In A Good Place

the-good-place

Which of these two doesn’t look comfortable?

Jean Paul Sartre once wrote “Hell is other people.” He also wrote “Like all dreamers, I mistook disenchantment for truth.” Neither statement has much obviously to do with The Good Place, a great new TV comedy.

WARNING: EVERYTHING FROM HERE DOWN IS PRETTY MUCH ALL SPOILERS

Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) opens her eyes to find herself in a relaxing office waiting room. On the white wall opposite her couch, WELCOME! EVERYTHING IS FINE. is written in bright green letters. Michael (Ted Danson) welcomes her into his office, where he tells her that 1.) she’s dead, and 2.) she made it to the Good Place. The Good Place is kind of a pastel, Disney, planned community Heaven reflecting no religious expectations in particular (every religion apparently got it around 5% right, except for one stoner who guessed 95% of it while high on mushrooms).

Eleanor is introduced to the neighborhood; apparently the Good Place is divided into minutely planned districts, each with 322 residents chosen for their compatibility in this afterlife utopia. She is introduced to her soulmate. All looks rosy.

Except she’s not supposed to be there.

Yes she’s Eleanor Shellstrop, but no none of the memories she sees played on a This Is Your Life screen are hers. She wasn’t a selfless lawyer who saved convicted murderers on death row, or who rescued orphans in war-torn failed states, or cleaned up disaster sites, etc. She was a salesperson for a shady company pushing useless “drugs” on old sick people, an utterly self-centered human being with no apparent redeeming qualities. There’s been a mistake.

Of course she doesn’t want to be discovered and kicked out of the Good Place, so she prevails upon her soulmate, Chidi Anagoyne, in life an ethics professor, to teach her how to be good.

I watched the premier last night, it was delightful, and I highly recommend that everyone catch it and judge for themselves. Especially since I have a strong suspicion that Eleanor and everyone else is being lied to. Something…benevolently sinister is afoot. Can something be benevolently sinister?

Here’s what I mean.

In the first few minutes, you learn that Eleanor’s neighborhood is brand new; everyone arrived more or less at once and gets the same group briefing in the form of a charming video presentation.

What are they are told? That everyone in life accumulates what is, for lack of a better word, karma; deeds which make the universe better go in the positive side of the ledger, while deeds which make the universe worse go in the negative side. Upon death the score is tallied, and only the small fraction who achieve incredibly high scores (as Eleanor had supposedly done) go to the Good Place. Everyone else goes to the Bad Place; a place Michael and his assistant can’t tell you anything about, but from the brief audio-clip sounds pretty unpleasant. Back to this in a minute.

You also learn that Michael was formerly an apprentice; Eleanor’s neighborhood/district is the first one he’s been allowed to design and build on his own. He isn’t even human. He’s far from infallible, and the Good Place’s universal assistant, Janet (who knows everything and can get you anything you need), knows more than he does about what’s going on. But she’s like a protocol-bound artificial intelligence; she has no free will and can’t violate privacy and so on.

You also meet Eleanor’s neighbors: Tahani Al-Jamil, a self satisfied 1-percenter jet setter who constantly name drops her associations with famous people (Princess Di, Johnny Depp, etc) and her Good Deeds, and her soulmate Jianyu, a Buddhist monk who still maintains a vow of silence (possibly in self-defense).

So here’s the thing; Eleanor herself spots the problem with this setup (mind you, she sees only that it’s unfair to her). How can a sorting system that puts only the very best in the Good Place and everyone else in the Bad Place be at all fair? Shouldn’t there be an Average Place? Like Cincinnati?

Eleanor also complains that Tahani hardly seems better than her: “She’s a condescending bench.” (You can’t swear in the Good Place.) Tahani is proof-positive of the instrumental definition of Good being used by whomever sorted the departed into the Good Place and the Bad Place; her obvious motivation for Doing Good in life was to score social points. She did good in life because it made her Better than You; this motivation for doing good soundly has been soundly rejected by every major religion (the Bible, especially, is full of condemnation for the sort who do good for praise and bragging rights).

But apparently motivation doesn’t matter. Apparently.

One last fact; Eleanor quickly learns that when she does something bad, it affects the whole district. Comically so, with rains of shrimp and garbage about which Michael can do nothing, among other things. So she can’t even be secretly bad, she’s got to learn how to be good or the situation will quickly go to hell, figuratively and possibly literally speaking.

Remember I mentioned that something about all this seemed benevolently sinister?

Point #1: Eleanor can’t be there by mistake. The system got her name, place of birth, and date (and method) of death, right. But it got everything else wrong? I don’t think so. I think she arrived with a forged history. Who forged it, and why?

Point #2: This is Michael’s first solo job, and he seems a little out of his depth. Janet knows more about what is going on than he does, and she’s not helping.

So, what is going on? I have a hypothesis, one I’m not going to share yet. Maybe if someone in the comments gets close I’ll discuss it. In any case, I look forward to watching The Good Place; I think it’s a comedy meant to completely and deliberately bend your mind and make you think. I hope it is; it shows great promise.

M.G.Harmon

 

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Suicide Squad Completed the Mission

 

Suicide SquadNot the Good Guys.

So, I saw Suicide Squad this week. I’m going to spoiler the heck out of it, so 1.) DC comics fans should go see it, and 2.) stop reading until you get back.

We good? Okay then.

Unlike Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad didn’t try and reinvent its characters (I recently commented somewhere that I enjoyed BvS because I went in expecting to see Frank Miller’s version of both the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel and wasn’t disappointed). Suicide Squad is a show about a bunch of evil supervillains who have been drafted to undertake suicidal missions when only metahumans (or Humans With Extreme Whupass Skills) can do the job. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else.

So, on that basis, how did it do? Well, I found it entertaining in spots (mainly any scene Harlequin did anything in), and not a waste of my time and money.

But I probably won’t get the DVD.

Which is sad, because it had a lot o potential and overall was very well done. Good casting, good acting, good dialogue, good action. It was good.

But here’s the problem: there wasn’t a single character in the show in whom I could become emotionally invested. There was not one single character who grew in any way because of events. There was no karma for the characters whose bad decisions led to the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of human beings.

And not because there weren’t opportunities. Here’s a few missed ones.

Deadshot: a soulless hitman who has one human moment. He’s captured by Batman because he’s not willing to kill the Dark Knight when his own daughter (who is the only thing he loves) is there to see him do it. His revealed heart’s desire much later in the movie? It’s not to make sure his daughter has a good life; it’s to kill Batman.

Captain Flagg: a soldier dedicated to protecting America no matter the cost or evil required. Except that when he has to choose between keeping EVIL from breaking loose and killing hundreds of people, and keeping his girlfriend safe, he chose his girlfriend.

Amanda Waller: the woman whose ambition is to protect America from metahuman threats any way she must. Except that it’s her actions that directly lead to the world-threatening threat that the Suicide Squad is mobilized to defeat. Along the way, Waller casually sacrifices innocents to ensure that there will be no blowback on her for having done what she did.

Killer Croc: a man-beast condemned by his monstrous appearance, who has rejected humanity because humanity rejected him. Nope. No change; he finished the mission because otherwise he’d die, and he got a wide-screen TV out of it.

Harlequin: willingly driven insane by the Joker, then abandoned to be captured by Batman. Completely loyal to Mr. J from beginning to end, told Diablo (who regretted losing his temper and incinerating his wife and children) to “own it. We’re all monsters here.”

Were there any sympathetic characters in the show? Well, there was the human host of Enchantress (DC’s version of Zule from Ghostbusters). Captain Flagg’s girlfriend, she was a true innocent in the whole mess, but she wasn’t a central character.

So, no strong character arc for anybody; the movie could have overcome that by giving meaning to the conflict. Like the Dirty Dozen fighting the Nazis. Sure they were SOBs, but they were fighting evil SOBs. The fight against evil is ennobling.

Except, as mentioned the Big Bad Threat the bad guys were sent to defeat was instigated by Amanda Waller, who paid no price for all the death she caused (five with her own pistol because “none of them were cleared for any of this.”).

So, it’s merely-human bad guys fighting godlike bad guys, evil vs. EVIL, to end a threat that they themselves created. In the end, nobody changes, nobody grows, and nobody gets what they deserve (which is a bullet for each of them).

But Harlequin was fun to watch, and may be getting her own movie; hopefully in which she can grow. And the action is fun, spiced by witty dialogue, and the Joker was dead-on perfect. So Suicide Squad wasn’t a home run, but it wasn’t a strikeout either. It was a solid swing of Harley’s Good Night Bat, worth the price of admission.

M.G.Harmon

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Update and Words of Encouragement.

It has been way, way too long since I posted here. I am very sorry. Hopefully my silence did not dim your joys in any way, but life has been distracting me way too much. Bad writer! I will try and be better. That said, I only have a few things to say today, mostly updates (and a little gentle mockery).

Teamups and Crossovers

2016’s book is still in the works, moving forward, getting done, and any other phrase for not done yet. It should have been finished by now and I am never, ever, ever pursuing two projects simultaneously again. (Sigh.) The good news is that two authors (one collaborative, one with an original piece) have turned in two very fun stories. At this point it also looks like the book will also include a new and updated glossary and an extensive background section to make it a kind of resource for series fans who want a deeper look at the world. Current projected publication date: the end of September.

Wearing the Cape: the Roleplaying Game

Also much-delayed, partly due to factors beyond my control. Factors being a euphemism for artists. The upside is that the delay has allowed for a much more extensive review-and-playtest phase than I originally anticipated, and I modestly believe that the result of the extra time will just be a much more awesome game. If I’d known what a pain this project would be before I started it, I probably wouldn’t have started. On the other hand, once it’s finished it will be one of my proudest achievements to date. Because it will be awesome. For those of you who don’t peek at my Wearing the Cape Facebook page, here’s a little sample of the art:

Astra Flight

The gamebook itself is going to be a thing of beauty. Not a coffee table artbook, but very nice looking nonetheless.

And the Encouragement.

As most of you know, I am an indie-published author. Since self-publishing my first three or four books, I have been approached by a few smaller presses offering traditional contracts; the drawback being that they couldn’t offer me a level of earnings better than I was already making in straight royalties.

Naturally I decided that my success was because I was brilliant.

However, I had an epiphany today due to a humorous post on Facebook. It was this image:

Warning: NSFW (you will be laughing too hard).
Back Blurb

This! This is the golden secret to writing success! What are the three most desired protagonists in romance writing today? Vampires, Vikings, and angels. Also hot: a whole family of unbelievably gorgeous seductive man-cake (perfect for a series). So this inspired author decided that nothing could be better than a family of seven Viking vampire angels! It’s just so, so…I think I may cry.

Seriously (not really), not content with the mind blowing, giggle inducing wonder that is the back cover, I had to research it. The book this back-blurb belongs to is Kiss of Pride: A Deadly Angels Book by Sandra Hill. Behold the cover.

Kiss of Pride

I will not quote from the gloriously insane prologue (please please please use Amazon’s  Look Inside function for that, but again, not at work). I will give you the opening lines of Chapter One.

Vika Siggurdson hadn’t had sex in a hundred years, and he was not in the greatest of moods. The last time had resulted in two hundred years being added to his penance, and it hadn’t even been good sex.

This. Is. Beautiful! It promises Vikings, immortal vikings, immortal and sexually frustrated Vikings! Boom!

For one insane moment I considered picking up a free sample of Book One on my Kindle just to keep the giddiness going. However, I regretfully decided that too much exposure to this wonderful insanity would destroy my ability to write even as semi-seriously as I do.

Where was I going with this? Oh yes, my epiphany.

Sandra Hill’s Deadly Angels series averages a 4.6 Amazon Star Rating. The first book in the series rates only a 4.0, but they go up with one of the later books a 4.8 and the latest a 4.7. How in the waking world could this possibly be? Well, Sandra has found a niche. Yes, it’s a Viking-vampire-angel niche, but it practically had to be there. In similar fashion, I stumbled upon the New Adult Superhero Story niche when I wrote Wearing the Cape. Both are underserved niches, so like Sandra, I didn’t have to be a great writer to do well in it. I only had to be a good-enough writer.

Hopefully I have gotten better, but my point for all you aspiring writers out there is this; polish your craft, yes, but there is a lot of competition out there, so if you want to get published while you’re still just good-enough (or noticed when you self-publish) then you need to find an underserved niche. Find your Viking-vampire-angel niche. But, and here’s the catch, you must commit to it. To serve it well, you must cast aside every thought that whispers But Viking-vampire-angels are just silly. So, from a certain perspective, is a teen superhuman who dons a cape and mask and takes a codename.

Now isn’t that encouraging?

M.G.Harmon

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WTC:RPG, Stage II

Cover Flight

I’m glad to say that readers have continued to bother me about this, asking what’s going on and when it will happen. I’m now pleased to announce that, while massively behind where I thought we’d be on this, we will presently be ready for Stage II in WtC:RPG’s developement.

I have no excuse for the delays, other than to plead that writing a set of game rules for playing in the Post-Event World, even one using a preexisting open-sourced set of rules (the Fate System), has meant climbing a much more difficult learning curve than I anticipate. This is not simply a vanity project, and I want Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game to impress even long-time gamers.

So what is Stage II?

I have previously had some dedicated Fate players taking a swing at the first, word-doc draft of the game to help me discover if anything is obviously broken. Stage II is to present a fully blocked draft of the game (minus much of the still-developing artwork) for a select and dedicated group of gamers who have never played a Fate-based roleplaying game. Why? WtC:RPG is designed for both long-time gamers and for newbies—reader of the book who have never played a tabletop RPG before, or who have previously played but with other systems like D20, Pathfinder, Champions, Mutants and Masterminds, and others.

Which means Stage II is the playtest for both playability and learnability. The rules must both work and be understandable by players with no previous experience. I think it’s ready to show everyone. But frankly, after all of the work that has gone into this, I’m terrified.

So, for everyone who has been patiently waiting, who can participate?

If you have a group of at least three willing victims, and the willingness to commit to not just read over the rules but test them hard and provide feedback on learning and play, you are welcome to join the effort to make the Post-Event World a playable reality. We have a google+ community page where test subjects—I mean playtesters—can talk to me and each other. All playtesters will get their names (and hero names) in the second-page credits in the game, and may have a strong influence on how this project is finished up and carried into the future.

Thank you all in advance.

On other news, Teamups and Crossovers is still an ongoing project slated for publication in the fall. It began as an opportunity to simply do some short stories involving other characters in the Post-Event World, but has evolved into a series of linked adventures interspersed with standalone pieces. One of the stories is co-written, another written by a never-before published writer, and a third written with permission—the story of Astra’s adventures in another superhero universe altogether. I never know until I’ve published, but I think that all Wearing the Cape fans are going to be thrilled.

So, lots more to come.

Marion G. Harmon

 

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Fake Hate.

Haters-Gonna-Hate-Meme-Leonardo-12

“The whole world is festering with unhappy souls. The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles. Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch, and I don’t like anybody very much!” (The Merry Minuet, by The Kingston Trio)

I remember hearing The Merry Minuet on the radio as a teen, and laughing about itespecially laughing at the last lines, which present the “solution” (go listen to it on Youtube). Because you have to laugh, at least once in awhile, at the truth of the song; something bad is always happening somewhere, and most of the time the bad thing that’s happening is us. As a species we are flawed and often hateful, and we know it. “We have met the enemy, and they is us.” (Pogo)

We hate each other. This is obvious, at least if you follow the news media much.

Part of this of course is that hate sells, and “People get along!” or “People agree to disagree!” isn’t a grabby headline. But part of it is the simple truth; when it comes to blaming others for our problems, to quote another song “Any Mick’ll do, any black, any Jew. Any poor wee bugger who’s not like you.” (Any Mick’ll Do, by Brian McNeill.) It’s baked into our DNA or written into our souls, or what have you; it’s human nature to separate the world into Us and Them and hate Them. This is nothing new, and it seems that no sooner do we bury one prejudice against someone Not Like Us than another appears or exhumes itself; it’s like zombiesyou can shoot as many as you like, but you’ll always be in a target-rich environment.

But lately I’ve been paying attention to a phenomena that is new to me; fake hate.

It has multiple causes, but I think it comes back (as most of my observations on social conflict do) to The Syllogism.

  1. I am a rational/good human being.
  2. Because I am a rational/good human being, I believe X.
  3. If you do not believe X, you are either ignorant, stupid, or evil.
  4. Because you are ignorant, stupid, or evil, it is useless to debate with you and pointless to listen to you.

It hinges on Statement 3: If you do not believe X, you are either ignorant, stupid, or evil.
If you believe that Statement 3 is true about someonefor example if you believe that their opposition to abortion is rooted in misogyny or their opposition to Affirmative Action is rooted in racism, or their opposition to the 2nd Amendment is rooted it their desire to render you defenselessthen you expect those people to act in specific ways. You expect the hateful to act hatefully.

And often, they don’t.

I’m not saying there are not plenty of racists or sexists out there (and reverse-racists and reverse-sexists); you can trawl the internet and find all the hate and vituperation you can stomach, coming from people on every side of every social conflict of our time. Neither the Far Right nor the Radical Left have a monopoly on hatefulness. But for all of the words many of us hurl at each other online and at protests, apparently, as a society, we are not being hateful enough in practice.

Apparently, the haters are good at disguising their hate.

And this is a problem for radicals or reformers who want to change society. After all, if Statement 3 is true, but your ignorant, stupid, evil enemies are hiding it or at least not acting on it, then right-thinking people will not get angry enough to see the rightness of the changes you want to make.

When you’re right but nobody is listening, being righteous is not enough. You need to show them you’re right.

Which brings us to this sad event: http://www.kvue.com/news/local/whole-foods-accuser-drops-lawsuit-over-cake/196619953 .

To sum up;

“An openly gay pastor who claimed that a grocery store bakery wrote a homophobic message on his cake has dropped his lawsuit against Whole Foods, claiming he made up the story, according to news reports. ‘I apologize to the LGBT community for diverting attention from real issues,’ Pastor Jordan Brown said in a statement, according to the ABC affiliate in Austin and other news reports. Brown normally preaches about love and acceptance, with a particular focus on outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians, at the church he leads in Austin. But after he picked up a cake in April that was supposed to say ‘Love Wins,’ he turned to preaching in the media, and in court.

“The company’s response to Brown’s statement on Monday was brief: ‘We’re very pleased that the truth has come to light. Given Mr. Brown’s apology and public admission that his story was a complete fabrication, we see no reason to move forward with our counter suit to defend the integrity of our brand and team members.'”

(Washington Post)

Now, I do not pretend to see into the heart of Pastor Brown. I like to think that he didn’t make up the accusation to attack a blameless employee and an entire corporation for selfish reasons. I believe that he believed he was committing the sin of False Witness in a good cause; drawing public attention to ant-gay sentiments by providing a concrete incidence of anti-gay behavior. Photo evidence and a public lawsuit is certainly one way to get attention. (I know my first reaction on hearing the story was disgust.)

But then it turned out that Whole Foods could provide video evidence that the cake’s packaging had been tampered with after purchase, and Pastor Brown’s own pictures raise doubt that the employee who made the cake provided the last, deeply offensive, word. And now Pastor Brown has admitted that he fabricated the story, and apologized.

And I wish I could be surprised. I don’t like to be cynical about anything, but in the past few years fake-hate reporting has become increasingly common. I first saw it appearing in reports of on-campus incidents; someone would hang a noose, paint up offensive graffiti, or commit some other disgusting act of racist expression on campus, everyone would go crazy, and then the investigation would reveal that it was actually done by an “anti-racist” group or individual to raise awareness of racism. But it has spread off campus, too, with impacts that range from trivial to life-destroying.

As another example, a young Muslim student recently made up an account of anti-Muslim aggravated assault and posted it on Facebook. When it came out that the hate-crime was fake, one respondent wrote “Why would she make it all up? I don’t understand, she needed attention that bad. She had the whole Muslim community in an uproar and I as a Muslim student attending Uta was very worried. Instead of honoring the victims of the chapel hill shooting she fabricated a lie to gain attention from others focusing on that tragedy. I’m truly ashamed.”

http://www.arlingtonvoice.com/crime-emergency-education/story/feb/13/2015/muslim-uta-students-claim-aggravated-assault-weapon-was

The most famous (or infamous) recent example of this is the University of Virginia fraternity rape story published in Rolling Stones magazine, which now appears to be entirely false and is the focus of several ongoing lawsuits.

In the incidents when they have falsely claimed victimization, less generous opinion of the perpetrators of these incidents would be that they are just attention-seekers. They themselves reject this judgement, claiming idealism and good intentions. Authorities are also lax to prosecute these incidents.

“A University of Chicago student who claimed his Facebook page was hacked and filled with racist and violent messages against him and another student has now admitted he faked the attack.

“Intended to shame the school into making drastic changes around race and speech on campus, the hoax appears to have worked.

“The students behind the ruse, the hoodwinked university and the school newspaper have argued that the hoax – which provoked a federal investigation – should not detract from fixing the school’s “culture of racial intolerance,” in the words of a petition demanding policy changes.”

(The College Fix, http://www.thecollegefix.com/post/20329/ )

So people lie. We know this, and what makes these incidents so bad?

Fake-Hate is a serious problem because every time a story like this happens, the public trust is damaged. There are serious social issues to be discussed today, but any discussion in good faith depends on trust; injuring the public trust is a disservice to everyone, but especially to those on the same side as the persons telling these lies.

What can be done about it?

It’s disingenuous to simply say that we should all calm down and stop hating on each other so much (buying into Syllogism Statement #3) that we’re willing to Make Up Crap about them because They Deserve It. A more realistic approach is to use the law; after all, laws are being broken here. And this is happening with some cases.

https://www.yahoo.com/news/woman-admits-tweeting-fake-threats-fellow-black-students-204320195.html

If enough liars are convicted for their actions, others will decide that the price of lying for the cause is too high. Meanwhile, the next time you hear reports about a senseless and disgusting expression of hate, wait awhile; it may be an incidence of Fake-Hate.

M.G.Harmon

(Note: for more incidents of Fake-Hate, just google “fake hate crimes.” You’ll find enough to read for hours if not days.)

 

 

 

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War is Never Civil.

Civil War

Team Steve! Team Tony! Wait, this feels familiar…

I have just come from watching Captain America III: Civil War. I went into it with lower expectations than I might have; Batman v. Superman was…okay but flawed and I enjoyed it mainly by telling myself I was watching a Frank Miller interpretation of the real Batman and Superman. I think the main problem is that BvS’s writer and director were trying too hard to “re-imagine” those iconic heroes. Civil War, on the other hand, is proof that Marvel Studio’s writers firmly understand that they don’t need to re-imagine anything. Update the backstories a bit, yes, but in CV they have continued to hew as closely as possible to the character of the heroes we know and love. And the result is genius.

No spoilers this time, other than the setup and general theme. The setup is payoff on the fact that, even when they won (which is most of the time), the Avengers left a lot of collateral damage in their wake. Some of it they were responsible for. Plus they are a private organization that can dismantle national armies, and they answer to no-one. So, four years after the Avengers are founded, the United Nations is moving to put them under the control of a supervisory panel. If the team won’t allow it, it must disband.

That’s the setup.

The theme springs from the setup; before the members of the team can fully hash it out among themselves, a crisis immediately blows up around the Winter Soldier (no spoiler there since it’s in all the previews). The team becomes divided between those willing to, out of principle, follow the new law, and those who, out of principle, cannot.

Yes, Marvel set it up so that both sides are right at various times and with the information each has, and it hurts to watch this band of brothers (and sisters) get ripped apart. In the end, I don’t know who made the right call initially: Steve, or Tony?

You decide. Get thee to a theater. Go!

(Also, the introductions of Panther and Spiderman are awesome.)

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Money Is (Sometimes) The Enemy Of Art

I am the opposite of an art snob (or literature snob). I think JK Rowling deserves her millions. So does every indie band that goes mainstream to cash in big, and every writer who scores a movie franchise.

But.

I will be the first to admit that money can be the enemy of quality, whatever the medium of artistic expression.

The current example that made me think of this is the declining story quality of the Castle TV franchise. Don’t get me wrong; it continues to be entertaining. But the tightness and fire of the first few seasons is gone, and there is nothing the show’s writers and directors can do to get it back.

And it’s not their fault; Castle has been killed by the limitations of storytelling.

Castle 1

Castle, Season One: New York’s best homicide detective is saddled with a playboy mystery writer. She’s by the book, he writes the book. He sees her as his “muse,” she sees him as the pain in her ass. Hi-jinx ensue.

I could go on about the genius of the writers in how they layered, seemingly effortlessly, character into these two common archetypes. I won’t.

Castle 8

Castle, Season Eight: New York’s youngest police captain leaves her writer husband to protect him from the potential fallout of a dangerous and off the books investigation she is conducting. He tries to win her back. Even though he hasn’t really lost her and she could have told him their separation was just a cover. Needless angst ensues.

So, what happened? Simply put, what happened is the heart of the show was, by the end of Season 2, about the deepening relationship between Castle and Beckett (which should have resolved by the end of Season 3, but the writers didn’t know what do do next). But clearly and from the beginning, Castle and Beckett were meant to be Caskett, and the show could have done one of two things when that definitively happened; end with a wedding, or turn into a cozier Hart to Hart kind of series–possibly with more emphasis put on other characters like Alexis, Javier, and Ryan. Castle and Beckett’s romantic relationship should not have remained core of the repeating season arc.

And this is where money became the enemy of art. Because the heart of the show was about two characters and their relationship, the show owners would take a huge risk if they tried to change the central dynamic. Successful multi-season shows are valuable properties, and any serious change would threaten the show’s value. So instead, they settled into a repetitive cycle of relationship-threatening crisis.

This is called “going stale.”

And it’s a cautionary tale to all writers telling multi-season or multi-book stories; sometimes, the nature of the story you’re telling puts an unavoidable endpoint to it. Once you reach that endpoint, you’re either done or you have to take the elements you’ve got and tell a new story with them.

What begins, must end. But sometimes, for both authors and writers, the money is too good. Or the fan-pressure is to strong. What then?

Marion G. Harmon

Addendum: I was disturbed enough by the writer’s handling of the protracted Caskett Dance (which went on waaaay too long), that during a dry spell last year I actually wrote two fanfiction Castle episodes. Anyone interested in seeing my shame can find them on Fanfiction.net: The Long Holiday and Summer Heat.

 

 

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Movie Review: Batman v Superman.

batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice.jpgSuperhero epic as war movie.

A few of my readers have expressed enthusiasm over hearing my thoughts on Batman vs. Superman. I suppose they think that, being a successful writer of superhero fiction myself, I am uniquely qualified to pass judgement on the movie. So here goes.

But first, go see it.

You think I’m joking? Nope. It’s worth the ticket price, whatever you think afterward. And since my expressing my opinion involves all sorts of spoilery stuff, you should see it first so you can give me your opinion.

So go see it. Come back. I’ll wait.

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Back now? Okay then. First, and to leave no doubt, I liked it. A lot. I’ve read reviewers who dismissed it as tendentious moralizing buried under hours of CGI fighting, so I went to see BvS prepared to be disappointed. I will grant that, if you didn’t like 2013’s Man of Steel, then you won’t like Superman v Batman. After all, it’s the next stone in the new movie-mythology being made here.

The movie wasn’t perfect. I thought that director Zack Snyder overdid the religious iconography just a bit (movie watchers are pretty smart, Zack–one or two theologically resonant images is good, a bucket of over-the-top imagery is gratuitous). I wasn’t fond of the shaky-cam work. But I’m going to write about what I liked.

Titans at war. That was the impression I came away with. The battle scenes (just calling them fight-scenes is selling them short), were pushed with driving orchestration that brutalized your ears as much as the scale of force hit your eyes. The message in the images and sound was that this was a battlefield no mortal could survive upon; Batman survived first because Superman wasn’t trying to kill him, and later because he could react faster than Doomsday—like a fly ducking the flyswatter. Just watching it leaves you disoriented and a bit shell-shocked.

This is the power of Superman taken to its “real-world” conclusion. Just as the battle with the Kryptonians in Man of Steel laid waste to the center of Metropolis (which, a year and a half later, is marked by a huge open Ground Zero and the contained Kryptonian wreck), the last battle in BvS lays waste to Gotham Harbor.

And BvS drives home a theme begun in Man of Steel: we would not trust gods among us. There are several characters representing this distrust, including a senator, who is principled, and Lex Luthor, who is not. The senator is motivated by the very real concern that if Superman is not held accountable then he will abuse the privilege. Luthor, on the other hand, see’s Superman through his own eyes. Of course he doesn’t consciously think of it this way, but, as a corrupt man seeking power, he cannot believe that power does not always corrupt.

Luthor knows what he would be if he had the power of Superman; a false but nonetheless unopposable  god-king. He would rule, he thinks that sooner or later Superman would do the same, and the thought of Superman ruling him, corrupt or not, is intolerable. The extent of his pathology is evident in the fact that he created Doomsday as a last resort should Batman fail; the world could burn—he could die—but so long as Superman fell he simply didn’t care.

Personally, I found Luthor’s nihilist stance a little underdeveloped. “If God is all powerful, he cannot be all good. If God is all good, he cannot be all powerful.” This is a criticism of divinity reasoned through and dismissed in the first few lectures of any serious theology course; while it sounds profound and even unanswerable, it is only unanswerable for those who have no interest in answering it. Luthor dismisses God, and Truth and Goodness, because recognizing anything higher than himself is impossible. He’s forced to recognize Superman, whom he tries to pull down as his nemesis because he cannot tolerate that. It makes a decent motivation, because while it’s a flawed one it is a very human one.

Batman, like Luthor, does not trust Superman although for different reasons. In Batman’s case, he has stared into the abyss too long (twenty years wearing the cape to clean up Gotham). “How many people stay good?” Unlike Luthor, his motivation for fighting Superman is mostly altruistic; he wants to save humanity, not himself. It’s also personal for Bruce, in that as an observer on Ground Zero for the Battle of Metropolis, where he lost dozens of friends and members of his “corporate” family, he has internalized the event with his own parent’s deaths. There’s a lot of anger there, and it pushes his whole story.

A last note on Bruce Wayne/Batman. In the end, what stops him from killing Superman is an interesting fact that I’d never thought about; his slain mother, and Clark’s living one, are both named Martha.

I mentioned religious imagery, and  Luthor’s almost existential rebellion against the mere fact of Superman. Yes, Superman is a Christ-figure. Some might find this objectionable. I don’t; divine or not, real or not, Christ is a type. There have been many Christ-figures in history, men and women willing to use their lives and even lay them down in the service of others. With great power comes great opportunity for service. In BvS, Clark’s existential crisis comes because while he wants to serve, the reaction of a significant portion of the public to his service is…mixed.

un-American Aliens

Of course Luthor is manipulating events, but the underlying distrust had to be there to begin with.

Interestingly, one thing that BvS seems to conclude is that, as idealistic as Clark is, Louis is both more of a realist and at the same time more committed. She is certain where he is not. She is his heart, the one who makes him finally and unreservedly claim Earth as his home.

Which brings us to the end of the movie, and Doomsday.

You see this coming, at least if you are reasonably steeped in Superman lore. I thought it was done superbly, tied in seamlessly to the elements from The Dark Knight Returns. And really, it had to be something like this. After all, you need a threat to match the heroes; that’s one problem with superheroes as strong as Superman (and one reason why I made even A Class Atlas-Types in the Post-Event World much less powerful). And Superman’s self-sacrificing death certainly buried the anti-Superman movement—as well as launching the assembling of the metahumans who will now form the Justice League.

I look forward to it, the next step being next year’s Wonder Woman.

Posted in Movie Reviews | Tagged , , | 18 Comments

Wearing the Cape Update and Q & A.

Hollywood Nights, small

When heroes go Hollywood.

So there hasn’t been much news on the game or book front recently, and I apologize for that. As should now be obvious, there was no January Kickstarter. This is because it has been taking longer than I thought to master the intricacies of a second RPG system for the game (as you may remember, my first pick was Cortex Plus). The good news is progress is being made, the major issues have been hammered out, and Wearing the Cape: the Roleplaying Game will still see the light of day in 2016. (The above pic. is piece of art from the background-chapter of the rulebook; brownie points if you can tell me who all of them are.)

And what I suspect is even better news for fans of the books, Wearing the Cape: Crossovers will be out in 2016 as well. The semi-anthology will feature Astra stories interspersed with non-Astra stories, so readers who want to see more of the Post-Event World than is only seen through Astra’s eyes will get a treat. Four of the stories are finished, and as previously mentioned, readers will also get to visit several “extrareality” superhero worlds and meet some amazing heroes in other settings. I hope to have a new edition of the series’ newsletter up soon, with another of the stories from the coming book.

Meanwhile, I thought I’d take this opportunity to throw the blog open for an in-post Q & A; if you have any questions about the current titles, the coming title, the game, or, well, anything, drop a comment here. I’ll fold everything into an Update and Q & A part II.

Marion G. Harmon

 

Posted in Uncategorized, Wearing the Cape | Tagged , , , , , | 54 Comments

The Radical Moderate 3: “The Worst Form of Government.”

Moderation cartoon

I did not expect to be writing another Radical Moderate post for awhile, but with the presidential primaries coming up quickly, I thought I’d better get my two cents in.

No, I’m not going to tell you who to vote for.

Instead, I’m going to talk about the Worst Form of Government; i.e., democracy.

Because democracy sucks. Really. Every election cycle is the same—incumbents or wannabe-incumbents puffing their accomplishments, covering their mistakes, slinging crap at their opponents, each side gathering growing Greek choruses explaining why their chosen candidate walks on water and pisses wine. Their candidate is always the one who will finally clean the shit out of the Augean Stables, whip the money changers from the holy temple, et cetera, et cetera.

And of course my favorite syllogism rules the election cycle.

  1. I am a rational/good human being.
  2. Because I am a rational/good human being, I believe X.
  3. If you do not believe X, you are either ignorant, stupid, or evil.
  4. Because you are ignorant, stupid, or evil, it is useless to debate with you and pointless to listen to you.

The only difference is the candidates must at least debate a little. But it’s mostly pro-forma, and studies have shown that public debates rarely move the needle of public opinion much.

And when the election is over? Sometimes the winning candidate actually picks up a shovel after taking office, but then he must fight the rest of his political party plus the other party to get anything real accomplished—while fighting for his political survival against opponents who don’t want him to accomplish anything and who will try an minimize or discredit everything he does accomplish, so that they have a chance of beating him in the next election.

Most of the time nothing substantive gets done. The stables remain full of crap and buzzing flies.

And now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you, a word from Winston Churchill:

Democracy

Because the man was absolutely right, and here’s the disconnect. “No on pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise.” Except we do, or at least we believe that it can be made reasonably perfect or nearly all-wise if we just elect the right people. This is because we labor under the delusion that elections are supposed to reveal the wisdom of the people; a water-to-wine miracle in which a largely uninformed citizenry somehow identifies and chooses the most informed and qualified citizen to lead them.

Sounds a little silly, put that way, doesn’t it? And that’s not even beginning to talk about the effects of tribal thinking (by tribes I mean liberals and conservatives).

The truth is that elections are not there to give us the best possible leadership; they never do. The best man or woman for the job is almost never the most electable one—the paradox is baked into the system. Elections are there to give us the opportunity to hold our leaders accountable. Without democracy, the only way for citizens to hold their leaders accountable is through armed revolution. Bullets are the only alternative to ballots.

So, what should you be looking for in a candidate? That is very much a question of taste and ideology, and I’m not going to say Vote For X!

Jareth For President

Ahem.

Okay, I will say this; whatever your political tribe, look carefully at your candidates. All of them will claim that they can fix everything, or at least fix Problem X. They might actually be able to do some good, there, who knows? But most of the time applying government to social and economic problems is like trying to do brain surgery with a drill (to extend the metaphor, you need the drill, but only up to a point).

Democracy 1

In my opinion, the chief qualification for office a candidate can display is his understanding of what we are. We are not a pure democracy (pray daily that we never become one).

Democracy 3

The framers of the Constitution, the political leaders who argued for and against it, and the citizens who voted to make it the Law of The Land, were deeply suspicious of government power. Of course everyone is, but they were also deeply suspicious of the power of the people. They understood that a majority could be as bad a tyrant as one man, so they wrote up and ratified a grant of power with all sorts of Thou Shalt Nots; the Constitution, and most specifically, the Bill of Rights, is the Ten Commandments for US government.

Famously, at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, an attendee asked Ben Franklin “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” Franklin replied “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

We are a constitutional democracy, within the framework of a republic. The next president must be the candidate who best respects the limits of the Chief Executive and the constitutional limits of American democracy. Democracies die when they lose sight of the limits of government power. The First French Republic devolved into terror, tyranny, and empire. The Italian Parliament freely elected Benito Mussolini—the father of modern fascism—in 1922. In 1925, “by necessity,” he set up a legal dictatorship.

None of the current candidates, of either party, are a potential Mussolini. But as we follow successive leaders who whittle away at those Thou Shalt Nots, we get closer to the day when the we find ourselves living under an unconstitutional democracy, led by a government that considers mere rights subordinate to peace, efficiency, prosperity, fairness, equality, and all good things. It will do what is necessary, for our own good.

To end with one last quote; “Necessity is the justification for every infringement of human liberty: it is the argument of tyrants, the creed of slaves.”

In this election cycle, vote for the candidate most likely to sustain and strengthen the worst form of government.

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments