Thursday, May 28, 2015

Top 5 Movies DC Should Make That Aren't About Superheroes

The other day, I mentioned to my roommate that I'd really like to see the upcoming 'Suicide Squad' movie go back to basics. Then I paused and said, "Well, not all the way back to basics, because that would be a movie about a renegade tobbogganist fighting dinosaurs during World War II."

That got me kind of a funny look, so I explained that Bob Kanigher, creator of the original Silver Age Suicide Squad, really just liked the name and used it for a lot of stories, including some from "The War That Time Forgot", which was a recurring series about GIs fighting dinosaurs in World War II. (And yes, one of them was a tobbogganist who had to team up with the brother of his old sledding partner, who died in a sledding accident that the brother blamed him for. It's really one of the oldest tropes in literature.)

Which got me thinking: Why the hell is there not a "War That Time Forgot" movie? It's 'Saving Private Ryan' meets 'Jurassic Park'. This is a license to print money. Which in turn led me to wonder about some of DC's other non-superhero titles. Here are five I think would make great movies.

1) The War That Time Forgot. The initial story has just about the perfect set-up. A military commander is asked to attend a private briefing, and is provided with documentation about an island in the Pacific shrouded with fog. The Japanese have fortified the island so heavily that no scouting expeditions have returned. The general giving the briefing then hands him a Japanese military dispatch that was decoded yesterday. It advises of yet another failure to penetrate the American defenses surrounding the island.

The commander is given one mission. Find out who is holding the island if it's not the Americans and it's not the Japanese, and return with that information. (Hint: It's dinosaurs.) The plane carrying the troops is downed by pterodactyls, and the soldiers have to make it out of the dinosaur-infested wilderness.

2) Enemy Ace. This would be a beautiful war movie; haunting, elegaic, a story about the last "noble" war and the pilots who jousted through the sky like duelling knights. I'd probably pick the story where Hans von Hammer (the titular Ace) accidentally kills a pilot whose guns had jammed, and who goes up into the sky to duel with empty guns to regain his honor. It's strong, moving, easily accessible, and really gets across the spirit of the series. (Plus, "The sky is the enemy of us all" really would look great on a movie poster.)

3) The Witching Hour. Not so much the actual anthology stories--they were your bog-standard Code-approved horror stories, the kind of thing that was just toothless enough to avoid bringing back the spectre of 'Seduction of the Innocent' but still scary enough to keep little kids coming back for more thrills. Not a memorable one in the bunch, to be honest. No, I'd make a movie based around the framing sequence, where ancient witches Mildred and Mordred have to deal with their thoroughly modern stepsister Cynthia, and her new-fangled witchcraft techniques (and new-fangled sensibilities). It has the makings of a really fun comedy, sort of a mix of "Bewitched" and 'Hocus Pocus'.

4) Sgt. Rock. This one, though, I would do as an anthology. I'd structure it as a reunion of the members of Easy Company, each of them telling stories of the Sarge that would be pulled from the comic. Rock didn't make it out of the war (Kanigher usually said he was killed by the last bullet fired in World War II, which I'd totally turn into a scene in the film) but the stories of his fellow soldiers would show that his heroism lived on in them.

5) Jonah Hex. It's a real shame they never made a movie about this character. Yep, a shame that movie didn't happen. Never happened. Do you hear me? IT. NEVER. HAPPENED.

...which gives someone the opportunity to do it right, as a hard-bitten Western instead of a steampunk abomination!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Update on Appearances

The schedule has been published for CONsole Room, and it appears that I will be attending the "Intro to the Wilderness Years" panel at noon on Friday (along with Robert Smith? and Lars Pearson), the "Superheroes on TV" panel at 6 PM on Friday with Daniel Wallace, and the "Avengers: Age of Ultron" panel at 9:30 on Friday along with Daniel Wallace and Mike Lee. I look forward to all three!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Why I Would Like the Media to Please Stop Talking About Science Ever Kthanxbye

This morning, someone linked to me an article about girl toys and boy toys on Cracked.com. (I don't have the link handy, but I'm sure you can find it.) In it, one of the things they discussed was that gender bias may be inherent after all, because of "a study" that showed girl chimps playing with dolls and boy chimps playing with trucks.

This set off a little "Ah-OOGah!" siren in the back of my head, and it's one that I'd like to see ingrained into the heads of every single journalist ever. (Actually just shutting up about science ever was hyperbole.) Because the first and foremost thing to understand about science is that when "a study" shows something, that is not proof. That is not the end of the scientific process. That is the beginning.

Because anyone can run a study. There is no International Board of Scienceness that monitors the design, protocols, and data selection for a scientific experiment to ensure that the scientist got it right, and scientists are not all inherently free of bias, ideology, error, hidebound thinking, stupidity, mendacity, fraud, and general cranial-rectal interactions. A study, even one that makes it into a peer-reviewed journal, is only worth something once other scientists read it and successfully, consistently replicate its results.

In the case of our chimps with trucks study, there's a lot we don't know. We don't know how many chimps they used. We don't know how long they spent with the chimps. We don't know how diligent they were in recording their activity, or what they considered "play" to be. We don't know whether the chimps were aware they were being observed, and whether they received any kind of different treatment, consciously or unconsciously, if they "played" in the manner the researchers expected. All we know is that "a study" was run, and its results happened to confirm the scientists' gender stereotypes.

This is not a basis to report something as fact.

And more significantly, while I'm using this as an example, it is the common way that science is reported in the media. "A study today said...", the article generally starts, without commenting on who ran the study, what its research protocols were, whether there was any possibility of bias on the part of the people commissioning the study (hey, the tobacco industry just reported smoking is good for you! Wow, who could have expected?) or whether the results have been replicated anywhere else. This is like reporting that a seed was planted yesterday, and expecting dinner on the table that night.

So please, journalists everywhere--only report on "studies" whose results have been consistently replicated after being reported in peer-reviewed journals, and leave off on authoritatively citing random studies out there to make it sound like your point has been proven by SCIENCE! for a while? Kthanxbye.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Thank C'thulhu It's Friday?

Every once in a while, I have an idea that takes a long time to post to this blog mainly because to do so is to admit that I'm never going to be able to actually get it done the way I want to do it. I'm never going to be a TV professional who can get a series greenlit, especially not one that is so aggressively subversive and uncommercial as to never stand even the slightest chance of being able to stay on the air long enough to achieve the goal I have for it. Which is why I'm breaking down and blogging about it here.

What I wanted to do was a sitcom in the vein of 'Family Ties', 'Full House', 'Just the Ten of Us', 'Family Matters', 'Growing Pains'...one of those utterly saccharine family comedies that proliferated when I was a kid and teen. You know the kind of thing I mean--every issue resolved in thirty minutes, families that comedy-bicker but never say anything really mean, annoying next-door neighbor kids that are practically surrogate children, new kids added at semi-regular intervals as the old ones age out of adorability, Serious Episodes that are painfully earnest, jokes that are mostly toothless because everyone's really there to spend a half-hour with a family that's nice and pleasant and loves each other...yeah, that's the stuff.

First season would be straight-up pastiche. Adorkable older son who has Girl Problems, Wise and Loving Dad, Warm and Nurturing Mom, bratty kid sister who never admits how much she loves her brother, cute toddler, eerily smart dog, annoying neighbor boy who's stuck on the bratty sister, and all the plots are exactly the kind of low-tension stuff you'd expect from that set-up.

Second season, you'd start to see the kinds of plots that you see in series like this when the writers have gone utterly nuts from boredom and they know nobody really cares anyway. The adorkable brother finds a book of "magic spells" at a garage sale, and it turns out to really work! Casting love spells turns out to lead to all sorts of zany complications, and he eventually winds up throwing the book away and promising never to do anything that crazy again! Cue laugh track.

Except that a few episodes later, you find out that bratty little sister found the book in the trash. She starts using it to get petty revenge on the bullies at her school. She gets really good at it, in fact. She starts to rely on magic more and more as the series goes on, and her revenge gets harsher as she does so. By the end of the season, even her family finds her kind of creepy.

But in Season Three, you start rooting for her again. Because someone new has come to town. He's looking for the book. He's not letting anyone get in his way. Sister finds ways to ward the house, but he's constantly prowling, waiting. He finds the annoying boy next door and uses magic to make him into his catspaw, promising him unspecified-as-yet but probably horrible things in return. Kids start disappearing from school, and the evidence leads to Sister. She's framed for murder and has to use magic to cover it up. Season Three ends with her using magic to kill the boy next door in self-defense.

In Season Four, it ramps up more. The man seeking the book kills the mom, and the dad steals the book to use it to resurrect her. But she comes back possessed by demons, and begins working on her own dark agenda. Dad, completely unhinged by this development, refuses to believe she's changed at all and begins helping her...

And so on. Each season would transform the series, very slowly but inexorably and with total, remorseless plot logic, into a Lovecraftian horror series. The characters wouldn't change, but they would react to the world around them as it changes into something unrecognizable and utterly nightmarish.

Now honestly, I know there's no way this would get made. It's a sitcom with the explicit goal of trolling its audience until they change the channel out of sheer revulsion, pushing people as far as they can go until they run away screaming. And horror aficionados, who might appreciate the idea of turning a saccharine-sweet family into good old fashioned nightmare fuel, wouldn't even tune in. By every rational measure, it's doomed. But I have to admit I will never stop loving the idea.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Boring Meta-Post About My Upcoming Appearances

Despite the fact that I do have a few things in print, and have paid one or two electric bills with the proceeds of my writing (my favorite definition of "talented", from Stephen King: If you've made enough money from things you wrote to pay the electric bill, you've got talent), I don't think of myself as someone people come to conventions to see. But that may just be the low self-esteem talking. The point is, I will be at conventions, and if you want to stop by and say, "Hey, I read your blog/columns/RPGs, howcome you haven't updated in two weeks?" then here's where I'll be this summer.

Over May 29-31, I will be attending CONsole Room: The Twin Cities Dilemma, in Bloomington. The schedule isn't up yet, so I can't tell you exactly where to find me, but I am pretty sure I'll be on a couple of panels and I'm sure that the printed schedule will note them. This is a fun little con, in its second year, and I'm looking forward to attending it.

Over the 4th of July weekend, I'll be at CONvergence, in Edina. The con has released their schedule online, and I'm excited to say that I'll be on the "Marvel Movie Round-Up" panel on Friday at 12:30 PM, the "Cheesiest Post-Apocalypse Films" on Friday at 3:30 PM (I'm looking for suggestions on movies to bring up, feel free to drop them in the comments!), and the "Doctor Who Season Eight Round-Up" panel on Saturday at 12:30 PM. These may fill up quick, based on the subject matter, so you may want to get there early if you're interested. And, y'know, attending the con.

In any event, if I do see anyone there and they mention this post, I'll feel like I've done something useful today, so feel free to stop by and say hello! (And the short answer is, by the way, I've been blogging heavily at MGK's site. Weekly Amazing Race recaps. Oh, and Comforting Lions.)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Professor Pangloss Has No Answers Here

The Hugo debate seems to have died down a bit, probably because everyone involved has blocked everyone else's Facebook feeds and moderated each other's comments out of existence, but it's still bringing plenty of controversy. And as always when there's controversy, a peculiar sort of individual invariably raises their head to call out a battle cry that they're sure will resolve the issue: "Come on, guys. Can't we all just get along?"

To these people, the problem isn't whether or not the Puppies have done anything wrong by ginning up a slate of awards for their cronies. The problem is that people aren't willing to discuss it politely. Everyone is being so mean to each other. (There are even some people threatening physical violence, which is just never acceptable no matter who's doing it!) Everyone's making it an "Us vs Them" issue, taking a side instead of having a discussion. Nobody's trying to see the other person's point of view anymore, that's the real issue. Nobody's being understanding. Why, if both sides would stop being so gosh-darn rude and saying such nasty things to each other, or even better yet would stop pretending there's a "side" to be taken in what's really just a friendly disagreement between sci-fi neighbords, we'd probably be able to get this whole thing settled in a few days or so!

There are two big faults in this Panglossian vision of the science-fiction fandom community. The first is that it attempts to avoid taking sides by pretending that the problem is simply "extremism", and castigating (gently, oh so gently, like being smothered in spiderwebs) both groups for failing to control their extremists. Why is this a fault, though? Surely civility is a good thing, right? Threats are bad, calls for violence are bad, aggression and hostility is bad. Telling everyone to calm down and politely has to be a good thing...

But the two sides are not being equally uncivil. The Panglossians are bending over backwards to seem impartial, but they're confusing impartiality with neutrality. An impartial observer would have to conclude that David Gerrold, who is the Guest of Honor at this year's Hugos and who has been very vocal in his condemnation of the Puppies, has not made any threats and has made it clear that he does not condone those who do. Connie Willis, who made a principled stand of refusing to host the awards, is not calling for violence. George R.R. Martin might have eviscerated Larry Correia's arguments, but he certainly hasn't eviscerated Larry Correia. John Scalzi, who is according to the Puppies the architect of all that is evil, cruel, nasty and unforgiving, has made it pretty damn clear that he's too busy laughing his ass off to care about this. The vast majority of people who disagree with the Puppies are doing so fairly.

And Brad Torgersen? He's equating himself with General Lee. Ted Beale? He's talking about how it would be a rational act to pour acid into the faces of people who disagree with him. (Not about the Hugos specifically, no. That would be crazy. He's talking about people who teach women how to read.) Larry Correia is out there with his guns daring anyone who disagrees with him to come after him...admittedly, this has been his default state for the better part of a decade, but it doesn't look good here.

And despite the claims to the contrary, Larry and Brad and Teddy have a) been coordinating efforts right up until the point where it became inconvenient for Larry and Brad to have a white supremacist and misogynist hanging around their neck, at which point they tried real hard to pretend they never even heard of Ted Beale while simultaneously claiming that they'd never repudiate him Because That Would Be Wrong, and b) reached out to GamerGate, a Twitter-wielding mob primarily known at this point for sending rape and murder threats to feminists. Anyone impartial would say that the "extremists" are concentrated about 99% in one group. Trying to get by without naming names, simply saying, "Oh, a plague on both your houses, you...you EXTREMISTS, you!" is taking sides by refusing to call the situation what it is.

Which leads us to that second big fault: The Panglossians believe that if both sides toned down their rhetoric, if somehow the GamerGaters stopped issuing death threats long enough to have a friendly chat and the Puppies decided to drop Ted Beale like a hot potato and it didn't cost them 90% of their base, then we could all find common ground and resolve this in a friendly way.

But we can't. Because fundamentally, no matter how much Brad and Larry and Ted and the GamerGaters who are backing them try frantically to paper over their message with "there's too much affirmative action in science fiction right now" and "they're pandering to literary tastes instead of meat and potatoes fans who don't want 'message fiction'" and "Unlike the white males she excoriates, there is no evidence to be found anywhere on the planet that a society of NK Jemisins is capable of building an advanced civilization, or even successfully maintaining one without significant external support from those white males" (okay, that one's a little less papered over than the others)...ultimately, these are people whose end goal is the total exclusion of those who disagree with them from the community at large. These are people who won't be happy until Brianna Wu gives up her art and her activism and ceases to use the Internet as a tool for social engagement with other human beings. These are people who will not stop until either they die of old age or Nora Jemisin stops writing, speaking, and existing where they're aware of it. These are people who cannot find a middle ground or a happy medium, because they feel very strongly that noticing the existence of women and minorities is a problem for them.

You can't have a "friendly disagreement" about that. And I'm fully aware that when I don't take sides, when I decide that the real problem is that people are taking these things too personally and we should just discuss it politely as an abstract issue, what I'm really saying is that I won't try too hard to defend people I admire and respect while other people are working very hard to erase them from the society I'm a part of. When I don't take sides, I am taking a side by default, and it is the side of the people who hate.

So yep, it's Us vs Them. It's Us vs Them because the Puppies and the GamerGaters have picked a fight with a group of people who can't walk away, because their fundamental disagreement with women and minorities is that they exist and that isn't likely to change soon. We may not want to pick a side, but a lot of people had one chosen for them on the day they were born. Not picking a side is abandoning them, and I'm not willing to do that. I'll be as civil as I can, as polite as the opposition warrants, and of course I won't use or condone violence. But this is not the best of all possible worlds, and we can't fix the problem in our community by pretending it is.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

It's the Obvious Sequel, In Hindsight

Follow along with me on this:

1) Bilbo, like the elves, "passed into the West" at the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This was during the age of Middle-Earth, implying that it eventually came to be our Earth.

2) Tolkien, as a Briton himself, thought of Middle-Earth as the forebear of Europe. This means that if Bilbo and the elves went west on a great ocean, they eventually came to what would become the continent of North America.

3) His time as a ringbearer, while not good for his soul, did confer upon him extended life. There's no real way of knowing how much extended life would be granted; it's possible that he continued to live for centuries or even millennia.

4) His time as an adventurer granted Bilbo unique skills and talents that could, potentially, be called upon by others in need of a thief.

5) Although he's a skilled thief and an above average combatant for a hobbit his age, Bilbo would need protection if he was going to go on some sort of "mission" for the government.

This leads us to 6) Bilbo Baggins teams up with John McClane to save the United States from the last descendants of the orcs.

Summer 2016: Bruce Willis. Ian Holm. "Old Hobbits Die Hard".

...I'll start running now, shall I?