Gone Girl Book Review

Gone Girl

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was frustrating to read. There are some interesting things about the unreliable narration, especially in the first half, but the book convinces you to hate both characters so much that the ending was not very satisfying. It is good in that it constantly makes you reevaluate what you’ve thought before. The problems I had were more toward the end of the book, although the whole time Nick is making stupid choices that make things worse for him, which annoyed me. 
(view spoiler)
Listening to the book on disc, I didn’t really enjoy the language, probably worse than if I had read it. But the actors did do a good job with their voices. I’m just glad I’m done with this. And that my wife isn’t that crazy.

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Runaway Wife Romance Part 4

runaway wife romance

If you missed them, here are Part 1Part 2, and Part 3 of this short story romance.

Countryside and Docks: Devrim

I still didn’t know what to think. My romance had ended before it began, and my wife disappeared without a trace. Although I had harbored worries that her family had taken her from me, their attitudes convinced me they shared my ignorance of her disappearance. 
“What if bandits took her into the wilderness?” Jennifer’s mother wailed into my shoulder. “We may never find her broken body!”
I patted her back awkwardly. A week after the wedding, we still stayed at the estate as our base of operations. I would hate to continue renting, but Franklin Fronth was a Lord and had seemingly unlimited resources. Which made his refusal to pay the dowry all the more infuriating. Of the family, only he might have had the motivation to take her away, but it seemed a trivial reason to do so. In fact, I’m sure he suspects me of foul play, so that I could have the dowry and then marry the mistress I’m sure he’s heard about. 
The sun shone down on us. The darkness inside the building was just too oppressing. 
“Devrim!” someone yelled out from across the yard, so I looked up. I saw Rene Fronth, Jennifer’s brother. He dressed with a feathered cap and colorful short cape, which made my own clothing seem drab in comparison. He beckoned me over, so I disengaged from his mother and ran over.
“Any word?” I asked when I reached him.
“No, no news. But I was talking to a friend and he mentioned that he had some goods imported from Felaronia coming in today and it got me thinking. What if, for whatever possible reason, she took a ship to Felaronia? I asked what day that ship would have gone to Octgard and he told me it was the day after the wedding. It’s not a real lead, but I think it is worth investigating, as we don’t have anything else to go on.”
I almost laughed out loud. Why in the world would shy Jennifer run off to Felaronia? It made no sense. Rene was looking in all the wrong places. I was about to reject his offer, but thought that it might instill resentment. In truth, I had nothing better to do and didn’t want his mother clinging to me. “Should we go down to the docks?” I asked, humoring him. 
Rene gave a nervous smile, unsure whether I approved or not. Let him guess.
We made our way over to the docks, a trip that took some time while winding our way through crowded, stinking streets. That’s why I hated Capital Mith. The ever present sun shining in my window of the carriage burned my skin in spite of the flimsy curtain I used to block it. My eye began to twitch and my mouth felt dry.
I didn’t feel like talking much during the ride. My thoughts wandered to Jennifer. Would I ever see her again? Was someone holding her captive? Was she waiting for me to come rescue her? What if she had been defiled? Then what would I do? So many scenarios floated through my mind, but none of them allowed the possibility that she was out of my reach forever.
I put on my hat when we stepped out of the carriage and onto the docks. Boats of all sizes filled the coast. I didn’t come from a coastal city, so I admit I didn’t know the difference between any of them, but Rene seemed to know where to go, so I followed him. The waves made a constant swooshing sound so annoying that I had to keep from shouting out in frustration.
He chose a large ship, random in my mind, and walked up the planks onto the ship. I followed him up but nearly toppled over when the ship shifted. Even on the deck, I felt a little dizzy. In the corner of my eye, I saw some people sniggering, but when I faced them, they looked away innocently. 
Rene found the captain, a wrinkled man who looked tired of life, and then started talking. I stayed back, observing. “Captain James, I have a few questions for you.”
“If you’re mad at me for taking away your wife, girlfriend, or sister, that’s not my problem. These women are adults and can make their own decisions. Several come back on their own accord.”
Never mind my first analysis. This man was just tired of answering the same question over and over again, always on the defensive. “Come, Rene, this is a waste of time.” I placed my hand on his shoulder, but he shrugged it off and continued talking to the captain.
“We just want to know if someone was on your most recent trip to Felaronia.”
“I don’t take names. Just coins. Easier for everyone that way.”
Rene looked flustered so I spoke up. “Jennifer Fronth. She’s tall, blond.” I wracked my mind for other descriptions of her, but failed to come up with anything. 
“She might have come with her friend, Mia, who’s shorter, darker hair, plump,” Rene added.
Captain James stood in a thoughtful pose, unfocused eyes looking back in time. “Yes, I think I might remember the pair. Didn’t talk too much with the other guests. Just kept to themselves.”
Because she was shy? But no, this couldn’t be them. Jennifer would never leave me to go to Felaronia, would she? 
“It must be them! Jenny’s safe!” Rene told me excitedly. He turned to the captain. “You did get there without any casualties, right?”
The captain rolled his eyes. “Of course, young lordling. So if you don’t mind, I have some work to get done.”
“I’m staying here,” I announced. 
“What?” both men asked me.
“Take me to Felaronia. I must find her and bring her back. I’ll wait here until the ship sets sail.”
“Are you sure?” Rene asked. “If she went to Felaronia, it was of her own will, and she won’t want to come back.”
“No, that can’t be it. Why would she flee from me if she doesn’t even know me? She wouldn’t reject a romance that hasn’t even started. Something else must be going on.” I wiped sweat from my forehead. The sun was turning my face red. 
The captain grinned. “Well, I would advise against this, but I can’t wait to see your face when you get back on my ship.”
I sneered. Who was he to judge me? I took out my purse and grabbed a few coins. “Just get me to Felaronia.”
Rene looked at me. “Are you sure about this?”
“Yes!” I snapped, because I knew I would get my romance back. He shook his head and started walking away.
The next day I set sail.

The Girl on the Train Review

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was just Ok. The mystery was mildly intriguing, although I guessed the murderer half way through. But the characters…sure, they’re not perfect, but did you have to make them this terrible? I hated every single one of them. They all make horrible choices, and some that made little sense (Rachel worming her way into everything even when she had no excuse other than plot to do so). And the ending situation especially stretched credibility. Plus, the supposed revelation that other people’s lives are not perfect…that should be pretty obvious, even if you don’t read the book. Maybe Facebook and Instagram have made us actually believe that myth, so the book might be a little refreshing if that applies to you, but otherwise, you know that ‘Jason’ and ‘Jess’ aren’t nearly as perfect as Rachel makes them out to be. Anyway, if you’ve done some bad things, this book might make you feel better about yourself, reading about people doing even worse things. I didn’t care much about the victim dying because I didn’t care about the character, nor did I care about the other characters. So that is the main issue with the book. There’s really little reason to care enough to read it. While I don’t want this review to be completely negative, this book isn’t for everyone and only mildly hooked me. There were so many moments when character choices defied all reason that I just said, “Come on, really?” when I got to them. I only picked it up because I saw they were going to make a movie with this, but I doubt that beautiful Hollywood will cast a Rachel that resembles the description. This review will probably be the last time I touch anything that has to do with this book.

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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?

 

Character Personality

Mary Personality

Personality Test

So over the weekend, I got some inspiration to go through the main characters in my story and take a personality test for each of them. It felt kind of late, since I’ve written my first book and don’t plan on making major changes. But it was fun, and will be useful for the next books.

I used the site 16personalities.com to test the character personalities, taking each test through the mind of each character. It was useful to get to know them better, a nice exercise that confirmed for the most part the personalities I had subconsciously planned for them. Still, there are those who don’t agree with the Myers-Briggs test, so you can take it for what it’s worth.

Of the thirteen characters I took a test for, some of them shared some personality traits, but there was still a good variety. Some of the results fit perfectly, others were more surprising, but fit in a way. And even those who shared personalities are still very different people in my book.

None of the characters had the exact same personality as me (the test had me as INTP, although years before I’ve tested as INTJ), so that could either be a good thing (I’m not projecting myself so much on all my characters) or a bad thing (I’m writing about personalities I know nothing about).

So without further ado, here are the personalities for my characters (according to Myer-Briggs):

Simon: ISTP (The Virtuoso)

ISTPs love to explore with their hands and their eyes, touching and examining the world around them with cool rationalism and spirited curiosity. People with this personality type are natural Makers, moving from project to project, building the useful and the superfluous for the fun of it, and learning from their environment as they go. Often mechanics and engineers, ISTPs find no greater joy than in getting their hands dirty pulling things apart and putting them back together, just a little bit better than they were before.

Tiffany: ESFJ (The Consul)

People who share the ESFJ personality type are, for lack of a better word, popular – which makes sense, given that it is also a very common personality type, making up twelve percent of the population. In high school, ESFJs are the cheerleaders and the quarterbacks, setting the tone, taking the spotlight and leading their teams forward to victory and fame. Later in life, ESFJs continue to enjoy supporting their friends and loved ones, organizing social gatherings and doing their best to make sure everyone is happy.

Mero: ENFP (The Campaigner)

The ENFP personality is a true free spirit. They are often the life of the party, but unlike Explorers, they are less interested in the sheer excitement and pleasure of the moment than they are in enjoying the social and emotional connections they make with others. Charming, independent, energetic and compassionate, the 7% of the population that they comprise can certainly be felt in any crowd.

Shiara: ISFJ (The Defender)

The ISFJ personality type is quite unique, as many of their qualities defy the definition of their individual traits. Though possessing the Feeling (F) trait, ISFJs have excellent analytical abilities; though Introverted (I), they have well-developed people skills and robust social relationships; and though they are a Judging (J) type, ISFJs are often receptive to change and new ideas. As with so many things, people with the ISFJ personality type are more than the sum of their parts, and it is the way they use these strengths that defines who they are.

Fey: ESFP (The Entertainer)

If anyone is to be found spontaneously breaking into song and dance, it is the ESFP personality type. ESFPs get caught up in the excitement of the moment, and want everyone else to feel that way, too. No other personality type is as generous with their time and energy as ESFPs when it comes to encouraging others, and no other personality type does it with such irresistible style.

Tenci: ENTP (The Debater)

The ENTP personality type is the ultimate devil’s advocate, thriving on the process of shredding arguments and beliefs and letting the ribbons drift in the wind for all to see. Unlike their more determined Judging (J) counterparts, ENTPs don’t do this because they are trying to achieve some deeper purpose or strategic goal, but for the simple reason that it’s fun. No one loves the process of mental sparring more than ENTPs, as it gives them a chance to exercise their effortlessly quick wit, broad accumulated knowledge base, and capacity for connecting disparate ideas to prove their points.

Mary: ESFP (The Entertainer)

If anyone is to be found spontaneously breaking into song and dance, it is the ESFP personality type. ESFPs get caught up in the excitement of the moment, and want everyone else to feel that way, too. No other personality type is as generous with their time and energy as ESFPs when it comes to encouraging others, and no other personality type does it with such irresistible style.

Mars: ESTJ (The Executive)

ESTJs are representatives of tradition and order, utilizing their understanding of what is right, wrong and socially acceptable to bring families and communities together. Embracing the values of honesty, dedication and dignity, people with the ESTJ personality type are valued for their clear advice and guidance, and they happily lead the way on difficult paths. Taking pride in bringing people together, ESTJs often take on roles as community organizers, working hard to bring everyone together in celebration of cherished local events, or in defense of the traditional values that hold families and communities together.

George: ENFJ (The Protagonist)

ENFJs are natural-born leaders, full of passion and charisma. Forming around two percent of the population, they are oftentimes our politicians, our coaches and our teachers, reaching out and inspiring others to achieve and to do good in the world. With a natural confidence that begets influence, ENFJs take a great deal of pride and joy in guiding others to work together to improve themselves and their community.

Korigon: ESTJ (The Executive)

ESTJs are representatives of tradition and order, utilizing their understanding of what is right, wrong and socially acceptable to bring families and communities together. Embracing the values of honesty, dedication and dignity, people with the ESTJ personality type are valued for their clear advice and guidance, and they happily lead the way on difficult paths. Taking pride in bringing people together, ESTJs often take on roles as community organizers, working hard to bring everyone together in celebration of cherished local events, or in defense of the traditional values that hold families and communities together.

Abel: ENFJ (The Protagonist)

ENFJs are natural-born leaders, full of passion and charisma. Forming around two percent of the population, they are oftentimes our politicians, our coaches and our teachers, reaching out and inspiring others to achieve and to do good in the world. With a natural confidence that begets influence, ENFJs take a great deal of pride and joy in guiding others to work together to improve themselves and their community.

Isabel: ESFJ (The Consul)

People who share the ESFJ personality type are, for lack of a better word, popular – which makes sense, given that it is also a very common personality type, making up twelve percent of the population. In high school, ESFJs are the cheerleaders and the quarterbacks, setting the tone, taking the spotlight and leading their teams forward to victory and fame. Later in life, ESFJs continue to enjoy supporting their friends and loved ones, organizing social gatherings and doing their best to make sure everyone is happy.

Horace: ENTP (The Debater)

The ENTP personality type is the ultimate devil’s advocate, thriving on the process of shredding arguments and beliefs and letting the ribbons drift in the wind for all to see. Unlike their more determined Judging (J) counterparts, ENTPs don’t do this because they are trying to achieve some deeper purpose or strategic goal, but for the simple reason that it’s fun. No one loves the process of mental sparring more than ENTPs, as it gives them a chance to exercise their effortlessly quick wit, broad accumulated knowledge base, and capacity for connecting disparate ideas to prove their points.

What Makes a Good Monster

Roc Monster
Monsters don’t exist, just in case you were wondering. You’re free to look under your bed now.
But why don’t they exist? What makes something a monster?
In old India, surely they thought of tigers as monsters who would take down anyone that wandered out of the safety of the village. Sailors seeing whales for the first time probably thought them monsters. But are tigers and whales monsters? No. They are animals, more specifically mammals. No matter how fierce, dangerous, or powerful they are, they can’t be monsters. Why?
Because they’ve been classified.
They’re no longer a mystery. They’ve been studied. They’ve been placed into zoos and aquariums. We kill many more of them than they of us. And they present absolutely zero threat to human civilization at large.
So again, what makes a monster? The mystery.
In some fantasy worlds, there are fantastic creatures, powerful, scary, and even threats to humanity. But many of them wouldn’t be monsters, because they’re too well known. So orcs and dragons may or may not be monsters, depending on how well they’re understood. On the other hand, in a sci-fi story, if aliens come to invade and we have little knowledge of them, they would be monsters. Frankenstein and Dracula are monsters because no one really understands them, and they’re not a species of animal.
There’s the old cliche that we fear what we don’t understand. While not really true in all cases, in some things, our lack of understanding gives it power over us. The best horror movies leave whatever paranormal creatures in the shadows, not fully understood. Their motives are alien, their biology uncertain.
But what happens when we create monsters out of each other? When we talk about serial rapists as monsters, it’s not just about the heinous acts they commit, although that is a big part of it, but because most people don’t quite understand what drives someone to do those acts, to bypass all moral constraints we’ve had in place since our childhood.
Sometimes we make a whole people we don’t understand into monsters. Muslims, Communists, Nazis, Native Americans. All these groups had both good and bad people (even the Nazis, who were mostly convinced that everyone else, and especially groups like Jews and homosexuals, were the monsters).
Many of the grand scale atrocities in history came because one group dehumanized another, making them ‘others,’ or a monster, and pitting us against them. George R. R. Martin even calls his monsters the Others in the Game of Thrones books.
So ignorance isn’t bliss. Naivety might be, but ignorance is just fear. Fortunately, we have so many resources with the internet that ignorance is willful as well. If you’re ignorant, it’s your own fault. So get out there and try to understand other people, customs, religions, and politics.
And if you’re writing horror, keep us guessing, don’t reveal too much about your monsters.

Why Fantasy Worlds Suck if You’re Not the Chosen One

Chosen One
At the heart of many fantasies is the idea of the Chosen One, one who is prophesied to destroy evil, bring balance, etc, etc. Harry Potter, the boy who lived, is one famous example. Anakin Skywalker is another, albeit with a twist. Then there’s Aladdin, Neo from the Matrix, Katniss, Rand al’Thor, Garion, the Pevensies, Richard Rahl, Eragon, Thomas Covenant, Percy Jackson, Emma Swan, King Arthur, Link, Sora, and others who fulfill (or sometimes subvert) this trope. Even Kung Fu Panda does it. Here’s a more complete list: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheChosenOne
There’s also another trope in fantasy: you’re either born with magic or not. Not every story does it, but a lot do, which is strange in a way. What abilities in real life are people born with that other people can’t do? Sure, some people seem to be more talented, but practically anyone can learn any ability (just not all of them). Yet in fantasy worlds, that’s not the case. Maybe because it would be hard to imagine a society full of magic users. Either way, it makes a tough life for the characters who are neither the chosen one nor have magic.
But then again, we never think of these characters, because we are meant to identify with the chosen one. Because the biggest fantasy in the fantasy genre is that we are somehow special. That’s one of the main motivators in reading/viewing fantasy. The idea of magic, at its heart, is of being special. In science fiction, there can be technology that’s so advanced it appears magic. But it’s available to everyone (might need some training, though). Magic takes you to an exclusive club, you might even be the only one with it, even if it takes training to master. It is much more about the individual than a society.
This is true even without magic, per se. Superpowers are the exact same thing, just usually in a more modern context. And then there are the people who get sucked into a new world *cough* Narnia *cough* that they have to save, even though they have no expertise, no knowledge of the area, no magic, nothing qualifying them for the task at hand, but they have to do it, just because. And of course they’re successful, even if they didn’t really do anything. Frodo had to sneak into Mordor because…for some reason, only he could resist the ring’s lure? Not some super stealthy ninja, just a hobbit.
So how do you think that makes the Chosen One’s friends feel? Suddenly Mr. Nobody is Mr. Hero because…no real reason. Either he was born with some power and is just now manifesting it, or he got chosen by…prophecy? Who exactly is in charge of these prophecies in the first place? It’s not very fair. They didn’t actually do anything to earn their place. And even if they go on a big, scary adventure, they’re the chosen one, they can’t die (or if they do, they come back to life).
Now you may argue that they’re like Christ figures, if you’re a Christian. He was chosen before birth, given a special destiny. But the characters in these books aren’t perfect (or if they are, they’re boring) and Christ earned his chosen status through his perfection. The Chosen Ones in stories are doofuses.
Either way, the Chosen One is usually not very qualified (Harry vs Hermoine), not the most powerful (Frodo vs Gandalf (or anyone)), and is usually pretty boring, aside from occasionally being able to provide snarky commentary or gallows humor. Yet they are chosen, while the rest of the world languishes without magic or destiny, serving only as orc fodder when the dark lord tries to hurt the hero by striking at their home.
So to all those non-Chosen Ones out there, who are stuck in dead end jobs, bad relationships, poverty, and bad health, and who don’t get a magical break from their sad lives:
It sucks to be us.

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 2

First Contact

If you haven’t read First Contact part 1, click here

“No Dalin!,” Kaleb yelled. This was not their mission.

Too late. The gun tore a hole right through the light blue abdomen, searing everything the energy touched. The creature collapsed, dead. The others looked horrified. Some jumped back into the sea, others rushed forward to actually attack the humans this time. Kaleb found himself running towards them, not sure what he hoped to accomplish.

Foelhe was the next to act, Dalin too shocked at what he had done. He shot another of the blue men from afar. It fell back and its twisted bones could be heard from where Kaleb was standing. With the help of his helmet, of course, but that noise haunted him. Foelhe was going to take out another when Kaleb pushed him to the side. They both fell down.

The others with Dalin took aim, hesitantly. The hesitation cost them. Somehow, a large wave reached them, pulling them down to the depths. They let go of their guns and tried scrambling out, but out of the wave came more of the blue things, grabbing them and preventing escape. As long as they had their armor on, they would be all right, but if the creatures found a way to break in, they would drown.
Kaleb watched helplessly as three of them disappeared. Dalin was running, not trained against this type of fear. Foelhe punched Kaleb off of him.

“What are you doing? We have to kill them, or they’ll take us down with them.”

Kaleb didn’t have an answer, but still couldn’t allow his companion to slaughter the natives. Their job was to explore, make contact, and set up a friendly base. Killing them all would put an end to that idea, permanently. They might have ended it already.

His visor was full of mud and pebbles, so he tried wiping it clean, but didn’t get much off. He did see Foelhe’s figure get up, though, and take aim again. “Stop it, Foelhe! We were to make contact, not come as conquerers.”

“Maybe these savages need conquerers,” Foelhe said. Kaleb imagined him sneering. “We were never going to lower ourselves to their level. We were going to civilize them. Make them in our image. They have nothing they can offer us.”

“What about control of the waves? Maybe they could teach us,” Kaleb tried to reason.

Foelhe snorted. “They weren’t controlling the waves, they saw it rising and swam in it. Now stop annoying me, I have to show them their place.”

Kaleb stood up, placing himself between Foelhe and the natives. His back camera showed that the natives stopped chasing Dalin and were looking at him curiously. Maybe he could convince these they came in peace.

“Kaleb, you are making a mistake. I didn’t come here to try to learn a language, or make peace offerings to these primitives. I came because it was the only way to get these suits and guns outside of a virtual sim. I want to hunt, and these violent monsters make the perfect practice.”

He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “You’re being recorded, you know.”

“And I’m fully justified in everything I do. I doubt the men up top will care enough to listen, anyway.” Foelhe waved his gun in Kaleb’s direction. Kaleb spread out his arms in protest.

“I am the senior companion,” Foelhe said. “You have to obey my orders. So get out of my way.”

Kaleb felt his suit struggle to obey, but he quickly overrode it. Foelhe’s influence wasn’t as complete as he thought.

“Fine. There are natives that want to kill me. You won’t let me defeat them myself. So I must use force.” With that, he shot Kaleb.

It was a low setting, a warning shot, just stunning him. Fear entered into his mind. Foelhe was more dangerous than any animal on this planet. He had the mind of a killer, but had never had the chance to use it until now.

Foelhe was between Kaleb and the natives. Kaleb tried to focus his attention on himself. “You don’t want to do this, we can still make peace.”

Looking at him, Foelhe laughed. “You’re not going to change me, Kaleb. If you don’t want to be a murderer, sticking to some vague principle of rightness, do that. But I am not limited by your moral system.”

By then, some of the blue natives had crept up behind Foelhe. They looked ready to attack. Kaleb began to talk to Foelhe again, ready to say anything to distract him, but Foelhe ignored him, turned around, and started blasting the creatures.

The back camera.

The screams would haunt Kaleb’s mind for many sleepless nights, if he ever walked away from this. Taking out his own gun, he resolved to stop this. His finger reached the trigger, but the vague principles of rightness made him hesitate. The hesitation cost him, as Foelhe immediately turned around and shot him. This time at full power.

Kaleb breathed, straining. Finally he was able to feel the sand as it crept into his armor, now compromised. His bosses would not be happy with that. But it did have a unique texture. Foelhe’s voice was no longer coming through the speakers, but his movements showed his glee. Vision going double, Kaleb shifted his gun in the sand.

Only one shot. No suit-aided aiming. It was all him.

Kaleb stayed silent as Foelhe’s screams mixed with the weeping natives. Dalin and the others were nowhere to be seen. Hopefully he had made some sort of difference. It was cold, even though it wasn’t supposed to be cold on the beach except at night. The sun was shining. It looked different through the atmosphere. Not so lonely.

Both Foelhe and Kaleb died around the same time. Only thirteen point eight five seconds separating them. Dalin and his subordinates remained down there, but Helman decided to let them fend for themselves for a bit longer. His interest in Foelhe and Kaleb occupied his mind right now.

He went to the pod. Gas steamed out as it opened. Waving his hand to clear it away, he looked in, seeing a familiar shape. Kaleb’s body looked like a baby’s, cuddled up in a fetal position, with only skintight underwear on. He looked cold. Wires were coming out of every part of him.

A meter away, another pod opened. Helman put himself between the two. Foelhe’s body looked much the same as Kaleb’s from this perspective, just that his skin was a bit lighter.

Slowly, the two of them awoke, fingers twitching, eyes moving before they finally opened. Kaleb let out a breath of relief. Foelhe clutched the edge of the pod, eyes open wide.

“Well, good news for both of you. You’re not dead.” He let them take that in, since he was sure they didn’t want to see him in an afterlife. “You never went down to the surface. That was a lie. You’re still here, in Zeta. We got you all dressed up in your environmental suits, and had you sit down in what you thought was the ribbon, then drugged you and brought you back here.”

“That sounds like a lot of work,” Kaleb said, words blurred by a trembling mouth.

“The suits walked here on their own and deposited you,” Helmen said with his tight smile. “This whole thing was a test. We needed to know how well you would handle it.”

“So did we pass?” Foelhe asked, anger lacing his voice like an iceberg.

“I think we all know the answer of who passed and who didn’t,” Helman said simply. Foelhe glared at him, but he didn’t even see it as he was looking at Kaleb.

“Us men up top do listen.”

“So what happens now?” Kaleb asked.

“You get to go down with others who have passed, if you want. You see, none of our technology works down there, except for the most primitive devices that don’t rely on electricity. No one knows why that is, and we need someone to find out.

Someone who will establish relationships and find the information we need,” he said, finally looking at Foelhe. “Not someone who will think he’s better than the sentients down there,”

Kaleb smiled. “Someone to make first contact.”