One story, told twice

So I’m going to tell you about two characters.

The first is FN-2187, aka Finn, from 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He’s one of the protagonists of the movie, a coward with a heart of gold who starts out as a Stormtrooper but stumbles into an adventure while fleeing from the First Order.

finn-star-wars

The second is Rhys, from 2014’s Tales from the Borderlands. He’s one of two playable characters in the game, a middle manager at Hyperion who stumbles into an adventure while attempting to dethrone his asshole boss. The player can choose how he responds to certain choices in the course of the story, making him a snarky jerk or a coward with a heart of gold-ish substance.

rhys-borderlands

Here, let me describe their arcs in more detail. (Spoilers for both stories below, of course)

  1. He begins the story working as a minor stooge for the main villainous organization of the franchise.
  2. Instead of climbing the ranks, he ends up being demoted to janitorial duty on the villainous organization’s big bad base. This base can shoot missiles through space to attack planets. Ships without clearance cannot get through this base’s force field.
  3. He’s got a nemesis in the villainous organization: not the person at the very top of the food chain, but a hyper-competent manager who’s keeping a close eye on him.
  4. His character design is deliberately intended to make him look innocent and not battle-hardened. He has a round jaw, a beardless face, and no visible scars. He’ll stay beardless even in situations where shaving is clearly not a priority, such as while wandering in the desert and while unconscious. Despite the fact that his one-syllable Celtic name is uncommon in America, he has an American accent.
  5. On a desert planet, he’s confronted with the true consequences of working for the villainous organization, and decides that he’d rather be out for himself.
  6. He has a close friend who travels with him from the villainous base. This buddy is his best bro; they work well together, and they’re never set up as rivals in romance or in their careers. For a long stretch of the story, this buddy appears to be dead, but pops up again to rescue him later, having improbably survived an attack by the enemy.
  7. On the desert planet, he runs across a spunky brunette with an unglamourous career on the margins of society. Though the two start off on the wrong foot, they eventually develop a mutual respect.
  8. His arc with the spunky brunette is not about being saved from evil by the love of a good woman, nor is it about his destiny as the chosen one relegating her to sidekick status. She’s the one who kicks butt and takes names; his role in the story is to be impressed and give her valuable intel about the enemy.
  9. The spunky brunette has unclear parentage. She wears a distinctive brown outfit that includes an asymmetrical pouch on one hip. She receives a small gun as a gift from a cantankerous old con artist who is a father figure to her, but not her biological dad. When it’s time for them to ride a hunk of junk into space together, she’s the pilot. A protagonist from an earlier installment of the franchise becomes a mentor to her, symbolically passing the torch on to her.
  10. His time on the desert planet will involve a lot of sequences in which he’s shocked, hit on the head, knocked down, or forced to do something gross. Watching a card-carrying member of the villainous organization suffer will be played as both a catharsis for the audience, and the beginning of a redemption arc in which his suffering gradually transmutes him into a sympathetic character.
  11. In his travels, he meets a ball-shaped robot with child-like characteristics. This robot has a map that leads somewhere very important, and his journey involves following the robot across the world. Powerful, dangerous people are on the hunt for this robot. The spunky brunette will initially be tempted to sell the robot, but will decide against it.
  12. In at least one scene, he will need to climb something using the spunky brunette for support, and she will complain about it.
  13. Halfway through the story, our heroes end up leaving the desert and entering a forest. There, they meet a spry elderly person with round googles with interchangeable lenses. This person gives them a tool they need to continue on their journey. When an enemy searching for the robot outguns them in the forest, the sequence ends with a woman being kidnapped.
  14. A former friend from the villainous organization will attempt to kill him.
  15. At the climax of the story, our heroes need to sneak onto the enemy base with the help of his insider knowledge. Although the spunky brunette appears to need rescuing, she’ll end up holding her own just fine in a fight, and he’s actually the one who’ll need to be rescued at the end of the sequence. A protective figure dies and falls towards a glowing blue light. The enemy base explodes. At the end of this sequence, he passes out.
  16. The story ends with him electing to remain with the friends he’s made on his journey, who are the enemies of the organization he started out with. However, he does temporarily part ways with the spunky brunette, who is parted from him not knowing whether he’ll survive.
  17. As a visual indicator of his change in allegiance, the jacket he is wearing changes. By the end of the story, he’s wearing a jacket with an eye-catching reddish strip over the left breast.

So, which one ripped the other off? Neither–they were both in development at the same time, and both projects were developed in secrecy to avoid spoilers. The similarities might be uncanny, but the writers weren’t cribbing off each other.

Of course, both stories exist in the shadow of the same science fiction edifice: the original Star Wars trilogy. Star Wars shaped so much of how we imagine a well-worn science fiction universe that it’s just inevitable that certain aesthetic trends will carry over: blue-tinted holograms, robotic prosthetic hands, run-down desert outposts, escape pods, spaceships held together by creative engineering and prayer, and so on.

Plus, both franchises reference classic Westerns as well as films by Akira Kurosawa (The original Star Wars is heavily inspired by The Hidden Fortress, and The Force Awakens references it too; Tales from the Borderlands uses the framing device from Rashomon). It’s not that surprising to see a similar set of tropes coming out of the same cultural well.

And then, sometimes story elements just manage to bubble up from the collective unconsciousness in many different places. In a world filled with obedient robots, the idea of a human getting demoted to janitorial duty is particularly funny. It’s satisfying for modern audiences to see the trope of the damsel in distress turned on its head. A lifetime of Western media consumption has left most of us with subconscious associations about face shapes, costumes, and hair colors and styles. We have an instinctual tendency to anthropomorphize robots and to think of rounded objects as childlike. The banality of evil and the redemption arc very, very old themes.

These are far from the only stories with remarkably similar parallels. Go on, try the same exercise with Simon Tam from Firefly, Jake Sully from Avatar, Commander Shepard from Mass Effect 2, Wikus from District 9, Douglas Quaid from Total Recall, and Nux from Mad Max: Fury Road. Not every detail will line up perfectly, but you’ll be able to pick out a generous handful of common character types, themes, images, and scenes from any two stories on the list. These two happened to line up so perfectly in part because they started from the same place, as spin-offs of a massively successful franchise that had already established its setting and its villains.

Christmas gifts for the child you wish to disappoint

All images are straight from AliExpress.com, your one stop shop for items off the back of the truck and items that appear to have been run over by the truck.

capture1

“Have you seen that movie, How to Ride your Dragon? I thought it was just the cutest, the way the dragon waddles around slowly growing larger until it crushes the village.”

capture2

“You still play that Morio Siblings game with the racing and the pipes and the stripper princess, right?”

capture5

“Hey, wasn’t this the movie with that boy you like?”

capture6

“Game of Thrones, was that the one with the spider who turns into a man and goes to the prom?”

What is dead may never die

Jaqen_Hghar_Tom_W
What do we say to the God of Death? See ya later.

Hey Game of Thrones viewers, how are you doing this morning? Do you need a hug? A quest for bloody vengeance? Maybe some fan theories about how all your favorite characters are still alive?

It’s been four years since A Dance With Dragons came out. Fans have been using that time to speculate wildly on how their favorite characters survived. Come, join us book readers in clinging to our slender threads of hope.

Jon Snow

Jon also ends up stabbed by his sworn brothers at the end of A Dance With Dragons, in a scene that plays out pretty much exactly the same in the book. While he’s certainly dead now, there’s no guarantee that he’ll stay dead.

  1. Jon could be resurrected by Melisandre as an incarnation of Azor Ahai
  2. Jon could end up leading the white walkers as the Night’s King
  3. It’s pretty weird, narratively speaking, to kill Jon off before anyone has confirmed or denied the infamous fan theory L + R = J
  4. Jon could be released from his vows to the Night’s Watch on a technicality
  5. Ghost is still alive, so he could just warg out of this situation
  6. The scene directly preceding his death reminds us that people don’t always stay dead in this part of the world

Likelihood that he’s dead: High

Likelihood that he’s going to stay dead: Low

Sansa Stark and Theon Greyjoy

Sansa’s story in this season has been combined with her friend Jeyne Poole. In the books, Jeyne is sent off to marry Ramsay Bolton, while pretending to be Arya Stark (long story). She befriends Theon, and the two jump off the wall together.

  1. In the books, Jeyne and Theon survive the jump by landing in a snowdrift. They end up tagging along with Stannis’s army.
  2. In the books, Sansa is still at the Eyrie, preparing to marry one of Robert Baratheon’s bastards. It looks like she still has a big part to play in the story.
  3. Theon survives in the books–but most of the Greyjoys’ relevant parts have been cut in the show

Likelihood that Sansa’s dead: Low

Likelihood that Theon’s dead: Medium

Likelihood that Sansa’s going to stay dead: Practically nonexistant

Likelihood that Theon’s going to stay dead: Low to Medium

Myrcella Baratheon (Lannister)

In the books, Myrcella is injured but alive. However, the “Gold will be their crowns and gold their shrouds” line from the beginning of this season is straight out of the books, so the likelihood that she’ll still be around by the end of the story is low.

Likelihood that Myrcella’s dead: 100% certainty

Likelihood that Myrcella’s going to stay dead: High, although the Qyburn plotline could take a weird turn

Gregory Clegane, The Mountain

It’s no secret that Sir Robert Strong is the Mountain, resurrected by Qyburn’s evil alchemy.

Likelihood that Gregor’s dead: We pretty much saw him die

Likelihood that Gregor’s going to stay dead: He’s still walking around

Sandor Clegane, The Hound

We last saw Sandor grievously injured. In the book A Storm of Swords and the show, Arya walks away from him rather than giving him a merciful death. However, in the books, Brienne is playing detective (long story) and ends up in an island monastery run by priests of the seven. She notices that Sandor’s distinctive horse is there, and an evasive monk drops a series of hints about how “the Hound” has died while refusing to say outright that Sandor is dead. Brienne sees a hooded gravedigger who just so happens to be the same size as Sandor with the same distinctive injuries, but gets distracted by a passing dog. Get it???

  1. It’s almost too obvious
  2. It would set up my personal favorite fan theory, Cleganebowl, which would tie into the Sparrows plotline

Likelihood that Sandor’s dead: Low

Likelihood that the Hound is dead: High

Likelihood that Sandor’s going to stay dead: Low

Shireen Baratheon

In the books, Shireen is still alive and hanging out at Castle Black. However, the producers have hinted that they got this particular twist from Martin.

Likelihood that Shireen is dead: Pretty much certain

Likelihood that Shireen is going to stay dead: High

In praise of criticism

If you don’t follow the book blogging community closely, you may not be aware that there have been multiple recent incidents of authors stalking and assaulting book reviewers for daring to give their books negative reviews. This is deeply fucked up, and many book bloggers understandably chose to stop reviewing books for their own safety.

All writers have blind spots when it comes to their own work; it’s a psychological fact that we’re awful at spotting our own mistakes. It certainly stings when someone else points out a glaring flaw in the piece you’ve poured your blood, sweat, and tears into–but as an author, it’s your responsibility to deal with that pain like a mature adult.

So in light of everything that’s gone down, I’d like to take a moment to talk about my favorite book and movie critics. These reviewers have made criticism an art form in its own right; their breakdowns of the things they love (or love to hate) are amusing, educational, and sometimes even profound.

Red Letter Media: Plinkett Reviews

Mr. Plinkett is the creation of film reviewer Mike Stoklasa. He’s a crotchety old serial killer who’s taken time off his murder spree to review films in intense, almost excruciating detail. Plinkett doesn’t waste much time trying to determine whether a film deserves critical acclaim; he’s more concerned with whether a piece is effective at holding the audience’s attention and appealing to our emotions. His reviews of the Star Wars prequels are brilliant breakdowns of exactly how the films manages to fail so spectacularly on so many levels. I’d also recommend his reviews of Avatar and Titanic for a nuanced look at the filmmaking techniques that are best for appealing to your audience’s emotions.

Jenny Trout: Jenny Reads 50 Shades of Grey

Jenny Trout is a successful romance writer who’s penned her own kink-focused series. Her chapter by chapter take-down of 50 Shades of Grey is brilliant because she knows exactly what’s not working and why. Jenny lays every misstep out for us: the misused romantic tropes, the unhealthy relationship dynamic, the awkward and inappropriate phrasing, the obvious plagiarism of plot points and characters, and more. Sometimes writers need to see a story taken apart to understand why it works (or in this case, doesn’t work), and this review is a perfect dissection of an imperfect specimen.

Lindy West: Film reviews (various sites)

Most of Lindy West’s articles these days are broader cultural criticism, but every once in a while she picks a movie or book and goes deep into everything that went wrong, and she’s brilliant every time. You’re going to have to read her work for yourself–there’s no way to reduce her quirky, incisive humor to a few pithy sentences. Here, I’ll try: one time she interviewed a fart. I still think about Sam Tarly’s thyroid every time I reread Game of Thrones. Her review of Love Actually is devastatingly correct and contains phrases like “the Misuse-of-government-funds-mobile” and “cock-blocktopus.”

Marvel might get it right

So, Marvel just announced a Captain Marvel movie. Are you excited? I’m excited. Let’s be excited together.

captain_marvel

Yes, I am aware that Sony and WB/DC beat Marvel to the whole female superhero thing; Sony announced a villainess-focused Spiderman spinoff some time ago, and DC managed to get its Wonder Woman announcement out a few weeks ahead of Marvel’s mic drop. The problem is that Sony and WB/DC have been cranking out consistently lousy movies. Sony’s Spider-Man movies have been declining at the box office, largely because the movies are failing to to anything new or even do the familiar competently. The DC movies have managed to do better at the box office despite pans from critics. And of course, Fox hasn’t even bothered to include a woman-led movie in its lineup, even though it has all of the X-Men to choose from (and it’s worth noting that Days of Future Past had a female lead in the original comic).

I don’t think studio executives will reexamine their views about lady-led superhero movies until one dominates the box office. There is still this belief that women can’t helm a successful science fiction movie, and it’s because the few movies we do get are exceptionally poorly done. Take the pitiful crop of recent super-heroines. Lucy was a racist, nonsensical disaster. Before that, the last superhero movie with a female protagonist (not counting My Super Ex-Girlfriend) was Elektra, all the way back in 2005, featuring the love interest of one of the biggest superhero flops of its time. Going back further, Catwoman was a legendary mistake with a miserably bad script in 2004, and that was the first female-focused superhero movie in eight years. There’s a lot riding on these upcoming superheroines; if these movies flop, we’re probably not going to see another leading lady in the genre for a long time.

So I’m excited to see Marvel, the studio that has consistently been turning out both successful and satisfying movies, finally getting around to putting a woman front and center. What’s concerning is that Kevin Fiege, the current president of Marvel, said that Marvel was too busy to make a female superhero movie in an interview in August (although it’s possible that he was being purposefully evasive to keep this week’s big announcement under wraps). This could mean that Captain Marvel is a very new addition to a lineup that was supposedly meticulously planned. Will it get the same consideration as the other movies slated for release, or will it be another disappointing afterthought?

Books, ads, and cold hard cash

My long-suffering Keyboard Kindle finally shuffled off its mortal coil. I hopped on Amazon.com immediately to buy a new one, because I just can’t be without my precious $2.99 ebooks. The cheapest model available comes with advertisements: there’s a smallish banner on the home page, and when you turn the device off, the screen shows an advertisement rather than a random picture of an author/coffee cup/generally book-related thing.

My boyfriend asked me whether the advertisements bothered me. “Of course they do,” I said. “These clearly aren’t using Amazon’s recommendation algorithm. It hasn’t once recommended a book in a genre I actually read.”

Kindle
Here is a picture of my Kindle trying to convince me to buy a game exclusively for a device that is not a Kindle. I don’t own a Wii U, I don’t buy video games from Amazon, and I only recognize the characters from Legend of Zelda because I played Super Smash Bros at a friend’s house eight years ago. This is the opposite of targeted advertising.

I actually do like Amazon’s recommendation engine, even when it’s a creepy reminder of just how much the company knows about your purchasing habits. It’s tailored to your interests, it’s difficult to game, and it isn’t (as far as I’m aware) weighted in favor of the Big Five. I’ve discovered plenty of excellent authors through that service. So I’m annoyed that my Kindle’s advertising runs on a different, far dumber system, one that keeps insisting I would like to read inspirational memoirs and police procedural thrillers.

My boyfriend had a different issue with the Kindle. He was bothered that a device I had bought to read books on had advertising on it at all. I had bought it, I owned it, so why should I be subjected to advertising at all?

That’s a trickier issue. On the one hand, what consumers are allowed to do with their own devices is a legal grey area; if I decided I didn’t want to see these infuriatingly off-beat ads, I might be able to find a way to block them, but I would certainly void my warranty at the very least. On the other hand, books and advertisements used to mix perfectly well. Modern readers reacted with horror when the Wall Street Journal floated the idea of ads in books, even though the practice was common only thirty years ago in print books. In the comics industry, back-of-the-book advertisements are remembered with great fondness. When I buy a print magazine or a newspaper, I expect ads on almost every page. What makes books the exception?

There seems to be a cultural assumption that prose, especially prose fiction, should exist in a vacuum untainted by any whiff of merchandising. Books should just appear, perfectly edited and pleasantly bound, and the reader should find out about them through some sort of spontaneous inspiration. The advent of online bookstores, and ebooks in particular, has heightened this fear that our books are somehow in danger of being corrupted by crass commercialism.

Never mind that bookstores have been selling choice display space for ages. Never mind that publishers have advertised books for generations (in fact, a publishing company that didn’t advertise its products would not be long for this world).

So I’m mad about these ads, but not because I object to the concept of ads in my books. I’m mad that Amazon is clearly taking publishing companies’ money to put ads in front of the wrong people, using a system that’s way worse than what they already have available for free.

Every apartment is terrible

I’ve been apartment hunting at peak season in Seattle, and I just picked out my new place. I got all spun up last night reading the reviews of the building, which are only so-so. Then I realized that all apartment reviews are terrible. Seriously, check out these stinkers from some of the most exclusive residences in town.

The Escala

Escala

A man was shot to death about a block away, today, 4/7/14, so keep that in mind when you read the positive reviews here about how great a neighborhood this building is in.  He’s still at large so hopefully you don’t run in to the killer at night.

The Olivian

Olivian

However, let’s be real here: the building’s aging (five years and counting) and it is starting to show.

Some very large parties were hosted by a few residents and attended by all non residents.  These parties were jammed with people that clearly just heard about this party in this cool building and showed up.  You were supposed to have security hired if your party had over a dozen people in the commons area.  This never happened and parties got out of control with excessive drinking.  Of course inappropriate language was big at these parties.

The parking garage is disgusting, my lovely white sportscar ended up with black soot all over the hood every time I parked there overnight.

The Shelby

Shelby

The halls smell of trash a few days a week and are consistently dirty, the weight room equipment is outdated as well and the TV remote does not work for volume or power. The elevators are notoriously slow and the parking spaces are minuscule.

Initially, we thought it was great as it is so close to all the hip restaurants but we clearly figured out how unsafe it gets during the night. It is surrounded by junkies and bums, drug dealing takes place openly at every corner. We drive even to first avenue simply because it is unsafe to walk there.

The Stratford

Stratford

Unfortunately, the genius who laid the building out split once larger apts into an average size one bedroom and tiny studios, who share walls with the larger units’ bedrooms. Therefore, if tenants are not monitored, you’re going to get woken up all night by transients and welfare collectors, the only people who would rent these horrible studios.

The Cobb

Cobb

Cons:
— No concierge
–The public rooftop indoor space smells like mothballs
— The window ledges are dirty. There used to be flag holders that have been painted over a million times. Is this attention to historic detail and preservation?!
— The 2BR/2 Bath layout doesn’t have a balcony.

The Harbor Steps

Harbor Steps

Built in the 1994, the decor is out-of-date.

The NW and NE towers only have two elevators compared to the south towers which each have four.

It’s a fantastic location if you enjoy being asked questions such as:

“Where is the mall?” and “Is this all there is to do around here?”

If you enjoy showing countless hordes of people how to buy and properly display their parking sticker – again, this is the place for you.

Do I hate tourists from the mid-west? You betcha.

I live in the NE tower and have to call the concierge if I want a package and it isn’t a Monday or Friday night… sorry but I can’t schedule my life around package hours.  There have been 3 instances that I have waited over 20 minutes for a package. YES, 20 minutes. It’s absolutely ridiculous.