Spawn of Mars
Don't worry. If you like your religion, you can keep your religion.
The Glad Game
Give Pollyanna Her Due
Thursday, August 9, 2018 3:02 pm
In the midst of an article about something I've forgotten, I came across this, which, because it irked me, I copied down:
Many of us, myself included, preach optimism, positive thinking, and looking at the glass as half full. However, there's a difference between that and being a Pollyanna who looks at the world through rose-colored glasses.
Ah, poor Pollyanna. She is one of those literary characters who, having become an allusion, has ceased being her actual self. I, too, once reductively thought of Pollyanna as a person imperviously deluded about the goodness of the world. Then I read the book. 

Somehow or another, Amazon recommended Pollyanna to me. I think it's because I had recently been searching for Cicely Mary Barker coloring books. Anyhow, I suppose I was in some sort of lightened mood, because I agreed with Amazon and bought and read Pollyanna. I really enjoyed it, not least because Pollyanna is the farthest thing from deluded.

Her attitude is supported by what she calls "the glad game." It is a game that her father taught her, and its point is simple: To find something in everything to be glad about. He first taught it to her when she was expecting a doll from a missionary barrel that, in fact, contained only crutches. This saddened her; so her father told her to be glad for the crutches — glad because she didn't need them.

This can seem like the vapid comfort one is usually given upon misfortune: "At least you have your health!" But it is better than that, for the glad game is primarily finding some good in the misfortune itself, not merely in some unrelated thing that can then be construed as compensation.

An example is when Nancy, servant to Pollyanna's aunt, relates how she hates Monday mornings; and Pollyanna says, "Well, anyhow, Nancy, I should think you could be gladder on Monday mornin' than on any other day in the week, because 'twould be a whole week before you'd have another one!"

A perfect example is when Dr. Chilton is lamenting the difficulties of his rounds. Pollyanna timidly notes that being a doctor is the very gladdest kind of business. "Gladdest!" he cries. "When I see so much suffering always, everywhere I go?" And she replies: "I know; but you’re helping it — don't you see? — and you’re glad to help it! And so that makes you the gladdest of any of us, all the time."

According to Pollyanna, there is something about everything that you can be glad about, if, as she says, "you keep hunting long enough to find it." Yes, she realizes perfectly — without any self-delusion or rose-colored glasses — that the glad game can be an effort. But the effort must be made. And why? Because of the "rejoicing texts."

Her father, a minister, had noticed the prevalence of Biblical texts that call for rejoicing. Be glad in the Lord! Shout for joy! He counted eight hundred of them. He told Pollyanna that "if God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must want us to do it — some."

Pollyanna is not some empty-headed dolt, a comic manifestation of obliviousness, a Candide in a red-checked dress and straw hat. Pollyanna deliberately plays the glad game and is made happy. And in the course of the novel, she brings everyone to the gladness in their lives that they each had been overlooking.

P.S. Amusingly, in a post decrying a reductive allusion, I may have made one of my own! I haven't read Candide in 30 years. I'll let my allusion stand, however.

Mars Can Wait
Until the Restoration
Thursday, July 26, 2018 1:41 pm
I haven't read anything about the President's initiative for a Space Force. I don't even know if it was more than a rhetorical wish. That, and some rumblings about finally going to Mars, could make a person hopeful, however.

To think we once walked on the Moon! And now we must fret over trannies in bathrooms.

It occurs to me, though, that the last thing we want is to head to Mars under the current social regime. You know as well as I that the most pressing issue will be: Should the first human to step foot on Mars be a woman, a black, or a black woman? What should be an achievement of the species will instead be a fight for diversity points. Without question the success of the mission will be subordinated to the satisfaction of SJW feelz.

Therefore I think it best that we whose heads are clear not wish for a Mars landing soon. Let us wait for a restoration of civilization; for a renewal, frankly, of patriarchy. Our current gynarchy would make a farce of any Mars mission.

Now, being a sourpuss, I think we will have a collapse long before there is a restoration of anything sane; and it will be some unknown descendant civilization that finally makes it to Mars. So be it. The first men on Mars should be men, plain and simple. Men are the explorers and conquerors. Modern America has forgotten that.

P.S. So should I be cheering on China? Or Russia? It makes an American sad.
As the Humans Say
Dialogue for Aliens
Saturday, July 21, 2018 5:28 pm
In The Corbomite Maneuver, an episode from the original Star Trek, an alien named Balok has decided to destroy the Enterprise. Balok then grants the crew some time to make peace with their Deity or deities. And how much time does Balok give the crew? "Ten Earth time periods known as minutes." 

Unless you're a steady fan of SF, you might not appreciate how amusing that is. It is the epitome of an SF meme, namely the alien who must use human measurements just to make it clear how long or far or big something is. And since the writer must concede that an alien would not normally use "minutes," he must therefore qualify "minutes" with "your" or "human" or "Earth."

But it sounds so silly. It's even a tad pedantic.

These pedantic qualifications are constant in Babylon 5; and it's not just for measurements such as "days" or "megatons." These past weeks I've been bingeing the series and you can all but make a drinking game out of "as the humans say." Straczynski, the prime mover and writer of the series, too often uses "as the humans say" to qualify a colloquialism or allusion or metaphor that, yes, might seem odd from the mouth of an alien. But surely the alien knows that his listener, a human, knows what humans say, and would qualify nothing. I have conversed with quite a few Japanese and Indians in the context of an English-speaking company, and they have never said "as the Americans say."

It's especially grating when Straczynski has two aliens of the same species conversing. He wants an alien to use some obvious and appropriate phrase like "kill two birds with one stone," and of course he feels a pedantic twinge and has to have that alien prepend "as the humans say." Honestly, if the phrase seems that out of place in the mouth of your alien, don't use it. Besides, why would two aliens, speaking to each other, use human turns of phrase at all? For one thing, they'd be speaking to each other in their own language, not English (the English is just a concession to the reader or viewer); and for another, they'd surely have their own phrases.

Never be like Straczynski and deploy "as the humans say." Either narratively establish that the aliens are linguistically assimilated and let them speak naturally, or bite the bullet and use a measurement or metaphor without qualification. Only in first-contact situations need you fuss with this issue at all, and in such situations do try to avoid the overblown balokisms.

P.S. Although the writing and the "humor" in Babylon 5 can be cringe-worthy, the characters and their arcs are really good. The characters actually develop. Their relationships and struggles are interesting and relevant. They're not just cogs in the plot or literary mixtures of personality traits. They support the space opera nicely — and that opera, Shadow War and all, is also really good. Hence my bingeing.

Yet Another Blog Hiatus Ends
Too Much Time Spent Being a Space Ninja
Saturday, July 21, 2018 12:18 pm
Well, well. I haven't posted in eight months. Story of my blog-life.

The latest fiction writing I've done was leading up to April 15th, the deadline for submitting to the Luna Anthology from Superversive Press. I had previously submitted to the Pluto Anthology — and wonderful news! My Pluto story was accepted. However, there has been no final word on my Luna story. It's great, so of course it will be accepted; but still. There has also been no follow-up on my Pluto story (for editing and such). It seems Superversive Press is a little behind. The months are passing away. I hope both anthologies — both with my stories — still come out this year.

Otherwise I've been dithering. Mostly I've been obsessing over Warframe, a video game about being a space ninja. I've never been quite so much the fanboi. I've even started watching Twitch streams for Warframe, something I've done for no other game. Warframe is great.

Whatever my obsession, I could still have done some writing. In some ways I just can't decide what to do. A new Hamlin Becker tale for StoryHack? A submission for the Sol Anthology? Some chapters for my poor neglected novel? But in most ways I've just been disinclined to write. I do grant that a writer should never wait around for inspiration, but of late "uninspired" doesn't half cover my unproductivity.

I'm hoping a few blog posts will grease my gears.
Favor the Heart Over the Tail
Hacksaw Ridge  Is an Amazing 40 Minutes
Tuesday, November 28, 2017 9:14 pm
Beware! Spoilers follow.

For its first hour or so, Hacksaw Ridge is very disappointing. For another half hour it is active, if not exciting. And then there is a scene that is transcendent; and the remainder of the movie is wonderful. 

If you haven't seen the movie yet, still do so. But a little advice: As soon as there is text on the screen noting that Doss died at age 87, stop the movie. What follows the note are snippets of genuine documentary — still shots and actual interviews — that, like all documentary postscripts to "true-story" movies, yank you right out of the wonder. And considering that the wonder of Hacksaw Ridge was great and long in coming, it's a shame to let it be killed at last.

The transcendent scene comes after the "active" half hour, after we've been watching Doss's company assault Hacksaw Ridge.

The combat is decently choreographed. There is a clear plot of advancing on bunkers and being driven back. Yet somehow it wasn't exciting. It was only agitating. Every death is sudden. The deaths accumulate like falling marbles. We're given no time to feel any loss. Even the overnight mid-combat respite in the foxhole was not especially anything. Perhaps I had been numbed by the first hour of the movie, but I kept waiting to be moved by the combat.

I will say this, though. The suddenness of every death made everything relentless. Thus, one could get a proper sense of chaos. And futility.

So when the company has retreated to the cliff's edge, and every able man but Doss has retreated down the ropes, the tiring brutality has been presented. When Doss looks back on the devastation, we at least know what we're supposed to be feeling.

Now, here's an important point about Doss. I'll touch on this again, but even in the disappointing parts of the movie, Doss is a solid and interesting character. It is established well that he is a godly and patriotic medic who refuses to carry a weapon. I believed everything about his courage and conviction. So when he looks back and starts despairing, I believed he was despairing. I despaired only because he did. In the chaos he has not been killing the enemy; he has been scrambling to save his fellows. Some he saved; some he didn't. He is crouched over the corpse of one he didn't.

There were so many he didn't. Though he tried so hard!

And despairing he says, "What is it you want of me?" He is of course speaking to God. He gazes on the field of failure and complains, "I don't understand." Finally he laments, "I can't hear you."

And across the shattered ground, out of the smoke and silence, someone calls, "Medic! Help me!" More voices say the same. There is even a cry of "Help me, Lord!"

The moment is so well constructed, that of course we infer that God has effectively spoken to Doss. And Doss hears. He no longer despairs. He rises and purposefully sets out into the devastation. The scene is simply transcendent.

Then comes a genuinely thrilling quest, as Doss seeks out the wounded and, one by one, brings them back to the cliff and lowers them by rope. The danger is acute, of course, because Doss is unarmed and will not kill. He must evade the scouting enemy. And even as he becomes exhausted, he repeatedly gasps, "Please, Lord, help me get one more."

I did wonder why no one simply joined him up on the ridge to help him. There had been only two sentries at the base of the cliff; but once the wounded men started appearing from above, others came to ferry them back to the base. To be sure, Doss's quest would have been less thrilling if it had not been solo, and I realize that his solo quest is what actually happened; but it did seem odd.

Still, it was thrilling. There was a heroism and excitement that I had missed in the earlier chaos of combat. Again, though that combat was good, there was something rote about it — much like the rest of the movie.

How I wished I could simply remove the rest of the movie! The last forty minutes — even after Doss's quest has ended and he returns with his company to take the ridge (and, not incidentally, heroically save his captain from a grenade) — deserved better than what preceded it.

The particular weakness of the first hour is exemplified by Doss's time in boot camp. It is one cliché after another, right down to the melting-pot-of-America cast of soldiers and the barking from the sergeant about not calling him "sir." The tension with the other soldiers, their bullying and such, reminded me of everything from Pvt. Pyle's troubles in Full Metal Jacket to any nerd's troubles in some 1980s teen comedy. It was flat. Even the scenes of Doss's wooing of his wife, or the scene of his drunkard, abusive father (in Great War dress uniform) soberly interrupting Doss's court martial to save his son, were just checking off Hollywood expectations. I wanted it all gone.

And yet, without the information provided by these scenes, that transcendent moment wouldn't have had any foundation. The quest would not have been credible.

The key mistake of Hacksaw Ridge is in making Doss's quest the tail of the movie. Every part is developed too much for its own sake, all equally weighted, as we work through one to another until we reach that tail. Instead the quest should be the heart, the beginning and the end, with everything else attached only enough to explain and illuminate that heart.

There is a great vignette of Doss as a boy, violently harming his brother and then, in his dismay, gazing upon an illustration of the Ten Commandments and coming upon Thou shall not kill. Yes, this vignette is in the disappointing first hour; but it is an exception to the clichés. It is also a clue to a better construction of the movie. Rather than progress conventionally to the combat (checking boxes as we go), decide what is most relevant about, for example, Doss's wooing and present some vignette succinctly. We need only enough information to achieve that coming transcendence. Hack off the rest.

Every vignette could be embedded in the narrative frame of the combat. Or, if that proved cumbersome, the vignettes could still be presented serially, but with each presenting a rather specific facet of Doss's character. Because, in the end, it is Doss's character that matters. One could radically not even name the other characters and still have a complete and powerful movie. Doss is just that interesting.

Even as it is, the movie is good. It succeeds at depicting Doss and his heroism. Ultimately, Hacksaw Ridge is that sort of art that completes it most important act so well, its many other shortcomings should be endured.

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