The Aversion to Inclusion: a Theory

So yeah, how about that Last Jedi?  Never have I seen a more polarized reaction to a Star Wars movie in my life!  Usually, Star Wars is universally loved, or universally hated.  If there has ever been any polarization, it’s been a lot more civil than it has been lately.

Here and now, I don’t hear a lot about it, but when the movie was in theaters…  WOO!  People were pissed.  And everybody else was pissed that those people were pissed.  Then I joined Twitter, and found out that this was another instance of war were declared.

At first, I didn’t get it.  I mean yeah, gatekeepers within the fandom aren’t especially new to the 2010s (another reason I feel like this decade was a mistake), and I’ve seen my share of hot button topics in other fandoms.  But it seems like The Last jedi just brought out the worst in everyone.

And a popular point of debate is yet another gemstone of the 2010s: inclusion.

The Star Wars franchise has basically been the boys club for the longest time.  True, there was Leia, and…  Uh…  Whatever her name was in Return of the Jedi who was explaining the rebel forces’ mission (I seriously can’t remember her name, assuming they ever gave us one).  And that was basically it.  Leia was around, and she contributed, but all the focus was on either Luke confronting Darth Vader, or Hahn and Chewie being badass while C3PO acted like an absolute fop, R2D2 helped where applicable, and Leia…  Did stuff too, I guess.

The only woman in the prequel trilogy was Padme, and her only real contribution to anything was being Anniken’s girlfriend/wife.  There were lady jedis, but the focus of the entire story was mostly on Anniken and Obewon.

Really, the only woman who contributed anything to anything was probably either Ahsoka, or Asaj Ventris from The Clone Wars.  And that’s assuming you consider Clone Wars to be canon.

Jump forward to the 2010s, and the new trilogy.  And HOLY SHIT!  There’s women now!  Rae is not just one of the good guys, she’s THE good guy.  Holy shit, there’s multiple women within the rebellion who contribute things to the plot!  Well what about the bad guys?  Surely that’s still all dudes who…  NOPE!  There’s a badass bounty hunter who, in core concept is basically Boba Fett after getting rule 63ed, but holy shit is she awesome!  She’s got the fucking Masterchief battle armor and everything!

So yeah, there’s a lot more women in Star Wars now.  And a lot of people are pissed about it, apparently.  But why?

Well, when you take away the assholes who make up the MAGA crowd being all MAGA, and the more valid complaints that Rae basically Mary Sues her way through the force, I have a theory about this.  Is there any validity to this theory?  Hell if I know, but allow me to lay it out before you bitch me out so viciously.

Really, what makes someone a nerd?  Exclusion.  Exclusion from all the the cool kids’ activities.  Everybody wants to be the cool kid, but only a select few ever get to be.  And usually, the ones who ARE elected the cool kids end up being absolute dicks.  The cool kids only want like-minded individuals, or at least syckophants willing enough to play the part to be in their group.  They don’t want a bunch of nerdy bullshit in their club, and back then, Star Wars was nerd city.

The nerds, dejected by their failure to belong, seek escape.  Star Wars provides them with an escape.  It gives them Luke Skywalker.  Or shit, maybe even Anniken!  I’ve heard that attitudes towards the prequels are starting to soften.  Or at least, towards episodes 2 and 3, anyway.  But I digress.

The nerds embrace this franchise because the characters are relatable, the story is epic, and it provides them with something that gives them comfort, and maybe even a reason to live.  Yeah, the cool kids won’t let me drink beer with them at Vince’s house, and the hot chick won’t let me anywhere near her because I wear glasses, but here in the Star Wars galaxy, I can fight stormtroopers and hang out with an awesome wookiee companion!

High school ends, and time moves forward.  The nerds discover that computers are becoming more and more commonplace in society.  Furthermore, the guys who were the cool kids in high school suddenly begin to realize that once we’ve exited the aquarium known as high school, and entired the ocean…  Well, the ocean isn’t nearly as cool about things as the aquarium was.  The nerds have all the power, and the cool kids are basically pumping gas for a living.  JUSTICE!

But despite this paradigm shift of sorts, you never forget your roots.  You and your friends went from the geeky kids getting swirlies in the trrlet, or getting bodychecked into the lockers for not being cool like us cool kids, to the thirty-somethings doing computer stuff that makes you the most useful dudes in society.  Maybe you’re working on top secret computer equipment for the CIA or NSA.  Maybe you just got hired to fix Ms. Johnson from next door’s computer, and found out the only thing wrong with it was that she switched off the powerstrip by mistake.  Either way, you nerds of yesterday have more influence now than you used to.  Hell, the cool kids of the current generation hold significantly more respect for nerds, knowing that they may have to depend on you one day.  Now it’s the theater kids’ who get swirlies in the trrlet, and bodychecked into lockers.  But that’s beside the point.

Regardless of what you do professionally, you never forget.  You and your friends still talk about Star Wars to this very day.  You check out all the new movies and TV shows, you post fan theories on message boards or Facebook groups…  Hell, maybe you even write fan fiction.  The important thing is Star Wars was the geeky little obsession that helped you cope.  It gave you something to look forward to when you got back from school, it gave you something to talk about with friends, and it factors in to your identity as a human being.  Because apparently we do that now in the 2010s, hyperfocus on our identity.

And speaking of the 2010s, the 2010s come along, and you begin to notice a new trend: inclusion.  You’re starting to notice more media is beginning to include black characters, gay characters, trans characters…  And yes, even nerd characters.  This seems fine.  These communities have been pretty poorly portrayed on screen over the years, and you can sympathize with the fact they’ve ALSO been excluded, or portrayed as the punchline of every joke about their community.  So good on them for finally getting some positive portrayals in media.  I mean yeah, there’s The Big Bang Theory, but everybody hates that show.  It’s like the Will and Grace, or BET of nerddom.

But then, Hollywood discovers the delicious flavor of memberberries.  They become addicted to the delicious taste of nostalgia, and begin remaking movies left and right.  Including several nerd franchises like Transformers, Robocop, and so on.  These remakes all suck.

As time progresses, the remakes only get worse.  Furthermore, the inclusion concept becomes less of a concept, and more of a fad.  Suddenly, all the Ghostbusters are chicks, Dr. Smith from Lost in Space is a girl, the yellow ranger from Mighty Morphing Power Rangers is sort of an allegory for transsexuality (according to a fan theory I read once), a popular British comedy movie gets remade shot for shot but now has black people instead of British people…  Not only do these remakes suck out loud, but inclusion slowly but surely becomes a dirty word.

Hollywood isn’t interested in catering to the fanbase it established with its original versions.  Rather, they’re interested in bringing in NEW fans.  Specifically, bringing in a variety of new fans.  Including the very people who used to give you swirlies in the trrlet and bodychecks into the lockers.  Suddenly, the franchises you’ve known and loved are now the stomping ground for the very people who made it their mission in high school to ostracize you, exclude you, and remind you that you’ll never be one of them.

Star Wars too falls victim to remakxploitation.  Episode 7: The Force Awakens, is basically episode 4 with better special effects and, gasp, inclusion!  There’s a lot more women than there used to be, there’s black storm troopers…  I vaguely remember the fan community theorizing Po and Finn were going to shack up at one point, but I think The Last Jedi shattered those hopes the moment Rose got introduced…  But I digress.

You have been conditioned to hate inclusion, because inclusion is a gateway for those very people who hated you, ridiculed you, and made you unwelcome in an environment you had to go to come in to YOUR domaine.  So what do you do?  Well, you COULD be the bigger man, and welcome the new fans with open arms…  Or you can do what the vast majority of Twitter seems to be doing, and keep the gate.

And thus, we find ourselves where we are now.  The nerds have become the cool kids, and the cool kids have become the nerds.  In this new age, words like DIVERSITY and INCLUSION have become dirty words.  Because according to the current gatekeepers, “where the fuck was all this inclusion and diversity when I was the one getting my ass kicked?  Huh?  Where was inclusion when I was being excluded from literally everything, you fucking dicks?”  And as a result, we find that no real peace has been established, but also, that the pendulum has swung to the other side.

But that’s just my theory.  This is coming from the guy who was absolutely wrong about the summer of 2018 being “The Summer of Math Horror”, after all, so maybe take this with a grain of salt.

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After On: My Thoughts

Whew boy, this book was an ordeal.  People who follow me on my Twitter (@ThomasJBlack1) watched me struggle with this one in realtime, but for those who don’t give a fuck about Twitter and prefer blog posts featuring paragraphs of text all in one place…  Yeah, this book was a chore.

I’ve mentioned before that nonsequential story telling is a pet pieve of mine.  Admittedly, this one does it better than most…  Sometimes.  As far as Mitchel’s high school romance storyline goes, at least I had warning that we were going to be spending several chapters jumping to the past.  More than I can say for the unfolding epic of Epetstore.com’s demise, anyway.

This is one of those stories where they just dump a bunch of random shit in your lap in the early going, and expect you to figure out how to put it together as the story unfolds.  I seriously thought the epic saga of Brock Hogan was happening in reality alongside Mitchel’s company getting eaten by Phluttr Inc.  Only to figure out later (several chapters before the book just outright tells you, mind you) that Brock Hogan is actually just the CEO’s terrible scifi creative writing.  The Amazon.com reviews included in the book, while amusing enough, take a while before you figure out what purpose they serve to the plot.  Before then, they just feel intrusive, and maybe even counterintuitive to the story.

Another pet pieve of mine that I might or might not have gotten in to in this blog as a whole is present tense narration.  Plenty of GOOD stories suffer from this pet pieve of mine, and a lot of them are very noir esque.  This seems to be a trope of the young adult genre, and it just reaks of laziness.

In the case of After On, the present tense narration is compounded by the fact the narrator is FUCKING ANNOYING!.  Eventually, you figure out the artificial intelligence that eventually becomes known as Phluttr is the one narrating.  That doesn’t improve anything, but…  Well…  No, that doesn’t improve anything.  Seriously, the narrator for The Powerpuff Girls wasn’t this fourth wall breaking and excessively biased.

I’m aware that unreliable narration is a concept, but much like nonsequential storytelling, it’s one of those things that needs to be done right in order to work.  William fucking Faulkner couldn’t even make it work, and I love Faulkner.  After On is no Faulkner, though, and I’m made aware of it with every paragraph.

This book was featured in my scifi-fantasy book club.  Other criticisms, such as the author’s unhealthy obsession with “info dumping” were brought up.  I personally could look past the fictional disease of the protagonist (Folkenberg’s Syndrome, I think it was called), if only because of all the things that annoy me about this book, that one annoyed me the least.  It’s not a real condition, but whatever.  Don’t care

One person in the group even went on an EXTREMELY long tangent about how Phluttr could communicate with every country in the world, and understand every culture’s language querks and cultural taboos was flat out absurd.  Seriously, the last time I heard someone go on a tangent this long and ridiculously over thought out, one of my best friends was trying to explain how Ron and Hermione should’ve never ended up together on the grounds “opposites attract” is pure and absolute bunk.  In his defense, though, he has aspergers syndrome, and really wanted Harrymione to be a ship (I guess).  And in defense of the person arguing the Phluttr case, foreign language is apparently the thing she nerds out over the hardest.  She herself even admitted it on at least three occasions since I’ve met her.

Still, that may be something to keep in mind.

The audiobook is read by a ridiculous amount of people.  I’m going to guess January LaVoy is the one who reads about eighty-five percent of the book.  It also features Felicia Day: famous for…  Uh…  Some reason.  And I’m sure this was the case BEFORE she appeared on the reboot of MST3K, or her appearances in Ninja Sex Party videos.  I guess she hosted a podcast or something?  In any case, Day reads all the Netgrrrl posts, and she reads them all through a voice filter.

My favorite of all the narrators of this book, though, has got to be Jesse Cox as the guy who reads all the Whistleblower posts.  This guy right here steals the show.  You can just hear the capslock key being glued permenantly to the ON position once he starts up.  Whistleblower ITSELF is like listening to Alex Jones, if the roided up gorilla knew the first thing about computers.  Considering he doesn’t know the first thing about FROGS, I imagine he doesn’t stand a chance, but I’ve been proven wrong before, so…

So yeah, they really went all out with this audiobook.  It’s just too bad this thing ended up being such a fucking headache to get through.  I’m genuinely impressed with myself that I made it through this book.  If it weren’t on my cell phone, I’d have probably chucked this fucking thing against the wall at least twice in the process of reading it, it was so tedious.

I can’t recommend this book.  At all.  Don’t get suckered into the dare.

Oh yeah, this book actually dares you to read it at the beginning.  Did I forget to mention that?  You know you’re going to be in for a bad time when the author of the book has to DARE you to read his own book.  You DARE people to read Battlefield Earth.  You DARE people to read The Naked Lunch (spoiler: it’s not as sexy as you think it’s going to be).  You DARE people to read Confessions of an Economic Hitman.  You DARE people to read The Satanic Bible.  You DARE people to read Atlas Shrugged.  If you have to DARE people to read YOUR BOOK, that doesn’t reflect all that good on you as an author.

So yeah, don’t accept the dare.  Just walk away, and find something else to read.  It’s not worth it!

Invader ZIM Movie? Really?

 

Invader ZIM, for the lamens, is a show that used to air on Nickelodeon back in 2001.  The title character, Zim, is a member of the Irken Empire: a galactic empire so expansive, they conquer entire planets just to turn them into parking garages and fast food restaurants.  Operation: Impending Doom II is their latest campaign of conquest…  But rather than include Zim, the proverbial village idiot, they instead send him in the exact opposite direction of the invasion fleet, and give him a defective helper droid to further the illusion that he’s helping.  They originally think they’re sending him directly into a sun, but he actually ends up on Earth, and begins the process detailed in Operation: Impending Doom II.  Shinanigans ensue.  Particularly when you take into account Dib: an earthling whose fondness for conspiracy theories has made him the laughing stock of society.

Invader ZIM was a show I didn’t really get to see when it was new.  I’m not even all that sure why, for that matter.  My only theory is by 2001, I was a Cartoon Network guy.  It wasn’t until the launch of Nicktoons TV: a sister network of Nickelodeon’s, and a dumping ground for all their old cartoons…  At first.  Nowadays, it’s basically “the other Nickelodeon”.  But I digress.

It wasn’t till Nicktoons TV came into existence when I started watching Invader ZIM.  I got to say, I’m legitimately surprised this show even made it on to Nickelodeon in the first place.  This show is fucking dark!

True, Nicktoons got away with adult innuendo in the past.  I could point you to several episodes of Rocko’s Modern Life, or Ren and Stimpy, for example.  Invader ZIM does have its share of innuendo jokes.  IE, Dib insisting no human has a “squeetilyspooch” (don’t quote me on the spelling of that), only for his little sister to say “I have a squeetilyspooch”.  Subtle, by the way.

However, there’s adult innuendo, and then there’s just outright dark.  And the darkest a nicktoon ever got prior to Invader ZIM, according to my memory, was that episode of Ren and Stimpy featuring “Eggyokio”.  Trust me, it takes a lot to get ME disturbed, but that episode did it.

So yeah, Invader ZIM set a benchmark for just how much you could get away with in a cartoon I’m pretty sure was supposed to be for kids.  I wasn’t really disturbed by any episodes or anything like that, but there were several times I watched this show, and the first thought in my head was “you sure this is for kids?”.

Of course I say that, knowing full well that there was a time I could relate to Zim.  Much like him, I was a dumb, neurotic little thirteen-year-old doing his best to fit in with a bunch of taller assholes who literally wanted nothing to do with me.  The difference being that in my experience, they weren’t even subtle about it.  I was just an idiot, trying his best to fit into a society that SOMEHOW managed to be even stupider than I was.  In the case of Invader ZIM, it was a society that chose its leadership based on who the tallest of the Irkens was, and that’s it.  In middle and high school culture, it’s more about coolness, but coolness, in the grand scheme, might as well be based on tallness.  It’s equally absurd.

Dib, weirdly enough, was also someone I could relate to.  I’ve never been one for conspiracy theories, but if you replace CONSPIRACY THEORIES with PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING, then yeah, I was Dib, too.  Dib is such an unpopular, hated, and overall unwanted individual that the entirety of his class will sit on one side of the bus in order to avoid sitting on the same side as Dib.  I never had a sister, but I imagine if I did, she’d probably be just as annoyed with me as Gaz is with Dib.

And can I just say, who fucking named these kids!?  Dib?  Gaz?

There’s a lot going for this show…  Unfortunately, there’s a lot going AGAINST it as well.  Specifically, this show was largely responsible for the “random = funny” mentality injected into everyone’s brain.  If it wasn’t ZIM, it was probably Family Guy, but I noticed more of this from the ZIM fanbase.  Sometimes, it worked.  IE, filling ZIM’s defective robot with random clutter instead of traditional S.I.R. chips that resulted in it becoming GIR.  Other times, it just left me wondering what the joke was.  IE, one episode where ZIM decided to call his masters while wearing a bearsuit.  Um, why?  What was the point of the bear suit?  Other than “OMG, LAWL!  SO RANDOM!”, obviously.

Invader ZIM wasn’t the worst of it…  But it was definitely a victim of its time in that regard.  And really, nobody is immune to the threat of becoming dated.  IE, the book After On made references to backpages.com and the “casual encounters” section of Craigslist, only for said section of Craigslist to get shut down, and Backpages.com to get seized by the United States government and its CEO sentenced to, like, twenty years or something for sex trafficking a year after it was published.  So yeah, it happens to the best of us.  I suspect my own writing will probably show its age one day, assuming it hasn’t already.

ZIM lasted a couple years, and while the reruns get pulled up every now and then, it mostly remains as is.  As it should, honestly.  It had a good run, and it’s remembered fondly today by its little community of fans.  Fans who have a tendency to get on my fucking nerves, but fans all the same.

Unfortunately, we’re living in the 2010s.  And one thing about the 2010s I’ve learned is that nothing, and I mean NOTHING, knows how to stay dead.  Enter this:

 

Yip, sixteen years after most normal people have moved on to greener pastures, they decided to bring it back.  Because somebody higher up was popping memberberries one day, and said “Hey, I memba Invada ZIM!  I loved that shit!”.

Yes, I know it’s a made for TV movie.  I haven’t heard anything beyond the fact this is going to be a thing, so for all I know, this is probably the one and only thing that’ll come of it.

More likely, I suspect that this will be the beginning of something bigger.  Nickelodeon had already announced they were thinking pretty hard about resurrecting Rocko’s Modern Life from the dead.  Because lord knows SOMEBODY was asking for it.  I’d heard they were thinking about the same for Ren and Stimpy, but I never heard one way or the other if they were actually going to go through with that.  Really, considering how much grief that show gave the network, I’m surprised by that, but I guess if my generation are the adults now, and my generation isn’t up its own ass with sanctimonious conservative parent signaling…  I’m getting off topic.  Basically, resurrecting Invader ZIM from the dead is a thing I’m sure is about to happen.

I really would’ve thought people have learned their lesson about resurrecting properties from the dead by now.  It didn’t work out for Family Guy, it didn’t work out for Robocop, it didn’t work out for Karate Kid, it DEFINITELY didn’t work out with Ghostbusters (gender swopping the cast probably didn’t help any, either), It’s not working out for Transformers, it’s apparently not working out for Command and Conquer…  You get the idea.

Basically, the whole reboot fad, memberberry culture, Generation: Nostalgia, or whatever the fuck you want to call it, isn’t working out.  You want to know why everything seems so blique, unappealing, and why so many people just aren’t as enthusiastic about life?  I’m sure things like the opioid epidemic, Twitter consuming our lives (he says knowing full well he has one now), a generation of war in Afghanistan, and having a dipshit like Donald fucking Trump as our president constantly embarrassing this country at every turn while everybody on the opposite side devours the neoliberal agenda of banging the war drum for a conflict with Russia are primary causes.  However, another bulletpoint to add to that list is that there’s nothing new to sink my teeth into.  Everything that was around when I was a kid is around as an adult.  There’s nothing new to experience, because everybody thinks I want to watch the same old shit over and over again.  Well if I wanted THAT, I’d just buy the DVD boxset of the old shit!  I don’t want to see a show from 2001 in 2018 try to adapt to the times.  especially the way things are now, they’ll probably PC the shit out of it.  Or they’ll make the Irkens an allegory for the Trump administration.  Because fucking EVERYTHING is an allegory for the Trump administration now.

Will the movie suck?  Probably not.  I don’t have cable anymore, so odds are I won’t even see it until someone like Mars Reviews or The Mysterious Mr. Enter reviews it, or someone uploads it to YouTube in its entirety.  Of course, the latter implies I even WANT to look it up in the first place.

I feel like I go on this rant every other month anymore.  Not so much about Invader ZIM, but with the whole Generation: Nostalgia thing.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.: My Thoughts

I ask you audience: what the fuck do you people see in Neil Stevenson? Because between this, and Seven Eves (heh, I see what you did there), I just don’t get it.
Recently, I joined a scifi book club. Yeah, I know, me being social. The end of days may be upon us pretty soon. Although I think The Kansas City Chiefs have to win the superbowl before it’s TRULY official. Whatever.
The scifi bookclub I joined chose The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. as their book of the month to read. Considering I’ve been spending the last couple of months alternating between Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland (a book series about dragons that I can’t decide on whether or not I might be a little too old for), The Demon Accord by John Conroe (a series of books I honestly liked a lot better when it was called Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter), and the occasional Yahtzee Croshaw book, I probably needed a change of pace. It’s just too bad that it had to be this near-800 page brick of a dud.I was willing to give Stevenson the benefit of a doubt. I couldn’t see my way past the first part of Seven Eves when I picked it up, but I still can’t decide if it was because of the story itself, or if it was because Mary Robinette Kowal’s voice really annoyed me. She has a weird accent that according to my memory, is very George Tekai.

But hey, sometimes, an author puts out a dud. I myself, in my infinite wisdom, felt like Homecoming: a Novella of Highfill, Kansas needed a sequel for reasons I can’t remember anymore, so yeah, even I’m capable of doing it. So maybe Seven Eves was just one dud in an otherwise steller catalogue.
If The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is anything to go on… Yeah, no. I’m officially in the minority. Hashtag-TJBHatesEverything and what not.
D.O.D.O. is a government organization built around the concept of time travel. For a lot of scifi guys, that right there is already a red flag. Time travel is one of those concepts that even GOOD authors struggle with. Add on the fact that Stevenson manages to include multiverse theory into time travel, and it becomes an even more tangled mess.
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is read by at least ten different readers. And while I perked up when I heard Luke Motherfucking Daniels was one of them, the rest were a real mixed bag. Each reader reads from the perspective of one character, which is actually a really cool idea, and I really wish more audio books would do that. I’m not especially familiar with the other nine readers, though. I could tell you their names after looking up the book on Audible.com, but I couldn’t tell you who played who. Other than Luke Daniels, of course.
I will say, though, that whoever they got to voice Stokes was a SERIOUS miscast. Someone who is stranded in 1851 England with little to no hope of returning should NOT be this fucking perky. Everybody else in the recording, though, is passable at worst, and pretty damn good at best.
Then we get into the story. Oh god, the story.
Stevenson apparently decided to tell the story through a compilation of Stokes’ diary, government emails, memos, letters to the queen, transcripts of video conversations, and so on. It’s not especially obnoxious… Until you get to part 3, anyway. Then it becomes a serious fucking chore to get through.
The entirety of the book club can at least agree with me on the fact this was not a great idea. I personally believe they could’ve stuck with Stokes’ diary from 1851, and call it good.  It’d probably be three hundred pages shorter, but oh well. Length does not dictate quality of story. You’re talking to a guy who’s written books that barely hit the one-hundred page count.

I personally didn’t care for how the Stokes diary chapters basically announced what the chapter was going to be about.  I’ve literally seen titles for Dragon Ball Z episodes that left more to the imagination than this.

Some of the group think that Stokes was way too detailed in her descriptions, despite complaining constantly about hand cramps from writing with a quill pen, or shortage of ink or paper, and just that nobody could hope to remember the insane amount of detail put into each conversation. I see what they’re talking about, but honestly, that’s the one thing I personally could look past. Largely because by the time I’d gotten to parp 4, a fucking unicorn could’ve come through space and time, farted a rainbow, and blown up the Earth, and I still could’ve shrugged, said “whatever”, and used the book to squash cockroaches. If I had a copy of the print version, that is.
The story overall doesn’t go anywhere. It’s not really a story so much as it is a series of events. Someone in the group said it reminded them of someone writing a pilot to a TV show, and it’s not hard to see where he got that.

The concept of time travel in this series is heavily built around Schrodinger’s Cat.  IE, you can only travel through time and space when you somehow achieve a state of dead-alive.  if you can somehow convince the world you’re both dead and alive, you can convince the world you are both in the present, and…  Well, say, 1851.  That’s actually kind of a neat idea.

It’s just too bad we had to achieve the concept of time travel through WITCHCRAFT.

I have no problem with sorcery in my fiction.  Especially nowadays, where I’m a lot more open to the fantasy genre than I used to be.  It seems like they spend all this time talking about witches, and how they can do all this magic, but aside from turning an apple into an orange, or turning a can of white paint into a can of black paint in the beginning, the only thing the witchcraft is used for is time travel.  And maybe mind control towards the end.

The thing about time travel in this book that gets me, though, is that just because you accomplished this deed in the 1600s doesn’t mean it carries over to our specific present day.  Remember, I said this version of time travel includes multiverse theory ON TOP of past and present.  Meaning that the version of the past where you meddled probably isn’t the version of the past that’s on our timeline!  Meaning you have to go back in time at least FOUR OTHER TIMES if you want to accomplish what you want!  That, or create a disaster so catastrophic that the entirety of time and space has to go out of its way to rewrite more than one timeline in order to stay afloat.

Keeping that in mind, the only REAL way to change time is to basically burn down taverns, or murder super-important figures in time.  Otherwise, what’s even the point!?  It’s all an exercise in repetition.

But there in lies the theme.  The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is pretty much a 700+ page allegory on the mind-numbing repetitive nature, general incompatence, and bureaucratic nightmare of government.  Wow, a book that’s extremely critical of The United States government?  WOW!  Haven’t read that one before.  And in 2017 no less!  All we need now is a thinly disguised representation of Donald Trump, and we’ve hit the zenith of creativity that no one has ever thought of reaching!  *sigh*

Okay, let’s cool off.  I know I’m going to get hatemail up the wazoo from Stevenson fans no matter what I have to say (I hear he has a cult following), but let’s cool down.

As much shit as I give this book, I DID manage to see it to the end.  More than I can say for Seven Eves, that’s for sure.  The book was tedious enough to annoy me frequently, and make me consider putting it down to read something I actually WANT to read.  On the other hand, the premise was actually intriguing enough to where I actually wanted to see where it was going.  There was a good story in this near 800 page brick somewhere.  I just wish someone up in editing had taken out the chainsaw and made the effort to hack away the driftwood to get there.

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits: My Thoughts

I love David Wong.  Admittedly, I wasn’t around for PWOT, and I don’t really follow Cracked all that much (I’m also guessing WISECRACKED is a completely different entity), but his books have entertained me over the many…  Four years.  I found out he existed around the time his second book, This Book is Full of Spiders, was new.  I ended up enjoying the shit out of it, and even picked up the legendary John Dies at the End right after I finished that one.

Apparently, I was significantly late to the party when it comes to his third book, but hey, the important thing is I got to it.  Eventually.  A year later.  STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT!

Unlike his previous novels, Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits doesn’t follow the demon hunting shinanigans of David and John.  Instead, it follows the story of Zoey: trailer trash turned millionaire.  And for the record, my spellchecker is thoroughly bitching me out over the spelling of the name ZOEY, but according to the page on Audible.com, I’m spelling it right.  So fuck you, spellchecker.  ALWAYS NAY-SAYING!  Dick.

The audio book is read by Christy Romano, and she is absolutely perfect.  She’s got a wide range of voices, her reading style never gets tedious, and her timing is on the mark.  I enjoyed this performance very much.  Which is good, because this book is a wee bit tedious in spots.So…  Stop me if you’ve heard this premise before, but a fat girl from the trailer park suddenly becomes an ultra-billionaire upon her father’s passing, and inherits a mansion the size of a small town.  She also finds herself in a town where there are no laws, no regulations, and no cops.  A libertarian dream come true…  Right up until you get to the part where everybody’s AWARE of the fact there’s no rules and regulations, and ultimately turn the city into a personal playground for killers, a safe haven for every illegal substance on the planet, and the battleground between the team of Zoey and “The Fancy Suits”, and one of the most psychotic people I’ve seen in fiction in quite a while.  I’ve literally seen Dragon Ball Z villains with more subtlety to them than the villain of this book…  But I guess when you don’t have to hide in the shadows, and your entire self worth is based on how many Twitter followers…  Excuse me, BLINKER followers you have, there’s probably no point in being subtle, is there?

I’ll give Wong this much: the world he’s built is fascinating.  There’s plenty of detail that has me thinking someone’s on the verge of writing a wiki.  Hell, if there’s more than one book in the series, that just might happen.  They made a wiki for Punch Out of all things, so why not?

While I know it’s played up for laughs, I actually don’t have a difficult time believing people would sooner switch on their blinker cameras on their glasses and stream a murder happening right in front of them in the name of subscribers than…  You know, actually helping the victim?  Or even running away in terror, for that matter.  The idea of a futuristic anarchy zone like Tabula Ra$a (I’m guessing on that spelling based on the few hints the audio book has given me) reminds me of similar settings I’ve encountered over the years.  It’s like a more futuristic Nightside, or a less demonic Midian.  But while the core concept sounds has a bit of a “SIMPSONS DID IT!” vibe to it, The city as a whole is original enough to where you don’t even think about it when you’re reading it.

If I have one problem with the book, it’s how Wong milks the suspense for everything it’s worth.  I go into this book knowing full well Zoey’s not a fighter.  She has no cybernetic parts like the villains, she has no martial arts training…  Hell, her only real skill is that she gives really good “massages”.  I went in knowing she was going to get taken hostage at least once.  I’m also aware the villain of the book is a bit of a drama queen, as is everyone in this universe.  I just wish the attempt at building suspense and tention didn’t go on FOR FUCKING EVER!

Look, I can appreciate good banter between hero and villain.  A villainous monologue can be pretty epic, and the hero’s moment of pure helplessness can be pretty intense when done right.  But man, I wish the punchline would hurry up and get here.  It’s one thing to know in your heart of hearts that the bad guys aren’t going to succeed in burying someone alive, and it’s another thing for it to drag on, and on, and on, and on.  All the while, you already know the punchline is coming, which ultimately kills the attempt at suspense dead.  Admittedly, I didn’t see the EXACT punchline coming, but I knew something was going to come along and save the day.

And it wouldn’t be an especially big problem if it didn’t happen over and over and over again.  By the time it got to the final battle, I felt absolutely no sense of urgency.  Hell, despite Romano’s performance, I actually wanted to hit fast forward just to get to the god damn punchline already!

The book is a whopping seventy chapters long, but much like Nax Barry’s Jennifer Government, it becomes significantly less intimidating when you realize the chapters are ridiculously short.  Half the time, chapters end in the middle of conversations, and the next chapter picks up right where the conversation left off!  I wouldn’t say it’s annoying, but it does make me wonder out loud why the author went that route.

These complaints aside, I actually enjoyed this story.  Admittedly, not as much as the David and John stories, but if Wong writes a sequel to this novel, I might consider giving it a read.

Armada: My Thoughts

When I read Ready Player One, I was hooked.  I absolutely had to see what else Ernest Cline had written.  Audible.com did list another book by the name of Armada, and I figured “Hey, why not?  Ready Player One was pretty good.”

It’s kind of funny, really.  I went into Ready Player One almost WANTING to hate it.  It had everything that didn’t appeal to me: virtual world setting, 80s pop culture everywhere, a protagonist still in high school…  All it needed was a mopy emo vampire chick, and it would’ve been perfect.  And Art3mis came pretty close.  I wanted to hate this book…  But I ended up loving it.  I couldn’t put it down!  I wanted to know what happened next!  I was even kind of bummed out when it was over with.

Then I picked up Armada, really wanting to like it.  And…  Really, it ended up being more of the same.

It ended up being one of those scenarios where you somehow had a completely different book that told the exact same story.  Or at least one that was dangerously similar to it.  Cline only has two books (that I know of), and they read exactly the same.  Nothing wrong with familiarity, but when you’re having to depend on your own tropes this early (In Cline’s case, an obsessive dependence on old pop culture), it doesn’t inspire confidence on my part.

The ending also felt like an absolute cop out.  Of course the aliens are just acting in self defense, and human beings are dicks who want to destroy everything.  Again, this guy might not be writing for my demographic, but at the same time, been there, done that.

Also, I can’t help but smell me some sequel bate.  If you really want to read the book, be my guest.  Otherwise, just consider the ending of Rick and Morty season 2, minus the part where Rick goes to prison.  Earth becomes part of the galactic federation, and life is made both easier and harder at the exact same time sort of situation.

I don’t know, maybe I made the mistake of setting the bar too high this time.  Maybe I shouldn’t have read these two back to back like that. All I know is Armada was actually kind of a disappointment.  especially towards the end.

Ready Player One: My Thoughts

Virtual world fiction is probably among my least favorite subgenres of scifi-fantasy.  Dot Hack Sign was my first real exposure to the idea (back in the early 2000s when anime was all over the damn place), and I really didn’t care for it.  I just didn’t feel the same sense of urgency to anything going on.  It’s been years since I’ve seen it, but there was no real sense that anything going on in Dot Hack was relevant to anything going on in the real world.  I suppose when you’re in the game, and in the moment, slaying that evil ogre beast is the most god damn important thing ever, but video games tend to be more fun to play than to watch.  Although Game Grumps totally holds my attention.

Other works of virtual world fiction have come along, and…  Well, let’s just say it hasn’t been any better.

Sword Art On-line is probably the best modern example, and its first season was actually kind of interesting.  And it got you invested in the game itself, because if you died in the game, you died in real life.  There was urgency to complete the quest, there was commentary on how MMOs can, and sometimes DO consume your life, it had everything.  It’s just too bad they felt compelled to make a season 2 that completely underminded all the good things about season 1.  Then there was a season 3, and at that point, I was so annoyed with the show, I just flat out gave up.

There are other examples, and really, they all suck.  The idea of a virtual world just didn’t appeal to me for the longest time…  Until I heard about a man by the name of Ernest Cline.

I went in to Ready Player One expecting the worst.

“Virtual world, huh?  I’m skeptical, but I guess I got to listen to SOMETHING while waiting for Second Hand Souls to come out.”

“Oh god, it’s young adult.  I can’t wait to see what sort of heavy handed dystopian pseudo noir written in the present tense awaits me this time.”

“Oh great, 1980s pop culture.  Trying a little hard to cater to Generation Nostalgia, Mr. Cline?”

Really, by all accounts, I should’ve hated this book.  And yet, I enjoyed it.  From start to finish, this book was probably one of the better things I’d read in 2015.

There’s a reason to spend your entire life in a virtual world here, and surprisingly, it’s only PARTLY because by 2045, the entire planet is a fucking dump.  There’s urgency, dying in the virtual world has consequences, the characters…  Are probably the kind of people I’d have related to back when I was eighteen for sure, though replace all the 80s movies with professional wrestling trivia and nu metal.

I’ll try not to give too much away, but I will say this much: I kind of saw the reveal of H’s off-line self coming.  At At the same time, I was joking when I made that guess.  It’s amazing how often my jokes end up coming true.

The bad guys are a bit heavy handed in the sense “we wear suits and ties and work for a fortune500 company; therefore, we are evil!  Mwa-ha-ha-ha!”.  Still, this clearly wasn’t aimed at my demographic.  Maybe.  At the same time, though, Cline really knew how to make an IOI victory feel personal when it happened.  Dude finds the third key, and I actually remembered thinking “Oh shit!  Is the bad guy actually going to win?”  I’ve been reading fiction for ever now, and the only time I’ve ever thought that was when it was a horror novel, or a real depressing southern gothic sort of affair like William Faulkner.

They’re working on a film adaptation of this book at the time this was written.  While I can’t say I’m shocked, I can definitely say I was surprised.  It seemed like there were a lot of movies, music, and old TV shows to buy the rights to in order to use it.  Whatever film studio is making this is probably going to go bankrupt no matter what happens between that, and the excessive CGI that’ll most likely be included.

In a weird way, I’m more surprised somebody hasn’t tried making an actual MMO of the virtual world yet.  Call me crazy, but that just seems like good marketing gone to waste.  Hell, just clone Second Life and slap a bunch of 1980s movie posters everywhere.  You basically have the same thing then.

All and all, the virtual world subgenre is 1-4 for me.  Ready Player One is the 1, and until further notice, it’s pretty much the only good one.

STILETTO: My Thoughts

When I first dove head on into the glorious world of Audible.com, The Rook by Daniel O’Malley was one of my first purchases.  My actual first was basically three of the then four A Song of Ice and Fire novels, and my second was a handful of Christopher Moore books.  In fact, I only ever bothered with The Rook in the first place because Christopher Moore…  Said something.  I can’t remember if he was showing his support, or trying to convince his fans to leave Daniel O’Malley the hell alone over an assumed slight, or a third thing, but I figured I’d give it a look as long as everyone else was talking about it.

The first Rook novel, released either in 2011 or 2012 depending on which source you’re quoting, was actually pretty good.  I don’t remember going into it with especially high expectations, but that has less to do with any opinions of Daniel O’Malley himself, and more to do with my general philosophy of “keep your expectations low, and you’re never disappointed”.  It kind of reminded me of X-men if they were less of an academy for wayward superhumans, and more of a James Bond like secret organization.  I genuinely enjoyed everything about this book.  Even if it felt like Myfanwy Thomas’ powers were weapons grade bullshit.

The first audio book was read by Susan Duerden: a woman who sounds…  Not necessarily bored, but I looked forward to character dialogue when she was reading it.  It’s been a while since I listened to book 1, but I remembered finding her to be a bit dull when reading the expositional stuff.

It’s either this exact reason, or the fact four to five years happened between books that saw to it that Duerden wasn’t called in to read book 2: STILETTO.  Instead, it’s read by…  Moira Qwirk?

Whoa whoa, hold on a minute.  You’re telling me the woman who used to blow the whistle on Nickelodeon GUTS! is reading a Daniel O’Malley novel?  In the immortal words of one Phillip J. Fry: “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!”

In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have let my excitement get the better of me.  To her credit, Qwirk does a great job reading.  Hell, even her American accent is better than Duerden’s.  That being said, I probably should’ve started with book 1 again before bulldozing my way over to this one.  If for no other reason, then because I definitely needed a refresher course.  I’d forgotten all about Myfanwy’s estranged brother and sister, about the fact the organization is called The Checquy (which I’m assured by two different readers is pronounced CHEH-KAY), and a couple other characters from the first book.  Gestalt and Dr. Krisp were literally the only other Checquy members I could remember off the top of my head.

When I first started reading STILETTO, I was actually beginning to think we’d moved on from Myfanwy Thomas completely, and instead, we’d be focusing entirely on Felicity.  To a large extent, I wasn’t wrong, but Myfanwy ended up playing more of a roll in the story than I would’ve guessed.  I mean sure, she’s a key member in negociations and all, but I figured she’d only make a couple cameos at most.

Oh yeah, there’s probably spoilers in this review.

Honestly, the title STILETTO kind of confused me.  I figured it had to do with the grafter girl with the spikes that came out of her wrist.  I want to say tarkata style, but the tarkata race doesn’t have venom in their blades, so it’s probably not an accurate comparison.  I figured it might be the code name the villain used, or even one of the Checquy.  In the end, the only reason I can think of for the title is pure symbolism during Felicity’s ending monologue about grafter girl’s involvement in the partnership between The Chequy and the grafters.

Overall, the story was a bit of a slow start.  There was a lot of history to get through revolving around how the grafters went from superpower, to vanquished, to secret brotherhood, to terrorist organization, and finally to the fractured organization it has become as of book 2.  Not to mention Felicity’s back story, catching up the halfwhits who decided to skip book 1 entirely on who the hell Myfanwy Thomas is (I guess I kind of qualify?), etc.  Not to mention the Asian girl who could turn into smoke ends up getting killed off pretty early on, which sucks, because I kind of liked her superpower.  If I could have a superpower, turning into smoke, or mist, or something along those lines would definitely be number two on my list.  Sorry, but shapeshifter just holds too much appeal for me.

The man I came to know as “The Crystal Spike Killer” was, in all honesty, a complete and total waste of time.  At first, I thought he was going to have more involvement in the story.  Hell, at first, I thought HE was Stiletto!  He has a grand total of one encounter with Myfanwy, then you don’t hear from him ever again until the epilogue.  Then, he gets dispatched in rather anticlimactic fashion by a minor character from book 1.  I was actually kind of annoyed by that.  Okay, maybe he wasn’t going to be the final big bad, but at least make him a little more important to the plot than just some excuse to pad out the chapter count to 50.

Crystal Spike Killer aside, though, I enjoyed this book.  As I said before, Moira Qwirk is an excellent reader, and a refreshing departure from Susan Duerden.  It was a long hike, but aside from a couple of head-scratcher moments like “Why is this guy even in this fucking story?”, I enjoyed it.

Is STILETTO better than the first book?  I don’t think I’d go that far.  I’d say it’s maintaining the status quo of excellence more than anything else.  I’d recommend you give it a read, but I also recommend reading book 1 first.  This isn’t exactly The Dresdin Files, after all.

The Three Body Problem: My Thoughts

The Three Body Problem is a series of novels by Cixin Liu.  While I have a grasp of how Chinese works (not enough to speak it, but enough to pronounce most of the words I encounter), I honestly have no idea how to pronounce Cixin.  I’ve heard it pronounced SIX-IN, KEE-SHEEN, KEE-SHIN, and even CHEE-SHIN.  None of which appear to be correct.  But I digress.

As of this writing, there’s two novels in the series.  Also at the time of this writing, I’m still slogging my way through book 2 of the series.

Earlier in the month was actually the second time I tried reading book 1, and honestly, it’s a miracle I made it through in one piece the first time.  About this time a year ago, I’d commented that The Three Body Problem was kind of an ordeal to read through at best.

I’m willing to forgive a lot, considering this was originally a Chinese series being translated into English.  Believe me, I know a thing or two about terrible English translation.  Maybe I don’t speak a lot of Japanese, or any Asian languages, but when you watched anime as religiously as I used to, you kind of get used to a lot of it.  Somewhere around the mid 2000s, English dubs got a lot better than the stuff I had to endure, but I digress.

The Three Body Problem as well as The Dark Forest have pretty good English translations…  But sometimes, I get the feeling the plot might be a little too ambitious for its own good.

The plot, simply put, is that a race of aliens is coming to Earth with all the intention of destroying humanity.  Humanity is more than willing to fight back…  Except we’ve figured out that it’ll take about four-hundred years for the alien fleat to get here, and it’s up to us as a species to unite and stay united in the time left to us.  As you expect, humans are dicks, and this doesn’t end up being an easy feat.  It’s a pretty original approach to the clichéd alien invasion angle, but that’s where the positives come to an end, and a lot of the awkward “I don’t know, bruh” moments begin.

Maybe it’s because the audio version of The Dark Forest doesn’t feature Luke Daniels as the reader this time.  It’s always a little jarring to go from one reader to another where audio books are concerned.  My favorite example comes from one of my all time favorite series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  The first Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book is read by Steven Fry, but then the other four books are read by Martin Friedman (I think that’s his name anyway).  Great, now I have to get used to some other guy’s interpretation of Zaphod Beeblebrox’s manner of speaking.  Hope you like New Yorker accents!

I want to cut the new guy (whose name escapes me at this very moment and I’m too lazy to look it up) some slack.  Luke Daniels is awesome.  He’s made the audio versions of The Iron Druid Chronicles truly some of the most memorable readings I’ve ever sat through.  It’s a pretty big act to follow…  And unfortunately, the new guy just isn’t doing it for me.   It also doesn’t help that he doesn’t tell you when it’s a new chapter.  Dude just keeps on reading as if everything’s one gigantic, continuous block.  For all I know, it might actually be, but not having the eye sight for print anymore, I can’t guarantee that one way or the other.

It could also be that Cixin Liu is getting a little too pretentious for his own good.  All I know is it’s usually a sign that the author is bouncing around in the background, bellowing “ASK ME WHAT IT MEANS!  ASK ME WHAT IT MEANS!” when the prologue is from the perspective of an ant.  Yeah, I get the reference.  Is it necessary?  I’d like to think no, but then again, I’m not the one writing the book.  Also, as much as I hate to admit it, I’m not above being pretentious.  Hell, have you read HikikoMorey?

Compared to book 1 in the series, which focused primarily on two characters’ perspectives at absolute most, The Dark Forest seems to bounce all over the god damn place.  I don’t even remember anybody’s names half the time!  The only character that seems to be returning from book 1 is the chain-smoking detective, and I still can’t remember his name!

Also, I tend to have a real love-hate relationship with hard scifi.  I love that they’re going out of their way to try and keep it as real and down to Earth as possible, but at the same time, there are moments where the angry mob from Monty Python and the Holy Grail are screaming “GET ON WITH IT!” in my head, and I have to agree with them.  Sad to say, both books have this problem in spots, but especially book 2.

I really wanted to give this series a chance.  Really, the fact I could finish book 1 twice is nothing short of spectacular.  Unfortunately, by the time I get to book 2, I’m just not enjoying the ride.  I’m already finding myself checking the chapter count on my audible.com app, and groaning in annoyance when I see how much I have left.  I don’t even know why I bother continuing instead of doing the logical thing and abandon the book completely in favor of the next Hap and Leonard novel in my cue.  Oh well, at least I tried.