Ghets Chapter One

Ghets Chapter One

A wall.

A month-long job, involving a journey of close to eight hundred miles, (most of which they had to walk, the closest gate was gucking Valenbrook), bribes, forged documents, trips through secret passages, a fight with bandits in the Raskul woods, raiders when they tried to cross the Moutcur river and an Ogre along the Hourn highlands, numerous close calls, and one of the most twisted supply networks Reez ever had to fashion and it was all going to end up a big fat failure because of a wall.

Reez the orc, Ghets captain, and sore loser, was standing on a hill next to the get-a-way wagons. She was starting at a ridiculously long wall that encircled a manor house and it’s accompany farm and pasture lands. The manor house, by the way, had far more appropriate sized gate around it too.

Elise the elf, one of Reez’s Ghets, and a friend, was leaning on her spear sighing. “See the wall? Guess, we’re like not getting that return bonus, or whatever.”

“How can anyone not see that gucking wall?” Reez grumbled, “Who puts a wall like that all around their place? It must of cost more than their gucking house! Those gatehouses are huge!”

Elise shrug, “Yeah, sucks”

Reez tapped her foot. She felt her sword, Kiki, warm on her back. Reez was getting anxious and thinking about doing gunk she knew she shouldn’t. Reez was a Ghets, her job was to guide Fellowships from either side of the border where they wanted to go. But what they did once they got there was supposed to be their own business. It was important that Ghets remained neutral, that’s what allowed them to function and prevented Reez’s home, Ghetshaven, from being obliterated by some angry Dairkkul Pit Lord or Elven Emperor or bring the Okkore down on them.

There was no doubt that the Dairkkul which Reez had guided on this journey were up to some shady doings. The Dairkkul came with three big pit fiends, each close to seven feet tall with all black skin, padded feet and big sharp claws. The fiends were designed with piercing yellow eyes that granted them excellent night vision, but no mouths. It was a look that screamed assassin.

Their Dairkkul handlers had been modified too, they’re legs bent back and twisted to give them more power to leap and scale walls. Their leader was old with white hair twirling around her long antelope like horns. She went by ‘Crow’ an obvious code name, but it suited her. She had a crow’s cackle and sense of humor. When Reez pointed out that Crow was a funny name for Dairkkul since there weren’t any crows in the Dairkkul’s home of Neradoom, the old woman laughed and said that’s why they had chartered Reez and her Ghets to lead them into Aphetrria, to go bird spotting.

Crow’s two other Dairkkul companions were a lot younger. Apprentices if Reez had to guess, based on the way they shadowed Crow and followed her orders. One was named ‘Nightingale’ and the other ‘Hummingbird’. ‘Hummingbird’ was kinda a guck up, (not that it was any of Reez’s business, but she was horrible gossip). Hummingbird got spooked easy, and let information slip, like how they were working for a big time Pit Lord named Maelator. Crow had a fit when she heard him say that.

Whatever this group of spies and assassins were up to it was bad, but not too bad. The Ghets had strict codes and contracts which had to be signed before any job could start. Crow had personally assured Reez that they weren’t going to kill anyone…well, unless they had to, which was only fair.

The shadowy bunch where probably going to steal something. Both sides made a big deal out of these Fellowships: fancy quests, dire language about the fate of the world, all that gunk. But Reez knew it was just a big game. Stuff like this had been happening forever.

Some Aphetrrian Fellowship might be sent across the border to destroy a Dairkkul magic ring, to boost morale back home. The Pit Lords would then retaliate by sending their own scared fellowship across and steal a magic sword some gunk pulled from a stone. This gave the Aphetrrians an excuse to send another Fellowship over to get the sword back. And on and on it would go until the stupid war between both lands was over. And that was never going to happen ‘cause the whole mess was started by the Goddess in the first place.

As long as neither Neradoom or Aphetrria sent an army over the border and restarted the Deinomachy or ‘Gods’ War’ everyone was happy with the game. Powers in Aphetrria and Neradoom got to do symbolic quests to distract the masses and appease their respective churches and the Ghets got to make some decent coin. Fellowships paid more than your standard merchants or pilgrims. It was good work, when there weren’t gucking walls ruining everything.

Reez left Elise to watch the wagons and headed down from the hill. Reez’s second in command, Odvid, was sitting by the road reading. Odvid had hung a lantern by a signpost as a signal to the Dairkkul when, or if, they made it back from the manor house. Odvid’s cover was supposed to be that of a beggar, the type you didn’t want anything to do with. His gray skin, hunched back and odd proportions, made it easy to believe he had some sort of incurable disease, like super leprosy or inverted gigantism. He closed his book when he heard Reez.

“I take it this about the wall?” He asked.

“Yes! Did you see that gucking wall?!” Reez said.

“I did. It’s hard to miss. I read that it was install by the third Earl, Gregory of Lunderbik. He raced horses and wanted the wall to incorporate his training track.”

“So, he could train horses while under siege!?” Reez said crossing her arms.

“It’s good to have hobbies.” Odvid offered.

Reez rolled her eyes. “Where’s Jaques? I want to talk to him.”

Odvid motioned towards the woods. “Up a tree keeping an eye on their progress.” Odvid said, before turning all serious “But Reez don’t do anything. We’re already more involved than we should be. The contract was just to lead them to Paluentok and meet them back there once the ‘quest’ was complete. Now we’re their get- away?”

“I know Odd, I know.” Reez said,

“Plausible deniability.” Odvid lectured.

‘Plausible Deniability’ was the creed every Ghets swore by. Ghetshaven was neutral in the Deinomachy, siding with neither the Dairkkul of Neradoom or the Elves of Aphetrria. It was the only place in the whole world were peoples of all species and lands where welcomed. Anyone could come to trade or hire Ghets for guides, extra muscle, or to lead your Fellowship to go pester the ancient enemy like Crow did.

Reez frowned. She knew she was making trouble again, going above and beyond for some fellowship. The Ghets would be paid if the fellowship’s quest succeeded or failed. It wasn’t supposed to matter to her.

“But they’re helpless Odd!” Reez pleaded, “Did you see Hummingbird this morning? He almost left his pack behind! And their original plan was to have a fiend watch the horses? Do fiends even know what horses are?” Reez said

“Not these ones, probably,” Odvid said thinking about it. “But—“

“But what? You know what’s going to happen if they get caught? Torture and execution. Odd you’re a healer, you wouldn’t leave them behind if they got sick, torture’s no different,” Reez said.

Odvid looked down. “I understand Reez. I don’t always like these jobs, but there is danger in helping them too much.”

Reez punched Odvid in the arm. “Promise I won’t go off and burn down the gatehouse or nothing.”

“Please don’t” Odvid pleaded.

Reez gave him her big orc grin, the one that showed off her neat rows of sharp teeth. And went to find Jaques.

Jaques was Reez’s scout and what she liked to call a ‘Fur’. A ‘Fur’ wasn’t any one type of thing, but rather a mixture of furry peoples all blended together. Jaques looked most like a weasel. He had a long neck, and slender body. But he also had pointed ears on the top of his head like a cat and a bit more of pronounced snout than a weasel. Being a mixed blood mutt from a bunch of different fur covered people gave Jaques some keen senses. His hearing was sharper than any creature Reez had ever stumbled upon. And his eyesight and smell weren’t so bad neither.

“Why are you creating a racket in the woods mad orc? You’re supposed to be by the wagons.” Jaques hissed. Jaques had a bit of accent, a smooth growl that gave his voice a dark edge and made his ‘R’s rumble. It might have been attractive, if he wasn’t such a butt-spider. He had a stupid gucking nickname for everyone on the team. Reez’s was ‘mad orc’.

Reez squinted in the dark. Jaques had jet black fur which made him hard to spot at night. He rattled the tree he was sitting in and Reez came to its trunk.

“You see them? Did they make it in yet? Any alarms? Did you see that crazy gucking wall they got?”

“I don’t know why I agree to these gigs; you micromanage.” Jaques grumbled.

“Just tell me already you gunker” Reez said

“They’ve begun their robbery.” Jaques said, “Hummingbird slipped on the walls, but one of the fiends caught him. They made it to the gate of the manor. I didn’t see them go in yet. I think they are looking for an entrance. Doesn’t matter.” Jaquesed growled. “They won’t be coming out.”

“What do you mean?” Reez said hitting the tree.

“Hmph” Jaques snorted. “They picked a bad night. There’s some party going on; carriages, guests and more guards at the manor. Guards everywhere and if an alarm goes up they’ll be trapped by that wall.” Jaques gave a low groan. “We should leave soon. Once they catch the Dairkkul they’ll sweep the woods.”

“They’re not catching anyone, quit being a cynic.” Reez said, getting more anxious. Why did she bother talking to Jaques or Elise or Odvid for that matter, they were all a bunch of moody grumps. Reez was in dire need of an optimist on her team.

Jaques gave a growly laugh, “You don’t know anything orc. There’s guards out now with lanterns. They’re searching for something. No alarm yet, but their movements are too random for patrols.”

Reez didn’t like that. She could see Hummingbird messing up, maybe dropping something that arouse suspicion. “Can you see the gatehouses? The farthest one from us? They got horses there?”

Jaques paused for a moment. “Yes. Inside the wall close to the gate, there’s a small stable.”

“Good” Reez said leaving.

Jaques shouted after her. “Mad Orc what are you doing?”

“You’ll see!” Reez shouted back. “Stay up there and get ready to move when you see my signal. You won’t miss it.” Reez grinned. She knew Jaques couldn’t see it in the night and that Odvid would murder her afterwards, but at least this would be fun.

Reez could hear bells ringing and shouts of alarm in both Loir’ve and Common by the time she made it to the gatehouse. She had to work fast. She wrapped her scarf around her mouth and forced her red dreadlocks into her hood. She couldn’t risk letting the guards see her face.

She checked to make sure she had enough ‘green stuff’ for a truly fantastic fire and then unsheathed Kiki. Reez could feel the sword’s excitement, little glowing embers spotted her blade.

“No killing tonight” She whispered to Kiki as she secured the sword to her back and started to climb. Reez felt Kiki sizzle in response. Reez shook her head; that was the problem with magic swords, so demanding. “Don’t worry girl we’re still getting into trouble. Gotta take some blood to get a nice fire going.”

Reez found her trouble quick. The gatehouse was packed with rushing and confused guards. Reez bumped into a squad the second she pulled herself onto the wall. There was some fighting, some cutting, mean words were exchanged. Reez’s bloodlust started to pump through her veins and threatened to turn her into a crazed orc woman, burning and slashing until the guards overwhelmed her. Luckily, she got it under control and escaped the squad with only a couple scrapes and bruises.

She kicked open the door to the gatehouse’s second floor and dumped the green stuff. She then whispered to Kiki and a small fire ignited along the sword’s blade. Reez thrusted Kiki through the wooden floorboards making sure her fire caught before getting the guck of there. Reez and Kiki rushed the stables stealing a horse and riding as hard as they could into the night. Reez didn’t want to be anywhere near the gatehouse when the fire reached the ‘green stuff.’

There was an explosion. Even on horseback thundering away from the wall Reez could feel the heat of it. Embers and smoke chased after Reez into the night. She looked back to see the south gatehouse blazing like a bonfire. Reez hoped it created enough of a distraction to keep Crow and her people from getting caught. At the very least Reez had ruined Earl Gregory’s stupid gucking wall, so that was something to smile about.

Odvid was not smiling when Reez road back up to the wagons on the hill.

“So not burning down the gatehouse?” Odvid said as he took the reins of Reez’s stolen horse.

“Did they make it back?” Reez said ignoring him. They were going to have plenty of time to fight about this on the journey home.

“They’re in the wagons. Jaques’s pulling the covers over them now. You’ll need to drive the big one.” Odvid said reverting to business, but not losing any ‘huff’ in his voice.

“I thought you were driving?”

“I was, but then you burned down the gatehouse you specifically told me you weren’t going to.” Odvid said heading to the lead wagon with Elise.

“Now you’re just being petty!” Reez shouted after him. She hated driving wagons. She wasn’t any good at steering animals and she didn’t like looking at horse butt all day. Plus, she was sorta hoping to take a nap in the back, starting fires took a lot out of her.

Crow was waiting for Reez. She was sitting on the driver’s bench and covered in a mess of rags. Reez frowned, if they got stopped and someone noticed Crow’s horns or purple skin then Reez was going to be in a mess of trouble.

“Get in the back” Reez said as she pulled herself onto the bench. “Whole point of this was to hide you in the wagons.”

“Not enough room.” Crow said.

Reez peeked back there. Nightingale was crammed in the wagon next to one of the fiends. The fiend was bent over with its knees pulled to its mouthless face. By the fiend’s feet was a large bundled rug. It was new, must have been what Crow was after. Reez was disappointed. The rug looked fancy, but hardly seemed like it was worth all the trouble of coming to Aphetrria for. But what did Reez know? Rugs could be magic, she’d heard of flying ones.

The rug moved.

Reez squinted and saw a mess of red hair wiggling at the end of the bundled rug. A head slowly emerged its mouth bound and eyes terrified. The wagon was moving. Crow had taken the reins. Reez shot around ready to act.

“Don’t” The old Dairkkul said, her eyes fixed on the road ahead. “Nightingale will puncture your lungs before you can reach your sword.” Reez felt something sharp poke her side. It was probably Nightingale’s knife. Reez didn’t bother to look.

“Kidnaping wasn’t part of the deal.” Reez said.

“No. It was. You just didn’t know about it.” Crow said, “Helping us with that fire, that wasn’t part of the deal and for that we’ll double the return bonus.”

“Who said we were bringing you back?” Reez asked. Kiki flashed hot ready for a fight. Reez could be quick, maybe quicker than some Dairkkul assassin.

Crow laughed, that cackle of hers was sharper than the knife pressed to Reez’s side. “Stop acting like you have principles. You knew we were going to steal something.”

“Something not some—“

“Don’t say it.” Crow smirked more vicious than amused. “Plausible deniability.”

“I’m not so great at that part, did you see the gatehouse?” Reez asked.

Another cackle, “Fine.” Crow said, “If it’ll help, know that ‘whatever’ we took, it will be well taken care of. It will be treated like a royal guest and it will be returned unharmed.”

Reez hated this. But fighting now was just going to create more trouble, maybe get her and the girl in back killed. Besides hadn’t she broken contract enough? As Odvid said some parts of the job she didn’t have to like.

“Tell your girl to take her blade out of my ribs.” Reez said

Crow didn’t say anything but, the knife disappeared. Reez crossed her arms. “You really returning her?”

“It” Crow said less amused, “And yes, in a year or two after the Black Spire has a new owner.”

So, the girl was just another token for internal politics. “Why’d you go take ‘it’, if all you were going to do is return it?”

“Haven’t done much work for Pit Lords have you?” Crow said

“Done enough.” Reez said still annoyed.

“Then you know that they take political hostages all the time. There’s nothing better as a bargaining chip.” Crow said. “Besides ‘it’ might be royal and might be ‘holy’ too.”

Reez didn’t like how Crow said ‘holy’. She couldn’t see the Dairkkul treating someone scared to the elves with much respect.

“In Aphetrria they usual exchange hostages or there’s a war and one’s taken, guck like that.” Reez said, “Stealing them out of their beds at night—“

“Isn’t any worse.” Crow said, “Now quiet. I lost good fiends and a decent man tonight. You want your coin you’ll stop with the moralizing.”

Reez frowned, she thought maybe Hummingbird and the other fiends had taken the second wagon, not died in the attack.

“Sorry,” Reez offered.

Crow’s face was hard to read. Old lines, skin like ripe grapes, yellow eyes the color of lantern oil. “It happens. We’re at war with the other pit lords, they died saving lives and bringing peace.”

Reez lent back and didn’t say anything. She didn’t know what Crow was talking about. It probably had to do with the Dairkkul succession cycle. Neradoom was going through a whole host of civil wars. Reez just hoped the old spy was right and that stealing the girl stopped a war, ‘cause to Reez it looked like they had just started a whole new one instead.

………..

Ghets Update

Ghets Update

I don’t update this blog as much as I should (my incomplete StarWars Trilogy is proof of that). But the reason I don’t blog as often as I’d like, is that I’m hard at work cranking out a new novel ‘Ghets’!

I already wrote about Ghets after I completed the rough draft last year. Well, now I’ve completed draft two. Ghets has ballooned to 210,169 words, plot holes have shrunk, characters that were previously named ‘BLANK’ have proper names, and the world of Ghets has further solidified.

I’m in the process of rereading this giant monstrosity so I can share it with Beta-readers. This is the first time I’ve read the novel as a novel and not a series of chapters since the rough draft. And the reread is breaking me.

Does that mean the novel is bad?

I don’t know.

Does that mean it’s a huge, unwieldy mess that only it’s author can understand?

I don’t know.

Does that mean that it’s a boring slog that most readers won’t put up with?

I. Don’t. Know.

Does that mean that it’s just okay?

You guessed it, I have no idea whatsoever.

I have read the first five chapters together a dozen times, and like an optical illusion, it’s always different. The novel goes from being the most hackney, amateurish pile of garbage sentences every dumped into word document, to an enjoyable, breezy fantasy novel to something else entirely. I have stayed up until two in the morning studying those chapters like arcane scripts, trying to divine their quality and still have no idea if it’s any good.

There are many parts of me that go into being a writer. There’s Matt the creator, Matt the editor, Matt the reader, Matt the critic, and they are all at war with each other. I start to see the repetitive patterns of my chapters, the limits of my skill to convey emotions or reactions, the scenes that are devoid of description to the point that they feel lifeless. And did I mention the repetitiveness? I did? Well, let me repeat myself, because I do that a lot in my novel work.

That’s not to say it’s all bad, there are moments when I get lost in the flow, like a magician fooled by his own tricks, the critical part of me pulls back and the reader takes over and I find nothing, but joy in it. It’s a fun story and it’s meant to be fun, it’s not the great American novel, it’s not going to win a Pulitzer or a Nebula or a teen choice award, but it’s something I enjoy.

The problem is that I’m not just seeking joy when I read, I’m seeking validation. Just as there are many Matts that go into being a writer, writing itself means a lot of very different, but mostly important, things to me. It’s not just a hobby, it’s a dream. During my drafts I can sit down for a couple of hours a day and write and edit without feeling that weight. Drafting is granular, piratical. But when I read it as whole, the enormity of what I made, and of what I want, hit me and it’s a difficult emotion to navigate.

Even so I’m making progress. I’ve finally made it past the first five chapters and I’m not looking back. I hope to have a shareable version of Ghets available soon. Unfortunately, I won’t have it ready before I go to Japan next week (a subject for another post, maybe). But by the end of the week I will post the first chapter, so you can finally read what I’m talking about.

Star Wars: A New Trilogy defined by an Old

Star Wars: A New Trilogy defined by an Old

I left the ‘Force Awakens’ hopeful. I didn’t care for a lot of the ‘New Hope’ retreads like Poe’s quick trench run to blow up an astronomically more powerful Death Star. But the new cast felt fresh, especially Finn. And I chalked up the repeats to this being ‘Star Wars the apology tour’. Disney playing it safe after the prequels. ‘The Last Jedi’ made me second guess that.

There’s a lot of chatter online about the ‘Last Jedi’ being a radically different Star Wars movie. It’s not. ‘The Last Jedi’ continues the ‘Force Awakens’ opening act, it just plays the hits. There were direct film quotes to Hoth, another jedi duel in the emperor’s chamber, an eccentric hermit training an idealistic jedi, the third goddamn time that people have infiltrated an imperial base with a costume change. The list goes on. A friend of mine suggested that it was so long because they stapled ‘The Empire Strikes back’ onto ‘The Return of the Jedi.’

Johnson plays a little with our expectations of these scenes, which might be why people felt it was so different. But what I think is more interesting is that we have these expectations at all. Star Wars has been around for over forty years and has created countless novels, video games, comics, movies. There’s a critical mass that has caused Star Wars to morph into something of its own genre. There’s now the question of what makes a ‘Star Wars’ movie’ a ‘Star wars’ movie?’

Take Snoke and the First Order. Snoke wasn’t a character, he was a plot device, a prime example of breaking the ‘show, don’t tell’ axiom. Any time they needed to handwave something ‘Snoke did it’. Snoke turned Kylo Ren to the dark side, though we don’t see it happening (or see Kylo Ren do anything evil before Luke confronts him). Snoke created ‘The First Order’, but like how thou? In the original movies the Emperor dies and the Empire is largely defeated. So where does the First Order come from? And how did they get so powerful?

I know the answers to these questions wouldn’t be satisfying. Snoke was basically ‘Emperor II’ and Johnson did one of the only interesting things you could with a character like that. But I still crave an explanation for Snoke and the First Order in a way I don’t from other genres. In a superhero movie I don’t need to know the origin of every supervillain that shows up, some even better without origins. I’ve accepted the rules of the superhero genre, the weird costumes and powers.

But I haven’t yet accepted the rules of the new ‘Star Wars’ genre. I think it’s because I used to view Star Wars like a big world, an ongoing story not defined by its legacy. It didn’t need to have an Empire with Stormtroopers, or characters that mimicked Luke or Darth Vader. It could go in other directions, explore new ideas or ones only teased at in the original films. But to Disney the old characters, vehicles, and duality define Star Wars. You don’t need to explain ‘The First Order’, because it’s part of the genre. You buy a ticket for Star Wars, you expect to see a ‘rebels vs. imperials’.

Despite years of consuming Star Wars media, I’m not fully into this new definition. I like some of it’s tenants like adorable droids that kick more ass than their owners. But the devotion to the original three feels stifling. And nothing makes that clearer when the new characters meet the old.

Look, I liked grumpy Luke. Han Solo was fun in Force Awakens. Leia being a general is a natural evolution of the character. But their involvement sucks up time and energy away from the new characters and the new world. This is now the second movie where it feels like the legends of old are handing over the reigns to the new kids, that leaves only one film for the new cast to stand on its own and do something.

There is a density that comes with characters like Luke Skywalker, he’s so iconic now, he’s going to wrap the film around him like a black-hole. That’s why Luke’s transformation into a hero that’s crippled by his own legend is so apt. Skywalker has becomes a metaphor for Star Wars itself. A franchise buckling under its own expectations.

But Star Wars needn’t carry that legacy, it can evolve, change. In my final post on Star Wars (for now) I’ll talk about the future of the franchise, why it matters, and hopefully where it might go.

Why I didn’t like ‘The Last Jedi’ as much as you

Why I didn’t like ‘The Last Jedi’ as much as you

*****Spoiler Warning******

Like Kylo Ren ‘The Last Jedi’ left me conflicted. I’ve seen it twice and my emotions have been all over the place. I can’t say whether ‘The Last Jedi’ was a good movie or not, but I can say that it’s given me a lot to think about. So, like grumpy Luke I too have returned from novel writing exile, to share a blog trilogy on ‘The Last Jedi’, the Star Wars Legacy, and what the future holds when Disney owns everything.

The Last Jedi does two very important things right. It is full of scenes that taken on their own drip drama and that Star Wars magic. The fight scene in Snoke’s Chamber, Leia in that giant coat staring out into the cold, the Porgs being less ‘ewok’ and more Jim Henson background cute. More importantly, The Last Jedi introduces strong characters like Rose and further develops it’s already solid cast. Poe and Finn get arcs, Rey loses what drives her in a powerful way. And then there’s Kylo Ren, who is the most fleshed out villain in the current pop culture landscape and might be the most complicated character Star Wars has ever produced.

I will suffer through the most cliched of plots if I love the characters, and I did love them. Throw in some cool scenes like that awesome Lightspeed ram (which was a clear shout out to Gundam and anime) and I should be sold. But I wasn’t. Something was wrong, something I couldn’t place. It was a feeling.

My best friend felt it too and we spent hours discussing it. Like any good nerd we started to pick apart the movie, examining plot holes, cracks in the world building and character motivation. There were a lot of plot holes, but there always are. Every story has plot holes, sci-fi and fantasy even more so because they offer near infinite solutions to the problems the heroes face. It occurred to me days later that the plot holes and nitpicking wasn’t the problem, it was a symptom.

At some point while watching the Last Jedi my willing suspension of disbelief snapped. I can’t say when or how. Suspension of disbelief is hard thing to explain. It’s the ebb and flow of tension, the weaving of a spell that keeps the audience locked in to the events on the page or screen. And it’s personal. Some people will suspend their disbelief for a ‘Transformers’ movie, some people won’t do it at all for genre films at all.

But saying it was all a matter of taste let’s ‘The Last Jedi’ off easy. Maybe, I’m harder on it because it’s a Star Wars film, but while it’s ideas are good it’s execution is sloppy. It cuts between scenes were near manic. Moments that are supposed to inspire high drama felt exhausting. The chase between the Resistance and the First Order goes on forever. By the end I just wanted it over and even groaned when they made it to the salt base and did the whole ‘Hoth’ quote.

And then there’s a strange imbalance of tone like its own characters don’t believe in its stakes. Luke making a joke about not reading the Jedi scared script might be funny, but it drains the meaning of him burning them. The Resistance is supposed to be having the hardest day of it’s life. But everyone remains plucky. They come up with zany plots almost immediately. Finn and Rose go on whacky adventure and Poe, (who is never phased by anything including his whole squadron being wiped out twice,) stages a five-minute munity. Individually these aren’t a problem, but the sheer volume was like a death by a thousand cuts.

And look I wanted to suspend my disbelief. During my second viewing I could feel my interest wax and wane. Every time Kylo Ren and Rey were interacting I was engaged. The movie slowed down for them to talk and grow. The opening was perfect. I felt for the bomber crew and the nameless gunner who goes through silent hell to blow up the Dreadnought. Rose morning her sister helped make that sacrifice meaningful in a way that the other sacrifices weren’t. I liked Holdo well enough and that scene was cool, but it gets cheapened by the sheer volume of people who blow themselves up, or try to, in an attempt halt the First Order. On top of Rose’s sister and Holdo, there’s the nameless crews of several of rebel ships, Finn and ultimately Luke.

And as my suspension of disbelief broke more evident cracks to started to show. I left the movie unsure if I wanted to continue to explore the Star Wars universe, not because it ‘ruined my childhood’ or ‘dashed my fan theories’, but because it had exhausted itself. What’s left for these heroes to do but kill Kylo Ren? They can’t redeem him, that’s already been tried twice. What other questions are left to be explored? What other ends are there?

I’m now at a point where my doubt extends beyond ‘The Last Jedi’ and into this new trilogy. There are problems with Disney’s Star Wars. It has everything to do with our expectations, the question of ‘what is a Star Wars film?’ The current thread on the internet is that the criticism of ‘The Last Jedi’ only comes from cranky neckbeards who felt like it was too different from the Star Wars they grew up with. If anything the ‘The Last Jedi’ suffers from being too alike the originally trilogy. It labors under the weight of it, trapped by a need to explore old characters and ideas rather than new.

I’ll talk more about that next week in ‘The Burden of Legacy’.

What Life (the movie) Teaches you about Writing

What Life (the movie) Teaches you about Writing

My roommate and I watched Life last night. We’re geeks and sci-fi fans and like to watch bad movies with a few drinks. It’s fun to make up your own plots. Our version of Life involved shoving in as many Alien references as possible. Jake Gyllenhaal was definitely an android the real question was whether he was a kindly Bishop or murderous Ash? We also naturally assumed that Calvin was the Jason Voorhees of his species. It was fun, but after the movie ended we kept on talking about it and I noticed that we got increasingly frustrated and wondered why?

After doing our own version of Mystery Science Theater 3000 for a couple of years, we discovered that bad movies can broken down into three categories: boring, dumb or frustrating. Some can even be all three, (looking at you Suicide Squad). Dumb movies tend to be the most enjoyable, you understand what you’re getting into and you can just sit back and laugh. Boring are the worst, because boring. And frustrating are the most interesting, because they suggest maybe a good or at least decent movie was lurking just below the surface.

Life was probably never going to be a good movie, but it could have easily been a decent one. Life is a film you’ve seen before, part Gravity, but mostly parts Alien. The film is about a research team on the International Space Station that collect a satellite with Martian samples on it. One of those samples contains microscope life, which they name Calvin. Eventually Calvin grows big and starts murdering everyone and it’s a race to keep him from getting to earth, where one assumes he will slowly, but inevitably, murder every individual on the planet.

Life’s not boring, it’s well made, everyone puts in a solid performance. Like the best monster movies the humans are competent. The crew of the International space station feel like a bunch of smart engineers and scientists reacting as coolly as they can to everything going wrong. The premise of discovering alien life that is the best at killing us is so overplayed at this point that I doubt Life could have done anything interesting with it, but even cliched it could have been alright.

The problem with Life rests solely on the tentacles of it’s lead, Calvin. Calvin is a decently designed monster. He goes through some Alien style transformations and moves in appropriately creepy way. But he’s the Mary Sue of monsters. He’s the best at everything. He’s smarter, faster, stronger than the humans he’s attacking even when he’s just the size of a star fish. He’s neigh invincible, does just fine in the vacuum of space and immediately understands how to use tools and escape every trap the crew puts him in. And Calvin’s biggest flaw is that he breaks his own rules.

In his video take down of ‘The Death and Return of Superman’ Max Landis asks ‘how do you kill a vampire?’ The answer is whatever way the writer wants. You are the god of the fiction you create. If you decide vampires die from peanut allergies rather than stakes and garlic, you can do that. But if you then show one of your vampires enjoying a Payday without any problems, that can’t be a throw away scene. You need to explain the rule breaking, it needs to work with the rest of your world.

In Life rules for Calvin are stated just so that he can break them or ignore them entirely. The biologist who studied Calvin, before he went all Hannibal Lecter, is constantly saying things like ‘Calvin is carbon based so he burns’, and yet he’s immediately immune to fire. ‘Calvin can’t survive long in the vacuum of space’, he survives long enough to drown an astronaut and still scamper around the exterior of the ISS without any problem. ‘Calvin needs oxygen to breathe’, when they shut off the oxygen Calvin is never evidently hampered by this and goes about killing at least three people without missing a beat.

Calvin’ doesn’t hate people he needs kill us to survive’, maybe this one is true because he says ‘kill’ not ‘eat’. Early on we see Calvin consume a rat, like all of it, bones, organs, flesh. But when Calvin starts killing people he only east a little of their insides before running off to go kill someone else. Remember that astronaut that drowned? The biologist said Calvin knew what he was doing when he cracked the tubes in her suit. He doesn’t eat any of her.

Good monsters are powerful, but with rules and weakness that give their human victims a fighting chance. Vampires can fly, hypnotize people, are super fast and strong, but trap them in a peanut factory and their done for. The Xenomorphs from Aliens have acid blood, and razor sharp tails but go down with a plasma round to the face.

Rules are vitally important for monster stories, because these stories are like a game. The humans are on one team and the monster is on the other. The humans slowly discover the monster’s weakness and try to use that against it to either escape or trap the creature. While the monster is shown to be tough and clever by figuring out ways to escape the traps and hunt down the humans. It’s about an ebb and flow, slow escalation, the humans discover the rules and use them to their advantage thinking they’re safe, the monster then outsmarts the rules.

As the writer you can break your own rules, but that will make the audience feel like your cheating. The game is over, the humans aren’t playing against a monster they’re stuck at that stage in a video game where you’re supposed to lose the boss battle. You need to play your own game, think within in your own rules. You can introduce new rules and changes, but keep a consistency. A monster that over comes every barrier isn’t scary, it’s boring and frustrating.

In Aliens there’s a scene were a set of auto turrets take out scores of the alien xenomporhs. The humans think they’re safe because they know the Xenomorph’s weakness to plasma rounds to the face. The Xenomorphs prove how clever they are, by crawling along the ceiling and under the floorboards to get at the humans. They followed the rules established for them and thought around them, making them all the more dangerous and keeping the tension going.

If the same scene happened in Life Calvin would have just discovered a sudden immunity to bullets. Sometimes to make a monster truly frightening you need to show it losing.

Three Reasons the Cowboy Bebop Live-Action TV Show Might Actually Work

Three Reasons the Cowboy Bebop Live-Action TV Show Might Actually Work

Cowboy Bebop was my first anime (and you never forget your first). I stayed up late and sneaked downstairs to watch it on Adult Swim. It was violent, sexy and effortlessly cool; a jolt that opened me up to a whole new media. Sixteen years after it originally aired in the U.S, it still hasn’t lost its shine, which might explain why it’s getting its own live action American remark.

Considering Hollywood’s track record at adapting Anime classics there’s reasons to skeptical. But given both what Cowboy Bebop was and the new era we’re living in, there’s also reasons to hope. Here’s three reasons it might succeed.

Adaptation vs. Remake

The press release announcing the live-action show called it a remake, but if they want to succeed they need to view it as an adaptation. It’s an important distinction. Successful adaptations are about acknowledging the strengths and differences of the media you’re working with. And the strengths and weakness of your source material. A good adaptation is not just a solid TV show or movie it’s also a good edit of the original work.

American Gods might be my favorite novel of all time, so I was both excited and anxious when it was announced as a TV show. But everyone from the leads, to the show runner was a dream team and novelist Neil Gaiman was heavily involved with the project. This has created a show that is both faithful and different to the source material.

It updates characters that were going to need it like Technology Boy and Media and it expanded on the roles of characters who were interesting, but didn’t get much page time like McSweeny and Salim. It also changed Laura Moon, giving her a more complex and flushed out backstory, which helped make an already quotable character better.

Cowboy Bebop was an excellent show, but it was also brief, only 26 half hour episodes and a movie. You could make the argument that’s one of the reasons the show was legendary, it didn’t get in its own way. But a good adaptation should try to explore Bebop’s universe more, expand on the rival bounty hunters, corporations and crime syndicates that show up. By necessity a good show would almost have to.

The twenty-five-minute run time of a Cowboy Bebop episode would be hard to replicate in live action. It’s almost certainly going to be an hour long and probably won’t have the budget to consistently pull off the spaceship dog-fights or massive explosions that peppered Bebop episodes. So, it’ll need to go in a different direction to capture the show’s feel and universe. Same too with the costumes. Spike’s would probably look okay in a live action show, but Jet and Faye’s might need some work.

A good adaptation will acknowledge these limitations and differences and create something new with Cowboy Bebop, which would be a lot better than trying to recreate a classic, something that is pretty much impossible. And there’s reasons to believe that on TV, in this day and age, American creators can do what Hollywood has so often failed at.

We’re living in a Golden Age of TV

Do I really need to list all the incredible shows we have right now? Or all the movie stars and directors who are making twelve episode streaming series? While the big screen is dominated by franchise films, TV has exploded with nuanced, creative, and excellent programming. It’s an arms race right now between the streaming services, the premium channels like HBO, and old media trying hold on to relevance. This has meant that TV producers are willing to give creators more control and take more chances. And with this creative leeway and without the expectations of a big movie budget, a Cowboy Bebop live action show might be able to escape the curse of the poor American anime adaptation.

It’s also about god damn time that this golden age of TV has produced a decent space show. Yes, there’s a new Star Trek series on the way and I’m sure some reading this is will say, ‘but Matt what about the ‘Expanse’?’ But considering all the incredible Game of Thrones inspired ‘grim dark’ historical fiction TV we have it’s weird space operas haven’t taken off yet. And the Expanse is decent, but come on it’s really up there with a West World or GoT? Where’s my space fairing show on the level of Stranger Things or Jessica Jones?

It’s time for this era to get its own Firefly and a well-done Cowboy Bebop adaptation could fill that void.

Cowboy Bebop is  Already One Part 90s Action Flick

One of the reasons Cowboy Bebop took off in the US is because it was both different from what Western audience were use too while also having a lot of western allusions. The bounty hunters are called ‘cowboys’, in one episode a NASA shuttle gets tuned up and there’s a reference to the Red Soxs (Boston represent!). One Spike’s comedic rivals rides a horse with a cowboy hat.

One part of the mix that makes Cowboy Bebop so awesome is a love of 80s and 90s action movies. I mean just look at the intro to the Cowboy Bebop Movie; tell me that’s not an animated New York circa 98? The opening episode is basically set in the American southwest with characters that would have fit in Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado. The characters too fill archetypal action movie roles. Spike is anti-hero with a troubled past, Jet’s a ‘too old for this shit’ former cop, Faye’s a Noir ‘woman that looks like trouble’ and Ed and Ein are….okay, doesn’t all fit, but you get the idea.

The entire Cowboy Bebop universe is wrapped in that grungy, space junk look that was made popular by Alien. A whole episode is even an alien parody where a ‘creature’ runs lose on the ship and Spike has to hunt it down. This 80s-90s love makes translating Cowboy Bebop easier. Creators can go back and look at these already live action influence for way to do Bebop right.

Now all that said it’s still going to be difficult to pull off a solid Cowboy Bebop adaptation. The show had one element that makes it almost impossible to do. It was cool. From the music to the fight scenes, to the noir dialogue, Cowboy Bebop is just plain cool. And cool is something no can force, it must be discovered. Here’s hoping Christopher Yost and Cowboy Bebop adaptation can find their own way to be cool.

Congressional Republicans a One Act Play

Congressional Republicans a One Act Play

I wasn’t going to post this because I don’t want to get too political. But then I remembered I already posted Batman in the Age of Trump, so why not?

Please enjoy: Congressional Republicans, a One Act Play

Open on a News Anchor giving a live report

News Anchor: “Good Evening, we have breaking news at this hour. President Trump has made good on his 2016 campaign promise and shot someone on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight. We go now to Republican leaders on the Hill for their reaction.”

………………

Paul Ryan Stands at Podium mid press conference

Paul Ryan: “Look, I’ve said it before, ‘he’s new to this’ He doesn’t know any better!”

Reporter: “Congressman, you honestly believe President Trump has done nothing wrong here?”

Paul Ryan: “Let me ask you a question. When a toddler finds a gun and accidentally shoots someone, do you blame the toddler? Of course not. How is the President supposed to know that shooting someone is wrong?”

Paul Ryan takes out a head shot of Trump

Paul Ryan: “I mean look at that face! He’s just a little scamp. He doesn’t know what he’s doing! Firing FBI directors to impede investigations, lying about wiretapping, shooting people. He’s just getting into another one of his hijinks.”

Ryan looking at the picture, a big proud smile on his face. He starts talking to the picture in a baby voice.

Paul Ryan: “Who’s too adorable to impeach? You are! You are! Yes, you do have a good brain, awww, such a good brain!”

……………..

Reporters catch up to Senator James Lankford as he’s leaving the steps of the capitol building

Reporter: “Senator do you have any comment on President Trump’s recent shooting?”

Senator Lankford brushes the reporter off, dismissive

Lankford: “He was a using a light touch, he barely shot anyone.”

Reporter: “Senator some are calling this attempted murder.”

Senator Lankford stops and looks reporter dead in the eye.

Lankford: “Murder? I hear the victim-er target, might survive, that’s not murder in my book.”

Lankford: “The facts are plain. President Trump pulled the trigger of a firearm. If the bullet then decided to bury itself in someone’s spine that’s the bullet’s business and can hardly be blamed on the President. Besides Who knows? Maybe the guy had it coming?”

………..

John McCain standing in the capitol building facing a news crew

Reporter: “Senator you have been critical of the President in the past, how do you react to his recent alleged shooting?”

McCain: “I find it deeply rubber ducky pencil sharpener big mac.”

Reporter: “…excuse me Senator?”

John McCain looking flush

McCain: “Sorry, I was up late watching a raceball game, laceball game, damn it! Maceball game, er-dementia?”

………………

Back to the News Anchor

News Anchor: “We have breaking news, reports are in that Mr. Schumer, the President’s alleged victim, will survive his gunshot wounds. Now–”

News Anchor listening to his in earpiece.

News Anchor: “Excuse me, apparently, yes, I’m being told there is already a tweet by the President reacting to this news.”

Trump Tweet appears on the screen next to the News Anchor.

News Anchor reading tweet: “Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication! Did not commit the legal definition of murder! Trump 2024!”

The End….