Demon Hunting and Tenth Dimensional Physics: 2018

Friday, December 28, 2018

New Year's 2019


Oh lord. 2018 is almost over, and I'm not handling this whole "It's almost 2019" thing very well at all. Like…2019. 2001 used to be far-flung future. People thought civilization would collapse in 2000. 2012? Mayan calendar was up, remember?

When society has outstripped the dates of its science fiction, that's something worth taking note of.

Me personally, I'm setting things up for the year to come, even though it's a scary, freaky little year we're looking at jumping into. I have a "planning party" with a couple fellow authors on the 30th to get our years in some semblance of order. I'm looking at reading challenges to get myself back into reading books. I'm even considering keeping Kindle Unlimited, just so I have more books to read.

2018 was sort of an eye-opening year for me, at least from a financial and business standpoint. See, I really floundered in 2017. I did nothing. I finished 0 manuscripts, and most of my time was spent editing one book for a publishing house that almost immediately went under after I turned in my final edits (Yeah, that was super fun…). So 2018 was a lot of catch-up, studying the market, writing books, etc.

And then in August, I broke my ankle. Right through the thickest part of the tibia. It was a nasty break, too. Like, surgery was on the table at the start, and it's having problems, so surgery is now back on the table, joy of joys (I'm hoping to avoid it. Just got a bone growth stimulator, so we'll see how that goes.). But that really laid me up. I was completely out of commission for about a week, then mostly out of commission for another two months after that (I was bound to crutches, even after I got my walking boot). I mean, I'm still using a shower chair because I can't stand.

It really knocked me on my ass, is what I'm saying. And it gave me a lot, lot, lot of sedentary time, just me and my laptop. While I'm not here to say that breaking my ankle was a good thing—0/10, do not recommend—it really did end up being helpful. I couldn't leave the house. I barely made it to my podiatrist appointments because it was such a hassle some days.

It also meant that I got insurance, finally. And not leaving the house meant I didn't really spend money, so suddenly I had a savings account. A modest one, but I had one. Time locked up with my laptop meant I put my fingers on the keyboard a hell of a lot. I started working on ads and cracking the code on those a little more. Jesus, I mean, I sold my car and I was okay. Like…I did things, and they didn't destroy my entire life. I got good at things. I made strides, I made progress.

I also eventually made purchases that put a dent in my bank account. Things like internet blocking software…and a shit ton of smelly candles because I'm a classy bitch. But that's just it: they were a dent.

I feel like the aftershocks of my broken ankle actually did help me out. At least my mental and emotional state. I ended up clicking a lot of things into place that I wouldn't have otherwise, I don't think.

Okay, that was a lot of semi-esoteric rambling, but it boils down to this in the real world: I'm moving. I have plans. I have new covers purchased, new books ready to publish (I hope you like magic spilling into your Criminal Minds.).

Things are moving, so watch out for me in 2019.

What are you doing in the coming year? What are you getting prepared for? Are you in need of good TV shows to watch on Netflix, because I also spent a lot of time with my eyes glued to that screen while recovering from my broken ankle.

Like…a lot.

Whatever you're doing, whatever you have in store, I hope you kick 2019 in the ass. Let's climb that mountain, and I'll see you at the top.

Voss

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Christmas Missive: 2018 Edition

You know, two years ago I spent Christmas drinking and telling everyone the world was on fire and we were all fucked. So even though it would be really hard to go downhill from there, I'm still going to take credit where credit is due for not being quite so hopeless as I was in December 2016.

2018 has been one heck of a year. I'm not going to do a complete year in review sort of thing (Not yet anyway...), but Christmas comes with a certain nostalgia. I think about the family members I haven't been around in way too long. I think about past Christmases and how much more decoration went on when I was younger (When your dogs are as ball-crazed as mine are, it's...difficult to hang shiny, round, mouth-sized ornaments on the tree.). I drink the same drinks, smell the same smells, see the same lights, and read the same books (I'll be starting my annual reading of Krampus: The Yule Lord tonight!).

So with that nostalgia comes things that are just a little different than I would have planned. I didn't plan on going through Christmas with a walking boot because my ankle still isn't healed. I didn't plan on starting a proofreading service. I certainly didn't plan on owning so many Bath and Body Works candles (If you don't have Frosted Cranberry in your life, you're missing out!).

But I think most refreshing, and simultaneously most depressing, is that I didn't plan to be so happy. I wouldn't have believed that things could be feeling so downright okay if you'd told me. And it really all happened from my birthday at the beginning of October to now. Yep, while I was still laid up in an actual cast, not the significantly more convenient walking boot.

In October, I got a lovely reminder from my roommate that I'm cared for/about. She acknowledged the sacrifices I make, and it was just...incredible. I don't like to talk about any sort of personal hardships, so to have someone see them and accept them and all that, it was really something. And October just kind of built from there, in ways I would never have expected. Early October was spent with a very dear old friend, and then my local RWA chapter imploded, leaving me and two other friends holding the bag for the board if we wanted to keep the chapter. It was not pretty, but it's honestly proven to maybe be the best thing for the chapter's health, in the end. People are excited again, including me.

In November, I actually made a new friend, which never happens. I'm a 27 year old introvert, currently with a broken ankle. I don't get out much. But she's been wonderful. More money's been coming in. Proofreading is going well.

December is looking much the same. My dearest of dearests, Frances Pauli, gave me a Christmas present that had a ton more impact than I think she's put together (It's an auryn pendant, from The Neverending Story. She's one of the few people who probably has any idea how much I love that book, so for her to pull that out of the ether or memory...well, it's another "you're cared for" reminder.).

So this Christmas, as I'm happy, I hope all of you are as well. I hope you're all going to have a wonderful holiday season. I hope your troubles are vanishing. I hope that, if like me, you break your ankle, ruin your hands, and slice open your toe along the nail bed, you'll still be happy enough you're smiling your ass off. Because everyone deserves to feel like that.

Happy Holidays, everyone,
Voss

Monday, October 1, 2018

Lamb, or How Christopher Moore Actually Made Me Care About Jesus

**Note: The product links in this article are Amazon Affiliate Links. No extra cost to you, but I get a kickback from any purchases. Let's call it a headhunter's fee...but less cool.**

So, I've said in the past in various interviews that I don't have a favorite author, per se. I find it nigh impossible to actually nail down one singular author I love the most. Rowling embedded herself in my soul, but Valente's words make my heart soar. Lem's wit and absurdity never lose their shine, but Jemisin's worldbuilding is to die for.

But I think, if you drove the tacks down under my thumbnails and said I had to give one name, I think that name would probably be Christopher Moore.

Those who know him are probably nodding to themselves knowingly. For those who don't...how to sum up Christopher Moore...hmm...

Take a Mel Brooks movie. No, not that one. Yeah, that one. Then cut out all the fluff. Keep the insane, WTF concepts, then add a Richard Pryor sense of humor with a Joan Rivers (RIP) dry delivery, and then sprinkle on the sort of heartbreaking poignancy present in a movie like RENT or The Green Mile.

Also some magic.

And if you can imagine that, then you've got a much better imagination than I do. Christopher Moore's work is hard to parse out in a short summary like that because there really isn't anything like what he does. You have to make a minimum of two or three comparisons to really try and capture it. From The Island of the Sequined Love Nun and The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, with their over the top absurdity, to his vampire trilogy (You Suck, Bite Me, and Bloodsucking Fiends) rife with wit, to my personal favorites (And personally, I think Christopher Moore's favorites, too.), his research-heavy novels. I've written already on Sacre Bleu, his Impressionist era fantasy, but it also includes Fool and The Serpent of Venice, his riffs on Shakespearean classics (King Lear and The Merchant of Venice, respectively.).

But probably his most famous of the lot, maybe his most famous book of all, is Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff.


One side will say it's sacrilegious...and the other side will agree, we just don't care. Have you ever wondered what happened in the missing years of Christ's life? Well, Christopher Moore has the best answers for that.

(Umm...the spoilers are going to start here. So be aware of that shit.)

See, I'm not a Christian. We won't get into many specifics, but suffice it to say that view isn't changing any time soon...ever, really. I don't buy into the religion, and I also have never bought into the sort of heart-wrenching, hair-ripping zealotry to Jesus that I grew up around. I've read The Bible. I've read The Book of Mormon. I've read a lot about Christianity, along with a lot of other religions. I didn't understand why people would love Jesus so God damn much.

Lamb is the first and only book that has ever made me love the Christ child. It's the only one that made me care. And after my fourth or fifth re-read just recently, I've been picking apart why.

It's dead simple.

Moore's Joshua (Apparently that would have been his actual name? Maybe? I'm not sure, but let's go with that for now.) is the only time I found Jesus sympathetic. He was relatable. He was human, which is supposed to be the big draw, right? He's just one of us. He's, at his core, supposed to be a man. But the religious version of Jesus is so holy and shit that it just doesn't connect to me. Never has.

But in Lamb...the first time we see Joshua, he's reviving a dead lizard that his brother keeps killing. Just an endless cycle of resurrection. Because what the hell else would a little kid with godly power do? He falls in love with Mary Magdalene, but he knows he can't do anything. It's a little boy crush. His best friend is a crude, sinful son of a bitch. And Joshua is wracked with doubt: he's not ready to be the Messiah, his dad won't talk to him, and he's trying to figure out how to just cope with all of this.

For five sixths of Lamb, everything is spent building up Joshua and Biff as characters. They travel along the Silk Road to meet the three wise men. They learn ancient Chinese chemistry and acupuncture and medicine. They study in a Tibetan monastery and learn Kung-Fu and Buddhism. They study with a yogi in India.

And Biff has a lot of sex. Joshua doesn't.

So by the time we get back to preach the gospel, we've followed about 2 decades of Joshua's life, traveling the world. And because the story is told from the POV of his best friend, we see him in maybe the best light possible.

That makes the return to Israel brutal. Saving Mary Magdalene from a disastrous marriage. Gathering the Apostles. Preaching on the Holy Ghost...I mean, it's a Jesus story. It ends one way.

But when we get to the scourging, the sacrifice, the crown of thorns, the crucifixion, it's heartbreaking. Not in a "human condition" kind of way, but in a "this is Joshua, and he's refusing to speak in his own defense" way. And for such a funny book (The scene where Jesus has coffee for the first time is one of my favorite scenes in any book, ever.), the ending is...well, it's a freaking Jesus story. the ending is miserable.

And that is to its credit. In the midst of the laughing, the silliness, all of that...you forget that this is the story of Christ. Somehow, Moore manages to make the crucifixion a surprise gut punch at the end. And it's the longest gut punch ever. Up to the last moments, he's feeding you hope...but there is no hope.

So rather than the actual Biblical Jesus, a figurehead instead of a person, Lamb takes Joshua, puts him through hell, shows you his human side in the best and worst ways, puts his flaws on display...and then rips him away from you. And that is why Lamb is the only book that makes me give half a crap about Jesus. Ever.

Monday, August 27, 2018

On Endings and Dragging On

**Spoilers for Supernatural and The Almighty Johnsons may be encountered in the wilds beyond. Venture forth at your own risk.**

My roommate and I have spent the last, oh, year making our way through Supernatural, seasons 1-13. That experience is sort of what spawned this whole post into my head. But to talk about it, and the subject of endings, properly, we need to go back in time a little bit, to the mystical, long-forgotten year of...2008.

I was in high school, listening to my band director be directorial. He wasn't the kind of man who minced words, when things were important. He cared about the results we got out of something. The journey there was never the most important part of the lessons. So he dropped this pearl of wisdom that always really stuck in my head.

If you're going to work on anything, work on the beginning and the end. That's what the audience is going to remember. If the beginning and end are good, the middle doesn't matter.

I really do think, at least in live music, that's a lot truer than an audience would like to admit, and maybe truer than a musician would like to hear. See, I've been to live orchestras and symphonies. And I distinctly remember an example of this from The Four Seasons. I love that suite, and it started beautifully. I mean, who doesn't love Spring and Summer? After the intermission came Autumn, and it was fair.

And then Winter. My god Winter. It's never been my favorite, but it's not a bad piece. Except that night. That night, I don't know if they decided to double up certain sections, or play it at half speed, or if they were just exhausted, but it dragged. It was dull. They didn't nail the ending of the suite, and 10+ years later, it's still stuck in my craw.

I think you can apply the same thing to writing/reading. I mean, look at Harry Potter. Potterheads the world over can recite the opening line, and the ending line. And while there are moments that are just as memorable throughout the book, those two are universal.

Now, we're not quite back to Supernatural, but we're getting there. I promise. Stop judging me.

There's a phenomenon that's well-documented when it comes to long running TV dramas. The longer they run, the more confident they are that they'll be renewed, and the more they'll seed the next season toward the end of the current one. It leads to messy endings, and as we've established, endings leave an impact.

I'm looking at The Almighty Johnsons for this one. Great show. Can't recommend it enough. But that ending...yikes. Not only was it rushed, but they put in a very clear, obvious seed for the next season in...and there was no next season. Just Colin tossing a mysterious gemstone into the woods.

So now we can swing back to Supernatural, and their ending problem.

I wanted to establish the first type of ending because...well, we need a point of juxtaposition. Supernatural, with a couple exceptions, has sort of the opposite problem. They end a lot. Like, so many times, you can see that they were ending the series. That was it. Game over. There's no way to top what we just did, so let's pack it up. And that, honestly, is another problem entirely. It makes the storyline weirdly choppy, and there's no longer an arc to the series. It does take care of any cliffhanger endings or anything like that, but where The Almighty Johnsons swung too far toward continuation, Supernatural swings too far toward a nice, tidy package.

But even that is not the main thing I think Supernatural has an issue with when it comes to endings: I think they drag. I think the entire show is often being dragged along when it should be over. And that's a problem that crosses media.

See, what comes to mind for me here is a long-running D & D campaign. Supernatural started pretty close to the main characters, but it eventually had to move beyond their sphere and into new stories. And that works...for a while. But now, like in Dungeons an Dragons, Sam and Dean have both been to Hell at least once, resurrected at least a couple times apiece, both been vessels for archangels. And in a world where they took pains to establish other hunters...well, those hunters never seem to be able to do anything meaningful. In later seasons, it gets to the point of ridiculousness. They had to include a multiverse, alternate timeline plot just to have something new. And frankly, I found the world without Sam and Dean to be the more interesting one.

None of this is to denigrate the show as a whole. I highly recommend watching it, at least through a few seasons. And I honestly got really excited at the end of season thirteen. I'm going to watch season fourteen. But that doesn't mean it's beyond reproach, either.

Now, I think books have an interesting solution to this problem that TV shows either don't have or don't employ. When you look at something like Dragonlance or the Pern novels, they aren't "Dragonlance 1" to "Dragonlance 182." It's little snippets. Trilogies, maybe tetralogies. They follow characters through those groups, and then stop before it gets boring.

I think it's a solid choice. It obviously has sold plenty of books. And it would be worth trying in television. I mean, imagine if Sam and Dean were only one of three or four hunting groups. And not just for an episode or two. Instead of...the ever-growing mess in the middle, seasons 6-10 were following someone else entirely. Familiar places, familiar faces, but not trying to shoehorn Sam and Dean into everything, and constantly outdoing themselves with the level of the threat. I think it would have alleviated some of the plot slumping.

I don't know that there was a point to this, per se. I wanted to talk about endings. I wanted to talk about Supernatural. And I did those things. So I bed you good day.

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 artifacts...as 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.

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.

Yeah.

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.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Top Ten Trope Thursdays: Heart is an Awesome Power


*Note: if you've seen these, you know there's spoilers. If you haven't seen these…well, there's spoilers. Fair warning.*

Now the last three of these were about characters. I'm hardly done with character tropes, but I want to slip aside just a bit and explore another trope that I tend to personally enjoy in media: Heart is an Awesome Power.

We all see this in sci-fi/fantasy settings. People have awesome powers and abilities…except Jenny. Jenny can control sugar. That's it. Everyone writes her off, maybe our one kindly character tries to make her feel better, but even Jenny thinks her power is dumb.

Until she realizes glucose is a sugar. Suddenly Jenny goes from being a weak little nothing to an unstoppable killing force, halting blood in its tracks at her will. Why? Because "Heart is an Awesome Power." Less about the actual limitations of a preternatural ability and more about the character putting it to good use, this is a trope that allows a writer to show off creativity, and it allows characters to have obvious, visible growth within a form of media.

Now, I'm not sticking to heroes with this, and part of that is…well, this tends to play well for villains. It's a great way to bring a recurring joke villain out of the shadows and shake everything up. Plus, if the character in question was ridiculed for their shit power, there's a fair chance that they'll retaliate once they figure out they can.

So on with the list!

10: The Amoeba Boys (The Powerpuff Girls)
Oh boy, these guys. They really really wanted to be evil villains. But at best they were nuisances, and at worst they actually made people's lives easier in the City of Townsville. Oversized single celled organisms. Not only do they not pose much of a physical threat, they don't have the brain capacity to come up with anything more complex than, say, stealing an orange. The Powerpuff Girls actually pity them, for the most part.

Until "Gesundfight." The Amoeba Boys are determined to stand on the grass in spite of what the sign says. They stay there overnight, get rained on, and get the flu…and that's a problem. Because of their freaky-ass single-celled-organism-ness, the disease mutates inside of them and, when spread around, is incredibly virulent. Within hours from exposure, humans are passing out, coughing, sneezing. The Amoeba Boys have released a plague upon Townsville.

Of course it all gets solved in the end, but they did it. The only reason they're number ten on the list is that they didn't choose to do this. They got sick and it kind of happened. But it couldn't have happened if Mojo Jojo or Fuzzy Lumpkins got sick: only The Amoeba Boys (Of note also: a lot of the villains in The Powerpuff Girls could fall in here. Fuzzy Lumpkins is…a hillbilly. That's about it. Elmer Sglue has…glue powers. Sedusa has prehensile hair.)

9: Ma-Ti (Captain Planet)
The Trope Namer in this case. In Captain Planet, five internationally sourced teens are given five power rings by Gaia to help protect the planet. The rings allow them to control one individual aspect of the world: earth, wind, fire, water, and…heart. Even Ma-Ti says it's a stupid power.

And then Ma-Ti uses that power to control a motherfucking bear to attack the Monster of the Week. Because "heart" is basically a nice way of saying "willful manipulation." Ma-Ti can make a connection to the metaphorical heart of any living creature. In fact, in an alternate future, we see exactly how devastating his power could be. Ma-Ti becomes an evil dictator, because his power of heart has allowed him to brainwash the masses into following him.

It doesn't get much more complex than that. Why so low for something so clearly available? Like with the next entry, it's rarely, if ever, used to that full devastating potential. Which in Ma-Ti's case, I think we should all be thankful for.

8: Jubilee (X-Men)
The fireworks girl? Really?

Yes, the fireworks girl. The one with the banana yellow coat whose powers are only ever vaguely explained most of the time. And I know she actually got depowered, but we're talking old school mutant Jubilee.

See, those fireworks are actually plasma. She's just creating plasma. And while this seems like a way to try to make her cooler…think about what she has to do to accomplish that. She's supercharging the air around her into plasma. Plasma that really has no difficulty creating explosions wherever she wants it to, within her specific range.

But it goes beyond that. Pushing her power, she's able to break down matter. Yeah. She can actually split atoms with her fucking brain if she wants to. She can split atoms inside your liver, or inside your head, or inside your wife. Luckily, Jubilee is a nice person, and she only ever did that to a Sentinel. But she could have done it to anyone she wanted.

So yeah, the fireworks girl.

7: Karen (The Almighty Johnsons)
This isn't the only time The Almighty Johnsons is going to be on this list, so no worries. Karen, for anyone who doesn't remember her sort of brief appearance, is Michele's mother, as well as the human reincarnation of Lofn, goddess of festivities.

Parties? Now that's a lame power.

Unless applied correctly. She's another one who doesn't do a ton to fully capitalize on her powers, but if she plans a party, you're going to be there. It's literally unavoidable. You'll find out about it, you'll be there, and if there's a theme, you're going to adhere to it.

She uses this all of once, as she's only a bit character. But we see that power. She can make anyone show up anywhere she wants as long as she throws a party. She does it for positive reasons, of course. She wants to breed familial harmony. But if she was evil? If she'd been working with the goddesses since the beginning, the gods would have been dead in an instant.

6: Squirrel Girl (Marvel Comics)
Now you can tell me she's just meant as a joke character, and you're pretty much right. But on paper, as it stands, Squirrel Girl is one of the most effective heroes in the Marvel universe.

What's her power? Well, she has "things related to a squirrel" down pat. She's considerably stronger than an average human, though nothing compared to super-strength heroes like Carol Danvers. She can jump several stories. She has a moderately prehensile tail. She has a spike on her knuckle that can carve through wood. And she can also communicate with and command squirrels. She also has enhanced regenerative abilities, like most of Marvel's animal-themed mutants.

That's it. That's Squirrel Girl. But she makes damn good use of those powers. She took down Thanos. She took down Doctor Doom. She took down Terrax the Terror. Ego the Living Planet. Four Avengers. Wolverine. Deadpool. Fin Fang Foom.

Did I mention Thanos?

I say she's used as a joke because Squirrel Girl does most of her fighting off screen. However, that doesn't make it less canon. I assume that they just don't want to go that graphic, showing her army of squirrels ripping Thanos apart an inch at a time.

If I were to meet Squirrel Girl in a dark alley, though? I'd be super nice to her in the hopes that she never met me while the camera was pointed somewhere else.

5: Pig God (One Punch Man)
Pig God is the tenth ranked hero in the world of One Punch Man…and lord if you'd ever be able to tell. He's morbidly obese, constantly eating…because that's his power. He can eat. More specifically, I suppose, he has an "inhuman digestive tract," along with other abilities, such as surprisingly immense strength.

Sounds a little shaky. Like, maybe he should be in the top 100 heroes. Maybe. But the tenth strongest hero in the world?

But Pig God has several things going in his favor. He's massively durable and can even survive being eaten himself. He has so many layers of body fat that venom can't reach his blood stream, making him immune to venomous attacks. And he has an inborn sense of duty to the people of the world. He wants to keep everyone safe and healthy, which is not the most common trait at the top of the hero pack in this world. A lot of them are fairly self-centered.

But the eating is his "heart" power. He can eat and digest anything. Anything of any size. Pig God's digestive abilities are one of the most destructive forces on the planet. If there's an enemy that can't be beaten by conventional methods? Feed them to Pig God. Problem solved. Not just solved for today, but for good.

Damn.

4: Aquaman (DC Comics)
Yep, Fish Boy himself. I'm not even considering him controversial. The only worry I have is whether he's high enough on the list. See, Aquaman is scary. Other characters in the DC Universe are afraid of him.

This one is not so much that his powers on paper seem silly. It's just his perception. People out in our world don't give him the respect he deserves. So let's break down what Aquaman brings to the table.

He can survive in the depths of the ocean. Boom, that right there should be enough. He has immense speed and strength at the bottom of the ocean, under 6000 psi of pressure. When you put him on land? Watch the fuck out, Superman, you've met your match.

But you don't care about that. You want to hear how he talks to fish. Okay. Conservative estimates put the percentage of ocean life at 50% of all life on earth. So for every human, animal, and bird, there's a form of sea based life form. A more realistic estimate is probably closer to 70%. And yeah, that includes krill and plankton…but you know that also includes deadly jellyfish, whales, giant squid, and thousands upon thousands of undiscovered life that could be dangerous as fuck.

Aquaman is dangerous enough by himself. With his marine communication? He's nearly unstoppable.

3: Baise (Hunter x Hunter)
A minor character, but so deserving of this. She can kiss any man and instill in him any sexual desire she chooses. And for the most part, she imparts extreme, all encompassing masochism. Why?

Because that masochism is so powerful that, as she literally beats the man to death, he won't fight back. He enjoys it and asks for more. Both disturbing and effective, all because she can grant men sexual desires.

2: Cypher (X-Men)
Don't ask me how mutation makes you able to understand all languages, but it does…apparently. That's cypher's ability. And initially that was it. But then he died and came back, as comic book heroes are wont to do, and his powers had supercharged. He could read and understand any spoken language. And computer language, which made him an expert hacker. And body language, which made him able to read and respond perfectly in battle. And sometimes, these powers extended to things that are questionable language-based, like…somehow finding the weak point in buildings. I guess the structure or the blueprints or something are a language of their own?

But what should have been a translator and possible diplomat turned into a massively impress threat to the well-being of anyone who dared to fight him or use a computer.

1: Mike Johnson (The Almighty Johnsons)
And here we arrive at the gold standard, for me, of this trope. Mike, like most of the other significant characters in The Almighty Johnsons, is the reincarnated version of a Norse deity. In his case, this is Ullr, god of the hunt. Ullr, commonly invoked before duels in the olden days, was also interpreted in this medium as the god of games. Whether that's accurate or not…well, I can't find anything that puts him as god of games, but it's A: not a huge stretch and B: not important. The Almighty Johnsons uses him as god of games, and that's what we're going with.

As such, Ullr can't lose. This seems to be a really narrow power. Good for, say, beating everyone at rock paper scissors every single time, or taking the house at poker, but otherwise not all that useful.

But as the series progresses, we see how broadly a game is defined, and hence see Mike's true power. He can not only bend the laws of probability, but the laws of nature. Did you, in your villainous quipping, bet that he couldn't beat you? Well, you've just made this fight a game, ensuring your defeat. He now barely feels your punches, and you really feel his.

Or, did you say "Guess what happened?" Well, that's a guessing game. He can now read your mind. That's the one that's really mind blowing. As long as you tell him to guess, he's functionally omniscient.

It's a specific set of circumstances, but once you initiate a game? Watch out for Mike. Or better yet, just give up.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Manic Mondays: Queering Power Rangers

Lately, I've been watching Linkara's History of Power Rangers. It's no secret that I'm a Power Rangers fan. In fact, I'm planning on catching back up before Beast Morphers, and I might even go back and watch some of the better-reviewed Super Sentai series, just to see what's going on.

But watching the history of Wild Force (Spoilers for that 15 year old series, I guess.), the ending "Where they are now" section shows Danny and Max off globe-trotting. I immediately was like "Oh, so they were gay together."

But of course they weren't because it's a US children's show from the early 2000s, and gay people didn't exist. Jesus, women and POC barely existed. But it got me thinking: how fucking righteous would it have been to have two gay Power Rangers (Note: this is still possible, as the series is ongoing. Crossing fingers, but not holding my breath.)? One thing Power Rangers has had since the beginning is romance between team members. Tommy and Kimberly, anyone (I'm not giving you a spoiler warning for that one. It's been 25 years. And yeah, I know that she sent him a dear John letter and broke things off, but they were sill a couple.)? One of the major plot elements of Time Force was the weird 1000 year love triangle between Jen, Wes, and Alex. Even solidly into the Disney era (Spoilers now, I suppose), we see: Ziggy and Dr. K, Camille and Dai Shi, and Lily and Theo. So it's not that the showrunners think romance isn't a child-friendly theme for the show. And at least some of the showrunners carried over from the halcyon days of Disney into the...less halcyon days of Nickelodeon.

(I haven't seen much of the Nick/Neo-Saban era, so apologies there - this is why I need to play catch up before Beast Morphers and the 25th anniversary.)

But since we know that Power Rangers is currently attached to Nickelodeon, why couldn't it be queer? We know Nick isn't afraid to touch the subject, not after The Legend of Korra. Not to mention the rampant success of Steven Universe on Cartoon Network.

Plus think of the possibilities. Power Rangers, for any who aren't fans, delves into some real deep, dark subject matter (So many spoilers are coming, guys. So. Many. You've been warned.). You have the Astronema brainwashing plot from In Space, not to mention Zayne's mysterious illness. Lost Galaxy opens with a guy falling to his death in chasm (He got better.), and also one of the Galaxy Rangers sacrifices herself to save the others...and then they have to deal with the actual fallout from one of their team mates dying. Cole's parents were murdered, the Time Force Rangers nearly have their memories wiped out, Eric and Wes display socioeconomic disparity...hell, even Operation Overdrive has Mac practically going suicidal because he finds out he's actually a robot. And RPM? Get the hell out of here, RPM opens with "The bad guys have basically won. There's one city left on Earth. That's it." And from there: brainwashing, infected humans, and their mentor was the one who created the big bad in the first place.

So why couldn't their be a gay romance? "Gay people exist" is way less intense than "I was kidnapped as a child and gaslighted into believing I could never go outside, so I created a computer virus to break the security systems but they wouldn't let me stop it in time so it became sentient and took over the world and killed the majority of Earth's population."

Not to mention, the franchise as a whole has now had a canon lesbian Power Ranger. So let's have two battle-hardened Power Rangers find love again - but this time, could it be boys loving boys or girls loving girls? Just, like, this one time, see how it goes? If not, we're just going to end up with more badly written Jason and Tommy fan-fic, and there's quite enough of that out there already.