Friday, November 17, 2017

It Just Keeps Getting Better

Earlier this year when Fox started airing commercials for The Orville I was rather unimpressed, but curious. The ads did not really draw me in and gave me no real idea about the show. The humor looked like it was going to fall flat and all in all just not work.

I actually was picturing the show to last a few episodes and then fade away.

I watched the first episode and it seemed to back up that belief. You could see what it was trying for, but it was missing its mark. The humor all felt forced with an awkwardness I couldn't explain.

Yet there was something there that made me want to give it a chance.

Episode by episode it has grown better. They seem to have figured out the pacing and how to work the humor into the episodes so it feels natural.

Fairly early on the show made it clear it wanted to deal with some serious issues. In their third episode 'About a Girl' they jumped right into some significant moral and societal issues, that did not seem to fit with how the show had been sold to us. It was truly surprising.

Now from the get go this was clearly Seth MacFarlane's ego project. This is the guy who gave us Family Guy and the Ted movies. For him to try to do serious sci-fi... Even though he was behind bringing us the brilliant reboot of Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson, picturing MacFarlane writing a serious show just didn't seem possible. I was expecting the bizarre, unhinged humor of Family Guy, without morals or good taste getting in the way. With such mature writing, it is hard to believe this is the same guy.

And Seth MacFarlane's Captain Mercer is not an interesting character. It is clearly MacFarlane is playing space captain because he wants to. But I am all for letting him play if he can keep the rest of the crew interesting and give us these stories.

What we are getting with the Orville now is an old school style Sci-Fi, looking at sci-fi tropes in a episodic format. One of the most noticeable differences between Orville and say Star Trek:TNG (which is the show I would say it most closely resembles), is that the characters in Orville are relaxed, not taking themselves overly serious.  While this does make it feel nonmilitary (seriously, I do not think I would want this team out there protecting me) it allows for a much more honest dialogue between characters. When you have the second in command say "this may sound like I'm talking out of my ass" with the reply "then please make sure you enunciate" during a briefing, it works.

The Orville is not the show I was expecting it to be, but it has become enjoyable and the farther along we go the better it seems to become.  MacFarlane seems to be figuring out how to make it work and will hopefully keep following what we have seen in the last few episodes that have worked so well.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Disharmony of the Spheres

My story 'Time of the Bursting' has been published in the anthology 'Disharmony of the Spheres:

It is an anthology of stories that focus on mental illness. This is the most meaningful anthology I have been in.

Half the profits from this book will go to the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Organization, a group that battles teen suicide.

The following is from the product description.

"Mental illness is very common in our society, but it’s also very misunderstood. Many view those with mental illnesses as being weak, but there is a great deal of strength in those that must battle their own minds on a regular basis. Disharmony of the Spheres focuses on characters with mental illnesses that are still able to be successful. They may not completely overcome their illnesses, but they are able to beat them back and succeed."

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Oh No!!! There Is Politics In My Entertainment...

Note, this post will talk about politics. This is your only warning.  If you keep on reading, it is all on you.

I know a writer on Facebook, who for various reason I decided to unfriend. His views were just insulting and often he would say 'no comment zone' when making a political post and delete any comments left. Too often these post were as inaccurate as it gets, with no facts to back them up, and obviously you were not allowed to correct him by telling him the facts. So I had enough once he tried to compared homosexuals wanting to not be discriminated against with the KKK, which was for me was crossing an unforgivable line. However when I wish to see what the other side is saying I check out his page. The other day he had a political cartoon going after Marvel Comics for being 'Social Justice Warriors' along with his rant about how Marvel went downhill after getting political.

And I am fine with that, as it is his opinion.

Jump a week or so, and I learned the original The Day The Earth Stood Still was on Netflix and my girlfriend had yet to see it.  So we watched it.

Did you know it has a strong, obvious political statement to it? And that statement is clearly liberal? And that it was made over sixty years ago?

I wonder if my former FB friend knows of this?

Sci-fi in general seems to have a lot of strong liberal messages to them, and has for some time. Roddenberry never hid the liberal ideas in Star Trek. The whole series was highly political.  Roddenberry would be labeled a 'Social Justice Warrior' nowadays and most likely would wear that label proudly.

I could go into a list of books, movies and TV shows that back me up here, but that would be long and boring. There does seem to be an historic truth that the future favors progressive thinking and that truth pops up in our fiction regularly for a reason. Instead I will do some generalizing.

Are there are stories where the unregulated corporations are the good guys and not the villains? Capitalism left unchecked is the go to bad guys for a good deal of stories. Our fiction very clearly says that the free market will NOT fix itself, even in the more conservatively written stories. We as a society would not find a story where a corporation left to its own devices, without some form of oversight, being the good guys and putting doing what is right above making money just because it is the right thing - just too unbelievable. Tony Stark doesn't become heroic until he suffers at the hands of his company's unchecked greed and realizes there needs to be regulation there. And very often Iron Man's enemies are his business rivals who do all they can to be unregulated.

 Any political messages there?

Marriage equality, gay rights and accepting homosexuals is pretty much everywhere nowadays. Is there any mainstream sci-fi right now that is not promoting a pro-LGBT message? Both Marvel and DC comics have been pushing such a message for several decades now.

Maybe my FB friend is bothered by Marvel being critical of a President they disagree with?  That's brand new right? Sorry, but back in the '70s Captain America was fighting a bunch of bad guys and found himself fin the Oval Office and that the President (We never see his face, but it was obvious as to which President) was actually behind this criminal plot. Steve Rodgers gave up being Captain America for a time because he was so disillusioned.

But I guess that was not being political somehow.

Politics has been in our entertainment as far back as human history goes. For someone to suddenly get upset because any form of entertainment has a political message they disagree with seems to be overacting to me. If you are serious about such things, there really is little out there for you to enjoy. If you can't handle political views you disagree with being expressed to you, it would be best to avoid reality in general as well as most forms of entertainment.

Politics are always going to pop up in entertainment no matter what. It comes out in the creative process and it would be insulting to imply any artist should censor themselves for your comfort. People like my former FB friend much live in an odd state of denial if they are just now getting upset over how political their entertainment is.

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Very Pleasant Surprise

I was sitting around, feeling like watching something, but no idea what to watch. I went randomly  scrolling through Netfllix to find something. Saw a film I had never heard of starring Simon Pegg and figured that was a good bet.

The film was titled Absolutely Anything.

Just watching the credits I was already gaining faith in the film.

The full surviving cast of Monty Python as the voices of the aliens, written and directed by Terry Jones and with Robin Williams in what would be his final role as the voice of Dennis the dog. Such a huge batch of talent.

The story is that aliens have discovered Earth and have decided to judge us. This is done by giving one random person the power to bend reality as he pleases and see how he handles it. They do not inform the individual, just get him the powers and see what happens.

So Simon Pegg's character is given the powers and slowly learns he has them. The powers work by doing what they are told do without concern for the intention behind the commands, which is where most of the comedy for the movie comes from. There were good stretches where I just could not stop laughing. He really is about the best comedic actor out there right now.

Kate Beckinsale pays the love interest. Her character is dealing with an obsessive ex-boyfriend played by Rob Riggle, who ends up being the main human antagonist in the film. Beckinsale's character also serves as the human anchor for the all powerful Pegg, giving some morality to what might had otherwise just been a crazy comedy.

With all the talent and names connected to the film, as well as being Robin Williams' last role, it surprises me the film didn't get more attention during its brief, limited, theater run here in the states. I found it highly enjoyable and fun, and a truly pleasant surprise for a movie I had never heard of, but should had.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Perverts and Pictures in the Harry Potter Universe

While making out with my girlfriend in a room filled with family pictures, I made the comment about how in the world of Harry Potter, parents most likely do not keep any family photos in their bedroom. She understood what I was saying. When pictures are in a sense a copy of the person's soul, that can interact with you as well as display the full range of emotion, you're gonna be cautious as to what pictures you have in areas where you get intimate or undressed. Family photos in the bedroom, any bedroom really are just not going to be a regular thing and could actually serve as a sign of questionable perversions. Of course if you're into voyeurism, there would be an interesting kink to pictures of yourself by the bedside.

This whole idea takes us to some interesting places when it comes to decorating one's house. You would actually do an interview process before buying a piece of art, in order to make sure those in the art are of the proper state of mind for the room you intend to display them in.

I could see a bachelor looking for paintings of women who are flirtatious, with no issues about nudity for his bedroom or office. A planned out bachelor pad would most likely have strategically placed pictures. You could have a live band always available.

Adult magazines would be a whole different thing. There wouldn't be the need for as many pictures, just different angles and costumes. You could actually direct the models and create your own story with them. The models could also play the roll of censor, covering themselves up and refusing to put on a show for underage boys. Would make muggle magazines highly desirable in the magical world for teenage boys.

Then we would almost have to break away from the stereotype of the teenage girl covering her walls with posters of her crushes. In the Harry Potter universe this would be highly problematic.  Twenty-something men watching young girls in various states of dress, as they explore their bodies or as they sleep. High creep factor there. And reading your teen magazines in bed or the bath presents the same problem. In fact any magical magazines or newspapers present such a situation, as bringing them into the restroom with you, has all manner of issues.

In a world where your pictures are living, thinking, feeling beings, there should be all manner of moral considerations for that society on how you treat them. The possibilities for perversions would seem limitless in that world. Someone who was into real kinky stuff would most likely find new ways to explore those kinks. And privacy would be noticeably harder to control when you are literally being watched wherever you go.

Just one more twisted area of the Harry Potter universe that was clearly there, but never explored.

Monday, September 25, 2017

So That is Star Trek Discovery...

Watched the pilot episode of Star Trek Discovery last night and was rather unimpressed, despite everyone else seeming to claim it to be great television. I'm not a die hard Trekkie, but I generally enjoy Trek. Yet I did not find anything enjoyable about Discovery.

I'm going to go through my thought process as I watched the show.

First scene we got the Klingons that are not really Klingons. They look nothing at all like Klingons, none of the tech feels like Klingon tech and while I am fairly sure their were speaking Klingon (I don't know the language) they spoke it far softer than every other time we've heard Klingon, even when humans have spoken it, so it didn't sound like Klingon. Everything about these creatures felt like a whole new species. Even the switch from the ST:TOS Klingons to what they became in the movies and into the future series felt more like they could be the same species, as they had a similar feel to them. These new branch of the species has nothing to give that similar feel. It is like saying that cats and lizards are the same species because they walk on four legs. You wouldn't believe such a claim.

Maybe the show will give a working explanation for this (I had already come up with one concerning this being a religious off branch that got caught up in a lot of inbreeding) , but I'm not that interested in watching any more to find out. I also doubt the reasoning will be believable.

If they want to use Klingons, then use Klingons.  If instead they wanted a new species, then go with a new species. It really is that simple.

Next scene we find ourselves watching Rey and friend in a cut scene from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. A boring cut scene where nothing interesting is happening, that turns out to actually be a scene stolen from Star Trek: Into Darkness, with  none of the humor or excitement, including having the starship enter a planet's atmosphere.

So already they have done nothing that has felt original, nothing that has drawn me in. The characters have been boring, the action has been boring and I am ready to turn it off. At this point the show had nothing to offer. Any other show that had such a start without the Star Trek name would most likely lose all its viewers.

And now they are repairing a satellite...

After a drawn out exploration scene we get a five second fight followed by a commercial break and an awkward time jump.

Oh, our main character was raised by Vulcans, with a close relationship to Spock's father. Some character development, which no other character gets at all in the least. Of course Vulcans are as illogical as ever by expecting humans to not have emotions, as if humans would not act like humans for some reason. This has always been one great flaw with any Vulcan. If they were as great as they wish to believe themselves to be, they would understand the usefulness of emotions. It is one aspect of Trek that was over used and old, which needs to be worked on for once, instead of reused.

Then we start getting the awkward camera angles and the lens flare that did not work in the Abram's movies and does not work here. At times it feel as if they took all the parts of the Abram's movies that did not work, and used them, while ignoring the aspects of those movies that made them enjoyable.

Finally we get to the first real conflict in the episode (with five minutes left) as our main character knows better than her captain, who refuses to listen because of Star Fleet regulations. This is followed by our main character assaulting her commanding officer and then attempting mutiny. So by any logic at all, our main character should be court-martialed in the next episode. We all know that won't happen, as this has been done so many time before in Trek and the character never faces real consequences and even gets promoted.

The first episode then ends with the Klingons getting reinforcements. It also ended with me saying 'that's it?' I do not really care about any of the characters, as most served as nothing more than background for out man character who I have no desire to follow.

Now I know there is a part two available online, but I'm not interested in checking it out. I doubt it will fix the problems I have with it.

Over all I saw nothing original in it. The story was just not there. No real drama or conflict to be found. No humor. I don't care about any of the characters, especially the main character, as none of them are interesting. I really believe that if not for the Star Trek link, this show would not be getting so much praise.

I felt like I had seen all of this before and done better.

In the end this is just CBS trying to get it streaming service started by using an established franchise. We'll see how that works out for them.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Piss Poor Lock-Ups

Been watching Super-Girl this week (just glad that for once they actually got the whole super-person character right for once) and have been enjoying it, thankful that they are avoiding a great deal of the laws that have always made Super-Man an uninteresting character. However, there was one great flaw in the series that is a common flaw in general fiction.

So many sci-fi/fantasy prisons just do not work and are so poorly conceived, they become insulting.

In Super-Girl, the Kryptonians are so enlightened that have do not have the death penalty. Instead they have a far worse, less humane way to deal with unwanted individuals. They put the criminals in a place called Fort Rozz, which is in the Phantom Zone.  Time does not pass in the Phantom Zone. And we are given the impression that all trips to Fort Rozz are life sentences  with no hope of parole. This basically means the prisoners are held in a place where they are outside of time, not aging, forever. No surprise at all that when the prisoners finally get free, they are pissed off and wanting revenge. Nothing about the Fort Rozz concept works. The dangerous criminals get to stay young, and spend their lives being tortured by captivity on a truly inhumane level. There is nothing enlightening about that concept.

Same goes for the Phantom Zone in the 80s Super-man movie. General Zod and his crew were trapped in a real confined space and shot into the Phantom Zone, which they escape from and were even more dangerous than before, in no small part due to their anger over being treated so inhumanly.

There is no doubt that death would be far more humane than being imprisoned in the Phantom Zone.

Yet this idea of being enlightened and not having the Death Penalty pops up a lot and creates stupid form of imprisonment. One we see often is the idea of suspended animation.  The perfect example of this is the movie Demolition Man. Both our hero and villain are frozen as their punishment (will ignore the fact that the hero was frozen over testimony from the villain and nothing more.) Once unfrozen neither of them have experienced time. The villain basically got a long nap for being a mass murderer, and is fully rested when awoken. When the punishment deprives the criminal of any sense of being punished, it really just goes against the whole purpose of a punishment. There is no chance at all of rehabilitation. Being forced to take a nap will not give the bad guy any time to reflect on his/her actions. Any time-based sentence in suspended animation is really just a waste of time, and any life sentence to such is just silly.

Then we have Azkaban. No matter how much you might enjoy the world of Harry Potter, any thinking person has to admit it has a good deal of poorly thought-out concepts, and it is fair to say that Azkaban is at the top of that list. Azkaban is a truly horrible place where people are sent to be tortured in a manner that is beyond inhumane. This is from the Harry Potter Wiki: "Most of the prisoners inside its walls died of despair, having lost the will to live. This is due to the presence of Dementor guards on the island. Dementors drain people of all happiness and leave them with their worst memories, long-term exposure can also lead to insanity." To make this all the more deranged, we know that individuals are sent there for just being suspected of committing crimes. You hope there are other less dramatic prisons in that world for those found guilty of minor crimes, but we never get the sense of that. The logic of sending criminals to a place that will either kill them from sever mental torture or drive them dangerously mad just does not work on any level in any manner of an even mildly humane society. With that kind of thinking running the magical world, it should be highly surprising that they are not producing Voldemorts every day.

I am not sure where the idea of such poorly conceived prison concepts come from. Those concepts are a weakness in so many fictional worlds and could easily be avoided with a little thought. In all the examples I have given here, death would be a truly more humane choice, so the claim of being enlightened falls flat in all these cases.