Winter is coming

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If you think you’ve read today’s post before you may very well have. It’s recycled.

I used to blog over at the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE website. I wrote posts for years for them in anticipation of the magazine being renewed. (I eventually got tired of waiting and stopped writing. I’m told that they are publishing fiction now, but I have long since stopped caring)

Either way, I have dusted off this old ditty about the coming of winter, a topic that is becoming more and more depressing to me as I shuffle off into old age.

Winter is coming.

If you’re a reader of fantasy, particularly of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (or you just watch the series on HBO), you’ve heard that phrase, usually said in long, Yorkshire tones by actors like Sean Bean and infused with much dread and despair. Winter is only one of four seasons but it can also be a feeling, a state of being.

There are a lot of fantasy and science fiction works set in winter environments. There are works where the winter is not just a climactic condition but an overall feeling or mood. Winter is much more than just the presence of snow and ice.

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Winter Landscape by 88grzes

It is December first today and, yes, winter is coming.

In some places, mostly in the south, winter is not a big deal. But in the north its different. And if you live in the Great White North (a.k.a. Canada) as I do, then winter is more than just a season, it is a state of mind. Canadians identify with winter. Indeed, in some parts of our country, winter defines who we are as a people. In the province of Quebec, for instance, there is a song called Mon Pays, which was composed by Gilles Vigneault in 1964. The song became kind of an anthem for Quebec and for Canadians as a whole to some extent. “Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver” the lyrics say. “My country is not a country, it is winter.”

 

In fantasy and science fiction, winter is never usually just a setting. If there is winter it is usually symbolic. In George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series, winter, the season that always seems to be coming, represents a return of the fearsome supernatural creatures that once held sway in Westeros. They were defeated and held back by the wall, a huge barrier made of ice. The people of the north make a philosophy of being prepared, of guarding against their return. Indeed, in the land of Westeros, winter, when it comes, can last for hundreds of years. Winter in Martin’s books is not merely a characteristic of the north. It threatens to claim the entire world.

Again, Martin’s winter is not merely climatic. Winter in Westeros means a return to the dark age of superstition and terror and an end to a world built by reason and prosperity.

mdjackson_winter_the-left-hand-of-darknessAnother world where winter holds constant sway is Gethen, or Winter, as it is called by the citizens of the Ekumen in Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Left Hand of Darkness. Gethen is a planet where it is constantly winter, but that’s not merely a quirk of setting. The constant winter is symbolic of the state of the planet’s inhabitants. Neither male nor female, Gethenians live in a state of asexuality, only adopting sexual difference during brief periods called kemmer. The climate of Gethen mirrors the sterile nature of the planet’s inhabitants and society.

Le Guin doesn’t just use winter as an interesting backdrop against which her novel’s narrative can play out. The nature of Gethen’s climate serves an important metaphorical purpose to the story.

Sometimes, though, an icy background is merely that—background. In the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back, the ice planet of Hoth serves as a background for the rebels’ battle against the Imperial armada. I suppose one could stretch the setting of Hoth to represent the frozen hopes of the rebellion against the might of the evil empire, but, as I said, it’s a bit of a stretch. This is only Star Wars. One can’t expect sophisticated metaphors. The winter setting is visually stunning, however, particularly in regards to the planet’s creatures. The tauntaun on which the rebels ride while patrolling, for instance, is an interesting creature. They are sort of a cross between a mountain goat and a kangaroo and seem relatively easy to domesticate for the rebels’ purposes. Then, of course, there is the wampa, a huge, shaggy, deadly creature who captures Luke Skywalker and puts him on ice (pardon the pun) in preparation for eating him (we can only assume).

The wampa is kind of like another creature from the frozen north—the yeti.

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The yeti are ape-like creatures that live in the frozen mountains. I have used the yeti in my own artwork. This image was featured on the cover of Issue 1 of The Dreamquest magazine.

Or perhaps it is just a typical day in the Great White North? Naked yeti fighting is a popular Canadian activity. I am confident that it will soon be an official event at the Winter Olympics.

Winter as a setting for science fiction and fantasy is usually more than just backdrop. It usually serves a greater thematic purpose. Winter can represent sterility, bleakness, death, or worse. In real life there is some danger in the wintertime, but when you live in the northern part of the world, you adapt. You bundle up. You buy snow tires. You light a fire and sit back with a cup of hot cocoa and wait for it to be spring again.

Winter is coming. But it won’t last forever.

*No yeti were harmed in the writing of this post.

Debt’s Honor progress report

After a long period of being blocked I managed to write over 1300 words on DEBT’S HONOR the sequel to my novel DEBT’S PLEDGE (available now at Amazon.com). Yay, me!

That brings the word count up to just over 46,000 and I reckon I’m about a third of the way into it, which means the final first draft may end up being somewhere in the neighborhood of 120,000 words.

Which is a far cry from the quick and dirty short novel I’d envisioned the sequel being when I started.

Hopefully it will go a bit faster from here on in.

Valerian and Laureline

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If you’re a fan of Luc Besson’s films (The Fifth Element, Lucy) or you’re just a fan of science fiction films in general, and you’ve been on Facebook recently, then you likely have come across the first trailer for Besson’s upcoming film VALERIAN.

If you haven’t, let me show it to you:

So, most people agree that the trailer is pretty mind blowing but few people know just who Valerian is. I’ve been a fan of the graphic novels that this film is based on for years, since I was in my early twenties, and that is a long, long time ago.

valerian-ambassador-int-1Back then I was a huge fan of the American comic magazine HEAVY METAL. When I learned that the US magazine was based on a French magazine, METAL HURLANT (literally Screaming Metal), I managed to find some copies of the French version as well. Along the way I learned about other French magazines including one called Pilote in whose pages the adventures of Valerian et Laureline were originally presented.

Valérian et Laureline, also known as Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent or just Valérian, is a French science fiction comics series, created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières.

First published in 1967, the series focused on the adventures of the dark-haired Valérian, a spatio-temporal agent, and his redheaded female colleague, Laureline, as they travel the universe through space and time. Valérian is a classical hero, kind-hearted, strong and brave who follows the orders of his superiors even if he feels, deep down, that it is the wrong thing to do. On the other hand, his partner Laureline combines her superior intelligence, determination and independence with sex-appeal.

Influenced by classic literary science fiction, the series mixes space opera with time travel plots.

valerian_3Christin’s scripts are noted for their humour, complexity and strongly humanist ideals while Mézières’ art is characterised by its vivid depictions of the alien worlds and species Valérian and Laureline encounter on their adventures. The series is considered a landmark in European comics and pop culture and influenced other media as well: traces of its concepts, storylines and designs can be found in many science fiction films including Star Wars and Besson’s own The Fifth Element.

valerian-and-laureline-2-the-empire-of-a-thousand-planets-paperback-l9781849180870The final installment of Valerian et Laureline was published in 2010. All of the Valérian stories have been collected in graphic novel album format, comprising some twenty-one volumes plus a short story collection and an encyclopaedia. Valérian is one of the top five biggest selling Franco-Belgian comics titles of its publisher, Dargaud.

Many of the stories have been translated into several languages, including English. The series has received recognition through a number of prestigious awards, including the Grand Prix de la ville d’Angoulême. An animated television series, Time Jam: Valerian & Laureline, was released in 2007.

And now, Besson’s film is set to introduce the characters to the world at large. When I heard that Besson was set to tackle the subject I was skeptical, particularly with the casting of Dane DeHaaan (Chronicle, The Amazing Spider Man 2) .

However, the trailer looks absolutely amazing and I can see that DeHaan is not as miscast in the role as I had earlier feared (although Cara Delevingne (Suicide Squad) is perfectly cast as Laureline). I can only hope that the final film lives up to the graphic novels.

Internet Daleks

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Anyone who is familiar with the BBC’s long running science fiction television series Doctor Who knows what a Dalek is. Even if you don’t watch the show, you may well be aware of the Daleks and what they are.

For those who don’t know, Daleks are the most feared enemies in the Doctor Who universe.

The Daleks are merciless and pitiless cyborg aliens bent on conquest of the universe and the extermination of what they see as inferior races; their catchphrase, “Exterminate!”, is a well-recognized reference in British popular culture. The Daleks were engineered by an evil scientist, genetically modified and integrated with a tank-like, robotic shell, removing their every emotion apart from hate. The Daleks view themselves as the supreme race in the universe and are intent on purging the universe of all non-Dalek life. Daleks are shapeless and defenseless blobs of flesh encased in armor so they are invulnerable. Though only armed with a single laser and a menacing suction cup, in the context of the show the Daleks are the deadliest foes that the Doctor comes up against.

Today on the internet there is a type of person known as a troll. An internet troll is a person who sows discord by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory or offensive messages in online communities with the deliberate intent of provoking readers or otherwise disrupting normal discussion for their own amusement.Trolls deface Internet tribute sites. causing grief to families. They attack groups and individuals online with sexual, emotional and intellectual harassment.

But maybe trolls is the wrong name. Perhaps we should start calling them internet Daleks. They surround themselves with technology and online anonymity, making them feel invulnerable. They travel about the various internet byways, swooping in and shouting “Exterminate! Exterminate!” and terrifying and infuriating online citizens.

Perhaps all vestige of humanity has been stripped away. Perhaps the echo chamber of their own ideas blared back at them has driven them mad over the years. Perhaps their bodies are slowly de-evolving into a soft and shapeless mush. Fearful of anything different from themselves, ensconced in the darkness of their parent’s basements, never seeing the sun or encountering any others that are not also Daleks, their hatred of others has grown like a cancer and is spreading.

Indeed, trollish, or Dalek-like behavior, is becoming ubiquitous online. Protected by the armor of internet anonymity they are compelled to attack any whose ideas or political affiliation is different from our own.

Internet Daleks hack their way into databases. laptops, smartphones and they pillage and rape the electronic landscape, making away with stolen emails, naked selfies or incriminating videos, which they eagerly disseminate far and wide. Privacy is laid waste by the rampaging Daleks. One’s most deeply hidden secrets are dragged screaming into the light like villagers being dragged from their burning homes by pitiless raiders.

They seem unbeatable. Just as the Doctor is the only one who can defeat the Daleks, only the most rigorous of intellects can stymie the internet Dalek. Even so, the Dalek will never be destroyed. They may scuttle off to their little home on the web but they will regroup and grow emboldened again, ready for another attack.

Just like on Doctor Who, the Doctor can never fully defeat his greatest enemy. No matter how many times he engages them, somehow they always come back.

That’s the thing about internet Daleks. They always find a way to come back to threaten again.

SDCC: a rant about ungrateful fanboys (slightly NSFW)

sdcc_logo_grande_4542ff10-4626-4dce-91e0-f0e916457862_largeI’m at that point.

You know the one, especially if you’re a parent and you’ve been listening to the kids whine about how unfair everything is and how their life sucks. You get to that point and suddenly the Dad comes out in you and you lecture your kids about how good they have it compared to when you were a kid.

You try to resist, because you know that it never really makes a difference and your kids will just stare at you like some alien that has just walked into the house speaking Klingon.

But I’m there now.

This past week I’ve been watching all this incredible stuff coming out of the San Diego Comic Con, arguably the biggest and the best convention for fans of comics, science fiction and other genre movies. As is usual during Comic Con I’ve also been listening to the whiny-ass fanboys complaining about how nothing is exactly how they want it. How (insert adaptation of your favorite comic/SF novel/sequel/spin-off/whatever) had better not suck or how the (Insert Comic book company name here – which one doesn’t matter) cinematic universe has lost it and has to be rebooted post haste.

To all you fanboys: STFU.

No… better yet, I’m not talking to you in textspeak anymore… I’m Dad now and I’m talking like a dad. Fanboys, shut the fuck up!

You’re getting so much amazing stuff and all you do is whine and complain. It’s like getting a huge fucking haul at Christmastime and complaining because the phone I got you wasn’t the exact brand you wanted.

Oh, boo-hoo.

You know what I had at your age? I had Star Trek re-runs. Heavily edited on old and dirty and badly spliced film reels. We didn’t have the restored versions with new and shiny cgi effects.

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We didn’t have a blockbuster movie to watch and a new series to look forward to.

7a28a7f7959c09777e756b71a5b23083d6e2fe8c4de98bfa0713da1e513234a4We didn’t have a DOCTOR STRANGE movie with A-list actors and top notch visual effects to look forward to. We had a TV movie done on cheap sets and starring Peter Hooten with a 70’s porn ‘stache.

We didn’t have Justice League starring an OSCAR WINNING ACTOR, we had… never mind. You don’t want to know what we had. 90 minutes of our life we’ll never get back, that’s what we had.

hqdefaultYou fanboys (and I don’t care how young or old you are) are fucking ungrateful. You’ve got it made, kids! You’ve got it made in the shade and you don’t know just how good you have it. Yet you whine and you complain like none of this amazing stuff is good enough for the likes of you.

Now, I hear you say; “Yeah, Jack, but, cut us some slack! These aren’t gifts. It’s not Christmas. It’s a business transaction. The studios make a product and they sell it to consumers, and consumers have a right to criticize the products they’re being given. If I go into a restaurant, order a burger, and find it’s undercooked, do I not have the right to call attention that?”

Well, yes, you’re right. It’s not Christmas, and these aren’t gifts given to you by loving parents. the Christmas analogy was just meant to illustrate how I feel about the situation.

These films, TV series, comics, what have you, they’re product. And absolutely, you have the right to complain about an undercooked burger.

But telling the waiter  “This burger better be good or I’m never coming here again!” before it’s even on the plate or telling the chef that his meals suck based on a picture you saw on the restaurant’s website strikes me as a bit entitled, not to mention that it makes the one complaining look like a dick.

Look, if you watch something and you don’t like it, I’ll accept that. We may even talk about it. I frequently do with fellow fans. But I reserve judgement about something until I have seen the movie/series/comic/whatever rather than moaning about it beforehand.

Saying “I hope it’s great.” is better than saying “Oh, man this is gonna blow” in my opinion. And, yes. I’m not just talking about younger fans. I’m not trying to pull some ageist crap here. There are fans older than me who are just as bad and there are younger fans who have a fantastic attitude.

As a creator it just guts me to hear fans talking shit about something sight unseen. As an artist and a writer… see, this is where my frustration is coming from. I know what it’s like to put so much of myself into something, a book or a piece of artwork, only to have someone who doesn’t know, hasn’t seen/and/or read the work dismiss it out of hand.

I’m sorry, for having to go all “Dad” over it like this, but I’m at that point. I’m all out of fucks. I’m out of them. You like something? I don’t give a fuck. You don’t like something? I don’t give a fuck.

I’m. all. out. of. fucks.

A Matt Damon Double Bill? What Was I Thinking?

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I don’t know what possessed me to watch two Matt Damon films back to back, but that’s what I did.

I find Damon hard to take in large doses. Although I liked him fine in The Martian his appearance in Interstellar bordered on too much despite the fact that he had less screen time in that than in The Martian, so his level of “getting on my nerves” varies from film to film.

So I watched The Adjustment Bureau on Netflix. It was a film I’d never seen before and it was based on a story by Phillip K. Dick, who is one of my favorite writers and films based on his works usually appeal to me. This one did as well, despite it feeling like an episode of The Twilight Zone that went on for just too long. I liked Emily Blunt as well. I know she’s a big draw these days but I haven’t seen many of her films and in this one I found her to be engaging and watchable.

I had a very positive reaction to this film, despite finding the “magic hats” idea kind of silly. And maybe I’m not a romantic but it seems that a lot of Damon’s character’s actions were more than a little selfish. I guess I didn’t get the sense that the feelings Damon had for Blunt’s character were overwhelming. They said it, but I didn’t feel it. Nor did I get the sense that Damon’s character had a fantastic political destiny. He was liable enough, but he didn’t convey the commitment that he was supposed to have to public service. The characters say all the right catchphrases, but there is nothing backing them up.

Still, getting past that the film was likable enough and the story was interesting and it was fun watching them go through the doors and ending up someplace completely different then where they are expecting.

At it’s heart it is a chase movie. The philosophical and existential questions are secondary. It’s about lovers wanting to be together and running from those who would tear them apart. The questioning of reality and pondering the questions of destiny versus free will were thrown in but not really explored.

Is it worth a look? Sure. It’s on Netflix. Check it out.

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But then there is Elysium, also starring Matt Damon. This is an original story (and I use the word “original” very lightly) by Neil Blomkamp and starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster.

This film is awful. There are some pretty special effects, sure, but the film is so monumentally stupid. So Elysium is a space station… a utopia in space… a giant ring space station where the rich and powerful hoard all the best air and medical technology while all the poor people live on the dirty, polluted and stinky surface of the Earth. You can tell they are poor because of the color of their skin and their Mexican accents.

Except for Matt Damon who seems to be the only poor white person. Naturally he is going to be the one to save everyone. Except it seems that wherever he goes, violence happens, which is not only bad for him but for anyone around him as well, which is inconvenient because he’s just re connected with his childhood girlfriend and her daughter who has leukemia. (Oh, I can see where this is going)

As for Elysium itself it is run by a council but the Minister of Security, played by Jodie Foster, is a hard assed bitch who will not hesitate to shoot down ships loaded with dirty poor people who are trying to get access to the medical beds. The president makes noises about going to far, but Foster doesn’t care. She’s Anne Coulter on steroids, baby, an Armani suited villain who can’t decide if her accent in English, French or American, but that hardly matters once she starts raving about how she’s preserving the natural order of things and dripping equal amounts of contempt for the poor people of earth and also for the spoiled, rich but soft denizens of Elysium.

Okay, I could go on, but this movie is terrible. There are some pretty effects and the actual Elysium space station is breathtaking, although the lack of a ceiling is problematic. The atmosphere is just open to space. How it doesn’t bleed off into the vacuum is beyond me and is never explained.

This movie. is mostly stupid. Actually, no, it’s all stupid.

It’s on Netlfix, yeah, but… don’t. Just… don’t.

Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn

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Hey, I’m back with another Netflix movie review!

I don’t play video games. I’m not a gamer. So what I know about HALO can be summed up as such:

It’s a video game. It features a character called Master Chief.

That’s it. That’s all I know.

So, here I am watching a movie called Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn and it begins with a bunch of cadets getting their hair sheared off (somewhat reminiscent of the opening scene of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, one of my favorite films of all time) and then these cadets start talking to someone off camera like it’s  some sort of documentary,

Okay. I think I know what this is.

Then it switches to an older guy (whom I recognize as Canadian Actor Ty Olsson, who played Lt. Aaron Kelly on Battlestar Galactica) who is listening to a distress call from a ship. The ship has 1 survivor in cryo-suspension, some alien thing is trying to take over and this cgi fairy thing materializes and…

Okay, the film’s lost me. I don’t know what’s going on.

Then suddenly we’re back with the cadets and the story picks up with cadet Thomas Lasky who really doesn’t know if he wants to go to war or not. Seems his older brother was a good soldier but he died on a mission and he’s real bummed about it and he never sees his mother anymore because she’s too important.

So Lasky and his fellow cadets are in training and their squad has the lowest score because Lasky can’t stop being an arrogant prick long enough to follow orders. Plus he’s suffering from some blisters and burns and other health problems which his earnest doctor can’t seem to figure out. Lasky soldiers on, though, which is ironic considering he doesn’t seem to want to be a soldier.

If this hadn’t had HALO in the title I would have given up on this film. The young cadets were good actors and the film looked fairly impressive. I liked the cadet uniforms. I liked the way they used Simon Fraser University as a backdrop (If you saw the original Battlestar Galactica pilot you’d probably recognize it). But I didn’t like any of the characters.

So there’s this subplot about one of the characters trying to un-encrypt a top secret video of a combat mission that hints that there is “something else” out there that the soldiers are fighting. Just as soon as they discover that fact the training school is suddenly under attack.

Now the movie gets exciting with these giant aliens attacking the school and real soldiers dropping in to defend them. So now it’s a horror movie where the cadets squad is trapped in the school without any weapons trying to hide from the scary monsters who can become invisible. Okay. Now I know what kind of movie this is.

But wait! Just before an alien kills one of the cadets who shows up but Master Chief! Master Chief will save the day!

Now it’s a chase movie where Master Chief and five… oh, wait, make that four… scared cadets have to run the gauntlet of scary aliens to make it to the rendezvous point.

Whoops! Make that three cadets.

Okay. This movie is a mess. It’s boring and confusing in turns. Maybe if you play the game, or know more about the HALO universe this film would make sense. Apparently it was originally a web series. Maybe seeing it in episodes would have made more sense, but as a whole movie like this… well, it`s no Full Metal Jacket, let me tell you. It`s no Starship Troopers, either

If you are a fan of HALO this might be a good film. If you are a fan of military SF, this film is a bit of a mess.

I can`t recommend it, but if you are curious, it`s currently playing on Netflix.