Heir of Novron Review

Heir of Novron (The Riyria Revelations, #5-6)Heir of Novron by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Heir of Novron Review

I’m writing for the whole series (which I listened to on audio book, so it took a long time to get here).

Let me get the negative out of the way. This is definitely a series that was less sophisticated than I’m used to reading, with fairly predictable and generic plots and simple language. There’s some more tell than show, especially when it comes to telling us how able Royce and Hadrian are instead of showing us. And it was hard to feel really close to the characters, even when something happened and someone died. Other things didn’t make much sense, even when wrapped up at the end. The death of one major character and even the prison holding Ezra Hardin were examples of that. Another was the search for a single heir after 1000 years. Come on, there would be multiple descendants. And then there was the withholding of information for no real reason that just got frustrating.

So it took some getting used to, but once I let go of preconceived notions and just sat back, I enjoyed it more. The best part of the book is the bromance. I thought the two characters deserved a little more development, but maybe that happens in the Chronicles series. A late romance doesn’t do nearly as much for me as the relationship Hadrian and Royce have. The plot is pretty basic, using the evil empire/church, but at least there were some fun, if predictable parts. At least the author didn’t completely blast religion like most books do nowadays. I also liked how I didn’t have to worry about much swearing, sex, or gritty violence. Sometimes I just want to feel uplifted when I read. I don’t always want to develop a hatred for humanity like I do when reading GRRM.

I read Age of Myth before this and so had a few minor spoilers for the end, but it was interesting to see the connection.

This is definitely more young adult than adult fiction, but if you have the right expectations, it can be fun. I also recommend the audiobooks, the voice actor does a good job.

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Blindsight Review

Blindsight (Firefall, #1)Blindsight by Peter Watts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is definitely thought provoking on many levels, and for that I give it the four stars. The aliens are of no stock, Star Trek variety, although I never felt satisfied that I knew what they were. The evolution of humanity is interesting, if a little radical. But where it lacked a star was its comprehension. With so much technobabble, I had a hard time following. And a lot of the ending didn’t really make sense, nor am I sure what exactly happened with the main character. But it still was intriguing.

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New Portfolio Site

New Portfolio

My New Website

As I have been working on my masters degree in UX Design, I have been given the task of creating a portfolio piece. So I thought I would take it a step further and create a new website that showcases my graphic design work as well (my old site will be taken down soon. Check out my embarrassing student work and manual coding before it goes). And I wanted to take this post to talk about what I’ve been doing with my life.

Graphic Design

I studied graphic design and graduated 3 years ago. Since then I have been working for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It has been great. Most of my work displayed on my portfolio site is from this job. My old site has my college projects. I’ve always loved art and now I’m getting paid for it.

UX Design

I have come to realize that graphic designers are getting replaced by user experience designers, though. So to keep up with the times, I am now studying for a Masters degree in UX design, which will hopefully give me an edge before my job is replaced.

Personal Projects

My all consuming project has been this, Sage Eyes, first conceived around the time I was ten, although in a very different form. Simon was a wizard in training whose magic kept messing up. Tiffany (then Tirany) was a warrior princess. The original story didn’t get very far, but elements have stuck around and morphed into what I have now. I’m finishing up editing the book, and I’ve spent time illustrating and animating characters, creatures, and other things from the book. Below is the trailer if you haven’t seen it.

I have also taken time to create an infographic about the Greek Gods, and then do a video about them, just because they’ve been an interest of mine ever since I saw the Disney movie Hercules. I’ve let it live on Youtube and it’s grown respectfully since then.

As you can see, creating things consumes my life. It’s what gives me the most satisfaction. Hopefully it can give other people enjoyable experiences as well.

Also, another site with most of my work is Behance. Check that out, too.

Thanks!

 

Beware of the Big Bad Book Blog Critic

Critic

Everybody’s a critic.

But who criticizes the critics? I was recently going through some book blogs, and I couldn’t help but feel that they were eagerly bashing well known books, which didn’t sit well with me, even though the books in question weren’t my favorite. A little digging on the author of the blog didn’t show her as a published author, just someone who writes a blog, yet she was going through the first chapter of several books and cruelly dissecting them, as if she was superior to these authors. She made some good points, but it went beyond that and got nitpicky, including penalizing the authors for using the word ‘suddenly’ and such. I don’t know about you, but when I read the word ‘suddenly,’ I don’t revile against the author. So it seems this critic is ruining her own enjoyment of books by setting her standards so high, yet she hasn’t published anything of her own, although undoubtably she’s tried to write books of her own. (Who hasn’t?)

It seems that critics are out to ruin our enjoyment of anything. She was criticizing books that many people have enjoyed, books that were deemed worthy of publishing and proved financially successful. These worlds, whether they effectively used foreshadowing, thesauruses, and grammar correctly, still transported us to another world. When that happens, do technical details matter all that much?

I recently saw Batman v Superman. While it wasn’t the greatest movie, it wasn’t so horrible as I’d been led to believe based on critic’s reviews. Most user reviews place it higher than the critics. It certainly didn’t make me as mad as Spiderman 3 or X-Men The Last Stand.

While no fan of Taylor Swift, her lyrics ring true:

“And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate…”

It seems the world is full of haters now, looking for something to hate. Donald Trump has basically based his campaign on hating, and people are buying into it. No movie or movie trailer can come out without the haters exploding all over the internet. Back in the day, only the ‘professional’ critics had a real public voice, but now people can voice their opinions on things they haven’t even seen.

While the politically correct thing to do is voice tolerance, it seems it is treating the symptoms without touching the real problem. On the outside, people seem polite and reasonable, but their inner frustrations come out on the internet, unfiltered and scathing. This is why cyberbullying has become more lethal than normal meet-me-at-the-flagpole bullying. Political correctness isn’t nearly as effective in creating a peaceful society as it claims to be, but has become more fuel for attacking people who aren’t PC.

So people, please look deep down into yourselves and see where all the criticism, hate, and negativity is coming from before spewing it out. Because it has real effects, even if you don’t see it. And please, just get over yourselves. Criticizing a book or movie that people love, that transports them somewhere else, won’t stop most people from enjoying it, and to those it does, do you really feel happy about sucking the fun out of something?

Strong Female Character: Where They Go Wrong

Dance

I’m a man. I’ve never been a woman. But I like to write (hence this site). And my writing just happens to be set in a world where there are two sexes, men and women. In an effort to represent one half of the population, I have some female characters, several of whom I want to portray as a strong female character. Now the trick is, how do I write them well, not being a woman and unable to read minds?

I’m not the only one who struggles with this. Part of it is from a shift in society, where women have taken a larger role in the workforce, leadership, and getting an education. So the clamor is for a strong female character to be portrayed realistically, or at least how people want to see them portrayed.

Once upon a time, women were designated to roles such as damsel in distress, loving mother, or spiteful stepmother. Now that was pretty limiting, as they were all pretty passive. Even the fairy tales about women didn’t have them actually do anything. In Disney’s Cinderella, the mice did more for her than she did for herself. She was valued for her kindness, hard work, etc, but above all, for her beauty, something she was born with and didn’t earn. And of course, her stepmother was jealous of her, because of her old age and loss of beauty, and Cinderella’s beauty in contrast to her own daughters’, whose ugly faces resembled their personalities. Now we can look at that and see so many subtle but demeaning messages.

Today there is a hunger to see women in a much more active role, like Katniss in the Hunger Games or Rey in Star Wars. Instead of constantly being saved by a man, they can save others. Seems like a good thing, especially for girls who look to them as role models, right? For the most part, yes. But there are some scenarios where the strong female character isn’t done well. Here are a few categories:

The Sex Symbol

More used for the love interest of the male hero, but still can apply to protagonists. This is where the woman’s primary value comes from being beautiful, sexy, etc. Romance stories might have this, and female villains are often sexually manipulative. Video games, if they choose to have a girl as the playable character, will often do so just for the eye candy effect, not because having her as a woman changes the story in any way. But this doesn’t help the cause of women anywhere. Both boys and girls need to see that women are valuable for more than just their bodies. We, both men and women, can get so judgmental of someone for something they were born with and can’t completely control.

Male in a Female Body

This can overlap with the first point, especially in video games. But it is seen in other media as well. Basically, the protagonist acts, speaks, and thinks like a man, but has a woman’s body and is attracted to men. This caters to men again, giving them eye candy and someone they can easily understand as well. She’s usually a kick butt warrior, somewhat silent, and a loner, or at least pushes everyone away. She’s no nonsense, what men tend to value in other men, and skilled in some type of ‘masculine’ skill, usually fighting, sometimes mechanics or other similar fields. Pornography does this all the time, basically making a woman as lusty as the men who watch her. The problem with this portrayal is that the woman is only a woman superficially, with the outside body parts matching but the inside thinking and feeling completely divorced from how real woman think and feel. This sends the message that women can only be valuable if they imitate men and not for what makes them uniquely feminine.

The Mary Sue

The Mary Sue is perfect in everything. Rey from Star Wars gets accused of this, because she can suddenly wield a lightsaber and use the force as powerfully as Kylo Ren. The problem with this is that stories are inherently about growth, and if the protagonist is already perfect, then how can she grow? This portrayal is used because the writer is afraid that if the female protagonist has weaknesses, the writer will be accused of sexism. Or the writer just doesn’t know how to make a good protagonist. It’s all right for a hero to have some preexisting skills, otherwise they might be uninteresting, but they should still learn new things and struggle through difficult situations.

The Strong Female Character who doesn’t do anything

Sometimes an actual strong female character is put into a story. But if she’s a secondary character, she might not actually do anything to drive the plot. She’s just…there. Hiccup’s mom in How to Train Your Dragon, Trinity in the Matrix, Hope in Ant-Man, and others, they all have the skills to do whatever the hero does, but they have to sit back and do nothing, except maybe train the hero, because he’s the ‘Chosen One’ and she isn’t.

For more reading on this, check out this article.

The Enlightened Woman

This woman is ahead of her time, standing up against oppressive men because she was born for this century, not the 1800s. Unfortunately, while there have been women who have stood up to men in history, it is rare and was never as much as feminists these days would have liked. We are all products of our culture and can’t completely escape that. So those women in stories feel out of place. In a hundred years, people will look back at us and our culture and call us unenlightened and ignorant in how we treat and portray women.

Strong Female Character is now becoming a derisive term because it no better represents women than the old stories who dismissed them did. A truly strong female character has all the aspects of a real women, both the good  aspects like nurturing, communication, and intelligence, as well as the bad, like self doubt, not as physically strong as her male counterparts, and falling prey to her emotions. She doesn’t have all the answers, just like the rest of us in this world, nor is she born with all the skills she needs. She is, above all, a human being, with some facets of her personality influenced by her biology and the cultural expectations of whatever era she lives in. What makes a woman strong is refusing to let her weaknesses keep her from fulfilling her objective. In that aspect, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz is a strong female. She may not be a butt kicking warrior, but she unites people, defeats two witches, unmasks a phony, and leaves Oz just a little bit better.

Shouldn’t that be a good role model for girls?

 

Sci-Fi Science (or not)

Alien science

Humans have wondered for a long time if they are the only intelligent, sapient life in the cosmos or not. That has become the basis for much of science fiction. But much of science fiction is just that: fiction. That’s my problem with sci-fi. Fantasy owns up to being completely untrue. But sci-fi pretends to be realistic, even though a lot of it isn’t based on science, or even if some parts are, there is usually one assumption that puts everything else into disbelief.

To Infinity and Beyond Science

The problem in most sci-fi novels, television, and movies is that faster than light travel is not possible. In order to get around the light speed limit, things like hyperspace, a higher dimension, are made up. But there really isn’t any scientific evidence for theories like hyperspace. So because of the light speed limit, most interplanetary sci-fi is grossly improbable/impossible.

The movie Interstellar tried to stay true to science, but it featured a conveniently placed wormhole and at the end delved more into theories. So Interstellar really offers no practical insight on how to get to another world to colonize it. The book and movie The Martian tries to stay closer to hard science. It highlights the difficulty of survival on a desolate planet, plus the expenses just to send a few people to one of Earth’s closest neighbors.

If we wanted to escape the solar system, the closest star is Alpha Centauri, 4 light years from here. That’s about 17,000,000,000,000 miles. To imagine the space just between planets in our solar system, go to http://joshworth.com/dev/pixelspace/pixelspace_solarsystem.html Then imagine the length to go much farther to get to Alpha Centauri and beyond. Some probes go about 17 kps, or 38000 mph, which is about .08% of the speed of light. It would take a current probe around 52000-70000 years to get to Alpha Centauri. And there’s no indication yet that life could exist on any of Alpha Centauri’s planets. With solar sail technology, acceleration would be slow but could theoretically get up to 10% of the speed of light. The journey to Alpha Centauri would then only take 45-200 years. So far that technology is only for tiny probes, not for something that could take humans through the stars. And it would take a lot of work for humans to survive that trip even if size weren’t an issue. Even reproduction would be an issue in space, as well as bone deterioration, gamma ray exposure, and a multitude of other issues.

So the first manned mission to an exoplanet probably won’t occur for a few hundred years, if ever. And that’s if we don’t destroy our current home planet before then.

If we barely got clear photos of Pluto, imagine how little we know about exoplanets. Right now, we can only find exoplanets when they cross in front of their star. We guess at their atmosphere by aberrations in light.

Faster than Light Travel

Ever since realizing the vast distances in space, people have looked for ways to defy the maximum speed limit of the universe, the speed of light. But it’s all fiction or hypothetical right now. In 2011, some scientists believed neutrino particles had gone slightly faster than light. It turns out they made a mistake in their measurements, sending up jokes through the internet.

The most promising way of cheating the light speed limit involves compressing and expanding space. Using negative energy, a ship would compress space in front and expand space behind it to push it forward. This is basically a warp drive. Doing this wouldn’t technically break the speed limit. But what is negative energy? How can you harness it? And how much is needed? And it brings up the question, is space a thing, if you can warp it? Does that make time a thing, too, since they exist on a continuum?

Existential questions

According to scientists, there was nothing outside or before the singularity that turned into the big bang. All space, time, energy, and matter of the universe were crunched up into that singularity. When it first started expanding, the universe expanded much faster than the speed of light. Time is sometimes defined as a measurement of entropy, or disorder. Entropy only goes in one direction, like time. But how did the universe start out in a state of order?

If we could travel into the past, some think the only way to get around the paradoxes seems to be creating or journeying to a new universe. Humans think in cause and effect, so they look for the cause of everything. But that gets hard when going back far enough. Did something cause the big bang? If so, what caused the cause of the big bang? Was it all God? And what caused God? If God is the only self-existing being, does that make us His imagination? Can we act independently of God? Why does matter or energy even exist? Why is there something instead of nothing? This type of questioning is called infinite regress, and really gets us nowhere, because we have no way of knowing. But people have been thinking about infinite regress for ages. It’s nothing new. According to big bang theory, if there was something before the big bang, it doesn’t matter, because everything was reset and no information made it past the singularity.

Evidence of life elsewhere

People have been looking for aliens to come to us. Maybe if they’re more advanced than us, they could travel between the stars. Some scientists look for what they call a Dyson Sphere as evidence of alien life on other stars. A Dyson Sphere is a theoretical sphere constructed around a star to absorb all it’s energy output. It is supposedly a sign of an advanced civilization, but an analysis of different galaxies could find no signs of a Dyson Sphere.

People have been listening for radio waves and other communications from outer space, but radio on our planet has existed only around a century. If we could communicate with an alien race, most likely generations would pass before we could get their reply.

Then there’s the issue of seeing whether any aliens we encounter are hostile or not. Because if an advanced civilization decided to wipe us out, it probably wouldn’t happen a la War of the Worlds or Independence Day. We would be pretty helpless. And no species would travel the light years to get here and conquer if they weren’t prepared to utterly destroy us.

So, we’re not likely to go out and find new life, nor is it likely it will find us. I think there’s life out there, because the universe is just so big, but because of the immensity of space, we might not ever detect them, nor them us. There’re just so many hurdles to overcome. Still, it’s fun to think about.

First Contact part 1

First Contact

The grass bent beneath his boots as he stepped outside of the ribbon box. What would it feel like if he went bare foot? Wet? Raspy? Like carpet? Green spread out all around them, welcoming them to the small island. Why was grass green? Kaleb took off his helmet and took a whiff of the air. So fresh, so salty. The ocean roared in the distance, jealous of the attention the grass received.

“That’s dangerous, you know,” his partner Foelhe commented, walking past him.
Kaleb shrugged. “If anything happens to this piece of property, they’ll sew me right back up, and probably stick so many needles in my behind, I’ll look like one of those…what are they called again?”

“Porcupines.”

“Yeah, one of those.” He looked around, finally focusing on the sky. Bluer than the ocean. Sure was different than from where he was from. “Think we’ll see one of them?”

“Doubt it. They probably don’t exist on this planet.”

“Stop playing around, you two, we have a mission to fulfill,” said Dalin, forty meters away, walking on the beach with his own partner. His voice sounded muffled, coming from the headset inside the helmet Kaleb was carrying. Foelhe shook his head as Kaleb sheepishly put it back on.

The two of them walked in silence until they reached the edge of the water. No sign of threats. Maybe it wasn’t so dangerous here as most people thought. It certainly didn’t look to be harboring danger. Kaleb watched the ocean steal his footprints from the beach.

“Call down the ATV, this island looks to be uninhabited, but to the northwest, satellites suggest there are people living there. A wonder they never made it to this one.” Foelhe tapped something on his wrist. Kaleb did the same, instructing the vehicle to drive over and deposit the boat in the water. He didn’t like the rubbery foam molding to his head nor the plastic visor that was fogging up.

A few moments later, they were speeding to the northwest. There were six of them altogether, three companionships. The boat went fast enough to see the next island growing on the horizon, but the fish in the water were dark blurs. Not even the screen in his visor could identify them quickly enough. Governmentally issued, they were.

The ocean stretched out as far as they could see, no less infinite than the stars. Each wave glistened in the sun like a show of lights. Kaleb sighed. What would it be like to immerse himself under that surface, without any body armor on? Opposite the empty vacuum of space, being filled instead of emptied? He couldn’t believe he was here; it didn’t feel real. So close to a world that touched each sense, yet a barrier that held him back.

Other, larger shapes began swimming after their boats. The shapes couldn’t keep up, but it was obvious they were trying. They weren’t just fish. Still, the screen couldn’t identify them. Either it wasn’t advanced enough to cut through the interference of the water, or there was no file archived with information on these creatures.

“What do you think those are?” he asked Foelhe. The only response was a shake of the head within his helmet. The others didn’t seem interested either.

Soon they reached the beach, this time not covered in fine sand but in larger pebbles. Some of the rocks seemed sharp enough to cut open his feet, if he ran barefoot. Kaleb stepped out, his feet creating small holes that filled themselves up with rocks and water as soon as he left. His past prints on the world were being erased along with the past. He only existed in the present.

It seemed calm at first, but there was tension in the air, penetrating their helmets. No one said anything, although Foelhe kept his hand at his side, fingers clutching the handle reflexively.

The first sign of intelligent life was a broken spear hidden in the rocks. At first it looked like a wet stick from one of the trees, but the screen pointed out that there was a sharp rock tied to it. It also pointed out that something had urinated on it five hours ago, as well as a multitude of other useless details. But it couldn’t tell him what had been following them.

“Is this an accurate level of their technology?” Dalin asked, more to himself. “I wish those up high would have shared the classified with us.”
They stood there for a few moments, observing the spear, as if it would suddenly start talking to them. Kaleb felt impatient. There was life out there, waiting for them, but no one could get past the spear and begin contact.

“Come on, Foelhe,” he said on the private channel. His partner looked at him wearily, sighed, and started following him to the growth at the edge of the beach. The others glanced at them, but then went back to analyzing the spear.

As soon as he parted the first leaves, longer than his body, the alarms went off in his suit. At first, he thought it was danger in front of him, but after a moment with nothing happening, he realized the danger was behind. Swiveling, he found Foelhe already rushing back to the others. The waves were high, nearly engulfing the ATVs. Strange. Then his screen pointed out the obvious. There were more than five others on the beach with him. There looked to be about ten, with more coming from the sea.

The fish!

These fish had hands, feet, and heads like humans. Except they were blue, with white stomachs and they were covered in fins, including their faces, replacing their hair. Crawling out of the water, they started rising onto their back legs. Some wore basic loin cloths, others nothing, although there didn’t seem to be anything to see.

A few looked feminine, but it wasn’t as obvious as it would be on humans. His screen pulled up close ups of one of the faces. It was smiling, but with the sharpened teeth, the smile looked devious and dangerous. They approached the men with little apparent fear.

One got close to Dalin and spread his arms wide, still with that toothy grin, Dalin raised his gun, but the creature just took hold of it, and shook it, like it was shaking a hand. It was either mocking Dalin, or really playful and innocent. Dalin took it as the former.

“Get away from me, you monster!” he screamed. Kaleb heard it over the channel, but whether the actual creature did, he wasn’t certain. Dalin pulled his gun back and aimed it at the blue humanoid.

Click here to read First Contact part 2

Climate Change and Republicans-Why the denial?

Climate change map

Why do Republicans deny climate change?

It seems strange that presidential candidates, many of whom have created and run successful businesses and maneuvered through politics, would claim that climate change doesn’t exist, or deny the degree that scientists say it is happening. These aren’t idiots, even if the media might try to portray them that way. So what’s behind this, where conservatives go against the majority of scientists and their evidence?

Well, it’s complicated. But it mostly has to do with the politicization of the issue.

This blog mostly deals with fantasy. So why bring this up? I know it’s a stretch, but it has to do with the fantasies we create to fool ourselves. And no, liberals are not immune to this. They just do it on different issues, and in a different way on this issue.

Climate Change — Not the Government’s Job

The first reason that many conservatives reject the data is because it doesn’t fit in their worldview. They fear what would happen if they admitted climate change was real. Not so much for the doomsday predictions that many scientists declare, saying the poles will melt, the oceans will rise, and the earth will slowly transform into a place nearly unlivable for humans. No, they fear that if they admit that climate change is real, then the responsibility to fix it will fall to the government. And conservatives distrust government involvement, not wholly without reason. Government programs are generally less efficient and effective than that of private organizations like businesses or churches. And if government does happen to save the day, unlikely as that is when it is so polarized on nearly every issue, then people will feel a debt and vote for the party that brought about the change, which would probably be the Democratic party, just because they’re the ones advocating for change.

The only way the government could do anything would be to pass stricter regulations on emissions, waste, etc. Government by itself won’t innovate a new technology to save us, because it is run by politicians, not scientists. With harsher regulations, many businesses would feel stress to comply, and some will go under. Conservatives who believe in climate change generally believe that a free market solution will go further and be less disruptive than government intervention. But liberals, despite pressuring businesses to ‘Go Green,’ want more done.

Still, some of the political statements can be be ridiculous. Look at comments from the 2016 Republican hopefuls.

Many conservatives are also religious, which affects their worldview as well. Some interpret their scriptures as saying that God has all power, and us humans can’t destroy his creation. But, then again, Christian scripture, specifically Revelation, talks about the last days, how plagues will fill the earth, the moon will turn to blood, the sun will withdraw its light, and other things that could correlate with climate change.

Solutions, Anyone?

Looking at the issue objectively, it might seem hopeless to find a solution. Have we gone past the point of no return? Will we cause an apocalypse, where many die and mankind has to go back into survival mode? The many movies and shows that deal with post apocalyptic futures, from Mad Max to The Walking Dead, reflects this unconscious belief, or fear if you will, that everything’s going to collapse on itself. And many people, especially the problem solvers like business owners, don’t want to contemplate the idea that nothing can be done. It’s not an immediate problem, so it can be pushed down the line. It’s the same with bloated, unsustainable entitlement programs: keep them up so people won’t get angry, but in the end they will implode.

Personally, I’m pessimistic about this. Everything the government and ‘green’ companies are doing might slow down the acceleration, but it’s like putting a bandaid on a broken bone. We are consuming more and more electronics, with no stopping in sight, even though they rely on rare earth minerals, which, by their very definition, are rare. The climate has changed because of human intervention, if not as a whole, then in pockets (if you’ve been to Mexico City, it would be obvious). We can hope for a technological development, like useful electric cars, with greatly reduce emissions, but there are two problems with that example: the cost of electric cars is prohibitive to most right now, and the fact that many forms of generating electricity still pollute the air.

Hopefully, some new innovation or combination of many will fix the dying earth. But if the solution doesn’t come? If we’re forced to choose between a healthy earth or our iPhones, what will we choose? What are we willing to sacrifice? Or do you cling to the fantasy that we won’t pay sacrifices? That climate change isn’t real? That the government will step in and save us all?

What people call ideology in this case happens to be a fantasy. So which is yours? And can you blame the other side for clinging hopefully to theirs?

The problem with Star Wars No One Talks About

Star Wars

There’s been a lot of talk about Star Wars lately, in case you haven’t noticed. Most people seemed to like it. I liked it. But anything this big will get plenty of inspection, and the movie has gotten plenty of criticism in several areas. “It’s way too similar to A New Hope.” “The plot relies on too many coincidences.” “Rey learned to use the force way too easily.” “Several characters didn’t get the chance to develop.” “It relied too much on cameos.” And all of these can be seen as legitimate issues, although for the most part, they didn’t bother me too much.

What does bother me, though, is a criticism that I haven’t seen as much. It’s something I’ve seen with other movies in series lately, with one of the most prominent examples being Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Now, I want you to think back. Which was more memorable, Avengers 1 or Avengers 2? Even though Age of Ultron arguably had a more sophisticated plot, for me at least, it wasn’t very memorable.

Now think back to the first time you saw Star Wars A New Hope. Which explosion was more satisfying? The Death Star, or the even bigger Star Killer Base? What destruction was more heart wrenching, Alderaan or the three or however many planets destroyed by Star Killer Base?

The Force Awakens had a lot of pressure on it to perform, especially after the critical reception of the prequels. J. J. Abrams went to a lot of effort to bring back the feel of the original trilogy, with worn down ships and sets, as well as the spirit, and he was successful with that. But this is part of the problem of Episode 7.

Star Wars The Force Awakens isn’t a movie.

In one sense, it is an homage to A New Hope. The plot is basically the same, with a youth taken from a poor desert home because of a droid with a secret and thrust into a battle between an evil galactic force and the underdog good rebels. The youth, with guidance from an old man and help from some friends, including a cocky pilot, learns about the force and awakens to their destiny. Along the way planets are destroyed because of a large battle station, they have to infiltrate said battle station, the helpful old man allows himself to die to a dark Sith with a lightsaber, and the rebels have to blow up the battle station before their base is destroyed.

J. J. took so much pain to wrest Star Wars away from the prequels that he basically copied the original, with updated graphics, language, and diversity roles. But like Han Solo said about Star Killer base, unfazed by its size, “How do we blow it up? There’s always a way to do that.”

In another sense, highlighting the problem of Age of Ultron, it is just a long trailer for Episodes 8 and 9. There’s a story and it comes to a close, but it seems like a half-hearted attempt, just copying Episode 4. It’s main purpose seems to be raising questions and hype for the next movies. One of Age of Ultron’s biggest failures was that it was just trying to set the scene for Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, and who knows what other movies.

Other movies in these giant sequences are doing the same thing. I didn’t see the movie, but heard that Fantastic 4 was just to set up the story for the sequel. Batman V Superman seems to set the stage for the DC cinematic universe. So while in Star Wars Episode 7 they blow up Star Killer Base, it didn’t feel quite as satisfying as when Luke blew up the Death Star, nor did the movie feel as self contained.

It is good to think about the overall story, but each movie should be able to be its own movie, nor be forced to work just as a bridge between the old and the new, without getting to be new itself. Which is why it already seems to be fading from memory. Even though Empire Strikes Back was basically a bridge as well, it expanded the universe in so many ways that it is now many people’s favorite. Hopefully Disney and other studios can resolve this issue as they go forward.

As a side note, I don’t know what the title of the film refers to. The force didn’t seem to wake up. Maybe the force within Rey, but that didn’t seem to merit a title treatment. I kind of hope for something more mysterious. Oh well.

Time Travel

Back to the future

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Time travel

Recently I saw the movie Man of Steel. There’s plenty of destruction, people die, New York or some clone of it takes a beating, and everyone wishes things went back to how they were. But they don’t. People have to live with the damage, unless of course they were part of the damage and they died. This contrasts the movie Superman 1 (which I never saw all the way, but I heard enough about it from my parents and others (including Wikipedia) to know how it ends). In that movie, people, including Lois Lane, die. Superman, so upset, flies around the planet against its spin, so fast that he reverses the movement of the earth and turns back time, undoing everything that was done. Now this is one of the most ridiculous methods of time travel I’ve ever heard of. Obviously the movement of time is not dependent on Earth’s rotation, that’s just a measure of time, not time itself. So it’s good to know that the new Superman doesn’t have time travel powers as well.
As far fetched as Superman’s time travel was, all the other forms of time travel we’ve seen in fiction is pretty much just as farfetched, because we don’t really have any idea how to travel through time, except by going forward. With relativity, if you go really close to the speed of light, perception of time changes, and you experience it slower than normal, so a journey of a hundred years only seems like 10, or whatnot. Theoretically. Especially since we’ve never built anything that could take people anywhere near that, and don’t know if we would survive in those conditions. Some people think that if you went faster than light, you would go back in time. But since that’s impossible, time travel seems only in the realm of science fiction or fantasy. After all, if it were possible, wouldn’t people from the future come visit us? Or are we too boring?
But how many of us wish we could? Instead of living with mistakes, taking responsibility for our actions, we could go in the past, tell our younger selves to express love to the girl of our dreams that we were too afraid to talk to, or conversely, go back and stop ourselves from expressing that love and being made a fool of. Go back in time and invest in Apple (and sell stock at the high point). Go back and meet our great great grandparents when they were little kids. Go back and sell Gameboys to barbarians and once they’re addicted, keep them under your control by selling batteries. Go back and witness the signing of the declaration of independence, before they drive you out of there. Change history if you want. Assassinate Hitler. Wouldn’t all of that be fun?
Most time travel tales have unintended consequences for that, though. Kill your grandpa and you cease to exist. Step on a butterfly and the world is completely different. Speaking of butterflies, there’s the movie The Butterfly Effect, which has a man going back in time to try to save his girlfriend from abuse and other fates, but each time, something gets messed up, and his present life, or hers, is not what he wanted. Eventually he just convinces her to move away from him. Kind of sad. These tales are cautionary, asking us to really think that if we changed one thing, if our lives would really be better. Maybe in some cases, like saving the life of a loved one, possibly. But it might not in others.
One thing to think about, if time travel were real, is how it works. Most versions are full of paradoxes. In Final Fantasy 8, Squall goes into the future, then at the end, goes into the past, overshooting his mark a bit. He comes in contact with his orphanage matron and gives her the ideas she needed to create SeeD, which he is a part of. But he already was part of it, even though he helped create it. So how did it start? If he hadn’t gone back, he wouldn’t have been part of an organization that didn’t exist, but he only went back in time because of the events that happened because he was part of the organization. Confusing. Or would it be possible to kill your grandpa, because then you wouldn’t exist to kill him? For people who think about these things, they figure the only way to avoid the paradoxes is through having different dimensions or realities. Going back in time would create a new one for you, while you would disappear from the old one. Being independent from the new one, you could go kill your grandpa, because you came from a different dimension where your grandpa lived long enough to have your parents, who had you. In the multiverse theory of science, there are infinite numbers of universes, which means an infinite number of possibilities, some where you just made a slightly different decision, or someone in the past, or anything slightly different, as well as more extreme differences, where mass and galaxies don’t even exist because the laws of physics are slightly different. Who knows if it would be possible to go dimension hopping? You could go to a universe where the only difference is that you did something slightly different in your past.
Most people are plagued by things they did in the past, and wish they could change them. Anyone who says they have no regrets is either perfect or lying. Other people want to go back to a time when they thought things were better, like in their youth, although if they were to go back and be plagued with hormones again, they would probably think differently. So while time travel is an interesting fantasy and let’s you play ‘What if?’, I generally don’t like time travel stories because it makes things less permanent, makes decisions inconsequential, and can get really confusing. Having stories where characters actually have to deal with their problems, no matter how messy they might be, instead of running away from them, is more satisfying.