Fear is an Easy Sell

When I’m not writing, I’m a teacher. You can probably guess what I’m certified in – my specialty – without too much trouble. It doesn’t start with M and doesn’t require a Periodic Table if that helps at all – although I am getting better and better with my Stoichiometry (just ask my students).

I’ve noticed a shift over the last several years, and it is something I am concerned about and that is fear.

You see, I have a daughter who turns three in January and she’s starting to give orders. Not real orders of course, but the ‘this goes here, that is mommy’s, put it down daddy’ kind of orders. The ‘I’m trying to make sense of this world that has more to it than gravity and light’ kind of orders.

This means that, soon, she’ll start asking questions. Both my wife and I have discussed this turn and we’re not sure what to respond as she kicks into trying to understand and comprehend that bigger world. Whose perspective will be better for her.

The reality that I see is a wonderful and amazing place to explore. People are, in general, good folks with interesting stories who merely want an ear to listen or tongue to speak – an opportunity to share. There are fascinating stories out there with most people and, if you listen to them, chances are you can find someone or something to relate to with them.

The world is a similar place. There are wonderful places to explore – mountains to climb, trees to crawl through, parks to visit, etc. It’s an adventure that, if you take the time to examine, will give you something to relate to and remember.

Forest Blog

But…that’s not the attitude that most people have. I remember growing up that most of the attitude wasn’t quite as bright and springy as mine, but there was something still there: hope.

Now, though, I see something different: fear.

Fear has replaced that in many of the students that I interact with. I do have the over-the-top macho kids in my room, but when they get confronted, that attitude dissolves. There’s no guidance. Similarly, when I work with some of my co-workers and talk with some of my friends, fear has become a unifying factor. Rather it’s a worry for the future of the country, a job, or what’s going to happen tomorrow, it’s become an overlying part of things.

Yoda Fear

Even the TV shows have it more now. We call the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles more ‘mature’ and ‘deep’ than their 1980’s counterparts – and that’s true. But at one point our entertainment was meant to entertain the kids and not us.

Don’t take this the wrong way – I love shows like TMNT and Avatar: The Last Airbender. My daughter loves My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Daniel Tiger (and Daniel Tiger is NOT in one of those ‘more mature’ categories in the slightest. It does have a sense of hope and excitement). But at one point the excitement came from wondering how Mikey was going to take down the Shredder this week and not if he was going to.

Our heroes are easily defeated. That only used to happen in the two-part episodes.

The same holds true of entertainment for adults. I’m really enjoying Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Once Upon a Time, and Agents of Shield (my TV shows are a bit limited – I have Netflix and not cable is my excuse).

There isn’t anyone to save us anymore and, while some of the shows do examine a person pulling themselves out of defeat and saving themselves, more often we are faced with a failure that we have to deal with.

And maybe that’s true. There is a lot of truth to the fact that, often, we are going to have to deal with meeting in the middle or the short end of the stick. That is life.

I don’t really have a problem with that. I wish there was more hope and adventure to my entertainment than there is – and I might be missing something (feel free to share). But it doesn’t usually feel particularly hopeful when I am watching.

Except maybe NCIS – because at some point, they have to deal with Gibbs and Gibbs doesn’t mess around.

Gibbs

But now, we’re not even getting the stick. We’re learning to be afraid to even reach for it.

It’s fear we’re being sold.

And it is an easy sell.

Look at Game of Thrones. Nothing against Martin – he’s clearly a writer with talent. I personally don’t particularly like Game of Thrones, but it’s popular and well written. But it boils with two things – sex and fear.

It’s an easy sell.

Even worse is the sudden advertisement of giving in to fear. Back during the first trilogy, I don’t know that there was anyone who was excited to be a member of the Sith (and yes, this is a specific cultural example. Sue me). The villains of the movie and the universe as far as Star Wars is concerned. Now, it pops up everywhere.

keep-calm-and-join-the-dark-side-132

Ignoring the Sith vs Jedi argument (that’s for another day as well), now matter how you look at it, they are the created antagonists of the films. We get strong implications (and sometimes visuals) of them casually murdering people. These are not people that would normally be a group that folks would want to join.

But they have embraced their fear and gained power for it. We’re embracing our fears, but it’s leaving us weaker – at least thus far.

I wonder if that isn’t because fear is so primal to our beings. It’s hard to establish a hopeful attitude – it takes convincing someone that there can be something better over the hilltop or beyond the horizon even though all of their current experience says otherwise.  You have to life yourself up to have hope, to examine the best that could be coming and work for it. It takes a tremendous amount of work.

 

Say what you like about Donald Trump, but he is definitely a Presidential hopeful. He’s putting in that effort and he’s trying to find ways to get to that ‘better’ that he sees. So is Bernie Sanders. And that’s all the politics I will mention for this post because I’m not going to get into the conflict of hope that comes from perspective. I’m sure it is one of the causes, but that’s a post in and of itself. Fear has that as well, but to a lesser extent.

Fear doesn’t. Fear says ‘that’s bigger, be scared’, ‘that’s faster, be scared’, ‘that’s different, be scared.’ It’s unifying and, relatively, universal.  And universal means easier to sell, easier to control. Some of those pundits that claim our new culture of fear is part of a government/corporate/etc conspiracy to control us and I can’t help but wonder in the back of my mind if there isn’t some truth to that claim. Fear does make for easy control and focus – hope, joy, and other ‘working’ emotions are not easy to create and hold in place.

Anyway, those are my thoughts for the day. I will leave you with this one:

desmondtutu454129

Discussion: Michigan and Snow

I won’t lie – I like the snow.

As a resident of Michigan, snow is a common think. Our state is shaped like a mitten (well, the lower peninsula is) and that implies that tells me we are destined for snow.

I’ve always liked it. When we were younger, my brothers and I could play in it in our backyard and roll snowballs down the hill, etc. It was quick and easy.

This year, we are having a mild start to the winter. We had some snow in November that I got to play with my daughter (she’s almost three) and that was a lot of fun. It was fun enough that I wanted to go out and buy some Carhart snow pants so that I wouldn’t be wearing only my jeans. Which is a lot – I don’t generally buy spendy items like that.  But it was fun and my daughter enjoyed it tremendously. Part of it was her connection to Olaf from Frozen but that’s for another day.

The point being – I like snow and Michigan is, in general, a good place to get it.

This year, however, we have had a fairly mild winter. We had some snow in November and some cold temperatures so far and that is about it. According to the coming weather forecast (and this is Michigan so take it with a heavy grain of salt) we’re going to get some more 50 degree days in the next week or so.

Which is odd.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand why some folks are grateful for the changes this winter. For Michigan drivers, snow is an expectation. People that are commuting into or out of the state complain, but most of the native drivers don’t seem to have a significant issue with it. Sometimes that does mean waking up extra early to shovel my driveway, but we’ve survived worse circumstances.

The point being – snow is a fun and enjoyable thing for most of the Michiganders that I know. The Upper Peninsula folks are even more used to it than those of us in the Lower Peninsula – but then they have a higher snowfall rate than we do.

It can be a lot of fun. Snowballs, snowmen, and sledding down a hill. When we moved, one of the appeals was a big hill nearby for sledding – though I don’t know that I told my wife that one.

Then,  once you are thoroughly chilled and excited – taken care of all of your snow fun and enjoyment – you get to go inside and have a nice cup of hot tea or hot cocoa while you slide under a blanket to gradually warm up. It’s a great way to spend a day!

So, I wonder, how do most feel about snow and cold? The internet is a free place!

Life on Ramen

I have always been about creating. I love to write, to create adventures and characters with my friends through RPGs and LARPs, to produce plays and portrayals through acting on stage. All through my life I have created.

One such creation that I had was called Life on Ramen. It was a sprite comic that I produced while I was in college. Keep in mind – this was during the hay day of sprite comics. We had Bob and George on the one hand and 8-Bit Theater on the other. It was an awesome time. If you had MS Paint and a few sprite sheets, you could make a webcomic.

Mine was about myself and some of my friends and our various insanities. I called it ‘Life on Ramen’ because I was in college and that was pretty much my only non-campus sustenance. I found the comic very funny and I put a lot of work into updating it on GeoCities. You know, back when GeoCities existed.

It was the first piece of something I had created that I shared outside of my personal bubble. I put it up on the internet and I joined some webrings (does anyone remember those? 🙂 ) and I posted it for feedback and fun.

It was something I had never done before – exposed myself like that to a strange audience. I remember being a little scared of it, at least at first, but also excited. I had hoped that I would find some folks who liked it – there were certainly enough 8 and 16 bit Sprite comic lovers out there at the time.

There wasn’t a lot of original content to it, I will admit now. But as I gained new skills and software (thanks Ferris), it improved. I had some fun characters and some, in my opinion, funny humor. There were a lot of Nice Job Breaking It, Hero moments – which I still find funny.

Any how, I thought I would share this memory of my first time putting my work out for public critique and see if anyone else wanted to comment. What was your first time sharing something publicly like? What made it exciting or interesting to you?

Book Review – Blades of Magic (Crown Service #1)

Book Review – Blades of Magic (Crown Service #1)

Blades

By Terah Edun

Click HERE to buy it on Amazon.com

I grabbed this book as a part of the promotion when book two launched. The author had it up for free as an enticement to check out the sequel. I’ve been busy with my students and conferences, but I managed to find some time to do some reading and this is one of the books I was determined to get through. Of course, that meant that I missed the sale and grabbed it at $2.99.

Totally worth it.

The story is fairly simple – we have Sara, the daughter of a disgraced imperial commander. Her father was killed for deserting and, given what she knows of her father, this has always bothered her. This leads her to develop her sword skills and make some living wages to support herself and her mother for much of her early life.

When she comes of age, and a few tragedies, she finds herself working with the Mercenary Guild and beginning to unravel what really happened with her father and the Emperor. There are a number of sub plots and loose threads introduced and expanded on and it’s well balanced between resolution and mini-mystery.

I’ve always enjoyed Edun’s work and this is no exception. Sara is a fine main character and fun to follow along with. I also enjoyed Ezekiel as a bit of a challenge to Sara and her developing skills. That a ‘Battle Mage’ can transform in to a Berserker – like a classic Berserker – is also interesting and makes her accessing her abilities feel like there is some actual consequence to her magic use.

The other secondary characters felt a bit more static than I generally enjoy, but it comes off to me more as her getting things established than any kind of laziness on her part. To put it simply, this is a new aspect to her world and she is getting it prepared for the future. That static-ness makes it so that she can focus on Ezekiel and Sara and the mystery of Sara’s father while introducing elements that can grow in the future. Sara and Ezekiel are charming enough that I’m willing to be patient with those characters and I look forward to grabbing the sequel when I have a chance.

The world and society that Edun has built is interesting. It appears to be linked to her Courtlight series (which I am a huge fan of (I still need to finish the last book)), but this area and part of the world feels unique and distinct in comparison to what we read in the other series. It’s much more Roman/Greek-ish (for lack of a better phrase) over in these cities and for Sara. I also like the Mercenaries and their role and reaction to Sara. I don’t want to spoil it, but it makes significant sense given the world and the way Edun has established their purpose.

On the whole, this is an excellent new world from a great author. I encourage everyone to give it a shot when they have a chance. It’s completely worth the price asked at $2.99. I see there is a print price and, if Edun ever comes to my area for a convention or something, I’ll probably grab a print copy to get it signed.

Characters – 3.5/5

Plot: 3.5/5

Action: 4/5

Value: 4/5

Writing: 4/5

Total Rating:  3.75/5

Gaming and Gamers – Some Definitions and Observations (2 of 4)

I find it interesting that in examining online gaming culture, there is no one definition that anyone seems to be able to agree on. Some people will tell you that Console Games should be excluded, others insist that a console based game is the only one that counts. Some will say that Nintendo’s Wii is not a proper gaming console; others point out that portable games such as Angry Birds should not be considered a part of gaming.

With no one, solid definition of what Gaming Culture is, I find it interesting that there can be a cultural clash or hashtag even created for this ‘GamerGate’ controversy. If you can’t define the limits, how can you define where it begins or ends.

So, before I write this, I’m going to go ahead and throw up some definitions so that I am clear in my explanation:

Core Audience (Pre-2000) – the Core Audience prior to the year 2000 for video games were males aged 15-32. This is, in general, the audience that most people picture when they think of a ‘gamer.’

Core Audience (Post 2000) – the shifting demographic that advertisers and programmers are now trying to bring in. This is largely due to the rise of mobile gaming brought about by devices like smartphones.

Core Gamer – a person who plays games at least 20 hours a week and purchases titles regularly (1)

Casual Gamer – a person who plays infrequently and purchases titles less often (1).

So, even in my definitions, it is clear to me (and a number of actual online journalists and reporters) that there has been a significant shift in the gaming audience and its marketing appeals. There are now more people playing games than there have ever been before (2). Regardless of the platform that you prefer your gaming on, you are getting consistent new content and experiences at a pace almost unheard of in older gaming times.

This massive explosion of population has thus called in to question: is gaming’s culture keeping up with its audience evolution.

The Legend of Zelda Protagonist Link (1986)Zelda_Ocarina_of_Time_CastSkyward

Different Zeldas, Different Casting

The answer to that question is long and complicated. It is, unfortunately, almost impossible to find any neutral information on the subject, but I’ll try and share what I have found along with my opinions mixed in.

The short answer is a simple ‘no.’ To put it bluntly, we have not seen a significant change in the social demographics presented in video games. A simple trip in to Wal-Mart to look at the covers of the available titles shows that the common protagonist in major studio efforts remains white males (3). You can also load GameFaqs.com and look at their top 10:

Top 10

 

Wow, I wish I had a better screen cap grabber…

Anyway, if you follow through on those titles, most of them feature primary protagonist characters that are white males (or, at least, based on white males for games like The Elder Scrolls V or League of Legends) with casts to match. This is consistent regardless of platform and game sub-genre. The previously defined core audience is still the target of most major publishers and the advertising backs that.

Which is all just fine if the numbers played out in favor of that group being the one that is the most marketable and has the most success for publishers.

But it’s not. The casual gaming market is exploding and making a mega-ton of money.

Consider the following chart

TRYBG(4)

To put it bluntly, console sales have been dropping. Meanwhile, mobile and casual games are going up (I could not find comarable or reliable numbers for PC sales)(2). There are many reasons for this that have been examined and questioned a lot LOT by those who have far more industry knowledge than I do, so I won’t go in to it in much more detail except to say that it is clear that console gaming is dropping away.

FF7
Seriously, how many re-releases do we need of Final Fantasy 7

Yet, in gamer culture, console games are a significant part of the ‘core gamer’ assumption. Even as that market shrinks, developers scramble to grab on to it and try and grab that smaller audience. They do this in many ways. There’s the nostalgia factor where developers re-release old titles that were extremely popular on the hope that you will still think the game is as awesome as it was a decade ago (looking at you SquareEnix and Nintendo). There’s the competetive factor – where you are in competition with yourself/others to climb a digital hierarchy to reach the top (Halo, League of Legends, etc).  And there is the completeness factor – think Pokemon or Trophies among many others.

All of these items are combined to make it so that the player feels as though they are a part of the elite group of ‘core gamers.’ And this is an elite group. Go check out many major gaming sites and you will see instances of conflict between this ‘core’ group and other groups. The most significant division in the group is between console and PC gamers, but they all will rally around their territory in an effort to protect it.

What I have to wonder, then, is why do game manufacturers pursue the market so heavily. The definition above is one big reason – 20 hours a week of time and regular purchases means you have a reliable customer. In today’s fluctuating market conditions, that kind of loyalty and reliable revenue is hard to come by and a valuable commodity. Going after these guys creates reliable income and that’s invaluable. When its expected, you can plan against it.

But, if the data above is true and console sales are dropping, even reliable revenue is going to dry up. Thus, you market more heavily to grab at those that are left. Because console manufacturers and developers are fighting to get their share of an increasingly smaller pool, we are not seeing demographic changes to reflect purchasing trends and social trends that are beginning to show in other media. The Wii bucked this trend a bit by bringing in a lot of new players and families to gaming, but it doesn’t appear that the audience that came in is really transitioning significantly in to the market.

So, these developers are struggling to hold on to a market that is, increasingly, shrinking. That’s probably why all of the current gen consoles (Wii U, XBoxOne,PS4) have so many ‘other’ features. I know that my Wii U is used for a Netflix box for my wife and daughter almost as often as I am using it to play Video Games.

Admittedly, there are far more developers in the causal and mobile markets. This slew of different developers, inherently, means a larger pool of talent and ideas to draw from, as well as differing objectives in game creation. For every 1 major publishers for the PC/Console market, there are thousands of  ‘micro’ developers in the mobile/casual market (3)

Given that, is it any wonder that they don’t want to try and compete with all of that? You’re surrounded on all sides and have been holding out. Why switch tactics in the middle of the battle – even if your soldiers are bleeding out?

That’s not to say that we haven’t got some positives up in there, however. Even with that shot, I will point out that in at least 5 of those titles you have the option to build your character and create it how you want. And in those options, there is,invariably a female option. Many of them also offer other racial options to allow for greater depth of character representation (though some of Skyrim’s options are impossible in the real world). (4) This was unheard of until more recent console and PC developments. While part of that the fact that older mediums could not support more complex graphics and store the data required for a great deal of building options (not to mention there were far fewer titles that allowed customization period), the ugly other half of it was that there was almost no market approach to consider other audiences.

Now, though, the games are starting to flip in the other direction. Customization and unique experiences are the name of the game in the gaming market OUTSIDE of major publishers. To some extent, it is starting to leak in to the ‘Big 3’ (Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo), but mobile games are dominating the scene right now and they are offering an increasingly diverse and customize-able experience for end users.

What does this mean, then? It means that the recognition of ALL gamers, and not just core audience, needs to be established for developers. Similarly, the media and culture of the United States (and any other country, really) needs to accept and understand that this change of audience and demographic is both a positive item AND a potential for profit. Current ‘core’ gamers also need to recognize this shift and stop fighting against it. It would be, in my opinion, far better for them to accept it and try and re-classify their purpose in the system. Instead of being the major ‘go to’ for marketing and targeting, incorporate their experience with games and their appeal by working with the industry in it moving forward instead of fighting against the progress.

 

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1 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamer#Casual_gamer

2 –  http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/ESA_EF_2013.pdf

3 – Schick, Shane. “Evans Data: Mobile Developers Now Number 8.7 Million Worldwide.” Fierce Developer. FierceMarkets, 20 June 2014. Web. 29 Oct. 2014. <http://www.fiercedeveloper.com/story/evans-data-mobile-developers-now-number-87-million-worldwide/2014-06-20&gt;.

4 – “Game Console Sales Over Lifetime.” 1 May 2014. Web. 29 Oct. 2014. <http://www.statista.com/statistics/268966/total-number-of-game-consoles-sold-worldwide-by-console-type/&gt;.

3 – “Wal-Mart Video Game Homepage.” Wal-Mart.com. Walmart Stores Inc, 29 Oct. 2014. Web. <http://www.walmart.com/search/search-ng.do?ic=16_0&Find=Find&search_query=&Find=Find&search_constraint=2636&gt;.

4 – Pyre, Andrew. “Bungie Talks ‘Destiny’ Playable Races, Character Classes.” GameRant. GameRant LLC, 1 Jan. 2013. Web. 29 Oct. 2014. <http://gamerant.com/bungie-destiny-player-races-classes/&gt;.

GamerGate, Feminism, and a LOT of Nasty Words (pt 1 of 4)

I spent much of the weekend examining the supposed ‘Gamergate’ issue. Here’s a link to the Wikipedia entry on the subject which, more or less, boils down to:

A group of media outlets have, apparently, been examining gaming culture. One particular person, Zoe Quinn – an independent game developer – was accused by an ex-boyfriend of sleeping with/having a relationship with a Kotaku gaming journalist in order to get a better review. This broke down in to harassment from the online community including threats and revelation of personal details. Some, apparently, even went so far as the threaten her with personal violence and death. The result is an examination of internet social norms as perpetuated by a relatively small few. If you want more details, I suggest you start with the Wikipedia article.

The first bit I am going to look at, at least for today, is the increasing examination of the world, and particularly gaming, through independent eyes. These eyes call themselves journalists, but I would hesitate to call many of them as such. This is not exclusively limited to online journalism, though I see far more questionable journalists online than I do in mainstream media(1). When I am talking about a journalist, I am talking about someone who does their homework and has researched the facts before reporting. They do this with an open mind and a respect for finding what truth they can rather than evidence only supporting their own/corporate vision (2). I’m talking about Clark Kent and not Rush Limbaugh.

Because, let's be honest, who would ever trust Clark Kent.
Because, let’s be honest, who would ever trust Clark Kent.

There is a certain expectation of journalists to display integrity and care in their reporting. I’m not going to argue the point that many journalists do not maintain this code, and that some barely hold to it, but the expectation is there. That expectation leads people to trust them more implicitly. Unfortunately, the rise of the internet and social media has pushed at those expectations and trusts (I can’t say that I blame the public for that one) and made it so that information on the ‘Net is almost as trusted as our former sole sources of information are. This is considered a problem by many bloggers and journalists (3)(4)

The rise of social media and the internet has made it extremely easy for information to be passed around. Unfortunately, the information that gets passed around is rarely fact checked. In the race to get clicks and hits, social media will often publish anything it can get its hands on.   Quite often it is messy, inaccurate, or outright misquoted. The need to be the first site with a link or a piece of information leads to people jumping the gun or, in some cases, outright ignoring the truth. Satire articles posted on websites like The Onion or The National Report get shared on Facebook and Twitter. Their incredible sounding headlines are attractive and pull people in. These articles then get shared and the misinformation spreads(5).

One of the most significant social media sites, Facebook, has recognized this problem and is attempting to create algorithms and other items that will sort out click bait articles, but it’s tricky going. Take, for instance, the Ebola outbreak that is occurring. This article sums things up nicely. And, while it is nice that sites like Snopes.com have risen up to combat this, they are fighting a war against an enemy that does not stop, does not get tired, and does not get any smaller regardless of how many of its minions it takes down. It is extremely easy to set up a website and make it look like a professional source of information.

What, then, does this have to do with Gamers and gaming in general. In short, it has lead to the war of Gamergate and the continuing evolution of the media landscape regarding gaming. In particular, the role of the female character and whether or not it is good for young females to observe (or play as in relatively rare instances) in their development for society and the world at large.

So, we’ll examine the issue of online journalism and it’s rush, a bit about females in gaming, and then look at some solutions that I see. Hope it’ll be fun! 🙂

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1 -Please keep in mind – I am well aware of the difficulty in generating content through major news channels and in getting in to those coveted spots; similarly I am well aware that these major news networks have their own agendas and requirements.

2- I know, I am dreaming.

3 – Sasseen, Jane, Kenny Olmstead, and Amy Mitchell. “As Mobile Grows Rapidly, the Pressure on News Intensify. Pew Research Center. Web. 24 Oct. 2014. <http://stateofthemedia.org/2013/digital-as-mobile-grows-rapidly-the-pressures-on-news-intensify/&gt;.

4 – Moressey, Brian. “These Guys Hate Clickbait, so They Did Something That Will Blow Your Mind.” Digiday. 14 Jan. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014. <http://digiday.com/publishers/clickbait-headlines-against-humanity/&gt;.

5 – Bilton, Ricardo. Thanks to social media, fake news draws real audiences. http://digiday.com/publishers/fake-news-site-national-report-public-service/ . Last retrieve October 24th, 2014.

Some Struggles….

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I’ve never made it a secret that I am a teacher.

At the moment, however, there are troubles that I see brewing. One of the big ones that I run in to, and not only with my students but with others as well, is the inability to translate thoughts in to words. As an example, I have a student that is supposed to write a compare and contrast essay on advertisements. The prompt tells him to examine them for several items including overall effectiveness, use of imagery, and the message contained in each.

The trick is, when I sat down to work with him 1-on-1, he couldn’t translate himself. The words were in his head – I would catch them as he thought out loud, but they couldn’t get from his brain to his keyboard. I run in to this a lot.

It’s a struggle for me because I don’t, generally, have that problem. If anything I rant or go on tangents too easily (you can confirm this with my wife anytime. She’ll be happy to tell you that I get distracted easily) and can’t stop working my words in to sentences.

I’ve tried a number of techniques to mixed effect, but I cannot imagine how frustrating it is for the student. He keeps working hard and trying, but I know he’s not happy with having to write the essay. I want to help more, but that will often devolve in to more of my writing and less of his. That’s not fair to him: it removes responsibility and makes it so that his words are being ignored or I am making it too easy for him (something I struggle with anyway in my eagerness to help). So I back off and let him struggle, but it is a struggle for me not to jump in.

Just one of my thoughts as I try to get back to my Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule of posting.

Working on my review for Friday. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

Book Review – The Third Kingdom (and some on Terry Goodkind)

So, I’m getting back on the horse.

The summer is over and I can finally sit down and write again! YAY! I’ll be watching for more challenges and really working on my book over at Scrib. I’m going to get this sucker done.

But that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here for a Book Review. I normally don’t do ‘full on’ New York Times style authors, but I wanted to do something on The Third Kingdom because I really liked the Sword of Truth books. I like them enough that my mother got me a signed copy of ‘Faith of the Fallen’ (my favorite in the series). There was a LOT of fun and adventure in the series. I may even have named my daughter after Kahlan.

Terry Goodkind finished the Sword of Truth series with Confessor. I really did enjoy the series and had fun reading it. There were some slow parts, but I made it through the Wheel of Time, so that’s not really a major issue.

However, after reading The Third Kingdom, it is clear that Goodkind is tired of writing Richard and Kahlan.

The series has always had a certain amount of violence and direct confrontation about the action and reaction of suffering, pain, and emotional trauma. I expect that in a Sword of Truth novel. But now? As I read what happens, it feels like Goodkind just isn’t happy with being stuck in this world anymore. Given his devotion to the ideas of freedom and choice, I can’t help but think that he is beginning to resent writing more and more about these two characters.

I’m not saying the novel isn’t good. It’s as well written as any of the other other Goodkind novels I have read (and much better than Pillars of Creation in my opinion). The villain is interesting, the introduced characters have talents and quirks that add some depth to the world of the Sword of Truth. I liked the plot – Spoiler alert: Not quite Zombies are present – and the action, like all of Goodkind’s books, comes at an excellent pace. The fighting is vividly described and fun to read as it whirls around.

But Goodkind comes accross as tired and resentful. Maybe I am reading too much in to it, but it feels that way every time he is forced to address Richard and Kahlan. Since Richard is the main protagonist, this happens fairly often. I like the series, but I don’t like the tone of this novel. I’ve got a copy of Severed Souls here to check out, but I’m going to go through some other works first to clear my head and see if I’m reading to much in to The Third Kingdom. I guess we’ll see.

Writing: 5/5
Characterization: 4/5
Plot: 5/5
Flow: 3.5/5
Value: 5/5
Total rating: 4.5 / 5

Fixing Future’s End

So, last week I posted my problems with Future’s End and what DC is doing in New 52. I also posted that I would do some research and then ‘fix’ the problem DC is having. In summation, the problem I want to fix is their need for these gore filled, ghastly images of heroes getting hacked to pieces and disintegrated in order to sell books.
The-New-52-Futures-End-full

So, the plot itself is good and interesting:

The future of New 52 is at risk when Brother Eye, the rogue satellite built by Batman, returns to take over and control the New 52 universe. Now capable of assimilating and controlling all superheroes, Batman decides on a desperate gambit – to travel to the past and prevent Brother Eye from being built(1) in the first place. Unfortunately, Brother Eye finds out about the plan and decides to stop Bruce. Now Terry McGuinnes, Batman Beyond, is sent in his place to the past to prevent the terrible future from occurring.

That’s an exciting premise and one I would read – I’m a big Batman Beyond fan. The images (see my previous post about it) in the comic, however, are a big turn off. I don’t need to see Captain Cold getting his arms chopped off or John Stewart’s head getting put on a cybernetic giraffe neck to be engaged by that story. It’s not necessary. It’s very Game of Thrones, but not everything has to be Game of Thrones and, to be honest, they already have the elements within DC to solve this problem.

Take a look at these:

84818_DC_con_icnChar_OMAC_head_color137906OMAC_Prime_001

These are OMAC’s. OMAC’s are what Brother Eye is using to defeat the superheroes, and they ALREADY do what DC wants – they take over a host, cover them in control mechanisms, and fight super heroes. Yes, it’s creepy to see Cyborg’d Wonder Woman and Superman, but you don’t have to make it as Gorey. It would be just as bad to see this:

OMAC Superman
As this:
untitled

OMAC’s are already known to be bad – that Superman has been turned in to one emphasizes the desperation of the situation. Heck, the Brother Eye headband that he and all of the other heroes (well, except for Hawkman – he doesn’t get the benefit of a head) that denotes their transformation is enough. We know it’s bad, but we don’t need the gore and glut that are present in the images.

You’re better than this DC. You’ve done such things in the past -when Superman died, we didn’t need his broken, mutilated body to know he was defeated.
Deathofsuperman

Yeah, his costumes destroyed and he’s bleeding, but he’s not mutilated. We don’t have the grotesqueness that is Flash or John Stewart present. Superman is dead and he’s broken. We know it from the comic and from the reactions of Lois Lane. We know it’s bad because of what we just saw him fighting. We know he’s gone because he can barely speak and he is losing consciousness. We don’t need to see his head on a pike to know he’s dead – he’s dead because he collapses in the next panel and Lois Lane cries.

Somewhere along the way, dying has become a fascination for our pulp depictions. Realistic has become synonymous with gore, blood, and broken bones. George R.R. Martin uses it to make his deaths more impactful and senseless. For him it works and I can’t deny that it sells – ask HBO and his publisher.
GoThrones

But we don’t need that. The Harry Potter novels had many deaths and movies – and they meant something. I get that the message here from Batman in the #0 is that these deaths don’t mean anything – they’re just going to be reset – but you’re throwing away a bunch of heroes and their lives pointlessly and grossly. If they’re going to die anyway, why make it frightening to the reader? It doesn’t make you look more mature than Marvel and it certainly isn’t going to outsell them with a bloodbath. It just looks stupid and scares away new possible readers.

Sorry DC – smarter choices, please.

The Power, and Surrender, of Love

What I find interesting, especially in United States culture, is our obsession with Power. Anything that might take Power away from a person, individual, or business, is frowned upon. This has always, to some extent, been true within the United States, but in recent years and political events I think the obsession with power (under the mask of freedom and rights) has gotten more extensive and more combative.

How, then, is this titled the Power of Love? Simply put, love is one of those things that involves surrendering power – at least in my opinion. To love someone is to surrender yourself and become equal with them – having no more power than they have. This can be tremendously difficult in real life – the United States culture is built around individual power and surrendering that power is not something we do easily or readily. I would argue that this self-same culture of power is one of the primary driving forces behind our 50% divorce rate AND our reluctance to allow non-traditional marriages to be recognized by the states (let alone the church). Each time we change a law to allow more freedom someone has to give up some amount of power and that is something that the U.S. culture is reluctant to do.

But that’s just some political ranting. My apologies. Let’s get back to how this relates to writing and storytelling.

Love is a tricky thing to write . For one thing, we have this cultural perception (again, speaking from a U.S. standpoint) that love is somehow a female problem. Men don’t have to deal with the difficulties of love in most of our entertainment. It is also one of the most potent weapons in the female arsenal and, until recently, was the primary weapon available in most of our media entertainment females.

So, while there was a variety of ways for male characters to conquer their foes, female ones had pretty much a single option. It may have taken on many forms – sex, marriage, cute eye assault to name a few – it all came down to one basic power. This left female characters with a very shallow move pool which made it hard to have interesting female protagonists. Yes, there are exceptions to that rule, but that is what they are – exceptions.

The why of this, I would think, is the most fascinating part. Why would we purposely have ‘weak’ female characters. Other than the oft-cited (and proven) desire to keep women ‘in their place’, what does this acknowledge about U.S. culture?

It acknowledges our fear of surrender and equality. We don’t want equally strong female protagonists because that would mean acknowledging them as equally valuable and capable – something the primarily male-driven U.S. culture refuses to do. We don’t want to surrender, because that would mean acknowledging that we were defeated; that we were wrong. There are very few that are willing to do that.

Our characters, though, have to. The truly epic romances and relationships of fiction involve characters of equality coming together. But that is incredibly hard to write. I’ve been trying to make it work in my novel, but it’s darn hard – there’s no reason for these two characters to be equal except that they fell in love. And they did – I can feel it when I write it. But how to make that work and come out eludes me.

Just some thoughts! 🙂