The Mandalorian – Eps 1-3 – (Re)Reviewed

mandalorian-poster-detail-cropEp 1: “Ok, so, you have to watch The Mandalorian.
The Mandalorian. You know, I can’t believe you! Why are you even watching that–that–garbage!? You know it’s bad. You know what Disney has done to Star Wars.”
“No, it’s actually surprisingly decent.”
“…”
“It is!”
“How can it be Star Wars when it ain’t even got none of the original people in it?”
“What? Look, just watch this gunfight at the end. Watch it!”
[…]
“Wait, wait, wait, why does this look like a Western?”
“Yeah!”
“No!”

Ep 2: “Look, it’s Baby Yoda.”
“Oh my gosh are you buying into that Baby Yoda cr–craziness? It’s aaaaaall over Facebook. All the time. Baby Yoda. Baby Yoda. Baby Yoda. Gah! It’s annoying! What is the big deal with Baby Yoda!?”
“People like Star Wars when it’s done even, y’know, half-way decently well!”
“Baby Yoda. Oh gosh. I can’t believe you.”
“Heh, see, he’s chasing the frog thing. And Mando tells him to spit it out. ’cause, y’know, babies.”
“Oh [hork], he ate it!?”
“You’re acting as though my niece did not just try to eat a dead fly off the windowsill.”
“…that was only once!
“And look at the Jawas! I always liked the Jawas!”
“I can’t believe you.”
“You gotta watch the whole thing, there’s a bit where he’s fighting this creature and he goes through each of his weapons–he goes through his rifle, and then his sidearm, and then his flamethrower, and then the mud-horn is y’know, getting ready for the charge and he’s like all beaten-up and on one knee, and all he can do is pull out his knife and get ready for it–and he’s so tired and his hands are shaking, and so he has to steady the knife with both hands as the creature is barreling down on him. It’s awesome.”
“…I don’t get it.”
“…y’know, we can always watch some little Barbie Disney Princess movie if you like instead.”
“Shut up.”
“We can watch My Little Pony!”
“SHUT UP.”

Ep 3: “Wait, so he never takes his helmet off?”
“This is the way.”
“His skin must be horrible.”
“…”
“I mean, imagine if he has dandruff. His hair must be sooo greasy and then he has to keep putting the same helmet back on again. It would never get a chance to get better. Ew.”
“…”
“Maybe he has like a beanie or something he wears under it and he can change that out. Like a helmet liner. Do they have helmet liners? Why are you looking at me like that? He’s the one who said he don’t ever take his helmet off!”
“SO THE GUNFIGHT HERE IS REALLY COOL, YEAH?”
“Yeah, it’s okay. But it’s still not as good as real Star Wars.”
“It’s the best we’re gonna get, and they were making an effort. They’re actively trying to do the story right, and, and, when they do insult your intelligence, it’s unintentional.”
“But there’s no lightsabers. It can’t really be Star Wars without lightsabers!”
Star Wars is technically–”
“It ain’t Star Wars unless it’s the original movies with the original cast, with the original director making it.”
“The movies had different directors.”
“You know what I mean! No lightsabers, no Star Wars! No George Lucas!”
Star Wars is science fiction. You don’t need lightsabers. You just need spaceships and blasters. And George Lucas sold out to Disney for four billion dollars.”
“Hmph. And also! There’s no Jedi. And there’s no Luke or Leia. Or Han.”
“You have Mando! And Baby Yoda! They are introducing new characters to Expand the Universe! And
can you imagine how they’d screw it up if they did have Luke and Leia?”
“Oh. Well. Yeah.”
“And Baby Yoda is very cute.”
“It looks realllllllly fake.”
“Yeah, it really does.”

I got Porlocked

Go tell the Spartans:
Where the path of the fury takes us,
Though foundation and empire shatter
And the stars asunder wrend,
Til the mountains of mourning crumble
And a fire is upon the deep,
Til the shards of honor are gathered
And the forever war is won,
The guns of Avalon go silent
And the long patrol come home,
Ours is the fury--a high crusade-- 
To bring in the steel with our brothers in arms.
Soldier, ask not, lest darkness fall,
Of unfinished tales or a dry, quiet war.
For us the living, sum the cold equations,
Counting the cost of the human edge.
If the price of the stars 
Be the broken sword,
If the price of the stars
Be the rebel worlds,
If the price of the stars
Be the demon breed,
By God, we have paid it dear!

QuikReview: Oblivion (2013)

So I watched Oblivion, a 2013 movie scifi movie starring predominantly Tom Cruise.

Now, I’ve opined at length as to the fact that straight scifi movies tend not to be very good. This is because a) filmmakers are stupid, b) they think their audiences are stupid, too. Most SF movies only achieve greatness synthetically, by cribbing off other genres, especially Westerns, but occasionally also horror, or even war-stories. (Pssst, has anyone noticed that Aliens is actually a Western? Everyone thinks it’s an action movie, but it’s got the Red Injuns, the cocky cavalry detachment with the inexperienced leader and the experienced and knowledgeable civilians….)

Anyway, much to my surprise, Oblivion is a straight scifi movie, and it’s….good! It has a simple and unexceptional but solid plot, and it relies on its characters and worldbuilding to reveal that plot point by point and–crucially–twist by twist (there’s a reveal about halfway through that made me actually sit up and grin.) Now, at a certain point it largely gives up on the thoughtful, measured approach and leans hard into the by-golly-I-have-an-explodey-things-budget-and-I’m-gonna-use-it syndrome, but please note I said “leans” not “dives” and entirely omitted “headlong.” The second half of the movie had more than enough built-up good will to keep my attention, but the thing with scifi movies is that they should never try to explain themselves out loud. See a), above. This movie did very, very well when it showed its protagonist–and its audience–what was going on; it only started to fumble when it switched over to telling.

What is there to show, then? Well, Tom Cruise is Jack Harper, Tech-49, who with his communications officer/lover/partner Vika, are the last humans left on Earth after an absolutely devastating war with the alien Scavs that, among other things, destroyed the moon. Most of the human population is on Titan, and some of it is on the orbital space station, the Tet. They have been mind-wiped prior to their mission, because….

Jack maintains the drone fleet that protects the ocean-water-sucking thingies that are destroying what’s left of the earth for power. (Why not just mine some comets, asks no screenwriter ever.) There are still some remnant Scavs on Earth that attack the drones and the power platforms. Vika is his mission control and interface with Command. The two are an effective team, but there are still some conflicts. Jack has dreams of the future and thoughts of the past; Vika resolutely suppresses such things. Jack has a relaxed view of orders and is fully aware that Command has them on a very long leash; Vika has a much stronger belief in regulations.

And then, a signal beamed from Earth brings an ancient spacecraft back to ground….a spacecraft containing living human crewmembers. Living, that is, until Jack’s own drones destroy all but one of the sleep-pods, utterly ignoring his orders to stand down. The sole survivor is Julia, a woman who refuses to reveal anything more to Jack, Vika, or Command until she retrieves the flight recorder from her ship…and shows them the truth. At about this point, Morgan Freeman also enters the picture, and I do have to ask: if Earth is that destroyed, where’d his cigars come from?

And so it goes with the movie, having accumulated this many questions, starting to tip over into revealing the answers (except the one about the cigars.) And so it goes, with the one problem that it reveals rather too many answers and in rather too bald-face a manner for my views.

Other good stuff: the cinematography of this film is really good. Like, I watched it entirely on my phone and I was watching for those little triggering points that normally break my suspension of disbelief (s/a: mysterious, additional light sources when there should not be light sources), and I noticed how good it was. Apparently a chunk of the movie was filmed on location….in Iceland, lending a barren, surreal, beautiful backdrop that works very well indeed. The sets and designs are also very good. Tom Cruise does an expert job as the personable, handsome hero; Morgan Freeman, well, Morgan-Freemans his way through dialogue that is 99% exposition as only Morgan Freeman can or could. Andrea Riseborough and Olga Kurylenko are incredibly outmatched in this movie, talent-wise, which is a shame, but they do their best and, in Riseborough’s case, mostly match up to the challenge.

Okay so, although I’ve spent a long while in this review complaining about the movie when it shifts focus to the action, I will also state that the action scenes themselves are largely quite good….at first, when they don’t involve humans. The drones are an incredible threat / weapon / ally, and  it’s an annoying waste of potential that the movie ends up ultimately wimping out and choosing the cheap (explodey) way of making those bits be exciting. That being said, the cinematography still makes everything look good, the characterization makes them be tense and engaging, and, yeah, it’s pretty good.

Overall, I do think that the movie could have been better if it maintained a better balance between its initial, more thoughtful tone and the faster-paced finale (honestly, delete half the expository dialogue and you wouldn’t have to change another thing else), I still have to admit straight-up that, yeah, it’s pretty good.

Rated: Oh wow, you’re in luck, Julie. There’s two of them for you now!

ReReview: Tactics of Mistake – Gordon R. Dickson

tctcsfmstb1981Trouble not the scholar among his books, for if he also has a pulse rifle and jump troopers, Mark V underwater bulldozer tanks, favorable local terrain, and an incompetent commander, he can make things very hot for you indeed.

So, the book begins with the introduction of Cletus Grahame, a new-bird Colonel with three months’ active duty under his belt–and a Medal of Honor–testing out theories for the fourth volume of his series on tactical applications. He plans on writing twenty of them. He does not explicitly plan on becoming the founding father to a nation of warrior gods, but, y’know, sometimes things just kinda happen….

This book is about his manipulations of the socioeconomic and social cosmos to provide both the material for his next sixteen volumes, and to guarantee that they will be used and read…by people who can use them and know how to read them. Cletus Grahame’s goal is to create a world of people who can think thoughts the same way he can does, fight the same way he fights, and plan the same way he plans. A world of warrior-scholars, invincible.

Yep, quite an ambition. No, no one else takes him seriously either….until he starts winning.

What’s the secret? Quite simple, really. Cletus’ titular tactics are a way of applying tactical logic to a broader strategic goal. It’s pulled from Scaramouche’s game-breaking fencing strategy–engage your enemy in a series of conflicts, not with the aim of scoring a kill on any of these, but simply to focus his mind on those engagements while simultaneously drawing him further and further out of his defenses–until you have prepared the strike. Yeah, it takes a damn’ good fencer and a damn good general. You have one guess as to what Cletus is. (Hint: he’s the protagonist.)

The overwhelming question I am left with is: why? Why Cletus? Why Dow deCastries? What the heck is the Alliance or the Coalition? Or Earth? Why are the Neumann colonists attacking, anyway, that the Exotics need to hire mercenaries? I don’t think I’m being unfair to point out that the worldbuilding isn’t all that great. So that’s a small mark against it. Mind you, most people aren’t reading the book for details on imaginary history or clever linguistics. They’re in it for the Mil-SF action, and this is one of the classics for a reason.

I may have mentioned this in the Necromancer review, but Gordon R. Dickson is one of my own personal Big Three SF authors. I read his stuff extensively and absorbed a lot of his characteristic tropes. The loner hero–who is not alone because of some personality quirk, but because he holds an identity or point of view entirely separate from the rest of humanity. The Leader who can impose his will on others because he combines the intelligence and erudition of a scholar, a warrior’s martial prowess, a poet’s eye, and a psychologist’s ability to understand and exploit of human nature. The Danger: Human attitude–that there is nothing in the cosmos so great as a human, and no force on Earth or among the stars that can can stop a Man who has accepted its challenge.

All of these are showcased in this book, and it’s a damn good book.

(Now I kinda want to read the crossover fanfic, terrible as it inevitably will be, of Cletus Grahame and Lelouch vi Britannia playing chess together. Or perhaps rock-paper-scissors (jumptrooper-mecha-dropship? Ohhhh boy, I wonder what havoc Miles Vorkosigan could wreak if he went up against Cletus. Or worse…if they joined forces….)

Other notes:

– Cletus spends considerable time of this book passed out.

– Cletus is kind of a smug bastard, isn’t he?

Rated: Soldier, ask not. Especially for more jump troopers.

no, I don’t know when I’m going to read them, either

They were free on the library free bookshelf, OKAY?

  • The Sands of Mars – Arthur C. Clarke
  • Cheaper by the Dozen – Gilbreth & Carey (do I have a copy of this already? Whatever, it free.)
  • Julius Caesar – Shakespeare
  • The Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Homeworld – Harry Harrison
  • Tales from the “White Hart” – Arthur C. Clarke

Not actually free, but only 50 cents was

  • The Children of Hurin – Tolkien

That’ll learn me to play hooky, I guess. Send help.

Readlist Rundown: old friends

(In between The Shadow pulps, naturally. I’m at #189 and counting.)

– The Book of Dreams – Jack Vance. This may have been my very first Vance novel, and as such it’s a great introduction; it’s one of his very most Vancian. That being said, it’s not the very best Demon Princes novel, and as the capstone to the pentalogy, it rather pales in comparison with its predecessor, The Face.

– The Old Gods Waken – Manly Wade Wellman. Dude, you spent an entire book building up to the climactic confrontation and fight, and then solved it by accident in a single paragraphWhat the hell?

– Warriors of Blood and Dream – various, edited by Roger Zelazny. This is an anthology of martial arts stories, of various genres and styles, and also of quality. Some of them are actually quite good–the Monkey King’s grandson accidentally ussuring Communism into China, for one; and the final story, wherein a dead and dreaming monster from the city of the Anasazi, the ancient enemy ones, awakens in the present day. (That one ran over its allotted length and you can kind of see exactly when the author checked his pages, winced, and started typing faster. Still quite good.)

– The Prince Commands – Andre Norton. I love this book. It’s a perfect little example of its kind, and if I knew any kids that would read it, I’d buy extra copies for them. (None of the brats I know would read it or even be allowed to, so….)

– Sleepwalker’s World – Gordon R. Dickson. This one starts off very strongly indeed, but Dickson decided to swing away from hard-edged scifi of the sort that did his protagonists well in Wolfling and On Messenger Mountain, in favor of a more psychedelic style….and, unfortunately, stays there. Which is a pity, because he had a really great setup and, frankly, the talking telepathic timber wolf was awesome.

SF Baby Names – Boys (repost)

Or, it’s a lot easier to name kids after your favorite SF/F heroes if they’re your kids….

Adam (Reith): Jack Vance’s Planet of Adventure cycle. (Portrayed here by Keir Dullea in 2001: A Space Odyssey, because that’s pretty much what I imagine Adam Reith to look like).

keirdulleaaspaceodyssey“He looks creepy.”
“He’s this ice cold, stone cold badass space scout guy who gets crash landed on an alien planet. And then he has adventures.”
“Brrr! Look at those eyes!”
“Yeah, ain’t they nice? And then he has to basically build his own space ship to go back home again.”
“…”
“…”
“It’s a good name!”

Aragorn (Lord of the Rings)
aragorn_2_-_fotr“He don’t look like that no more.”
“Doesn’t matter, he’s Aragorn!”

Ben, Benedict (of Amber): The Chronicles of Amber. (Here portrayed by Gary Cooper as portraying Howard Roarke in The Fountainhead. I suppose Howard or even Roarke wouldn’t have gone amiss as entries on this list, but never mind.)
annex20-20cooper20gary20fountainhead20the_05“I dunno who this guy is.”
“He’s a Prince of Amber! He’s the greatest swordsman in the worl–no, he’s the greatest swordsman in the universe. Any universe.”

Brandoch (Daha): The Worm Ouroborous.

“Ohhhh, I remember him.”
“Yes, that’s Errol Flynn. But the character is named Brandoch Daha. He’s this guy in The Worm Ouroborous, he’s a real dandy and he’s also the greatest swordsman in the world.”
“I thought you said that the other guy was the greatest swordsman in the world!”
“No, Benedict is the greatest swordsman in the universe. He’s better than Brandoch Daha.”
“Whatever.”

Carthoris: ERB’s Barsoom cycle. (Here portrayed by Eric Schweig from Last of the Mohicans)
eric-schweig-actor-native-american-actors-singers-etc-38228443-500-326“Car…thoris…? That’s a horrible name!”
“It’s a combination of his parent’s names! John Carter and Dejah Thoris! Car-Thoris!”
“Next!”

Corwin/Carl/Corey: The Chronicles of Amber (AKA, Tyrone Power)

“I remember Corwin.”
“You do?”
“You used to tell me alllllll about him.”
“Yeah, isn’t he cool?”
“Next.”

Duncan (AKA: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, as seen in The Prisoner of Zenda): Dune, Dune Messiah. The greatest swordsman in the universe. (It’s a different universe from the other one.) How great? His enemies were so impressed they brought him back to life after swarming him to death with sheer numbers.
400px-poz1937_dfjr“Y’know, I’m sensing a trend here.”
“Shut up.”

Eric (John Stark): Leigh Brackett’s Mars, Venus, and Skaith.
938641“Oh, Leigh Brackett!”
“Yes! I mean, I barely blog about her books but they were really good. This guy is like Tarzan.”
“Oh.”
“…on Venus.”
“I can see why you like him.”
“WHATEVER.”

Gilgamesh (Wulfenbach): Girl Genius. The one and only schmott guy. Und hiz hat!
gilgamesh_nice_hat“GILGAMESH? Are you serious?”
“…well, you could call him Gil.”
“…”
“It could be a middle name!”
“…”
“Look, he’s got a hat.”
“NEXT.”

Harry (Copperfield Blackstone Dresden): The Dresden Files.

4796e39950a869c6ef1307a8d2e81f37“Next.”
“Awwww, but I like Harry.”

Julian (of Amber)
the-war-lord-1965-universal-film-with-charlton-heston-a8dkfx“Oh! I know him! That’s Charlton Heston!”

Juss (The Worm Ouroborous) (AKA: Robert Taylor in Ivanhoe), Lord of Demonland (don’t worry, they’re really only from Mercury and he’s actually the hero), Prince among princes, and a really good guy overall.
knightsoftheroundtable19532“Juss?”
“Or Justin. Or Justinian…and you could just call him Juss.”
“Juss.”
“Yeah!”
Juss.”
“It’s nice, innit?”
“…No.”

John (Clayton, Carter, Dillulo…): Tarzan, Barsoom, and Edmund Hamilton’s Merc Captain in the Starwolf series. It’s a good name, OK? This one happens to be Gordon Scott of the John Clayton fame.
5347565_orig“John. John’s a good name.”
“It’s a classic.”
“So–”
“Keep going.”

Kirth (Gersen): The man who defeated The Demon Princes.
f11be3d9fb349da339bb9fa063ff0cc2“Kirth. OK, I like Kirth.”
“His family was killed and sold into slavery by these five master criminals, and then his grandfather trained him as an assassin detective and he spent the rest of his life tracking them down one by one and killing them. They were such–they were these criminal overlords, like–they were so powerful and feared that people called them the Demon Princes.”
“Oh.”
“And, he got them all.”
“And then what did he do?”
“Heh, the last page of the last book is him wondering what he’s going to do next.”

Leto (Duke of Arrakis and Caladan): Dune. Leto’s limited screentime doesn’t really get to show how cool a character this guy really is.

leto_web_14“Leto. Leto. It sounds like a middle school name.”
“….uh?”
“It does!”
“…you could be ahead of the curve?–no, you’d be behind the curve.”
“–behind the curve, yeah.”
“Yeah.”
“He’s a cool character though!”
“Next.”

Luke: (The Legend of Luke)Father of Martin the Warrior, foe of Vilu Daskar, blood brother to Ranguvar Foeseeker, liberator of the slaves!
uk_luke

“Whaaaat! Oh, ahahahahahaaa, that’s hilarious. ”
“Those books were really awesome.”

Martin The Warrior: Redwall. Because REDWAAAAAAALLLLLLL! EULALIA! LOGALOGALOGALOG!
martin_the_warrior_by_redwall_club
“Because Redwaaaaaalll! Yue–Eue–Eulalia! Logalogalogalog! Heh heh heh.”

Miles (Vorkosigan): Lois Bujold’s The Vorkosigan Saga

b76f676b0e9e6042ea80414e16686107“Who is this guy?”
“He’s–”
“I don’t know who this guy is. Why is his face on fire?”
“It’s symbolic.”
“Why did you pick a symbolic picture?”
“…because it was symbolic and it represented the character well!”
“His face is ON FIRE.”
“IT IS NOT.”

Solomon (Kane): Robert E Howard’s Solomon Kane mythos.
solomon_kane“Oh! I like this guy. Who is this guy?”
“He’s a Puritan in old England who goes around smiting evil. With a sword.”
“Hm!”
“Down from the hills came Solomon Kane…there’s a poem somewhere. Dang, I should have linked to it or something.”
“He’s very cool looking.”
“He’s very cool.”
“Put a link to the poem up!”
“Oh, ok. Since you asked for it.”

Roger: The man who gave us many worlds, glimpses of grandeur, nobility and fun that might otherwise have been lost to ours. Thanks, man. I loved your books.
roger-zelaznys-quotes-1I didn’t read any of his books.”
“Shut up.”

QuikReview: The Star Kings – Edmund Hamilton

This book is Space Opera–as written by one of the Old Masters, first of the breed, foremost among those that led the way and titan to those that followed–at its finest. I mean, his nickname was “World Wrecker,” you can’t get better than that. There’s a different adventure every 1.5 chapters, a space princess, a scantily-clad space-concubine, grizzled space-captains, battleships, cruisers, phantoms, cunning or treacherous advisors, quarrelsome barons, and grim and gallant fighting men. There’s the lurking menace of the Clouded Worlds’ rebel fanatics and the legendary, unknowable, unutterably fearsome threat of The Disruptor that keeps even their cynical leader in line. There’s also, to make sense of it all, a present-day (1949) protagonist who has had his consciousness transferred into the body of a star-Prince–and thence suddenly into the teeth of the action itself. But what can a man of Earth–our Earth–do when the stars themselves are at stake?

Aaaaand that’s basically it. If you feel you need to somehow know more about this book, then you ought to read it.

It’s a book that reads incredibly quickly and hits every single pulp fiction trope that it possibly can without changing genres (and that even includes the crashed ship being attacked by hostile natives….if there had been space for even a single chapter more there would have been some sort of sword-against-sword action going on.) –but yet there’s a consummate level of skill involved that carries it all off.

Partly, it’s the prose, which sells the sensawunda that can only be achieved by an active imagination, a yearning for stars yet-unreached, deep knowledge of the past that informs the actual doings and behaviors of mankind; and a nimble pen that doesn’t flinch from a little bit of mauve from time to time (see: scantily-clad space concubine.) The other part is that Hamilton actually did know his business, and, preposterous though the plot is, makes it proceed logically from the actions of intelligent and motivated actors, one of which is often–but not always–our hero.

A third and crucial part is that our hero is a hero. Starting out from an ex-soldier with a yearning for more than his old accounting job will offer him, and thrust abruptly into the whirl of galactic politics and treachery, he accounts himself well, never forgetting that he owes a debt to the true Zarth Arn, whose face he wears and whose place he has taken. Also, another tribute to Hamilton’s prowess, although John Gordon is an outsider with only a cursory knowledge of the situation, never once does anyone to sit down and explain things to him (us) in simple language. While he’s no moron, he’s always scrambling to achieve an in-scene, in-person goal–to keep his cover, to bluff the enemy, to not break his morganatic wife’s heart–and he’s doing it with limited resources and high stakes.

The other characters suffer from the fact that this is a pulp novel at heart. They’re colorful, they’re placed to provide maximum interest, and they all give the impression that, given more time to navel-gaze, they could be turned into interesting persons indeed, rather than what is simply given them by their descriptors–space-princess, stalwart captain, sneaky advisor, cynical tyrant.

The one character who does do particularly well in this is, oddly enough, the cynical space-tyrant who leads the fanatics of the (?) Clouded Worlds. Shorr Kan is an odd duck of an antagonist, professing a fanatical hatred against the Empire that he in no ways feels; his own desire is for naked power alone. He’s cunning enough to seed the elitest ranks of the Empire with his own men, assassinate the Emperor and frame his own son for it, cold-blooded enough to use a brain scan device that, on uncovering neural connections, breaks them irreparably….and yet human enough to immediately switch the device off when it reveals that he’s got the wrong man. Mind you, he’s also dumb enough to let his suddenly-ultracooperative prisoner take his girlfriend along on a harebrained scheme that couldn’t possibly go wrong, so…perhaps his defeat was more inevitable than it seemed. Apparently he gets brought back for the sequel, so.

Rated: man once dreamed of the stars!

“Add Title” (take 2)

I have broken the bonds of the narrow land
Laid open the book of dreams,
Drawn doorways in the sand, a dark traveling
With high fellowship or dread companion
From the last castle to the end of eternity;
strangers and pilgrims in a strange land,
The stars my destination.

When the world turned upside down,
From the earth's core to a starpilot's grave,
For a breath I tarried a long time until now: 
I saw the doors of his mouth open
the lamps of his eyes shine
A final rose bloom for Ecclesiastes
and no night, ever, without stars.
I will fear no evil, 
not the black god's kiss,
or the red nails' gleam;
Daemon, sidhe-devil, or devil in iron:
For the stars are ours,
and the stars
burn.

What's it like out there,
Down Skagganauk Abyss,
At the birthplace of creation,
At the crossroads of time?
In this moment of the storm,
There is time enough for love,
Soul music sung by no woman born,
The light of other days upon
A many-colored land.
The door into tomorrow opens
A house of many ways;
The eyes of the overworld 
seek patterns in chaos,
Equal rites are observed, 
And no man sayeth call him lord.
Somewhither east of Eden, 
children of the mind 
Play peter-power-armor,
awaiting childhood's end--
All mimsy are the borogoves!

Who goes there, out of the dark
To the light fantastic?
Creatures there are of light and darkness:
When true night falls on the borders of infinity
The dark side of the sun casts slithering shadows
Down the long tomorrow. 
Nightfall. After dark, 
Ancient, my enemy, 
the old gods waken. 
Alas, Babylon! The city and the stars!
Something wicked this way comes.
Beyond the black river, a man rides through,
And only I am escaped to tell thee.

Soldier, ask not, lest darkness fall,
Of unfinished tales or a dry, quiet war.
Take iron counsel of the cold equations;
Ours is the fury--a high crusade-- 
To bring in the steel with our brothers in arms,
Til the mountains of mourning crumble
And a fire is upon the deep,
Til the shards of honor are gathered
The forever war is won,
The guns of Avalon go silent,
And the long patrol come home.
Where the path of the fury takes us
Though foundation and empire crumble,
And the stars asunder wrend,
If the price of the stars 
Be the broken sword;
If the price of the stars
Be the human edge,
By God, we have paid it dear!

Sleeper, awaken! Out of the silent planet
To your scattered bodies go;
Sail beyond the sunset 
in a boat of a million years.
Bid farewell again to the homes of men
and the cool, green hills of earth.
A citizen of the galaxy,
I have space suit and I will travel
Beyond the farthest star.

Movie Review: Tenet (2020) – this genre doesn’t exist

44e7e33d7f2cbdde288a10c719ec6afdPeople who like words, or who are writers, or who have spent too much time in pursuit of an English degree, are generally aware of the existence of palindromes, words or phrases which are the same spelled backwards or forwards. “Tenet,” or “pull-up,” or 02/02/2020, or “do geese see God.” Slightly nerdier people will be aware of the Sator Square, a historical palindrome phrase which can be read in multiple directions and has either a mystical or a vaguely Christian meaning. The word “tenet” also means “principle,” or “doctrine,” or a belief maintained to be true and followed. (Wow, so are layers of meaning here in a simple title? Woww! That’s incredible! Is your mind blown yet?…no?…uh…why not?) Well, maybe if someone in this movie started discussing theistic and/or electrical geese….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAScience fiction readers are aware of the fact that there are not, and never have been, a “science fiction” movie genre. This is because science fiction, at its core, is a genre of wonder, imagination, intelligence, and creativity, attributes which writers of screenplays, producers of movies, directors, or actors, do not have.

But Aliens! But, Terminator! But Star Wars! But, but, but Blade Runner! These movies, alas, prove my thesis: that there isn’t an actual sci-fi genre to film, just other genres dressed up in fancier clothing and with different names thrown in. Aliens? It’s a Western. The Cavalry has been trapped at the scene of the massacre. The Injuns are wearing green rubber masks. Terminator? It’s a straight-up slasher thriller with a few special effects thrown in. (If Cameron had wanted to be an auteur, he would have left out the reveal of the Terminator as an actual cyborg and just let later generations argue over whether or not Kyle Reese was insane….at the least that would have spared us the sequels.) Blade Runner? Guys, it’s a color film noir with anxiety about how Asia was taking over the world. Star Wars is jidai geki in space.

tenet-posters-2-600x889-1So what does this have to do with Tenet? It’s a terrible scifi movie, that’s what. But it’s a pretty good contemporary action-thriller. Christopher Nolan’s reach exceeds his grasp, which is too bad, because his grasp also exceeds his imagination in this case. Not a single element of the time-travel makes sense. Not one. Not even in-universe. Not even when you try to think about how it could work, the way it does, instead of how it should work, the way it would when you apply those same exact rules and limitations to it. The whole point of mentioning the Grandfather Paradox is figuring out how to work around it, morons: kill him after your father has been conceived; or take a DNA test to find that Grandma was cheating; or become your own grandfather and live out the stable time loop. The whole point of a timeywimey device means that your first wave is a super sneaky recon squad, ri–oh. Oh, okay then.

I haven’t and won’t attempt to summarize the plot of this movie, because a) puzzlement, b) extreme rage will result. This is genuinely a movie that rewards turning your brain off and watching the show. Is that what Christopher Nolan thought he was making? Probably not, but who knows. He might even think he was making a scifi movie.

But! The action is great, the explosions are more than adequately firey, the locations are exotic, lush, and filmed in Technicolor; and there are several setpieces which genuinely appear to have been filmed live.  The cast is uniformly very easy on the eyes, and, crucially, the characters are rounded, sympathetic, charismatic, and understandable. The characters are what make this movie, because let me tell you, no one is in it for the plot, including Christopher Nolan.

tenet-movie-promotional-photo-posters-26There’s Kat, the extremely tall but still fragile loving mother–and abused wife–of an evil man. There’s Neil, who knows a hell of a lot more than he says, and who saves the world. There’s…uh, let’s see, there’s that Indian lady. There’s even the bad guy, who, while still being an evil and unsympathetic person, shows enough recognizable human emotion that he’s, yes, an actual character with actual thoughts and actual motivations–not just a convenient hate sink for the audience. (Also: after beating a traitor to death with a gold bar, he checks his fitbit. “Ninety-eight. Not bad for such exertion.”)

Then you have the protagonist, who….

….Well, he’s poorly served by the movie, in a methane-sniffing moment deciding to name him “Protagonist;” there’s really no buildup to support the grand end reveal (that he is the mastermind behind the secret organization protecting the world); there’s zero chemistry between him and The Really Tall Damsel In Distress; and….

washington_pattinson_tenetBut, small idiocies aside….he’s a cool, capable, active hero. You don’t see many of those these days. He should be celebrated for being a cool hero guy who does good, heroic things. And y’know, he saves the world and the girl to boot. That counts as doing a pretty darned good job, these days.

Rated: I’m waiting for Fimbulwinter, myself….