Muggles And Mutants

This past weekend I saw Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, and I really enjoyed it. It had the feel of North By Northwest or The Man Who Knew Too Much–an innocent abroad who stumbles upon a terrorist conspiracy and must find the real villains in order to clear his name.  The cast is excellent, the special effects are seamlessly integrated into the story, and the overall feel of the film is just plain fun.

There is one point in particular I want to discuss, however, and offer as a contrast to another film franchise that contains many similar elements: Bryan Singer’s X-Men series.

Fantastic Beasts, much more than the Harry Potter series, deals with the interaction of the wizarding world and the non-magical majority.  In this way it shares many common themes with the X-Men films. (Or at least those that I have seen.  There is still one, maybe two, that I haven’t watched yet. From the reviews I’ve read I am fairly confident that the newer ones continue in the tradition of the older ones.)

In both universes there is a minority of people who are born with innate abilities that make them far more powerful than ordinary humans. That is a very rich mythos and it resonates deeply with audiences.  Who hasn’t felt alienated at one time or another, and wished that feeling of strangeness was a harbinger of abilities beyond the comprehension of ordinary mortals?  Who hasn’t imagined one day finding a community of people who share both the feelings and the imagined powers?

However, there is a rather significant difference in how the two universes handle the issue.

In the X-Men films (I can’t really speak to the source material, but I have heard that it is much more nuanced) Mutants are good and Humans are bad.  I asked my roommate (who is a fan of the series) if she could come up with a single positive non-mutant character in the films.  She mentioned a female FBI agent in First Class who fell in love with Charles Xavier (and later had her memory erased by him) but couldn’t recall the character’s name.  I didn’t remember that character at all.

I do understand that the character of Eric/Magneto was a villain in the source material, and he was a bit heavy handed in the first film, but the conflict between him and Charles seems mostly to be regarding methods rather than goals.  The overall story arc seems to be that Humans try to exterminate Mutants, Mutants argue about the best way to fight back, Humans and Mutants fight, Mutants win.

On the other hand, Fantastic Beasts (and to a lesser extent the Harry Potter films) shows the Wizard/Muggle relationship to be more complex and more realistic.  There are both good and bad wizards, and both good and bad muggles (or “no-majs” to use the American term.)

The group of anti-witch humans are shown to be a fanatic fringe group that is largely ignored by the mass of humanity. (Granted, a big part of that is that wizards are much better at concealing themselves than mutants, and the mass of humanity doesn’t believe in magic.)

More significantly, Jake, who is a simple, common non-magical man, reacts not with horror but with wonder at his accidental introduction to the wizard’s world.  Yes, he is afraid (and justifiably so) of the power that the wizards possess, but he accepts the wizards themselves as human beings and friends.

Fantastic Beasts has none of the “us versus them” mentality of the X-Men films. The wizard world is a place apart, but it is a place that exists alongside the human world, comfortably for the most part.  The wizards who see muggles as the enemy (such as Voldemort in the Potter franchise) are not the mainstream, they are a dangerous fringe.

In short, the X-Men cinematic universe shows a contempt and hatred of ordinary people that is refreshingly lacking in Rowling’s wizarding world.  We can be different, Fantastic Beasts says, without being enemies.  People who are not like us are still people, and still worthy of respect and affection.

That’s a message that we sorely need to hear these days.

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Positive and Diverse Role Models in Juvenile Fiction

A while back I tried to listen to the audiobook of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. I gave up on it for two reasons. First, I didn’t find any of the characters engaging, and second, the world in which it is set didn’t make any sense.  I don’t want to go into a lot of detail about Snow Crash because I don’t like writing negative reviews.  I bring it up as a counter-example because as a happy accident I switched over to a different book, one that I have heard multiple times and still enjoy very much.

I realized that this other book was not simply more enjoyable that Snow Crash, it was also more diverse, tolerant, progressive, and (in the classical sense) liberal, and was set in a more believable future than Snow Crash.

The other book was The Star Beast.

Written by Robert Heinlein.

Published in 1954.

The novel is a semi-serious comedy of errors with an ensemble cast.  The main character is the titular Star Beast–an enormous alien who has been living in relative obscurity on Earth for several human generations as the pet of the Stuart family.  Lummox, as the Star Beast is known, is very powerful physically but naive and gentle.  The novel opens with Lummox getting out of his yard and causing massive property damage without really meaning to–after all, if humans make their buildings fragile, that’s not Lummox’s fault.

Lummox’s human companion is a young man named John Thomas Stuart XI–the descendant of a man who was famous for leading the revolution to free the Martian colony for colonial rule. Johnny is fairly provincial, a straightforward and simple young man who is nearly as naive as Lummox, with a tendency to act first and try to figure things out after the fact.

Fortunately, Johnny has Betty Sorenson to watch out for him.  Betty is one of my favorite characters from all of science fiction.  She is a Free Child–she divorced her parents in order to become a ward of the court and lives in a supervised dormitory. (The reason for the divorce is never explicitly stated–she tells Johnny at one point, but the reader isn’t allowed to overhear it.) Betty is everything that a strong female character should be.  She is clever, resourceful, emotionally stable, and more than a match for the bumbling local authorities who are set on killing Lummox as a dangerous monster. All without ever needing to pick up a weapon–she outthinks the opposition so thoroughly that she has no need to resort to violence.

On the side of the government–specifically the Bureau Of Spacial Affairs–is the deputy director of the BSA, Dr. Henry Kiku.  Dr. Kiku is a career civil servant born and raised in Kenya.  His background is vital to his character in several small ways–his attitudes were formed from growing up in a small nation among superpowers and  his use of diplomacy has the charming more-British-than-Britain politeness of former colonies.

Dr. Kiku’s assistant is Sergei  Greenberg, a Martian national (at one point he tells Johnny, “I was born within sight of your great-grandfather’s statue.”) Greenberg has a freewheeling anti-authoritative style–a laid-back James Bond to Kiku’s M. Unlike Bond, however, Greenberg ends up realizing that his boss is right and that going off half-cocked causes more problems than it solves.

Lastly we have the other non-human main character, Dr. Ftaml. Ftaml is Rigelian translator working for a mysterious alien race who appeared in Earth’s skies with an inexplicable ultimatum that seems–at first–to have nothing to do with Lummox. Dr. Ftaml is amusingly alien, from a species that believes in mimicking local customs to the greatest degree possible, but whom fails to understand certain rather important things about human beings.

All in all, a fast paced and exciting read, full of humor but with some very tense scenes, and a deep and thoughtful message that isn’t shoved at the reader–it comes naturally out of the unfolding of the story.

If I had to sum up the moral of the story in one sentence it would be, “Don’t judge people by appearances, they can and will surprise you.”

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Have You Any Dreams You’d Like To Sell?

I am just shy of 20,000 words on my current project, Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts.

It is set in a new world, not related to The Book Of Lost Doors.  I would categorize it as a Noir Fantasy.  My narrator, Samhain Jackknife, is the son of a Lord of Nightmare who is drawn into a mystery involving the disappearance of the current lover of his ex.  The world is a semi-modern fantasy–the technology is based on magic and the general level of civilization is based on Los Angeles in the 1970s.

I would like to get some feedback on what I have so far, so if this sounds like something you’d like to check out, send me a message via my contact page, and I’ll send you a copy.  I write in Open Office, but can convert the manuscript to a different file format if that would be easier–just let me know what format works for you.

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Review: Cannibal Hearts by Misha Burnett

Nice review for Cannibal Hearts

Lurking In The Shadows

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Description:

Cannibal Hearts is the sequel to Misha Burnett’s first novel, Catskinner’s Book.

A year ago James Ozryck was a loner, forced to keep the world at bay by the alien entity he calls Catskinner who shares his body. Now he has found a community of others whose lives have been changed by the Outsiders.

Along with Godiva, his half-human lover, James runs a property management company that serves as a front company for Outsider activities.

When the pair’s mysterious boss, Agony Delapour suddenly shows up in town with a new project, however, things gets dangerous fast as events unfold that threaten the life that they have made.

Review (originally from April 2015):

I just finished reading Cannibal Hearts by Misha Burnett, and I’m confused. It has nothing to do with the story-line, which is great. It has to do with what genre this book should be in. My personality…

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The Walking Plants

Currently listening to John Wyndham’s excellent novel The Day Of The Triffids, narrated by Graeme Malcolm, who does a fine job, a very matter-of-fact, practical delivery that really suits the material.

It’s a post-apocalyptic survival story.  A freak meteor shower renders the overwhelming majority of the human race blind overnight–one of the most disturbing apocalypses ever written.  The narrator is one of the few who escaped blindness, due to his eyes being bandaged during the event.  He wakes up in a hospital in which civilization has totally broken down and must learn to survive in a drastically changed world.

The titular “Triffids” are large plants which possess both the power of locomotion and a fatal stinger that use to kill large animals, in order to draw nutrients from the flesh as it decays. Civilized humans cultivated them for their oil–against humans who are panicked by their sudden loss of sight, it’s the triffids who do the harvesting.

Listening to the story unfold I have been struck by similarities to the current television show, The Walking Dead. In both the focus is not on the implacable and seemingly endless swarms of mindless shambling hazards, but on the human element.

The difference is that the survivors that Wyndham posits are, well, a lot more believable characters than the ones on the TV show. I stopped watching TWD a few seasons back, and what I have heard about the program since hasn’t encouraged me to pick it back up.

The groups of survivors that gather in TDOTT have their conflicts, sometimes violent ones, but they aren’t manic cartoon villains. They have a plan for rebuilding a civilization, and while it’s clear that some of the plans are unworkable, Wyndham shows them as sympathetic–they may be wrong, but they aren’t evil.

Wynham’s hero Bill Mason knows that stores of food and fuel won’t last forever, and that running from supermarket to supermarket looking for unlooted shelves of canned goods isn’t a long term plan.  After a few false starts he finds a farm which can be fortified against the triffid threat and begins to learn to be a farmer.  He and another sighted survivor settle down and begin to raise a family, along with a few other survivors they have encountered.

The dangers that Wyndham’s survivors encounter, both human and non-,  are just as potentially lethal as anything on The Walking Dead, but they are far more reasonable and, hence, more exciting to me. There is a logic to the triffid apocalypse that, sadly, is lacking in the zombie apocalypse.

I strongly recommend this novel.  It was published in 1951, but I feel that it stands up well to the test of time.  A true classic.

 

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horror movie plot generator

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Well, that totally failed to look like freakin’ Tron.

It’s official.  Those Solar Freakin’ Roadways that so many people out there spent so much money to support do not work.

This isn’t a case of an experiment that failed. This isn’t a case of someone taking a chance on an untried hypothesis. This is a case where the engineering is very clear, the science is well understood, and anyone who bothered to examine the concept knew in advance that it would not work.

The inventors admitted that they had no breakthroughs in either materials or solar collection technology.  They were using conventional and easily available items to build their panels.  The efficiency of the panels they use are known, as is the amount of light that they would get.  The strength of the materials is known, as is the amount of stress that road surfaces are subject to. The amount of light generated by the LEDs they used is known, as is the ambient light in the environment where they intend to install the panels.

There are no unknowns here.  There is no question of “maybe it will work, maybe it won’t.” This is as simple as 2+2 does not equal 500. The numbers are a little bigger is all.

It is infuriating that so many ordinary people are ignorant enough to be taken in by such a transparent scam. It is absolutely unconscionable that the bureaucrats in charge of highways should be wasting taxpayer money on it. 

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