Friday, July 3, 2015

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Live and Let Die (1973)

The first Bond movie Myopia: Defend Your Childhood, the film podcast I'm part of, defended was 1973's Live and Let Die, also known as James Bond's foray into blaxploitation. Here's the podcast. Now for the review...

The Plot

After three MI-6 agents "on loan" to the United States are killed in 24 hours in various interesting ways (a high-pitched noise to the ear causing some kind of seizure, a stabbing, and even a voodoo human sacrifice), James Bond is assigned to investigate. After hijinks in New York City, he travels to the Caribbean island of San Monique, where he encounters two women, CIA agent Rosie Carver and the mysterious Solitaire. More hijinks--and voodoo--ensue.


The Good

There's not really a whole lot that's good here (at least in comparison to the bad stuff), but I'll try...

*The film is notable for its abandoning of the ridiculousness of earlier Bond films to focus on more mundane sorts of evils, in this case drug trafficking. I'll give it points for trying to take the franchise in a new direction, although the blaxploitation stuff is incredibly dated.

*I liked the "use a car side mirror as a means of assassination" when Bond first comes to New York. Pretty clever.

*Solitaire is referred to as being involved in "Obeah," which is a sort of Caribbean sorcery that isn't as well-known as stuff like voodoo. Props for research.

*Geoffrey Holder is clearly having fun as Baron Samedi, even though he's not in the movie a whole lot.

*I now know where some of the Bond tropes the first Austin Powers film mocks, like the "easily escapable and overly elaborate exotic death" and the "henchman comes back to interrupt an amorous moment" come from. I hadn't seen any of the pre-Pierce Brosnan Bond films in their entirety before this, so now I'm more educated.

*The goofy blaxploitation stuff is actually pretty funny. And I think they satirize it a bit by depicting Rosie's Afro actually being fake.

*There's a Continuity Nod when Bond is told that a "Mrs. Bond" is waiting for him in San Monique. From Bond's facial expression and delayed reaction, it seems he remembers Tracy and the events of On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

*However racist people might accuse the film of being due to its jive-turkey dialogue and what-not, Sheriff J.W. Pepper's depiction matches up with how an actual racist cop would behave. He pulls over one of the bad guys not just because he was speeding but because he was a black guy driving a nice car and therefore must have stolen it. TVTropes lists him as a Badass Bystander and credits him with subduing a very dangerous henchman (all technically true), but he wasn't aware of that at the time.

*The death of the second MI-6 agent was pretty cool. He's watching a New Orleans funeral parade and asks a bystander whose funeral it is. The man says, "Yours" and things go poorly from there. I'm not overly familiar with New Orleans jazz funerals, so that's actually kind of cool.

*Bond's watch having a super-magnet in it is discussed from the very beginning and actually put to some amusing use (involving a woman he's "entertaining" at the time) before it becomes important. Writers often forget the importance of Chekhov's Gun, but that didn't happen. This time.

*The film actually tries to develop the henchman Tee-Hee as a character. When Bond is at his mercy, he waxes poetically about the differences between alligators and crocodiles and their various physical attributes. He actually has a hobby and a passion rather than just being "Thug #1."

The Bad

*The movie was at least half an hour too long. It was actually boring. They somehow took probably one of the longest boat chase sequences in a movie--one that involved multiple jumps over bayou-spanning roads, boat-jackings of people who lived alongside the river, an invasion of a wedding, and more--and made it dull. The boat chase scene could have been either an awesome action sequence or a Blues Brothers-style action-comedy conga line of destruction and it was dull.

*The death of the first MI-6 by murder-earpiece was ridiculous-looking. Leaving aside whether that would actually work, his agony came off as more than a little over-the-top and even comedic.

*Solitaire is referred to as a practitioner of Obeah and in the podcast I referred to her as the world's whitest voodoo queen, but she seems more like a tarot card reader in the European mystical tradition rather than someone involved in any sort of Afro-Caribbean magic. Her clothing in a couple scenes looks like something from a Mardi Gras festival. Tarot and voodoo/santeria/whatever aren't the same things.

*And while we're at it, the villain's death is pretty goofy, although I could imagine that being intentional. Especially when Bond then drops one of his one-liners.

*Why are M and Moneypenny just showing up at James Bond's house like that? If they've got a mission for him, can't they just call him on the phone? I imagine this is mostly for the "how fast can Bond's current lover hide" comedy, but it was just kind of stupid.

*If you're sensitive to racism/racial humor, this movie might not be for you. This isn't a parody like Black Dynamite, but a whole lot of use of the word "honky," pretty much everybody in Harlem being in on a criminal scheme, soul-food restaurants being used as fronts for dealing heroin, gigantic Afros, etc. Some of it was pretty funny, but some of it was neutral or kind of dumb. And the portrayal of the white Louisianans is pretty ridiculous and stereotypical too. As someone in the podcast crew pointed out, this movie [can be construed as] racist against everybody.

*And Rosie Carver, the first of the film's two major Bond girls (there's a third but she doesn't really have much characterization) is probably the most incompetent CIA agent ever. Even when she seems to manage something impressive, she bungles it. Granted, it might be deliberate on her part (not going into detail for reasons of spoilers), but she just comes off as useless.

*The song "Live and Let Die" is used in the soundtrack or even outright performed by a musician multiple times in the film, while actual James Bond-associated music (like, you know, the actual theme song) is grossly underused.

*Bond at one point frees himself and Solitaire from being tied up using a rotary-saw device on his watch. The magnet on the watch was stated to be there from the very beginning, but this came out of nowhere. Chekhov's Gun, people!

*The opium poppies look like giant fields of cabbage. Wouldn't poppies, you know, have flowers?

*When reacting to a character's romantic treachery, a villain rants about how he could have provided all the love the other character could have wanted. That he has romantic feelings for this other character is never even hinted at before, and he didn't really come off as betrayed and heartbroken. If he had, that would have been an improvement on his character--he's not just a greedy criminal.

The Verdict

Just don't bother. 5.5 out of 10.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Two Cool-Looking (Original!) Movies Coming This Summer

A late-night trip through Rotten Tomatoes clued me into the existence of a couple new upcoming films that look pretty cool--and aren't adaptations, remakes, sequels, etc.

The first one I found was Aurora. The movie comes off to me as Terminator with an ecological theme, with a bit of young-adult dystopia (I'm thinking more Maze Runner than Hunger Games) thrown in. Basically an AI decides humans are a threat to the planet and launches a genocidal war. Sometime later, two humans (presumably survivors or their descendants under the AI's control) seek out a fabled city where the machines don't rule...


Based on the trailer, this looks really cool. It's slated for (limited) release July 7. Here's the Rotten Tomatoes page where the reviews, showtimes, etc. can be found once it comes out, which won't be long...

The second one's Dark Was The Night starring Kevin Durand, who plays exterminator Vasily Fet in The Strain. Props for a really spooky trailer that isn't something you want to watch alone late at night. Based on descriptions I've heard of the creature it's not a common movie monster--some of the promotional material references hoofprints, but some of the posters depict hands with talons.


The trailer is very well-done. It's so spooky I got nightmares the night after I watched it. This one is slated for (limited) release July 24. Here's the Rotten Tomatoes page.

And here's an honorable mention to a film that's already available on home media but I just found out about it--Spring. I'll probably get it on Amazon Instead Video. The gist of it is a young man flees the U.S. to Italy to avoid getting jailed for his part in a bar fight (one of those "one punch kills" situations?) and falls for an Italian woman...who isn't what she seems. Like, not-human not what she seems.


I wasn't even aware of this until I read about it the other day. I suspect this one got a limited release or it went straight to DVD/online video. Here's the Rotten Tomatoes page, which shows it's gotten some very good reviews.

Why does all the original stuff have limited release these days? People complain all the time about an excess of unoriginal material. Of course, you have films like Jupiter Ascending that were original, but failed to make money...

Monday, June 29, 2015

An Addendum To My "Other Authors' Sandboxes" Post...

The other day, I posted about how cool it is to let other writers write material set in your world and how this is ultimately enriching toward your own projects.

Well, longtime blogger buddy Sean C.W. Korsgaard was so kind as to post this video in the Comments section.



This is video he recorded himself at RavenCon, a big sci-fi/fantasy convention in Richmond named for Edgar Allen Poe, and posted on his YouTube channel. The authors present are Rich Groller, John Betancourt, Philippa Ballantine and Robert Waters. All of them have written tie-in fiction set in worlds originally created by others.

Topics discussed include Kindle Worlds, why established authors (typically) avoid reading fan-fic like the plague, etc.

So if you liked my recent blog post about playing in other people's sandboxes and if you're interested in writing using someone else's intellectual property, this is a video you might like to watch...

Sunday, June 28, 2015

New Comics Podcast: THE FANBOY AND GEEK GIRL POWER HOUR

The other day I learned that my friends James R. Tuck and Danielle Tuck have got a new podcast, THE FANBOY AND GEEK GIRL POWER HOUR. The podcast is focused on comic books and comic-book-related pop culture (that latter bit I didn't initially notice). I'm not a major comic-book junkie even though I'd seen the recent Marvel and DC movies and own Gareth Hinds' Beowulf and Watchmen graphic novels, so I didn't initially think I'd like it.

Well, I was wrong. The banter between the two of them was really engaging and they brought up a lot of interesting topics. I'd thought it might be them talking about comics I'd never read or wasn't interested in, but they made discussions even about those really interesting.

Some highlights of the first two episodes:

*Discussion of Image Comics as a company whose creators ultimately own their intellectual properties. Image just produces the comics in exchange for a cut. In contrast, DC and Marvel own the IP and hire people to write stories for them. If I had a hot IP, I'd be more willing to work for Image (or Icon, Marvel's creator-owned imprint) because I tend not to want to let go of my ideas. Image Comic even has a page of submission guidelines. Hmm...

*Some thoughts on the representation of women in Mad Max: Fury Road vs. Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The most damning indictment of Michael Bay for objectifying women comes in how two different movies handled Rosie Huntington-Whitely. In Mad Max we can see that she's actually a very capable actress and despite the nature of her character she's objectified. However, in Dark of the Moon she's mostly there to be looked at, and how they introduced her is particularly obnoxious.

(And to make matters worse, she and her male co-star have no chemistry at all, even though they're supposed to be lovers. I was not a fan of Dark of the Moon and not a fan of her replacing Megan Fox as the franchise's female lead, no matter what offensive comments Fox made. I'd thought Huntington-Whitley wasn't a good actress and was simply chosen for her looks. Mad Max proved me wrong--she's not just eye candy and she really can act. If the writers give her something to do and the director puts in the effort, of course. George Miller clearly did in Mad Max; Michael Bay clearly didn't.)

*Discussion of the adaptation of the Kingsman graphic novel into the Kingsman: The Secret Servicefilm and some commentary on some stuff that didn't work. I really enjoyed The Kingsman, but I admit I thought they took a joke at the end of the movie too far. I wasn't as offended by said joke as much as James and Danielle were, but it went on for far too long. It was funny at first, but then as the joke progressed, it just got crass.

*Discussion of the Old Man Logan comic (Marvel) and the rebooted JLA (DC). There was also some criticism of Man of Steel that I didn't agree with and some concerns about the upcoming Batman vs. Superman (that it would be too GrimDark) that I did.

So if you're a comics fan, a film fan, or a cultural connoisseur in general, check out this podcast!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

New ASOIAF Fan-Fic: Domeric Bolton Lives

The alternate-history forum I've been a member of since high school has spawned another road not taken in the fantasy world of A Song of Ice and Fire. It's called "Domeric Lives: The New Trajectory of House Bolton."

In canon, Domeric Bolton returned from being fostered in the Vale and learned he had an illegitimate half-brother. He had no other siblings--apparently they all died as infants or children--and so he decided he was going to befriend him. Unfortunately said illegitimate half-brother was none other than the infamous Ramsay Bolton (then Snow). Soon after visiting him, Domeric fell ill and died. Roose and others suspect Ramsay poisoned him, but as Roose later tells Theon, "if the kinslayer is accursed, what is a father to do when one son slays another?" Lacking options, Roose made Ramsay his new heir apparent and so Ramsay's career of carnage (beyond whatever bad stuff he might've done as an unstable miller's son in a village somewhere) begins.

This time around, Domeric asks Ramsay a question about how he amuses himself, prompting Ramsay and his henchman Reek to decide on a "hunting accident" later rather than poison now. This eventually teaches them the lesson that you never challenge someone on their strengths--it'd be easy to poison the naive Domeric, but attacking a trained warrior and exemplary rider is not a good idea when you lack military training and all you've got is low cunning and extreme aggression. Reek ends up dead and Ramsay a prisoner in the Dreadfort dungeon, since Domeric has taken his father's teachings about kinslaying to heart.

This is where things get interesting. Roose lets Domeric decide Ramsay's fate, as both a punishment (he'd explicitly forbidden Domeric to seek out Ramsay) and as a lesson in lordship. Domeric won't kill Ramsay himself, nor will he send him to Lord Stark to be executed. Nor does he take the next best option and send him to the Wall, where the Night's Watch might get some use out of him.

Why? Domeric doesn't want to be like his father Roose or their infamous forebears. He has bigger and grander--dare I say it, more "legitimate"--ambitions for House Bolton than being a family of monsters and maniacs. He wants the Boltons to be respected and loved by nobles and commoners alike, not just feared, and thus more politically powerful. As his first step along that path, he decides to tame Ramsay rather than get rid of him.

The first thought that came to mind upon reading about Domeric's ambitions was actually Michael Corleone. For those of you not familiar with the film The Godfather and its sequels, he wanted to legitimize all of his mafia family's operations. I've seen it said online that although people tend to idealize Domeric Bolton due to his playing the harp, his innocent desire for a brother, and the bad end he suffered at the hands of the vile Ramsay, he was still a Bolton. And even if he's not as nasty deep down as the other members of his family, the story makes it clear that in order to win the respect of his father and House Bolton's sworn men, soldiers, etc., he's going to have to be hard-core.

So will Domeric's naivete and good intentions doom him somewhat later than in canon, or do we have an alternate-universe Michael Corleone on our hands? We'll have to see...

Friday, June 26, 2015

Movie Review: Jurassic World (2015)

Last Friday for the podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood's special month-long Jurassic Park series, we watched Jurassic World. Now that the podcast is up for you to listen, here's my usual review...

The Plot

Twenty-two years after the events of Jurassic Park, Hammond's dream has come true. There's a functioning dinosaur park on Isla Nublar where children can ride baby dinosaurs in a petting zoo (there's a particularly cute bit where a child hugs an infant sauropod), people can kayak down rivers where stegosaurs and hadrosaurs drink, massive enclosures where herds of giant herbivores like the triceratops roam, and feeding the mosasaurus a la a bloodier Sea World is always a big crowd-pleaser.

However, as park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) points out to some visiting dignitaries, the park, though profitable, is not profitable enough, and focus groups suggest the people want something bigger, scarier, and with more teeth. So Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) and his staff have played mix-and-match the dinosaur to create a creature they call Indominus Rex. As you can imagine things get difficult--with Claire's visiting nephews caught in the mix no less--and it's up to trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and his pack of semi-trained raptors to save the day...

The Good

*Once we actually get to the island with the dinosaurs, the movie is never boring. I had some issues with what they did with the plot, characters, etc., but the film was really entertaining.

*I liked how Owen pointed out that the Indominus is so dangerous because it never interacted with any other creature (other than a sibling that it ate). The book The Lost World depicts the raptors of Isla Sorna being particularly brutal and anti-social with one another because they were born in a lab without socialization from parents, other members of the pack, etc. The Indominus was basically raised alone and fed meat from a crane, so we might be dealing with a creature that has the dinosaur equivalent of Reactive Attachment Disorder. After all, when dealing with aggressive and dangerous animals (I'm thinking primarily of dogs), bad animals are generally the fault of bad training or upbringing.

(Granted, we are talking about a customized tyrannosaur here, unlike dogs that have been bred for generations to be human-friendly...)

*There's a bit of social commentary about how people grow bored with what were once marvels and constantly want more and more interesting things. I thought it ridiculous that people would be so spoiled they'd get bored with living freaking dinosaurs, but perhaps I'm being unduly optimistic. There'd be a whole generation (the park has been open for ten years, with the events of the first two films happening before that) to whom this isn't new. There's also commentary on focus groups and the focus on short-term profitability. I agreed with this message far more than the pantheistic nonsense Malcolm spouted in the earlier films (or Grant's implication in Jurassic Park III that the people who created the park were outright evil). See director Colin Trevorrow's quote here.

*The scene where Owen and Claire find a mutilated, dying sauropod was legitimately sad.

*I liked how they brought back Dr. Wu from the first film. Although I don't like what they did with his character, it provides a nice bit of continuity. Furthermore, as one of the senior (surviving) InGen personnel from the original park and the one with the most technical knowledge of the cloning process, that the company would bring him on-board makes a lot of sense.

*And Wu provides a great explanation for new park owner Simon Mizrani (Irrfan Khan) about why the dinosaurs, among other things, don't have feathers. The lack of feathered dinosaurs in the original film is a product of the lack of knowledge at the time, but the writers managed to explain this understandable oversight in a really clever way.

*I liked Mizrani as a character. He's the inheritor of Hammond's dream (Hammond seems to have passed the torch onto him personally) who has brought his vision to reality. Furthermore, he's learned from Hammond's mistakes in regards to the velociraptors at least--when ambitious InGen security chief Vic Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio) wants to use them to hunt the Indominus, he flat-out says there will never be free-roaming velociraptors on Isla Nublar, ever. He's also eager, brave, and confident, which comes back to bite him in the end but still reflects well on him.

*Of all the cast, Owen is the most purely fun character. He's strong-willed enough to tame the raptors and his interactions with Claire are a really funny bit of odd-couple. Like a a good trainer of big predators, he knows damn well how dangerous these creatures are and unlike many other characters, he actually respects them. This works out for him later on, when things all go to hell.

*The writers do a good job of showing, not telling, how distant Claire has become from her family. She can't remember how long it's been since she's seen her nephews, she doesn't know how old they are, and falls back on treating them like the little-little kids she remembers later on.

*There are a lot of humor. The interactions between the laid-back and irreverent Owen and the anal-retentive, hyper-organized Claire are funny and in one scene, there's actually a cameo by Jimmy Buffett. Yes, the god of beach music has come to his people.

*I liked the greater variety of prehistoric critters. For example, in the pterosaur aviary, not only is there the classic Pterandon (which we know from the end of The Lost World and from Jurassic Park III that InGen had cloned too), but also the Dimorphodon. My dinosaur knowledge has clearly decayed since elementary school--in the podcast I refer to it as a Rhamphorhyncus. The Mosasaurus (which due to its sheer size would probably be a Kronosaurus actually) was also cool.

*There are a lot of good callbacks to the original film, including a scene involving the T-Rex and flares. The T-Rex also still has the scars she got fighting the raptors at the end--yes, that's the original T-Rex, 22 years older and still kicking. And as one of my fellow podcasters pointed out, the way the blood drips onto an InGen security guy's wrist is just like how Malcolm dripped water on Ellie's wrist in the original film. Go to the TVTropes page to see them all, but beware of spoilers...

*They don't retcon the middle two films. They just don't mention them at all (with the minor exception of Ian Malcolm's book, mentioned in JP III, that some characters are reading). Those of us who enjoyed LW and JP III (I liked LW, but I doubt JP III held up) can believe that Isla Sorna is still out there under military quarantine as a neo-Mesozoic nature preserve (with Malcolm's book as proof the middle films are canon) and those who didn't can believe that the book is something completely unrelated and the middle films never happened.

The Bad

*The beginning is a little slow in a way that the original film never was.

*The Indominus is far too capable. In the scene where Owen and Claire come across a dying sauropod, they soon find the Indominus has wiped out several more. This isn't a spoiler, since this is from the commercials/trailers--the "she's killing for sport" line. The Indominus is as big if not bigger than a tyrannosaurus rex, but you don't see single lions killing one adult elephant, let alone four or five. A group of sauropods with their sheer bulk and whipping tails should have been able to absolutely destroy the Indominus. After all, an Ankylosaurus puts up a pretty good fight against it, and it's significantly smaller and alone.

And then there's the initial interaction between the Indominus and Owen's raptor mafia. Seriously, we're getting to Villain Sue territory here. Plus since the Indominus is an unsocialized, isolated monster, how does it know pack behavior?

*The Indominus could have been much more simple. Instead of a chimera of multiple animals, have the park find the DNA of a Giganatosaurus, a carnosaur that's bigger than the T-Rex. This would let them keep the whole "people want bigger creatures" plot and do it more simply. They could simply depict it as being more monstrous and aggressive (killing its sibling, needing to be contained more strictly) rather than some kind of less-sympathetic Frankenstein monster.

*There's this whole subplot involving Hoskins wanting to train the raptors for war that could be eliminated completely. Hoskins is obnoxious (and some people on TVTropes are convinced he caused the whole catastrophe to happen), Wu's participation (which leads into an obvious Sequel Hook) makes him into a semi-villain when in the original film he seemed like a pleasant and chipper young man, etc. They could have just simply had "Indominus escapes and evades or destroys attempts at capturing or killing it and the only thing standing between it and 20,000 tourists is Owen and his trained raptor pack" as the plot. No need for Hoskins, his conflict with Owen, and making Dr. Wu into a (mildly) Fiendish Dr. Wu at all.

*To that end, they could have referenced the Isla Sorna quarantine from the middle two films. Owen and his raptors have to stop the Indominus before military units from Isla Sorna (which is part of the same island chain) invade the park to protect the tourists--something that would definitively prove InGen too incompetent to run the park ever and likely lead to its closure. Owen and his raptors represent the park's chance to deal with the problem on its own and keep Hammond's vision alive.

*Claire's nephews get lost in the park and come across the ruins of the original Visitors' Center and a lot of leftover gear from the original film, including Tim's night-vision goggles and the original gas-powered Jeeps. It seems really foolish and wasteful that InGen would allow the nearly completed park to just rot while they built a completely new park elsewhere on the island.

(Apparently some extra materials suggest it was years between the failure of the original park and the building of the new one, but even if the original buildings were too far gone, they could have tried to salvage stuff. Maybe they helped finance the new park by selling all the metal and what not from the original to China?)

I like the callbacks to the original generally, but not this one.

*There's CGI blood. That never ends well. If you ever make a movie, dear readers, please use real fake blood.

The Verdict

A generally entertaining movie, but with some issues. See it once, preferably at a matinee price. 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Star Trek: Utopia's Fall, Or The Federation Gets A Bit Darker...

One complaint I often hear from science fiction fans is that Star Trek, in particular Star Trek: The Next Generation, is too utopian and preachy. I've only seen a little bit of TNG (the main Star Trek series I watched was Voyager), but the "we've outgrown our infancy" quote you can find here (I tried to find the video on YouTube and couldn't) is a fairly blatant example.

(Later Star Trek series have moved away from this, one example being the Maquis plotline in Voyager and Deep Space Nine. It's exemplified by the "it's easy to be a saint in paradise" quote from Sisko here. If I may be a bit self-promotional, here's how Star Trek would look if it was me implementing the basic concept...)

Well, here's an alternate-universe fan-fic from the alternate-history forum entitled "Star Trek: Utopia's Fall." It diverges from canon with the failure of Operation Return, the mission to recapture Deep Space Nine from the Dominion. To let you know the tone of the work, I'll leave you with this quote from Quark, which is largely a canonical quote from a DS9 episode:

"Let me tell you something about the Federation. They're wonderful, friendly people, as long as their bellies are full and their holosuites are working. But take away their creature comforts, deprive them of food and sleep, sonic showers, put their lives in jeopardy over an extended period of time and those same friendly, intelligent, wonderful people...will become as nasty and violent as the most bloodthirsty Klingon. You don't believe me? Look at those faces. Look in their eyes."

We're still in the early stages of the story, but the gist of seems to be that the Dominion wreaking more havoc against the Federation in the early days of the war burns away the complacency, laziness, sanctimoniousness, and arrogance of the TNG-era Federation and forges the sword that will ultimately destroy them.

A hint of things to come: The author references Section 31 building Genesis Devices...

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Smart, Tough Joffrey? A Euron Greyjoy POV? Check out "Dancing Stags"

Here's another Song of Ice and Fire alternate-universe treat from the alternate-history forum. It's entitled "Dancing Stags," available on fanfiction.net and on A03. The divergence (at least what I figure so far) is that Joffrey "Baratheon" (whose parentage might be a bit more complicated than in canon, since he's Lannister-blonde but has blue eyes) is born a bit earlier and gets some better parental attention. He's still not totally right in the head, but he's a lot smarter and physically tougher than in canon. There's an unfinished fan-fic in which the mind of Octavian from the HBO series Rome gets put in Joffrey's body and this portrayal of smart-Joffrey reminded of that, although Octavian in the show avoided doing violence himself if he could and Joffrey in this story is clearly well-trained for war.

The story begins with Joffrey learning of the death of Jon Arryn and coming up with some ideas of his own on who should be the new Warden of the East, ideas that don't really match up with his unpleasant mother Cersei Lannister's. He's got Waymar Royce as his buddy and henchman and is soon seeking to expand his influence farther in the Red Keep. From the way the story is told so far, we're going to have POVs from Jon Snow, Renly Baratheon, Balon Greyjoy, and (drumroll please) Euron Greyjoy.

Euron is an interesting character. He's an out-and-out monster with a thing for grand over-dramatic gestures, ironic punishments for his enemies (cutting an Ironborn who had adopted the Faith of the Seven into seven pieces, for example), and playing mind games with even his own family members, but he's got a serious Evil Is Cool thing going. It's ultimately revealed that he practices sorcerery and is intent on marrying Danaerys Targaryen and using a supernatural horn to take control of her dragons so the Ironborn can conquer Westeros. I find the character of Euron so interesting I actually came up with an "Euron Greyjoy with the serial numbers filed off" character for a fantasy trilogy who starts out in a fantasyland version of the Kingdom of the Isles and ends up in the fantasyland version of Morocco in his quest to tame dragons. There's some stuff from Norse mythology thrown in there too--hint: It involves just how and why Odin lost his eye. I've got a friend who's into Villain Protagonists, so he might like this one.

In any event, other than the story with Octavian-in-Joffrey, I have never seen a story where Joffrey is anything but a worthless little piece of garbage, let alone an evil mastermind in his own right. This could go some very interesting places...

Monday, June 8, 2015

Stannis Isn't The Mannis Anymore... (SPOILERS)

So I watched Game of Thrones last night, and it was generally an entertaining episode. I liked what happened in Meereen, especially the dramatic return of Drogon and the incineration of a whole bunch of Sons of the Harpy.

However, there was one major aspect of the story I didn't like, and given its magnitude, it really put a dent in my enjoyment of the episode and the series generally.

Stannis letting Melisandre sacrifice his daughter Shireen. To be perfectly blunt, that's incredibly out of character and straight-up character assassination.

Here's a handy graphic showing what happened in the books, courtesy of @lenlovecraft on Twitter:


The creators have generally done a good job consolidating and simplifying a huge, complex book series into something that would work for television. I understand that even with a season per book, there's still a lot of material that would need to get left out.

However, there's a difference between that and giving a character a personality transplant. Stannis's overriding cause is the rule of law and dynastic legitimacy. His older brother Robert's "trueborn" children aren't really his and his actual children are all bastards, so that means Stannis is the legal king. Renly challenges Stannis for the kingship and refuses to back down, so Stannis kills him. He continues the war even after the defeat of his army on the Blackwater, even after one of his in-laws comes up with a peace proposal (marry Shireen to Tommen) behind his back, because of rule of law. He abandons his seat of power to defend the Wall because defending the kingdom against an external threat (the 100,000 wildings and the White Walkers driving them on) is another means of gaining legitimacy--instead of getting the throne to save the kingdom, he saves the kingdom to get the throne.

And should anything happen, Shireen is Stannis's heir. In the pre-released Theon Greyjoy chapter of The Winds of Winter, Stannis explicitly tells his henchman Justin Massey to continue the fight to seat Shireen on the Iron Throne even if Stannis himself is killed in the coming battle with the Boltons.

“It may be that we shall lose this battle,” the king said grimly. “In Braavos you may hear that I am dead. It may even be true. You shall find my sellswords nonetheless.”
The knight hesitated. “Your Grace, if you are dead — ”
“ — you will avenge my death, and seat my daughter on the Iron Throne. Or die in the attempt.” 

Does this seem like something a man who would kill his only daughter, his only heir, would say? Given his wife's fertility problems (all those miscarriages in jars), if anything should happen to Shireen, House Baratheon is dead.

People are claiming that Stannis in the books and Stannis in the show are not the same character, and that people who complain are "Book Puritans." However, are there any characters besides Stannis that get personality transplants like this? Every other character is generally the same as they are in the books, but Stannis, instead of being an atheist obsessed with the rule of law and justice (because in the absence of gods, justice must come from men), is now a crazed religious fanatic.

In the discussion on the alternate-history forum of the episode, someone posted a video in which the showrunners claim Renly would have made a great king (instead of a selfish narcissist who'd set a VERY dangerous precedent--do we want a civil war every time the king dies?). See 3:30 and 4:30, especially the latter. If they hate Stannis for killing Renly and have been character-assassinating him from the very beginning (I haven't watched much of the show pre-Season 4, but I remember complaints that he was too in the thrall of Melisandre), well, they're incredibly, incredibly petty. We're talking "Paul Verhoeven butchering Starship Troopers because he read one chapter in the book and didn't like it" levels of pettiness here.

However, some points in the showrunners' favor:

*I heard on Twitter that George R.R. Martin himself actually said to do this. It's confirmed in this video here. Martin is the creator of the book series and thus the ultimate authority on what's canon and what's not. However, Martin said it happens in a later book. If that's the case, what I think will happen is that Stannis's men who remained at the Wall get the letter claiming Stannis is dead and Ramsay is coming and decide to sacrifice Shireen unilaterally to call down some Red God juju lest they all get flayed alive. Another theory I've heard is that Melisandre burns Shireen to resurrect Jon Snow as the real Azor Azhai. Either way, Stannis does not do this and that's the important part.

*If Shireen must die, there's still a way to do it that's not so grossly out of character for Stannis. We've seen Melisandre work magic from the blood of Robert's bastard Gendry, who has the "king's blood" she needs. This she accomplishes by drawing blood with leeches. There might not be leeches in the North, but they could always do good old-fashioned bleeding. Shireen is eager to do this to help her father (per her pre-burning speech) and Melisandre praises her for her zeal. The first bleeding causes some kind of minor miracle, so Melisandre does it again and again. Shireen starts to weaken and sicken, but she's eager to help and it is working. Eventually Stannis puts his foot down, but Shireen is now really anemic and between that and the harsh conditions, dies.

That sequence would have all the tragedy of what happened without Stannis being so murderous and out-of-character.

Furthermore, this only happened because Ramsay's "twenty good men" plan actually worked, which is incredibly unlikely. Given Ramsay and his Northerners' knowledge of the terrain and Ramsay's sheer audacity I could imagine them doing something besides getting killed trying to kill Stannis (which I thought would happen), but they were way, way too successful. They get in and out of the camp (where they've never been before) without losing a man, they destroy the siege engines and the food specifically, etc. Ramsay is capable, but this is getting into Villain Sue territory.

So yeah. Poor story decisions (Ramsay the Ubermensch) breeding more poor story decisions (Stannis murdering his own daughter).

Still, it's mostly been a great show so far and I'm definitely going to watch the season finale.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

A Different Weasel Makes a Difference...or Old Walder Dies Early

Here's another fun story from the alternate-history forum. The world of A Song of Ice and Fire is so complex and so many roads not taken that playing the alternate-universe game can go in some pretty cool directions.

So I present you with A Different Weasel Makes a Difference. It diverges from canon just before the War of the Five Kings breaks out, during the events of A Game of Thrones. Lord Walder Frey dies soon after wedding his eighth wife, making Stevron Frey the new Lord of the Crossing. Soon afterward, Jon Arryn is poisoned and Gregor Clegane unleashes his reign of terror in the Riverlands, kicking off what will become the War of the Five Kings. Or, as he calls it in the story, the War of the Eight Kings...

There are all sorts of interesting consequences. Although the number of chapters on fanfiction.net (and thus publicly available) is not large right now, I've been reading what he's been posting on the forum (dozens of chapters already) and can provide you some fun stuff yet to come. The change in the lordship of the Twins sets the butterfly wings a-flapping, spawning more changes from the canon timeline as the war goes on.

*A Mallister ship is lost to "unknown causes" in the Sunset Sea, alerting the Starks and their allies that the Greyjoys might be moving again. Consequently, Catelyn Stark is sent north as regent after Robb is hailed as king and the Starks make more preparations for possible attack from the sea, including reinforcing Moat Cailin.

*When King Renly Baratheon is killed by Stannis's shadow, his lover Ser Loras Tyrell impulsively leads a cavalry charge against King Stannis Baratheon's encampment near Storm's End. Sufficient to say, impulses have their drawbacks...

*Stannis's sorceress Melisandre unleashes her magic on an army-level scale, fueled by mass human sacrifices. It is terrible and it is awesome.

*The battle for King's Landing is a multi-chapter morass of mayhem called the Battle of the Four Armies. A nice little call-back to The Hobbit there... :)

*We have the morbid irony of the armies of Robb Stark--a secessionist from the Targaryen-created Kingdom of Westeros--enforcing Maegor the Cruel's laws against the arming of the Faith. It'd be like Polish rebels enforcing the laws of Russia, Prussia, or Austria-Hungary on their political enemies.

*The long-oppressed thralls of the Iron Islands get their moment of glory.

*And based on stuff the author has told me via messaging, there's going to be a lot more Rule of Cool and Crowning Moments of Awesome to come. Hint: They involve Asha Greyjoy, who dared try to crown herself queen of the patriarchal Ironborn...

So even though there might not be much posted at present, I strongly suggest you Follow the story so you get e-mailed whenever new chapters are posted. The author told me he intends to have the story on fanfiction.net caught up to where he is on the forum by the end of the summer. More chapters are promised this week. :)