expertise lies, and Bruce Banner is really, really good at it. When Dr. Doom says "Yeah, this is the guy I need to talk to," you know he must have something going for him.

8: Tony Stark (Marvel Comics)
See, I told you there were a lot of them. A lot of comic book franchises have Science Heroes, but Marvel really seems to have a monopoly on them…or at least on the really captivating ones. And Tony Stark is probably the single biggest example in comics, at least in some ways. You can and possibly should argue that Hank Pym is a better fit for Science Hero, since Tony Stark is also a clear and absolute action hero, but when it comes to popularity and notability? Tony Stark all the way.

And he is incredibly smart. I'm dying? Let me fix that. The thing that saved me is killing me? Let me fix that. I need to synthesize a brand new element? Give me a couple days.

But more than that, Tony Stark is one of the most interesting science heroes in Marvel Comics. He has one of the most dynamic character evolutions. Even in the comics, he was a billionaire playboy philanthropist at the start. He was an arms dealer. He wasn't a nice guy, and seeing him switch from a smart dick to a smart but genuinely nice person is what makes Tony Stark work so beautifully. He becomes more heroic while still keeping the "science" part of the title, and that's why he just works so well.

7: Agatha Heterodyne (Girl Genius)
I mean, how was she not going to make this list? In the realm of webcomics, there are some great characters, and there are some smart characters…but nobody like Agatha or any of the other "Sparks" from the Girl Genius universe.

The genius energy they have is a force of nature, one that descends on Sparks and sends them into literal madness. Megalomania, delusions of grandeur…it basically turns them into stereotypical Mad Scientists. Each Spark is special, only works for certain fields of study. For Agatha, she can work with small scale robots and arms. It is very specialized, but damn it all if she can't do some amazing things within that field. Come to find out she's the heir to a great and powerful family of other Science Heroes…the final, lost heir to that family.

So no pressure. But if anyone can handle it, it's Agatha Heterodyne. Not only is she a mad scientist, but she's emotionally and physically tough, too. Her inventions basically just help her be more of a badass…well, there was the one time her invention helped her make perfect coffee, but how do you expect her to function without a good mug of that dark delicious brew?

6: Lloyd Asplund (Code Geass)
There are a lot of bit part characters in Code Geass, and a lot of particularly captivating ones at that. Prince Clovis is barely on screen, but important. Milly Ashford is there for most of the series, but hardly an important player. You can even argue that a lot of the Black Knights aren't that vital, even the ones that are actually given characters.

But, with very few exceptions, no bit character is so intriguing as Lloyd Asplund. A duke of the Brittanian Empire, but he could give two shits about that. He doesn't actually care about…well, anything that's important to the rest of the series. He doesn't care who wins the war. He doesn't care if anyone lives or dies. He doesn't care about what's right or wrong, and doesn't really have any opinion on what right or wrong means.

What Lloyd cares about is science. He developed the first seventh generation Knightmare frame, and there was really one person who could pilot it. It didn't matter if that pilot was an Eleven or not to Lloyd. He was nothing but a piece in that properly functioning machine. Suzaku was important to Lloyd not on a personal level, but on a technical level: the Lancelot doesn't work without Suzaku, so keeping Suzaku alive is important.

In the truest, purest sense, Lloyd is a Science Hero. The kind that went to the wayside after World War II here in America. He cares about advancing his research, not about the results of it. It's a success that his Knightmare frame is one of the deadliest and most efficient ever created. Unlike the rest of the cast, Lloyd is unbothered by the tragedies of war constantly before his eyes. In fact, the only times we see him upset are when something might happen to his work. Not even when he or his assistant might be in danger.

And while I wouldn't ever want to hang out with a man like that, by GOD he makes a beautiful character who just happens to fall on the likable side of this Gray and Grey Morality show.

5: Dr. Temperance Brennan (Bones)
Point of immediate note: I haven't read the books, so this is all on the TV show. That said…God I watched a lot of this show. I wrote multiple novels with this show on in the background. And what makes this show work is the smart people. Temperance Brennan, of course, gets the most screen time. She is the title character, after all.

She's not quite as blasé about human life and emotion as Lloyd Asplund, but she's still very science focused. What matters are facts, even if you don't like them. She's intelligent and at the top of her field, and she's not going to stand for being questioned when she knows she's right…or sometimes if she just thinks she's right. Smart and stubborn and that normally gets her her way.

And, you know, since she's the title character, she also tends to be right, so hooray for plot armor.

But in all seriousness, she gets the bonus points that get her this high up for two reasons. One: she has compassion that really helps define her character. She's put into these situations where she has to see people suffering firsthand. She goes out into the field and handles the families and friends of murder victims. And even though she doesn't handle the social aspect that well, it really gets to her. That's clearer in one episode than any other: "A Boy in a Bush." The victim is a child, and while the rest of the team is breaking down, she has to tell them to separate themselves. She's been here before, she's felt those emotions, and she knows that they don't get anything done. But it shows right away that she feels them.

And two: this was written by Kathy Reichs. You know, an actual forensic anthropologist? You can just about guarantee that the science behind this particular Science Hero is right.

4: Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth (Futurama)
Heroic? Not often. Scientific? Probably more than anyone else. By pure virtue of what he's managed to accomplish, he qualifies here. And he is a part of the protagonist side of things.

But let's face facts: the entire series hinges on his scientific advancement. The show wouldn't work if it wasn't for the Planet Express ship. The drive that moves the universe around the ship so you can break the speed of light and literally move faster than just about anything.

And while that is the main caveat of the series, having this ship, his achievements hardly stop there. From robot sex change operations to the crafting of alternate universes and, after that, storing the entire universe inside of itself.

If Futurama was a drama series, you know full well Hubert Farnsworth would be a force to be reckoned with. I mean, he does make doomsday devices for fun…just hope that he never decides to be a villain.

3: Dr. Louise Banks (Arrival)
When I first saw this movie, I hailed the fact we had a sci-fi movie with a scientist for a hero. And as a writer I was very interested that it was a linguist, but that's another story.

I find her entirely fascinating, and completely vital to everything that went down. She was none too interested in working for the government at the start, but in true Science Hero fashion she decides she's going to do it once they suggest they'll go to someone else who she doesn't think is as good as her.

 It's still questionable whether or not she wants to work for them even after that, but she's damn sure not going to let an inferior linguist get the job.

And then, of course, she translates a totally foreign form of communication from the ground up. Something humans can't reasonably use, at least not at that point. I've already written an entire article about theSapir-Whorf hypothesis in regards to this movie already, how it's largely disproved, but suffice it to say that doesn't ruin the experience for me, and doesn't ruin the character and the sheer power that linguistics grants her. Mastery over time? Hell yes, let's make linguistics cool again.

Or for the first time.

Or whatever.

2: Mark Watney (The Martian)
Come on, you knew he'd be here, right? "I'm going to have to science the shit out of this." That's the ultimate Science Hero line, and I can't even fathom something that will ever knock it down from that pedestal.

The reasons why he deserves to be this high seem obvious: he survived on Mars, alone, for over a year, and he managed to get back to Earth when there was no way he should have pulled that off. But he did. He grew potatoes from the rations that were sent with them. So, you know, the first farmer on Mars, the first Martian potatoes, and the first somewhat successful attempt at terraforming.

On top of that, he also communicates with nothing but a still camera, he makes water from the supplies available, and he rewires life support systems into a manned rover.

There's so much he does, and the combination of that scientific chutzpah with his determination to simply survive puts him up here at number two. And on paper he should be number one, but I'm just a little biased…

1: Dr. Gregory House (House)
See, my bias is that House is my favorite character. End sentence, full stop. I can't get over him. I compare almost every character to his gold standard, including my own. He's simultaneously brilliant and antisocial. Compassionate and hard-edged. Arrogant. Addicted. Broken. And, much to the chagrin of anyone who has to try and control him, indispensable. All of that, and yet he's somehow also charismatic.

He's a genius on multiple levels. Medical, that part's obvious. But he's incredibly self-aware. He's absolutely and totally focused on his chosen field, and he's amazing at it, but he also knows himself well enough to know what he needs: he needs Vicodin if he's going to function. There's a very powerful scene where he says, "I'm an addict." Wilson offers him help and he says no. He's an addict, but he's functional. He holds down a job as a world-renowned doctor while he's addicted to Vicodin.

And not only does he know himself, he knows you, too. He knows how to play people, because when you're as stubborn and unpleasant as him, you have to learn to play those games. He's not winning friends and influencing people as much as winning arguments and manipulating people.

But at the end of the day, he does his job. He does the impossible again and again and again. And for me, the perfection of his character and the fact that he's a dyed-in-the-wool Science Hero, puts him at the top of this list.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Manic Mondays: Impossible Art

I admit I wrote this one at the same time as the last Manic Monday. Apologies, but I find the concept of "impossible to play music" fascinating. Or really "impossible to understand" anything.

This started with the Rite of Spring, largely considered impossible to perform. And Paganini's 24 Caprices. But there's Eruption by Eddie Van Halen, which was a mind-blowing guitar solo that 16 year olds play now. You get into slightly trickier situations with composers like Rachmaninoff. Rachmaninoff had massive hands. He could play an octave and a half on each hand, and he played with exceptional clarity compared to his contemporaries. The problem is, if you don't have octave-and-a-half hands, you're going to struggle playing his concertos.

But the amazing thing, and the great testament to humanity hidden within, is that none of these pieces are impossible, anymore. They're technically difficult. I don't know how much you know about music, but playing Paganini's 24 Caprices is still not an easy task. The violinist who wants to attempt it has to play left-handed tremolo while still bowing, or perform double and triple stops, or ricochet bowing, or God Damn left-handed pizzicato.

Trust me, those are not easy things to do. Even though we understand them better now, it's no longer a matter of "just Niccolo Paganini can play these songs."

No matter the artform, humans need two things: they need skill and they need understanding. The issue with Paganini wasn't that he was so much more incredible at playing the violin. He was amazing, no doubt. But the reason he was so revered and unique is because, at the time, he was the only one who understood how those songs worked. He was the only one at the time ricochet bowing twelve or more arpeggiated tuplets

You see it in other forms of art. Understanding can be vital to any sort of art making sense. I'm looking at Dadaism. When you just walk through a museum and see a urinal with Marcel Duchamp's signature on it, you think it's just fucking weird. Until you learn why it happened: a museum said "anything people make is art" and Duchamp chose to push it.

And he proved his point: even though he "modified" the urinal and called it "water fountain," they didn't take it. So not everything could be art.

Or look at the Piss Christ. What if we didn't understand the significance of urine as filth, or all the meanings of a crucifix. The Piss Christ would mean nothing to us. It wouldn't be famous, and it's not particularly attractive. But because there's understanding, we can see it.

It fascinates me to think what kind of understanding we're going to have soon. Back to music, there's a piece now that is arguably the most difficult to play in the world today, because it's simply not something we can conceptualize well. Ben Johnston's 7th String Quartet is written not in notes, but in tones. The piece is notated by cents. Minute degrees of variation, smaller than even quarter steps. We can't even always hear the difference between two notes, because they are 4 cents apart. A cent in music is one hundredth of the tonal difference between semitones. So, a hundredth of the difference between A and A-flat. That small.

When we understand that, what will come along to fill the gap? What is there in writing that we can't conceptualize? Or any other art form. I love the idea of pushing the far boundaries of what we can actually do.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Manic Mondays: Lost Media

When the Library of Alexandria burned down, we lost so. God. Damn. Much. Information. Who knows what kind of secrets are gone forever, or what kind of steps forward were immeasurably delayed because of that lost info.

If you're like me, that kind of thing gives you hives. But I recently had a new hive-inducing realization thrust upon me. I was looking into music that, at one time or another, was considered nigh-impossible, or even entirely impossible, to play. Stravinsky's Rite of Spring was actually considered an impossible piece when it was released…which is now played by high school students. Not because we've evolved into master musicians, but because it's been around for decades upon decades and all of us music people have had time to wrap our heads around those changing time signatures and meters and weird tone structures.

I'm going to write about that all at some point, but I ran across Paganini's 24 Caprices, which was so difficult that people thought no one but Paganini could ever perform it. Why? Because Niccolo Paganini was a true virtuoso on the violin. That included some pretty amazing tricks in songs like Duetto Amoroso, which replicated the sounds of a couple having sex, and Il Fandango Spanolo, in which his violin imitated farm animals.

There is one manuscript left of Duetto Amoroso, thankfully…and we have zero manuscripts remaining of Il Fandango Spanolo. We only know it existed because it was on concert posters and word of mouth.

One: yes, back then virtuoso musicians had concert posters like Van Halen or Black Sabbath. Two: OH MY GOD, THE WORLD IS ON FIRE. A piece of music from a premier violinist is just…gone.

See, we don't have quite the same thing with books. Yes, there are an innumerable number of lost manuscripts, or nearly lost manuscripts, like the works of Henry Darger. But those manuscripts are complete. There's nothing else out there. A book is a book is a book, and if you have a book you have it. If you don't, you don't.

Performance arts feel more tragic to me because someone heard these. In some way, they were real off the page. The written music carried a weight to it because of that. Il Fandango Spanolo was something that people heard, and everyone that heard it became one of the last people to ever hear it, because that piece is gone.

The same thing could be said of lost plays or lost choreography or or or…but I don't need to think about those things.

I do, however, need a drink. Because lost media gives me hives, and I'm pretty sure vodka is good for hives.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Top Ten Trope Thursdays: Action Hero

*Warning: spoilers lie ahead.*

So last Thursday we talked about my favorite of the hero triangle, the Guile Hero. You can check that out here. This week, I'm going to go from the most sort of obscure of the three to the one that I think just about everyone understands: the Action Hero.

This is one of the biggest examples of What it Says on the Tin that I can possibly imagine. It's a hero (Or heroine) who is primarily about physical action. These are your John Rambos, John McClanes, John Connors, John Spartans, John Matrixes…plus some other people not named John, occasionally.

But only very rarely.

Now, it's surprisingly difficult to narrow down something as broad and open as this trope. Action Hero is what is called a Super Trope in TV Tropes vernacular. But I'm determined to do what I set out to do: my top ten Action Heroes. To find out why, the descriptions/breakdowns are going to be even more important.

But if you're not looking for the in-depth stuff, then you can just skim across the subheadings. I won't be offended, promise.

10: Conan of Cimmeria (Conan the Barbarian et al)
Depending on who you are, you probably either love or can't stand Conan. Whether it's from the Schwarzenegger portrayal or the original Howard stories, Conan definitely makes an impression. I grew up watching those movies when I was clearly too young to be watching them, and as such I can't help but love them.

What makes Conan really, truly worthy of the number ten spot, though? For me, it's because he makes a blank Action Hero slate. I would argue that Conan of Cimmeria is the most quintessential action hero. Even more than the first examples that come to mind, like Rambo, and even more than the base, mythological "Action Heroes" like Theseus. Conan is a big dude with a sword who swings it and wins. That is the action hero template.

But then why so low? Because he is blank. Books, and especially the movies, portray Conan as basically just the big dude with the sword. The world he's in is considerably more interesting than the man himself. Conan is a plot device with basic, basic motivations, but I just can't write this list without including him…so he's number ten.

9: James Bond (The James Bond Franchise)
Okay, I know that it's a codename, it's multiple characters, yadda yadda yadda. But every single James Bond we've seen is very similar. Suave, good with a gun, has lots of gadgets, reliant on M for a bunch of wat helps him survive…

Oh, is that blasphemous? Tough, because it's true. Now look, James Bond is a bit of a Guile Hero, it's true. He has to rely on wits just a touch, but we all know what the appeal of James Bond is. He has a gun, he shoots the bad guys, he saves the world and gets the girl. That's a very basic action hero.

By the shifting, semi-anonymous nature of James Bond, he doesn't tend to have a lot of external influence. He doesn't give you much in the way of character because he can't. He's just 007.

8: John Rambo (Rambo)
God, I'm apparently just here to kill sacred cows. Hear me out: this is where the "my list" aspect comes in. Rambo is a god damn amazing character…once. First Blood is an action movie masterpiece, and hand to God, Sylvester Stallone is one of the most undervalued American actors out there.

John Rambo just wasn't used well after First Blood. But that very initial hit of Rambo? It's heroin. You want it again and again after you see him. He's a veteran, he's messed up, and he knows how to kill you way better than you know how to kill him. Put him up against an oppressive police force and really, really try to pay respect to what those veterans have to deal with now? That's John Rambo. That's First Blood.

And if they'd stopped there and let it sit as a masterpiece, then he would be near the top of this list.

7: Unohana Retsu (Bleach)
Okay, maybe it's a little weird. I know in the Guile Hero article, I said we never, ever talk about Bleach after the timeskip, but I make some exceptions for character information.

Unohana from the beginning is portrayed with very little information, but the information we have is very interesting: we know that she's the second oldest captain of the 13 Court Guard Squads, and in shonen anime "old" tends to mean "powerful." Not to mention we've established age as power with Head Captain Yamamoto. We know she's the Captain of Squad Four, which is the healing division. She's very good at healing. And one other thing we know is that Squad Eleven are terrified of her. Squad Eleven is basically all action heroes, all the time, and they quiver before her.

We don't find out why until after the timeskip. It's true that she's not super interesting as a person, but I have to give her this spot just because it's so…god damn terrifying and cool and badass. Post timeskip, we find out she's one of the deadliest fighters in the Soul Society. She was only bested by one person, and that's Zaraki Kenpachi, the current leader of Squad Eleven, which used to be her squad.

That's not the crazy part, though: the only reason she learned to heal was so she could fight longer. She needed to be able to immediately recover and kill more people. Not to help anyone, nothing so noble as that: she liked fighting and killing and wanted to be better at it. Full stop.

6: Neytiri (Avatar)
This is the movie that put Zoe Saldana on the map, although she'd been in the industry for quite a while before that, and for good reason. Not only is Avatar technologically and visually stunning, but it has great characters. Neytiri is one of them. Simultaneously, she fits several tropes. Not all of them are good, and there are some actual problems with this movie, even if people want to turn their heads away from that. It's a rehashed plot, and a problematic one at that. Seeing the white military man come in and save the poor natives is tiresome and offensive.

But I still enjoy the film, and a huge part of that is Neytiri. She's an Action Hero, riding in on a panther lizard thing and taking out powered armor suits. She's still undeniably female, taking part in her culture's norms of femininity, but she'll kill you. She's fun, she's tragic, and she does her best.

And did I mention she'll kill you? Because she will. Neytiri is an incredibly deadly, capable warrior, potentially even more than Jake Sully. I mean, who would you put your money on to win that fight?

(Of note: Zoe Saldana can do very little wrong, especially in action roles. Check out Colombiana when you get the chance.)

5: Fox (Wanted)
I have a soft spot for Angelina Jolie, it's true. But this is where I think personality starts to really kick in for action heroes on this list. They aren't quite cookie cutter images.

Now it's very possible you haven't seen Wanted. It's not a beloved action flick, but it's one of my absolute favorites. Wesley, the main character, is a good, solid character. He's the one the plot needed. But Jolie's Fox is the one who made the biggest impact as a character for me.

The premise here is that certain people have a mutation of sorts that gives them hyper reflexes and a few other superhuman skills. The mythos of the world is a little cloudy, I admit. But Fox is one of these people: an assassin who follows the orders of fate. Or at least one who believes she does. She can curve bullets out of the barrel of a gun. She's a hardened badass, but she also has a reason for being here, which I think is something we see so rarely in action heroes, and is one of the things that makes them so good when they're good.

As a girl, Fox's father was murdered by a man who was supposed to be assassinated. An assassin from this group before she ever joined didn't kill the mark, and because of that her father was burned alive in front of her, and he was branded. It's powerful motivation for her to follow blindly along and kill who she needs to. "Kill one, save a thousand."

And because of that, she's set for a beautiful fall. When it turns out that the orders are being manipulated, aren't just being handed down by fate, things change for her. Not to mention, her and everyone else in that group of assassins had legitimately come up as orders.

So she kills them. With one curving bullet, she takes out all of them and herself, because her conviction to those fated assassinations is simply that strong. And damn it if that's not a beautiful death scene, even if the headshots are just a little too clean for realism.

4: Leeloo (The Fifth Element)
I swear I'm not trying to put all the female entries together. There are just characters I couldn't put lower than Leeloo.

That said, Leeloo is a personal favorite. Hell, The Fifth Element is arguably my favorite movie of all time. It's genius, gorgeous sci-fi at a time when nothing like that dared to exist in cinema. A huge part of the appeal is the casting of Leeloo. I don't think anyone other than Milla Jovovich could have pulled it off.

Why? Because Leeloo is a character who shouldn't work. Like, at all. She's awesome at basically everything she tries, nearly all powerful…I mean, come on, they literally describe her as the perfect being. And she shoots lasers out of her mouth. She's basically the Death Star, but also young, limber, and scantily clad. Nothing about her should make her so amazing.

But she is. She's soft in the right places. Her lack of knowledge about the world isn't just there to make a young, innocent female character who's still clearly of age to have sex (Which is a problem we need to talk about, America. Stop it, it's weird. We can't simultaneously infantilize and sexualize women. I mean we can, but we god damn shouldn't.). It's there because she lets us see things from a fresh perspective.

While Leeloo has a lot of great action scenes (The Diva Dance scene. Come on, you know you love it.), my absolute favorite scene of hers is when she learns about war. This ultimate defense system against evil sees a rapid fire shot of all war that humans have engaged in, and you just watch her break. It's powerful for her, pivotal for the plot, and really shows the audience something about the world.

The Fifth Element stands as a masterpiece, and Leeloo is an integral part of that.

3: Suzaku Kururugi (Code Geass)
You had to know Code Geass would make this list right? And who better than the white knight himself, Suzaku. Rarely bested in all out battle, Suzaku masterfully pilots the Lancelot. And he's a core of the series. His past relationships with Lelouch and Nunally, the murder of his own father, his split allegiance between Japan and the Britannian Empire. He's fascinating.

But more than anything, what makes him work the best for me is what Lelouch does to him. Lelouch gives him a standing order, one that literally can't ignore: live. No matter what, Suzaku has to survive. No matter the cost, no matter what he wants, he's going to make it. That's up to and including functionally breaking the laws of the universe to do it.

Suzaku can't die, and that alone should make him the ultimate action hero…but what's better is that he hates it. He hates being unable to sacrifice himself. He hates the things running does to him and the people around him. But there's no help for it: he has to do it. He has to watch himself betray his fellow soldiers by running from battle. I just…god damn it, I love Suzaku.

2: Machete (Machete)
No Action Hero list could be complete without at least one Danny Trejo role, and for the most quintessential is Machete. I'm a huge Robert Rodriguez fan, even when he's off his game (Yeah, I even like Sharkboy and Lavagirl.), and Machete is just a fascinating movie with a fascinating title character. Plus I feel it's very applicable to our modern day.

Machete is, I suppose, the exception that makes the rule. He doesn't have deep character motivation like Fox, or that breaking moment like Leeloo, or anything that I felt was really lacking in James Bond or Conan. In every aspect, Machete is a classic, generic Action Hero.

But god damn it, he's so good at it. The combination of Robert Rodriguez's imagination with Danny Trejo's face and acting chops, plus the freedom of an R rating…Machete is one of the bloodiest, most wonderful, engaging Action Heroes to watch.

Would you believe anyone but Danny Trejo rappelling down a hospital with a man's intestine's as his rope? Of course not, that's ridiculous. But Machete does it.

Machete Kills, unfortunately, isn't as good, but Machete himself is wonderful and consistent in the movie, and I hold out hope for Machete Kills Again…in Space.

1: Corben Dallas (The Fifth Element)
I knew from the outset he would top out my list. I mean, young Bruce Willis in an orange tank top living alone with his cat. Entry done.

Okay, not really. The appeal of Bruce Willis's muscles not withstanding, Corben Dallas is at once the epitome of the Action Hero trope while also breaking free from it. On paper, he's an amazing choice. A loner military veteran who outlived his entire team and has to save the world.

But let's write another paper. Angry New York City cabbie with an overbearing mother and a recent divorce who's trying to quit smoking when a beautiful woman literally falls into his life.

Both of those accurately describe Corben Dallas, and the complexity is what makes him work so well and helps make The Fifth Element so remarkable as a film. Corben can shoot, he can quip, and he's still totally devoted to Leeloo and their relationship. Compassionate and pragmatic…I can't really say enough about Corben Dallas. If somehow you haven't seen The Fifth Element, I highly recommend you go watch it.


Monday, March 5, 2018

Manic Mondays: American Folk Heroes

*Note: I'm going to try not to break the format of Manic Mondays, but since this is the first one, I figure I should give it a brief explanation. Manic Mondays are going to be stream of consciousness posts every Monday. Whatever I'm thinking on from waking up to finishing that second cup of coffee. Raw thoughts, you've been warned.*

I'm in my local community orchestra (Trombone players for the win) and one of the pieces we're currently working on is Copland's John Henry. It's a pretty well done piece, covering the whole battle between John Henry and the machine.

It got me thinking about the mythology of modern America. We don't have anything like Prometheus or Set or Asgard. But what we do have is a collection of folk heroes and mytho-historical figures. There's fair evidence Paul Bunyan might have been real, but he certainly wasn't many stories tall, and he didn't make the Great Lakes…and Babe the Blue Ox was most likely included when Bunyan became a marketing and tourism figure.

Pecos Bill, Johnny Appleseed, and of course John Henry himself. Maybe they existed, maybe they didn't. Some of them probably didn't at all. All of them were tweaked over time and retellings in the past 200 years or so.

Because my brain does these things, I extrapolated. If I was an alien, what would I see as the mythology of our modern developing American society? The first thing that came to mind was Slenderman, and I stand by that. A figure that stories are told about by a lot of people in a lot of ways. Slenderman is public domain, so anyone can tell stories about him. Extrapolating from there, you can pretty much include all the internet urban legends into "Post Modern American Mythology 101" for Zaknar the Oblivion to spend lots of Martian Dollars on in college.

On top of that: 200 years from now, who will Americans themselves look back on and see as these semi-mythic figures? My first thought was a shaved-headed Latinx bisexual teenager who saved the children of America when no one else would. Maybe a tall, bald black man who wears dresses and wigs and made America love gay people, whether they wanted to or not. Maybe someone who hasn't been born, or we haven't really realized will be important yet.

Any thoughts on our upcoming folk heroes? I'm curious what people from different sorts of lifestyles think about this. Folk heroes start as heroes of one subculture. John Henry did. Paul Bunyan did. High John the Conqueror did. So let me know. Educate me.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Top Ten Trope Thursdays: Guile Hero

*Note: This is going to be a recurring series of articles. I'm not going to mention this every time, but since this is the first, let's break it down. Top Ten Trope Thursdays is a riff on the information from the God-send black hole that is TV Tropes. For those who don't know, TV Tropes is a collection and analysis database for media and entertainment tropes. The Big Fucking Sword, Black and White Morality, Fridge Logic. They all live there, complete with examples and complex explanations that lead you into a spider web with its own special dialect you won't escape from for days.

I promise it's fun, not awful.

This blog series is a simple enough things: in my opinion, with what I've seen and read and played, what are the ten examples that really stand out to me as exemplary or well done of that week's trope. Spoilers can very much be in these, for obvious reasons.*

In the world of heroes and heroines, they come in all shades and styles and types. I think that's pretty obvious, doesn't exactly need to be said. Nobody thinks Harry Potter is the same kind of hero as Olivia Benson, and neither of them are the same as Dr. Frasier Crane.

But there are three I want to focus on for the first three installments. A triangle of heroes that we've all seen, and that almost every protagonist in every form of media can be slotted into somewhere.

The triangle consists of Guile, Action, and Science Heroes (I'm borrowing the terminology of TV Tropes, but this applies across genders. Actually, unless otherwise specified, all of the terms from TV Tropes are meant to be gender neutral.). Today, though, I'm focusing on a personal favorite from the trio: the Guile Hero.

This is the manipulative, politically minded hero. This is every master thief hero, most of your eccentric billionaires, and those lovable rogues and scoundrels and bards. Sure, they might have a knife, but that's only if their first weapon—wit and charm and secrets—fails them. A Guile Hero isn't going anywhere without that kind of backup.

I love this hero, so forgive me if I gush just a little through here: I'm a writer, and I know that crafting these characters isn't an easy process. But damn it, when they work, they work.

(Another tiny note: this is about heroes. I love, love, love smart, manipulative villains even more than the heroes, but this is not the post for them.)

10: Kisuke Urahara (Bleach)
Okay, I'm watching the Bleach fans leave already. Turn around for one second: I love Urahara. He's amazing as a Guile Hero…or Guile Anti-Hero, in some cases.

Urahara is number 10 because he's a Guile Hero…and a Science Hero…and an Action Hero. And yes, the witty, charming Guile Hero knowing all these backup skills is perfectly believable, and in a way that makes him the best Guile Hero. But because he can science the shit out of everything, or stab the shit out of everything, he's not a complete example of the trope.

But what makes Urahara a Guile Hero? He's a master of high-speed mental chess. He was forced into committing a crime, and he used it as a research opportunity. When he was exiled to the human world for that crime, he spent his time protecting the Hogyoku (Basically an embodiment of pure potential.) from the man who forced him into committing the crime. And collateral damage doesn't matter: if someone has to have their soul dissolved to protect it, then so be it. If innocent people are dropped into mortal peril, well that's a calculated decision on his part.

And that is what really makes him a Guile Hero. In the first massive arc of the series (We don't talk about Bleach after the time skip…we just don't.), Urahara controlled everything. It was the character story (Albeit often badly done.) of Ichigo Kurosaki, but the conflict of the series was a massive, centuries long game of chess between two chess masters: Urahara and Aizen. The only time Urahara didn't know what he was doing is when Aizen changed the game. Then Urahara would respond and plan, and Aizen would counter. Anyone else involved was a tool.

And one of the best arguments for his status as a Guile Hero is that he won. He was the best at that strategic tit for tat.

9: Finnick Odair (The Hunger Games)
Again: he's low because he isn't straight up about guile and wit. Finnick can completely and utterly kick your ass with his trident.

But it's established that, outside of the Games, Finnick isn't stomping around killing people or even staying in killing shape. He's staying in prostitution shape at the insistence of the Capitol, but he's not a soldier or a fighter, and he was never a man of science.

No: Finnick has to sleep with people, so he uses that to his advantage. He gets secrets from these people. There's little in the upper levels of Panem society that Finnick doesn't know, or can't find out with a well-placed…you know, a well-placed penis, I guess. Finnick is a massive lynchpin in all of the plans in the second book because he's likable, and famous, and well-connected. He knows things that nobody else knows. Finnick is all charm and wit and, yes, manipulation. That's how Finnick was forced to live by the Capitol, and he thrived in it.

8: Lyra Bleacqua (His Dark Materials)
Lyra could really be the posterchild for Middle Grade Guile Heroes. By her own circumstances, she can't be an Action Hero: she's twelve. And she won't be a Science Hero: in that culture, men were allowed science. Not twelve year old girls with rebellious streaks.

What Lyra has in her favor is wit…okay, also some plot-based-unobtanium, but they don't call her Lyra Silvertongue for nothing. She has limited tools at her disposal, and she makes the best work of them. Her most common way of getting out of binds is with her quick thinking. She's smart.

When no one else could, when it was literally impossible to anyone else, she lied to a Panserbjorn, saved herself, and won Iorek Byrnison the chance to challenge for his throne again. Her wit attracts everyone to her, from massively powerful witches to people equally manipulative (Marisa Coulter is one of my favorite villains.). Every turn of her journey is hallmarked by how she gets in an out of jams that a twelve year old shouldn't be able to lie and swindle through.

And yet Lyra does it.

7: Simon Tam (Firefly)
Now, Firefly being cut woefully short, there isn't a lot of time to see this played out. It could be argued that at least half the crew of the Serenity are Guile Heroes. At the very least, Simon, Mal, Book, and Inara are all examples of the trope.

But Simon is a unique combination aboard the ship. He's a Doctor, a Science Hero…and he knows it. He uses that to his advantage. The fact that he's a medic is a huge selling point for keeping him on the ship, even if it does endanger the others. He's not afraid to pull out his medical knowledge.

If you watched the show, you know where this is going: the medical supply heist. He needs access to a brain scan for his sister, but the crew won't do it for free. So he shows them exactly how they can be paid when he has no money: medical supplies. While he's getting his brain scan done, the crew can rob the oppressive government blind. It won't hurt anyone. They have access to more supplies. He knows exactly what the crew needs from him, what he needs, and sees how to make everyone happy better than anyone else possibly could.

6: Roseanne Conner (Roseanne)
Yeah, I know. A little weird. And in a lot of ways, this could be the descriptor for almost every sitcom hero. But I like Roseanne. A lot. I grew up on it. I'm looking forward to the reboot, even.

Roseanne is the head of the Conner Clan. They're low income, and that's a real struggle for them (The final season not withstanding.). And as such, Roseanne and Dan both have to work with their wit and guile. And yeah, it's served comedically. They leave the envelope unsealed and tell the bill collectors that the check fell out. She lies to the bank about car trouble to buy herself time, then sits and has a cup of coffee.

But strip away the laugh track and Roseanne is keeping her family going and thriving not by being the biggest and the strongest, and not by her massive book-learning archive. She's fulfilling her goal by looking at the system and seeing how she can make everything work for her instead of against her. If "The Man" gets dinged and bruised in the process, it doesn’t matter because she and the rest of the Conners are good for another week.

5: Every Heist Group Leader
I told you every master thief hero fit this role, and I meant it. Danny Ocean, Charlie Croker, Memphis Raines: they're all Guile Heroes, and all so similar it's difficult to pick one. They're charming. They're clever. They organize people and use them as tools. Sure, the tools profit too, but that's the point of bringing other people in.

This hero can't do everything by himself. Charlie Croker needs a safecracker and a tech guy and an explosives expert. Danny Ocean needs a femme fatale and a contortionist. Memphis Raines needed his whole crew to steal fifty cars.

This character is what people love about heist movies. It all comes down to the Guile Hero.

4: Peeta Mellark (The Hunger Games)
Yeah, we're back in Panem. Now, a victor who's just charming isn't really an option. They have to be able to kill people if they're going to win. Peeta's main physical bonus is that he's just very strong.

But that's not what makes Peeta a victor. Okay, yeah, you could say that Katniss is what makes him a victor, and I can absolutely see that argument. But we all know Katniss wouldn't have made it through without Peeta as her opposite. Katniss is emotionally shut down because of the hell that is her life. It's great survival, but we establish that you have to be likable and charismatic to do well in the Games. You know, to not die.

Being from District Twelve, Peeta and Katniss aren't known. No one wants to help them. So it's up to Peeta to be charming and manipulate everyone. He's likable. He loves Katniss, even if she doesn't. And he lets everyone know what's up with that. Without him laying the groundwork, nothing she had done in the Games with him would have meant a damn thing. But because he played to the public, they were able to succeed. The public loved them, and that helped them survive the impossible tasks laid before them.

3: Deloris van Cartier (Sister Act)
Ah, my favorite nun-based pseudo-musical. Yes, Deloris is a Guile Hero. She saw her spouse murder a man, went into witness protection at a church. And she thrives.

While it isn't a major, complicated plotline to follow, there's no doubt about her archetype. She wins over everyone, including the strict Mother Superior (Still one of my favorite Maggie Smith roles.). She betters and revives the church, and even manages to get the Pope himself to show up at their church for a concert. Her knowledge and street smarts and complete, undeniable charisma power the movie.

You see the same thing in the sequel, as well. Deloris swoops in and fixes the Catholic school choir. Always, she connects with people and makes them like her. Not just like her, but love her. She's a powerhouse of that charisma. A Las Vegas headliner. Everything about her is designed to make people look at her charming little self.

2: Lelouch Lamperouge (Code Geass)
Okay, so Lelouch's "Hero" status is arguable at time, but I consider him solidly as an Anti-Hero. And my god is he a Guile Hero. He's smart, but he's not the smartest. He has certain skills, but most of them are about quick thinking and necessity. He plays…professional gambling chess, which I don't think is a real thing, but he does it, and he does it well. From the beginning, he's set up as a literal chess master, and that continues on through the rest of the series.

Now, Lelouch is not the "likable" Guile Hero. But charisma? Lelouch has charisma, especially as Zero. He isn't even a man as Zero, but a symbol. He's the embodiment of freedom from the Britannian government, and it drags thousands upon thousands to him.

On the battlefield, he maneuvers against the way people behave. He uses humans as pawns in his grander plans. And when he does take to the front lines, it's in a Knightmare frame that practically no one else could use, it's so complicated. He is always above and separate. He's the grand manipulator making the plans, executing the plans, and changing those plans on the fly. He manipulates the entire political sphere, and makes it look easy. It's really astounding, and difficult to pull up a single example from the series, because this is all that Lelouch does.

1: Haymitch Abernathy (The Hunger Games)
Jesus Fucking Christ, Suzanne Collins likes this hero a lot. It could be a problematic thing, except she writes them so well, and Haymitch is the shining example. He's not a wholly unique character: he's an old drunk who really does know better, but smells like grain alcohol. We've seen it, although it often shares the limelight with the Science Hero, like House.

Haymitch, though, deserves the top spot on this list. Even when you hate him and think he's a sexist asshole for calling Katniss sweetheart all the time, you can't help but like him. At the very least, you're fascinated by Haymitch. You have to watch what he's going to do.

Haymitch is a man with no purpose when we meet him. He's going to be a burden. Not even just a lump, but he's going to drag Peeta and Katniss down. And Effie isn't any more helpful than him. They are royally screwed.

Which is exactly what he was waiting for. Whether he knew it or not, he wanted someone to care that they were up shit creek. When Katniss gives a shit about surviving, that's when Haymitch comes to life.

Now before I said that Peeta was the reason they won, and that's not wrong, but Haymitch is the overarching controller of everything that happens. He's out beating the pavement, finding sponsors for Peeta and Katniss to keep their stupid asses alive a little bit longer. He plays everyone along the way, from the capitol citizens, to Peeta and Katniss, to the higher ups of the Games themselves. And it just carries on into Catching Fire, where he just, you know, organizes an entire god damn rebellion against the government. Sure, not alone, but they were not pulling it off without Haymitch.

It's not because he's likable, but he's undeniably charming, charismatic, and witty. Haymitch, more than anyone else, is the embodiment of a Guile Hero, and if someone comes along and unseats him from the top spot, I will be shocked…and utterly, utterly pleased.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

2017 Awards Season: Here's What's Eligible

Ah, yet again we see the end of the year. It means snowfall and leaves goldening on the branch and hot chocolate in hideously tacky, kitschy penguin-shaped mugs.

And for authors, it means that it's time to start thinking about the awards season. Now, this year I was...light, shall we say, on publications. Life got in the way, other projects got in the way. But I did still manage to pump out a handful of things that would be eligible, and I think they're things that are worth talking about.

I mean...okay, I may be a little biased, but that's beside the point.

The History Book: It should come as zero shock to anyone that I was...displeased with the political outcomes...okay, no, that paints it as me not liking it. I was scared shitless, my best friend was calling me in tears, and I drained a quarter bottle of vodka while watching the map. But it turns out I was hardly the only author feeling that way. Enough of us banded together that something grew out of the effort. Something special. Alternative Truths wasn't anything any of us did for the money. This was an anthology that one person funded out of pocket. This was something we did because we had to do something...and we're writers. So we wrote.

And I wrote The History Book. It's not a far-flung fictional idea that out of date or misleading curriculum is used. This sprung from there. What happens when we are institutionally doomed to repeat our past mistakes, because we aren't allowed to remember them? That was the question I wanted to explore.

(And guys, even if none of you fall head over heels for my story in here, buy the anthology. For every cent one of us authors gets for the royalties, the ACLU gets a cent, too. They're treated as an equal contributor, because they're the ones that protect our right to even put out this book.)

Laya: This piece was tossing around in the wind for a couple years before it finally landed in the loving embrace of Flame Tree Publishing. A nod to Robert E. Howard, it combines the classic troubled, questing hero of sword and sorcery with more than a heavy dose of Eldritch horror. It's a story of paternal love, of bittersweet musings, and of the weight of sins from the past - yours or your ancestors.

High Risk: I run a group for professional short story authors. A small-time affair. Well, as sometimes happens, author turned to editor and she needed a story: stat. Specifically, a unicorn in the desert story. Well, I love desert settings. I love unicorns. I love getting money. So I put something together for it and, luckily, I was the one who filled that last spot in her project. High Risk touches on one of my favorite underexplored themes in fantasy: what happens when magic meets capitalism? Because if we're honest with ourselves, we all know that somebody would make a killing selling over-the-counter glamours and jackets woven through with strands of unicorn mane. And if they're selling it, then someone has to be collecting it.

Protector of the Village Near Death: One of my only forays into the realm of audio, this is something of a departure for me. I don't write funny. I don't write cheerful. I write...well, you know what I write. It's dark. It's depressing. It's bittersweet. It's bleak. Bleak seems a good, solid word. But this one...okay, it came from a mixture of many different things. It starts with "Why are there no grandmas in fantasy novels? Old women know better and have much more time on their hands than plucky young adventurers." That meets up with an episode of Morning Drawfee where they create a "kindly old auntie" who slays demons. And that all meets up with "Why are these villages still standing if they all have to wait around for said plucky young adventurer to save them? They should have been burned to the ground by now. Someone must be watching out for them."

I read it and listened to it and...I'm not going to tell you it's funny. But I will say that it made me laugh. For whatever that's worth.

And that's what I've got today. I'm happy to provide text copies of anything I'm able to (Contracts and all, they can sometimes get tricky.).

Happy demon hunting!