Cinder

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Novel * Marissa Meyer * Sci-Fi Fairy Tale * 2012

Synopsis

Having a good idea seems like a difficult task. Everything’s been done, right? Yet, if you have one, it feels great, like you’ve won the hardest battle. As someone who has struggled to make it from idea to finished product, let me tell what might seem obvious: the idea is the easy part. Not only do you have to commit to putting the work in, you also have to be good at your job. The idea of Cinder is not terribly original, and that’s not a knock against the book in the least. The idea is basically “what if fairy tales, but science fiction?” I mean yeah, without any kind of context, that’s an idea which resonates. Fairy tales have been around for centuries, constantly evolving and changing to suit both the time and the culture, so it’s a natural move to build a narrative around these old stories. The nice thing about fairy tales is that they’re extremely malleable. Seriously, just compare the horrifying old German stories with the Disney princess musicals for a stark example of how the same essential story can come across as completely different. Fairy tales are simply stripped down tropes which can be interchanged in whatever narrative you want to tell. So making sci-fi Cinderella is a natural move. Someone was going to try and make that happen eventually, you know?

Using the framework of a universally familiar story is tricky, because you’re setting yourself up to disappoint fans of the original work. What’s nice about fairy tales is that there’s no “original” to worry about. It’s not like adapting Romeo and Juliet or something, in which there’s an actual, definitive text. Of course, that puts the onus on the writer to fill in the gaps. In the instance of Cinder, Marissa Meyer goes for it. The novel is set in the far-future, in a near-united global society which has re-formed after a fourth world war. The major political superpower is no longer located on Earth, and is instead a society of people on the moon known as the Lunars. Speaking of superpowers, the Lunars have them. They have creepy mind-powers which they can use to manipulate Earthens into seeing whatever it is they want them to see or forcing them to do whatever it is they want them to do. Since they can essentially control people, they’re an obvious threat. The overarching storyline is the tension between Earth and the Moon, represented by Prince Kai of the Eastern Commonwealth and Queen Levana of the Lunars. One way or the other, Levana has designs on world domination. Her preference is to marry Prince Kai in order to unite the realms, but she’s certainly not averse to starting a war she would probably win to gain control over the Earth governments.

Our protagonist, Cinder, doesn’t really have much to do with any of that. Well, not at first. Cinder is a damn delight, which is a relief when it comes to young adult fiction. She’s a cyborg mechanic, in which she is a cyborg and also works on machinery. Since she’s cyborg Cinderella, she has an evil stepmother and a horrible stepsister. Meyer mixes it up a little bit, though, since the other sister, Peony, is a nice person. Meanwhile, over the first part of the novel, we learn a bit about the world. Turns out that cyborgs are second-class citizens. Not only are they shamelessly discriminated against, but the government is actively murdering them. This isn’t a dystopian novel, really, so allow me to explain. There is a mysterious plague rampaging throughout the world. Nobody really knows what it is, but it’s very contagious and extremely lethal. When somebody comes down with letumosis, they’re instantly quarantined and shipped off to what is essentially a death center. In an effort to facilitate a cure or vaccine, the government has instituted a cyborg draft, in which cyborgs are unwillingly brought to the capital to be experimented on. They pretty much all die. That’s fucked up!

If you’re familiar with the rough outline of the Cinderella story, you have a general sense of how the narrative goes. Before too much time goes by, Cinder meets Kai, the Prince. He’s very handsome and they have rapport. Of course. And there’s a ball. So the elements of the fairy tale are all present, but Meyers is deft enough in her world-building and her characterization that the fairy tale elements are almost an afterthought. It’s a good thing. And again, I really can’t stress this enough, Cinder herself is a great character, which is tough to do with a teenage protagonist because teenagers are the worst. I’m not saying that Cinder is without flaws. It’s just that those flaws are not obnoxious. She doesn’t pine over boys, she’s just kind of baffled by her own feelings. She doesn’t mope around and feel sorry for herself, she commits to action, even when that action is a terrible idea. I don’t know, it’s just a refreshing change of pace. Cinder’s a tough kid with a heart of gold, I guess. Anyway, let’s get into specifics.

Discussion

Oh, snap. This is a popular YA novel which means, aw yeah, publisher-approved discussion questions! These are the best. All books should have these.

  1. What parallels can you draw between Cinder and the Cinderella fairy tale? What is the symbolism behind the glass slipper, the pumpkin carriage, the ball? Is there a fairy godmother in Cinder, and if so, who is it?

Oh, come on guys, I just wrote a bunch of words which suggest that the framework isn’t actually that important or interesting and here you are trying to make the fairy tale elements all concrete and obvious. I will say that I appreciate Cinder’s actual robot foot acting as a slipper analogue. Cinder’s messed-up car was clearly functioning as a pumpkin vehicle, although it works better since it demonstrates actual facets of Cinder’s character. Instead of just taking off, as she had every right to do, she is overwhelmed by conscience and drives her busted up hooptie to the palace to try and save Prince Kai. Oh, and the fairy godmother is the sociopathic doctor, right? Fuck that guy.

  1. What does it mean to be human? Is it primarily physiological? Cultural? Emotional? What do you think could have led to cyborgs being perceived as less than human in Cinder’s world?

Jesus, that’s quite a leap! The first question is as basic as it gets, but whatever, here’s a question that’s at the root of all the world’s philosophical thought for the last 6,000 years or so. What does it mean to be human, you’ve got to be kidding me. I dunno man, sci-fi writers are split on this question. I feel like half the stories I encounter which deal with augmented humans are worried about this kind of discrimination while the other half seems to think cyborgs are destined to rule the world. In the context of Cinder, it seems like the discrimination comes from how the cyborgs come to be in the first place. In this world, the only reason you’re part machine is if you suffered a catastrophic accident. Therefore your very existence is unnatural, and that creeps people out. I don’t know, humans are kind of the worst.

  1. Cinder can do all kinds of dope shit with her cyborg powers, what kinds of rad augments do you want? (I may have paraphrased here.)

I like Cinder’s lie detector eyeball, actually. I’m bad at reading people so that would be handy. Actually, anything which would help me out in social situations would be great. Also, I don’t know, rocket feet or some shit.

  1. In Cinder’s future, Earth has been conglomerated into six countries who have formed an alliance called the Earthen Union. There’s lots of cultural osmosis. How do you foresee cultures changing (or not) as a result of the increased communication and travel we have access to today. (I abridged this as well, since boy these are wordy)

Cinder’s world is in no way a glittering utopia, but at the same time it is flirting with the unified-Earth model demonstrated by Star Trek. And yes, technology has a prominent role in bringing this unification about. However, there is a key ingredient in both instances that is overlooked by this question. It’s mentioned several times throughout the book that the current political structure of the Earthen Union came about after a cataclysmic war. Likewise, the Federation in Star Trek only came about after a nuclear war nearly wiped out the species. Basically, an apocalyptic event is needed to destroy the old structures before a new society can be constructed. You see this in world history, of course, although usually the apocalyptic event doesn’t need to be so violent or destructive. That said, it often is, and the most destructive event in the history of humanity, World War II, led to a vastly new world paradigm. As we’ve seen, though, the new world order still comes about in the guise of what came before, sometimes with disastrous results. Culturally, the change is more insidious, and there’s already plenty of local pushback against the “Americanization” of culture found around the world. Still, it’s an uphill battle. Game of Thrones and hip hop are dope as hell, after all.

  1. Was it right for Cinder to try to deliver the antidote to Peony first, even though there were others who also needed it? Was it right for Dr. Erland to offer her first access to the antidote? What would you have done in either situation?

So, in a big way, the cyborg-draft situation undermines the moral authority of the Eastern Commonwealth. I know we’re supposed to rooting for them against the almost comically evil Lunars, but this thing is still sitting here, demanding that we deal with it. Cinder has first-hand experience with the ruthlessness of the draft. She only lives because they could not kill her. Now, when it comes to pass that Cinder is in a position to help them out, she has every goddamn right in the world to get something for herself. In other words, she has a right to be selfish. That said, if you want to be completely pure about it, no, Cinder was wrong. Everything else aside, ethics demand that we sacrifice our individual needs for the needs of the social group. And yet humans aren’t well-equipped to consider much beyond our immediate circle. Peony was the only person who was ever kind to Cinder, and therefore Cinder did her best to do right by her. It may not have been the saintly thing to do, but it was the human thing to do. Dr. Erland, on the other hand, is an unethical monster, so who the fuck cares what he thinks? But giving her first crack at a cure is the least he could do, so good on him I guess, despite the fact that he only agreed to the arrangement because he had something to gain from it.

Well that was fun. There’s a bunch more but I guess I’m just not up to discussing the philosophy of the concept of beauty today. Who said YA was shallow, huh?

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Posted in Books, Plague, Post Human | Leave a comment

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

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Film * Stanley Kubrick * Peace Is Our Profession * 1964

Synopsis

Well, here’s yet another edition in the infinite series entitled Movies Matt Has Never Seen for No Good Reason. And so here I am again, having just watched a classic movie that everyone loves, wondering how in the hell to talk about it. “Hey, yo, check out this movie that’s one of the best films made by one of the most iconic filmmakers of all time! It’s real good!” Like yeah, of course it is, idiot, what are you even doing with your life? I mean, good question, but one which is beside the point. Dr. Strangelove is new to me, and therefore I’m going to be enthusiastic. For some reason, when I think about any movie made before like, Blazing Saddles, I’m genuinely surprised when they’re funny. And that’s absurd. Especially considering I’m into Modernism and will cite Evelyn Waugh and Antia Loos as examples of comedic literature, both of which predate this film by thirty or more years. Yet there’s something about this movie which has a modern feel to it. Chalk it up to Kubrick being ahead of his time, I guess. There’s a subtlety to some of the writing which can get buried by some of the broader strokes, I think, and maybe that’s what I’m thinking of. Or maybe it’s because this movie becomes suddenly relevant whenever Republicans are in office.

If you’re like me and have for whatever reason avoided watching this here movie, I will attempt a brief summary. This is very much a Cold War movie, and although the themes and attitudes of the characters are universal, the setting and plot are very much a relic of the 1950’s and 60’s. As such, it helps to have a cursory understanding of what the world looked like back then. Once upon a time, there were two world superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. Both powers had large nuclear stockpiles ready to launch at each other. However, either side was kept at bay for fear of retaliation, which is usually known as mutually assured destruction. Dr. Strangelove is a comedy of errors which poses the question: what if a bunch of dummies actually control this process? The story follows a series of ridiculous, silly characters who attempt and fail to prevent global annihilation. Look, I’m not going to take too much care to avoid spoilers for a 54 year old movie, sorry. Besides, that’s not really the point of Dr. Strangelove. While the movie takes the rough structure of a political thriller, that’s only to bolster the absurdity of all these goofs and the constantly devolving situation the film is presenting.

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He’ll see the big board!

Here’s why you should watch Dr. Strangelove if you haven’t, and why you should watch it again if it’s been awhile. Watch it for Peter Sellers knocking it the fuck out in three different and wonderful comedic roles. His turn as the President is probably the high point of the film for me, or rather, it would be if it wasn’t for George C. Scott as General Buck Turgidson, which I think we can all agree is a perfect name. Having only really known Scott from the times my old man forced me to watch Patton, his performance in Dr. Strangelove came as something of a surprise, as in, this guy has a sense of humor? Who knew! And yet here he is, riding a fine line between being a ham and being understated, all the while delivering great lines. My favorite: “Sir, you can’t let him in here. He’ll see everything. He’ll see the big board!” Also: “Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.” Meanwhile, Dr. Strangelove is also ahead of the curve when it comes to making fun of fluoride conspiracy theorists, so you can’t go wrong, really.

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Obligatory.

Discussion

By the time I was old enough to be politically aware, and especially by the time I was well-read enough to have an actual sense of what was happening in the world, the Cold War was over. The Berlin Wall fell when I was ten. I remember seeing it on TV and not really having a keen sense of what all the people running around being super stoked about knocking a wall over really meant. I’m sure it came up in class, but we’re all still in elementary school and honestly tetherball was more important to me at the time. Probably the most relevant thing to me about the abrupt dissolution of the Soviet Union was the fact that all the maps changed and kids were bummed about having to figure out what a “Ukraine” was. Later on, what with all the fancy-man schoolin’ and all, I went back and ended up taking an interest in the nuclear policies of the time. As noted in the film, we had bombers in the air 24 hours of the day, loaded up with nukes in case the Reds tried something. Of course we eventually developed the intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear-warhead equipped submarines in addition to the planes which combined constitute that thing our president didn’t know existed, the nuclear triad.

Oh, we still do all that, by the way. Technologically speaking, the twentieth century was the fastest moving hundred years in human history. We went from riding horses around at the turn of the century to machine-gunning millions of people to death in about fifteen years. Not too much longer than that we developed a technology that could very well exterminate the species. Even now, with our post-Cold War reduced arsenals, we’re sitting on enough ordinance to extinguish most life on the planet. Worldwide destruction aside, that’s an astounding technological achievement! Way beyond what we as a species could realistically deal with rationally, considering the ability to blow it all up came about within half a human lifetime. We had to come up with entirely new governmental infrastructures just to begin to handle what we created with nuclear weapons, and it’s no wonder we were entirely too free and easy with them early on. And if you think that maybe we were a little reckless with them, well obviously. Before we even realize what had happened, we found ourselves in a desperate race with a powerful rival just to keep up, because to be outgunned was to be at risk of being taken over. So the bombs got bigger and the technology got scarier, and the entire world was dependent on hope. Hope that the people in charge, the ones making possibly world-ending decisions, were sane and stable.

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This is all totally normal, take it from Peter Sellers.

The situation was, and is, frankly absurd. That’s all Dr. Strangelove is saying, and it was made at a time that was fresh off the Cuban Missile Crisis when it just about popped off for real. And how stupid would that be? How psychotically paranoid do you have to be to be willing to risk the entire human race over some politically ideology? The best we ever came up with to deal with the situation – which to be clear is two large groups of people with different ideas of how to organize society – is mutually assured destruction, which is exactly what it sounds like. Like the only thing keeping one side from straight up murdering hundreds of millions of people was the thought of maybe also being blown up in the process. And for some people? Well maybe it was worth it just to rid the world of the dang Commies. All Dr. Strangelove was asking, in between comedy bits, was “how far-fetched is this?” How hard is it to imagine decision-makers being motivated by sheer certainty, acute paranoia, and a self-righteous, monumental ego? In retrospect, I’m not so sure Dr. Strangelove is a comedy at all.

Posted in Film, Government, Nuclear | Leave a comment

Cathedral

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Short Stories * Raymond Carver * Caucasian Ennui * 1981

Synopsis

Have you ever taken a creative writing class? If you’re here I’d say the chances are about even that you have. If not, they’re pretty much what you’d expect. There’s a group of liberal arts students sitting in a circle sharing their writing with each other. Depending on the class, you’re typically sharing short writing exercises (generally derived from a writing prompt so everyone is exploring a similar idea) before writing a proper short story to share with the class. You then read these stories out loud to the class and everyone judges you. Sometimes you swap with other classmates and do a critique for them, and then you do a rewrite and come back and see if it’s better. Sometimes that critique is helpful, sometimes it’s not. The talent level is all over the place, as you might expect, and it’s rough to sit there with a really enthusiastic, exceptionally terrible writer. Especially when they’ve never been given criticism before. Anyway, this is all rather beside the point. I bring it up because when it comes to the kind of stories being read in class, they all tend to hew to a few groups. You’ve got your aspiring genre writers, the super-serious stories about feelings and stuff, the weirdos (that would be me), and then the austere, slice-of-life stories. This latter group are the ones (whether purposely or unconsciously) trying to write like Raymond Carver.

Cathedral is a collection of short stories about various disaffected Americans doing things. Most of the things these people do is fairly unremarkable. Most of the people are unremarkable. In fact, if you really want to get into it, Carver’s actual writing style borders on unremarkable as well, in that it’s stripped-down and Hemingway-esque. And yet, and I’m still trying to figure out what kind of black magic fuckery is afoot here, all of these stories are in one way or another fairly remarkable. I’ll hasten to add that, personally, none of the stories within this collection really blew me away. There was no moment where I put the book down because I was just so dang impressed with it. Carver is the kind of writer, however, that has a following of readers who react to him in such a way. It’s possible that you could read one of these stories and be moved. I see that potential even if I didn’t feel that way. I absolutely appreciate Carver’s craft, which while sparse is still ridiculously well-honed. It is deceptively simple writing, which is why I imagine that it appeals to aspiring writers so much. It’s easy to read one of these stories and think, “yo, I know people like this and I know all these words, easy peasy.” Well, maybe not so much.

The stories within Cathedral are not necessarily bleak, and the characters are not necessarily fundamentally broken. I can only think of one story which borders on being emotionally manipulative. In fact, a majority of the stories have some element of redemptive humanity within them. This is not a Denis Johnson situation where everyone is terminally fucked up and doomed to a sad, wet death. Yet the bright moments, the redemptive moments, the moments of small human gestures, never feel saccharine or obvious. They just kind of are. There are a few alcoholics in these stories, but their problem never dominates their humanity. There are bad husbands and fairly racist jerks as well (using the word “spade” instead of the n-word does not make it less gross), but again these issues never seem like they’re at the forefront. Carver doesn’t revel in their deficiencies. That said, there is an emptiness that pervades these pages. A sense of a greater social and cultural disconnect is at the forefront, which the sparse prose accentuates. It’s a very post-modern kind of feeling, even if the text itself is styled heavily after one of the more famous American Modernists.

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While I like the cover on my edition (above), the cover of the translated edition is cool too. Although, where are the roots? OH. THEMATIC INTENT.

Discussion

The stories of Cathedral are not connected by a single character or loose plot elements, nor is there any particular overt thematic message which resonates throughout the book. There’s an austere atmosphere which pervades the collection, however, and while the connective tissue isn’t necessarily concrete, most of the stories feel the same. The first story, “Feathers,” is about a man taking his wife, Fran, to a dinner given by a work friend, Bud, and his wife. That’s pretty much it. It’s as awkward as such situations are in real life, stiff at first but as the evening progresses the characters relax and go with it. What gives the story life is a smattering of strange details, something which Carver has mastered. In a short story, you don’t have much time to make an impression. If you want to speak to the fragility of human relationships, you’re limited in your approach. In this story, you’ve got a free-range peacock who comes it the house because Bud’s wife loves it. In addition to the bird, there’s also a plaster cast of her gnarly teeth. Finally, they have an extremely ugly baby. And yet they make it work to the point where they inspire the childless couple to change their mind regarding having a family. Almost as a footnote, the narrator states that their relationship failed. Probably they should have got a peacock.

“Feathers” reads as a mildly amusing anecdote with a sad ending. It’s never comfortable, but there is a clear understanding that these are actual Americans doing their best. Other stories here have a similar vibe. “Careful” is about an alcoholic who separates from his wife in order to attempt to get his shit together. He drinks cheap sparkling wine instead of hard liquor because he is lying to himself. Having once had a job where I sold booze to plenty of alcoholics, this poor bastard’s situation resonated with me. I had more than one regular customer who was a practicing champagne alcoholic (three bottles of pink Andre sparkling wine a day for one, a case of Cook’s Brut every three days for another), and if anything, “Careful” was a window into the mindset behind the practice. Yet the focus of the story isn’t Lloyd’s battle with his demons, at least not directly. Instead, it’s about a moment with his wife, who is in the process of becoming estranged, and some onerous earwax. Lloyd’s more serious problems take a backseat to the more pressing matter of cleaning his damn ears, but this brief moment of mundane connection rings hollow by the end. Again, sad but not unbearably so.

Most of the stories here have a similar feel. There’s “A Good, Small Thing,” which is as close as Carver gets to smarmy, and that’s because the subject matter is a dying child and it’s hard to really bring that kind of thing up without feeling a bit emotionally exploitative. My favorite might be “Fever,” which is about a man whose wife abandoned him and their kids because she’s a hippie dipshit. Again, not much happens but it seems like the guy got his life together, so that was nice. The collection ends with “Cathedral,” which is about a dude getting over his prejudice against blind people by smoking some weed and watching documentaries. Most of the stories within Cathedral are like this. There’s a positive bent to most of them, but it’s a small kind of good. This is the post-modern America of the late 70’s and early 80’s, in which the perception of an innocent America full of promise has been thoroughly dispelled. What’s left is a country populated by the kind of people you’d find in a Raymond Carver story. There’s not much to do, not much to look forward to, and the only feeling outside of the usual grey nothing is the occasional glimmer of human interaction. Honestly, the stories are less dire than that last sentence sounds. Yet there is still an emptiness to the stories which are never fully redeemed by these small moments of connection, and that’s a tricky feat to pull off for a short story writer, which is probably why that guy wearing the scarf and the tweed jacket in your creative writing class isn’t pulling it off.

Posted in Books, Ennui, Post Modernity | Leave a comment

Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom

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Game * Level-5 * An Unrepentant Utopia * 2018

Synopsis

Sometimes, in an effort to not go completely insane, we need to imagine a world which is not a chaotic horrorshow. A world in which people do the right thing because the simple pleasure of helping someone out is greater than short-term, selfish gain. A world in which even if you mess up, or do something that hurts someone else, forgiveness is still possible. A world where justice isn’t merely a means to revenge. A world in which people realize that communities are stronger when they embrace a diverse group of people. A world in which violence is only used as a last resort, and only in an effort to restore a lasting peace. Clearly, this world does not exist and never will. It’s an overly earnest, utterly naïve ambition which ignores the entirety of human history. But man, wouldn’t it be nice? There’s nothing to be lost in embracing a few moments of fantasy when everything else is hot garbage. Even here, a blog pretty much dedicated to examining the worst possible futures and the most terrible human tendencies, it’s okay to just lose the self-protective cynicism and reckless nihilism every once in a while and bask in the glow of something like Ni No Kuni II.

This game, this beautiful, wonderful, joy of a game, is pretty much the world described above. While the story begins in a dark place, it doesn’t take long to rebound and start trumpeting the values of determination, forgiveness, justice, and inclusion. Ni No Kuni II actually begins with an apocalypse, which is weird but eventually fits into the overall positive theme of the game. The first scene is of The President, presumably of the United States or its analogue, being driven across a bridge. He looks out his window and sees a missile outpacing him. Before he gets to the end of the bridge, the missile hits the city he was headed toward, ka-boom. The President then blacks out and wakes up a younger man, in the room of a castle, being accosted by a boy with cat ears and a cape. Turns out catboy is a prince, but his kingdom is in upheaval. The President, Roland, quickly accesses the situation and discerns that the prince is being overthrown. It’s a coup, and Roland and Prince Evan have to escape because the usurper is out to kill him and take his throne.

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King Evan’s Cabinet and combat strike force. There’s a sky pirate and his daughter, the uptight royal advisor, the sassy mechanical engineer, and Roland. Oh, and the little spiky dude is your kingmaker. 

For a game I’ve introduced as being a lighthearted delight, it’s a dark opening. Here are some details which mitigate that darkness. First of all, the name of the kingdom is Ding Dong Dell. Secondly, you’re a catboy and your dad was a lion man. He died, and that’s sad, but he was overthrown by a bunch of mice-people with adorable little helmets. Third, this game is a beautifully animated, watercolor delight to look at. I played this thing for over 70 hours (and counting) and I’m not tired of looking at it. Finally, towards the end of the prologue, Evan is present when his childhood nursemaid/friend dies and he starts feeling revengey. Instead, he vows to uphold her memory by creating a new kingdom where everyone, and this is a mission statement repeated throughout the story, “can live happily ever after.” The entire rest of the game is young King Evan travelling the world with his inner circle trying to unite the various nations in a pact of nonaggression. As you travel around and meet people, the young king is also building his new kingdom, Evermore, with the citizens of the various nations. Evan does his recruiting by being understanding and helpful to the point of being a doormat. But really he’s just looking out for his constituents in the most direct way possible. Catboy is pretty cool.

Ni No Kuni II is an actual game as well. For the most part, the gameplay matches the overall breezy tone of the narrative, which absolutely works so long as you know what you’re getting into before you start playing. This is absolutely not a challenging game. You control one of a party of up to three characters in any given battle. The system is quick and fun, so if you’re worried about random battles or menu-based combat you can relax. You have three weapons on hand at any given time, as well as special moves and magic at your disposal. For a game this easy, there are a surprising amount of systems and quite a lot of customization happening. There’s a loot system, and a crafting system, and all kinds of other systems. In addition to the single-character action, there are also army battles and straight up kingdom building. There’s a lot, but it’s also all pretty intuitive and none of it is that essential. It’s all there if you want to engage, but if you just want to blast through the story that’s fine too. Ni No Kuni II isn’t here to tell you how to live your life. Most of the sidequests, which exist largely to populate your new kingdom with citizens, are unabashed fetch quests. Personally, I’m fine with that. I’m just here to exist in this world and enjoy the positive vibes that emanate endlessly from this world, which I’m happy to do even if that means traipsing around the smallish world looking for six chunks of fine-grained wood so a reluctant dog-man will join my kingdom. It’s all good.

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Somehow I forgot to mention the Higgleties? These little dudes run around and squeak things like “hig pig” while assisting you in combat. They’re great.

Discussion

Prince Evan is a kind-hearted young man who always has time for even the most seemingly pointless request of any of his citizens and everyone still respects him, which seems crazy but isn’t. He gives courageous speeches and instead of wilting when people make fun of his naiveté, he shames them into capitulation simply by being a good person. He commits to his earnestness. None of this is even remotely realistic, of course, but that’s what makes Ni No Kuni II so refreshing. It keeps the air of positivity and joy throughout the various story beats, despite dealing with actual, real-world issues. It’s just that instead of taking a realistic approach, Evan convinces everyone involved that by taking responsibility and acting right, everything will be okay. I mean, he solves labor issues and income inequality and racism all by being an idealistic young man with a strong sense of morality. Imagine every problem plaguing society getting solved in the best possible way and then everyone coming together to form a united, worldwide community that makes Star Trek look like a dystopian wasteland. That’s Ni No Kuni II. Allow me to get specific.

The overall structure of the game is following Evan and Roland as they attempt to found their nascent kingdom of Evermore by forging alliances with the various major kingdoms of the world. He’s got the idea of having all four of the world leaders to sign the Declaration of Interdependance and pledge an alliance to make a world where everyone can live happily ever after. I know, right? The problem is, every time Evan shows up in a new kingdom, their leader is busy being some kind of irrational asshole. That’s… probably the most realistic aspect of the game. Anyway, Evan does what he can to learn about the nation and their problems by talking to the various citizens and clearing out dungeons and whatnot. It’s not too long before we figure out that some jerkass is sidling up to these leaders and pulling an Iago on them, corrupting their better sensibilities by appealing to their base natures. In addition to this, the mysterious baddie is also corrupting the world’s kingmakers – giant fantastical monsters which bond to the world leaders. Evan has one too, a weird little cockney imp who is adorable. Anyway, Doloran (the mysterious baddie) corrupts the leaders and jacks their kingmakers and bounces.

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Evan does the rounds in Broadleaf, making sure everyone (including the robots) are doing okay in his precious new world order.

For me, the most fascinating kingdom in the game is that of Broadleaf. The first place you visit, Goldpaw, is a very Eastern Asian influenced city based on gambling. The second is an island city-state that is having serious problems with authoritarian laws and constant surveillance (by an enormously creepy eyeball atop a massive tentacle). Broadleaf, however, is like a fantasy Silicon Valley. And it’s weird. The leader of this nation, which is depicted as a technology company that got so big it turned into a nation, is an amalgamation of every tech CEO that comes to mind. His name is Zip, and his corruption is that he overworks his workforce chasing a pipe dream while also destroying the environment. An aspect of the world of Ni No Kuni II that gets kind of buried in all the other stuff is that there is a relationship with a parallel world that looks a lot like ours. That’s where Roland comes from, after all, even though it doesn’t get mentioned much. Anyway, Broadleaf and things they’re getting up is the clearest real world analogue in the game. Of course when Evan is finished, everything is great. Zip is then good to his workers and redoubles his effort to clean up the environment. As for the workers, they’re all super gung-ho about making the world a better place and connecting people of different backgrounds while bettering themselves in the process. This game, man.

If you’re looking for a story that’s going to surprise you, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. I’m not really going to talk too much about the ending, because if you’re paying attention to what kind of game Ni No Kuni II, it’s pretty clear that everyone is going to… wait for it… live happily ever after, even after experiencing loss. The game has no interest in pulling the rug out from under the player, you know? There’s a chapter about two-thirds of the way through the game which suggests that maybe Roland is a traitor who’s been playing young, gullible Evan the whole time. I bought that for maybe thirty seconds before realizing, no, that’s not at all what kind of game this is. And of course I was right. Ni No Kuni II is a game about the best of us. It tells a story where things go wrong and people commit to misguided and bad actions. Yet through cooperation and determination what goes wrong is made right, and through forgiveness and self-reflection, people are redeemed. It’s a beautiful sentiment and a beautiful world, which is why I’m happy to spend my time there. Sometimes it’s nice to pretend that such a place could possibly exist.

Posted in Games, Utopia | Leave a comment

BS at the VS: Right at Your Door

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Film * Chris Gorak * Sweaty Man Listens to Radio a Lot * 2006

Synopsis

Despite the fact that the idea behind this feature is to watch an assortment of middling films with the hopes of ferreting out interesting ideas regarding apocalyptic events, I’m still surprised how easy it is to make large scale destruction boring. Look, I understand that this film was made with a tiny budget. It’s hard to make a credible disaster film with no money! Financial limitations put on the production forces creativity and pushes the writer to explore smaller-scale situations within the larger-scale event. In the case of Right at Your Door, the big, apocalyptic event is a massive terrorist attack in Los Angeles. There’s a series of simultaneous explosions downtown and in nearby areas which are targeting morning rush hour traffic. Oh, and it gets worse, because these aren’t just your standard-ass terrorist car bombs. Nah, these are dirty bombs, and the explosions have ejected some kind of toxic substance all over the surrounding areas. The authorities are immediately overwhelmed and the city is put on lockdown while they try and figure out just what in the hell is going on. Everything is chaos, and everyone is panicked and confused.

Right at Your Door doesn’t have the budget to show you much of that, though. And that’s fine! The actual story the film is trying to tell is a small one, about a young, childless couple who get caught up in the chaos. Brad is an unemployed musician, and Lexi is his very employed partner. On the morning of the attack, Lexi goes to work and Brad hangs out. They have just moved into their house, which is a convenient way to rely on the radio for the vast majority of the exposition. And there is a lot of exposition. Since they just moved in, the cable guy hasn’t shown up, which is handy because now we don’t have to worry about a bunch of expensive fake-TV bits and/or actually seeing the chaos of the attack save from at a huge distance. Of course, even in 2006 people were starting to stray away from terrestrial radio, and the movie also figures out how to neutralize cell phones in order to ratchet up tension, but whatever, using budgetary tricks in storytelling shouldn’t be a big deal. And they wouldn’t be, if the story was better. I notice them because it isn’t.

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A story about a man and his beloved radio.

In order to pull this story off, certain things needed to happen. First and foremost, we need to be invested in the primary characters. Right at Your Door takes maybe ten minutes to give us any kind of background on the lives of these two people. In that time we learn nothing other than what I mentioned above. She’s employed, he’s not, and it’s pretty clear this aspect of their relationship was decided in order to separate the couple during the attack. Other than that, they’re just the most boring, generic white Angelino couple you’ve ever seen. Once the attack pops off, the movie then spends like twenty minutes following Brad around as he drives sweatily around his neighborhood looking for a way to circumvent roadblocks to go save Lexi. The entire time the radio is droning on and on, which I suppose is an attempt to add depth to the experience, but given that the film is going for realism, there’s very little actual information ever given. Obviously during a terror attack, especially on this scale, information is at a premium. It’s just that the film leans extremely heavily on the radio voices in order to compensate for the silent panic of Brad as he tries to figure out what to do. But it’s also the film trying to figure out what it should be doing as well. Are we going to talk about terrorism? Are we going to focus on relationships? Or the response of the emergency teams to the emergency? Right at Your Door flails around and tries to do all of that without the foundation of solid characters to properly ground the story. Oh, and to set up a dumb-ass twist which I will spoil after the break.

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Yo, I don’t usually include alternate movie posters, but holy hell what is happening here? Is L.A. being attacked by a giant jazz-hands monster? Because that movie sounds 8000% more interesting than this.

Discussion

Perhaps I missed it, considering the sheer volume of radio chatter presented in the movie, but I’m pretty sure we’re never given a motive for the terrorist attack depicted in Right at Your Door. That seems weird. I suppose if the intent was to focus on the immediate, on-the-ground situation of a massive attack like this, it might be assumed that the victims could give a shit who was responsible. However, it’s odd that the radio never speculates. After 9/11, it took no time at all to start wildly speculating about just what in the hell was happening. Also, it didn’t take long for al-Qaeda to take responsibility. This isn’t the movie’s worst sin, but it does feel like a cop out. If you’re going to tell a story about terrorism, that story is going to be inherently political. There’s a world outside of Los Angeles which should be represented by that nonstop radio chatter, but that chatter is often just as confused as the characters.

And these characters, hoo boy. They begin as a couple of blank nothings, which sounds mean but they really have no particular personalities to speak of. There’s nothing to latch onto, no reason to care. When Lexi shows up back at the house to find Brad has sealed if off to avoid contamination from the… chemicals? Biological agents? Whatever, the point is Lexi can’t come in because she’s covered in poison. She freaks out, and he freaks out back and blah blah blah. Throughout this whole ordeal, they never really resemble a couple with a strong bond. And yet, if the point was to underscore the fragility of human relationships, why not go all the way? Lexi rages about not being let in the house, even though she’s clearly a danger to the man she supposedly loves, but then calms down, but then tries to break in anyway, and then calms down again, and then leaves, and then comes back. Man, I don’t know. The setup is flimsy to begin with, and the writing is nowhere near good enough to bolster it. I understand that Right at Your Door is supposed to be about tough choices in a disaster, but it all just feels so hokey.

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You know, if you just show me this still shot of the movie, I’m in. Probably because it’s very Terminator 2.

Most of that is down to the ending, which is an obnoxious attempt at a Shyamalan twist and is just tbthhh. I checked out like an hour ago, there are no expectations left to subvert, my dude. We spend most of the movie with the expectation that Lexi is doomed to a slow, painful death while Brad watches, safe in his plastic bubble. But check this out, what if that time Lexi broke a window she let some doom-powder in the house and the whole time Brad’s been incubating the poison and he’s the one who’s going to die? Oooh, snap… I don’t care. That’s the overarching problem here. I’m straight up not interested in any of these people. The focus of the film is all over the damn place, as well. Ancillary characters pop up for no good reason, and leave before establishing themselves. Brad and Lexi clearly have relationship issues, but they’re never established in the first place, so when they crop up over the course of the story, they don’t matter. The ending doesn’t matter. The fate of Los Angeles never really comes up, either, so I guess the city doesn’t matter either. Which is fine, because well before I got to the end I had already figured out that Right at Your Door was wasting its premise as well as my time.

Posted in Disaster, Film, Terrorism | Leave a comment

Dogeaters

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Novel * Jessica Hagedorn * Postmodern Filipinos * 1990

Synopsis

Have you ever done the thing where you reread a book you remember fondly only to find out that it’s actually not that good? I remember reading Dogeaters about ten years ago in grad school. Half the class liked it, the other half did not. I was in the half that liked it. I remember liking it! It’s a quick moving novel about a culture that I’m not at all familiar with, so already that’s a plus. Now here we are ten years later, wait, hold on one second, I need to let this wave of bleak existential dread wash over me while I process the fact that grad school was a decade ago for me, ah god, time is a swamp y’all. Whew. Okay, what was I saying? Right, turns out Dogeaters is a middling novel. It’s fine. I don’t hate it, but I’ve definitely cooled on the book since I first read it. It’s a shame, because the setting is fantastic and these characters have a lot of potential. Sadly, that potential mostly remains just that.

Dogeaters is about the Philippines in the fifties. Well, time shifts around about over the course of the narrative, and the structure is so fragmented it’s hard to accurately pin down when things are happening, but I’m fairly confident the narrative seeps into the seventies, what with the disco references and all. Not unlike a similar novel I read recently, A Brief History of Seven Killings, this novel is about actual historical figures with some liberties taken. Also, as Seven Killings is a novel examining post-colonial Jamaica, Dogeaters is about post-colonial Philippines. If you want to keep the comparison going, both novels feature fragmented narratives from a wide assortment of disparate characters. The only problem with this comparison is that Dogeaters simply isn’t as good. It lacks the focus and depth of other works dealing with the complexities of colonialism and national identity. While I enjoy a quick moving novel, sometimes it’s worth slowing things down a little bit. This is a huge topic and Hagedorn breezes through it so quickly the reader can never really latch onto anything.

There are aspects of the novel that I enjoy, of course. These days if I actively dislike a book I don’t finish it. I see one and two star reviews on Goodreads and it’s like, who has the time to finish bad books? I will finish novels that I have mixed feelings about, though, and so it is with Dogeaters. The first chapter is brimming with promise. There’s a likable narrator, and a nostalgia-tinged look back at a childhood spent in the Philippines. From my perspective, reading books like this is shameless tourism. I know very little about the Philippines and reading is a crash course in a foreign culture. And if ever there was a place that was fundamentally and irrevocably changed by colonialism, it was the dang Philippines. It’s clear from the first few pages that there are a huge mish-mash of ethnicities, cultures, and languages present, all rubbing up against each other. There are massive influences by the Spanish, the Chinese, and the Americans, all of which blend in a dizzying, incomprehensible array of social status and political contrivances. And of course there is the underlying sense of Filipino-ness which is separate from all those things. When Hagedorn is on her game, the writing is fantastic. Unfortunately, this only shows up in fits and spurts.

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Also, not a fan of that critic’s quote up top there. Feels vaguely racist considering there aren’t really any “street boys” in the novel.

Discussion

The main problem here is the unwillingness of the narrative to stay in one place for more than five seconds. As I noted above, I was feeling the vibe the first chapter was laying down. It was an intimate look at an affluent Filipino’s household in the fifties, told from the perspective of an even-keeled young lady and her obnoxious, vain cousin. Then, as soon as I settled into the groove of the story and the writing, zoom, off we go to some other damn thing. Another character, another narrative. After a couple pages of that, zip, now it’s another character and yet another narrative. Sure, there’s some crossover, but it’s never deep enough to suggest much more than a tangible connection. The narrator of the first chapter, and possibly the book itself, even though she’s not the only first-person narrator, disappears for huge stretches of time. Most of these other people are not as fleshed out or as interesting as the first narrator, either. At least the book never spends very much time with any one particular viewpoint.

Look, this kind of storytelling can be made to work. There’s a lot of story to tell here, and a lot of potentially fascinating characters to follow around. The problem is we never spend enough time with any of them to get a real feeling of why we should care. Joey Sands, the orphaned, drug-addicted, part-time DJ/part-time whore, is a good example of this. He’s fairly engaging, he’s got a wit and cunning that’s fun to read. Sometimes he’s a little bitch and he’s clearly ignorant of the larger world, but he still has a valuable perspective to give us a street-level view of Manila. Yet as soon as we settle in to his voice and his story, woosh, off we go to some other fool that has little or nothing to do with anything else. It’s jarring. And yes, perhaps that’s intentional because post-modernism, but in this case the unsettled narrative does more to harm the novel than it does to enhance it. Zipping from viewpoint to viewpoint, possibly back and forth through time, only undermines any engagement the reader might be able to glean from the novel.

All that said, Dogeaters is still a fascinating window into a place and time that I will never experience first-hand. While the dizzying movement of the novel makes it all but impossible to connect with the characters or their stories in any meaningful way, it is an excellent vehicle to offer the reader an opportunity to shamelessly sample the sights and sounds of the Philippines of that time. There are sections of the book which are borderline impressionistic, just raw sensory input. Interspersed throughout are snippets of newspapers and scripts of radio dramas and other narrative-adjacent text which serve to accent the whirlwind of images throughout. And of course it’s not all good. One of the major players is an ascendant dictator, after all, and it’s not too long before repressive violence shows up and makes its threatening presence known. There is some jarring juxtaposition of scenes of torture and rape with scenes of idyllic days spent drinking TruCola and gossiping. Yet because the same flitting, superficial style is used throughout, the darker elements of the novel simply don’t hit as hard as maybe they should. If there’s one constant within Dogeaters, it’s that the whole thing feels like it should be better.

Posted in Books, Colonialism | Leave a comment

Adventure Time: Season Six (Part One)

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Television * Pendleton Ward * Things Get Weird…er * 2014

I got them other seasons, yo: Season 1 | Season 2 | Season 3 | Season 4 | Season 5 Part One | Season 5 Part 2

Oh, it’s been a while. These entries are so daunting because they require many, many words plus a lot of other prep work, not least of which is sifting through each episode for my favorite lines. Actually, the real issue is being worried to take care with what has become one of my most loved things. I’m constantly trying to not hyperbolize, and to not get annoyed when people are not as dazzled by this show as I am, and have been since I first saw the show somewhere around Season 3. Also, new episodes are somehow still airing? That those new episodes are still good is a testament to the quality of Adventure Time. Anyway, we’re not even close to that stuff yet. The other reason this entry has been so long in coming is that season 6 is probably the most divisive and uneven season in the entire series. Anecdotally, this seems to be the point where a lot of people jumped off the bandwagon, citing “I liked it when they just had adventures” in the face of the more lore-heavy episodes. Also, the overall arc of this season goes in some strange, mystical, pseudo-philosophical places.

Look, I get it, if you’re not into the vibe Adventure Time is laying down with the mystic diversions and whatnot, as this is the season most heavily inundated with that stuff. I would argue, however, that the heart of the show is still intact. The relationships between these characters continue to grow deeper and more nuanced, and probably the best through line of this season is Finn’s relationship with his father, and the traumatic emotional fallout caused by that situation. A character dealing with daddy issues is obviously nothing new, but the manner in which Adventure Time manages to balance those themes and the seriousness they convey with the bright, colorful, delightful whimsy of the world of Ooo is nothing short of genius. There I go with the hyperbole again. That said, I do have some issues with season 6 as a whole. It’s incredibly uneven, which is to be expected of a group of creatives pushing into new areas while some who helped found the feel of the show had left to do other things. The show is experimenting with story, and character, and animation, and everything that comprises Adventure Time as we know it. Not all of it works. Some of it is lights out. Season 6 has a handful of the very best episodes in the entire series, and a few episodes that I will probably never rewatch now that I’ve written about them. Luckily, the season starts off strong before serving up some of the weaker episodes.

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This season just gets right into it.

Wake Up

So season 5 ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, huh? We learned at the end of “Billy’s Bucket List” that Finn’s father is alive. Finn, an incredibly cheerful orphan, is understandably knocked for a loop when given this information. Season 6 picks up the same night, but with Jake at a party at Prismo’s place. Already the thematic intentions of the season are being stated. As great as Prismo is, he’s still a mystical being whose character is an outlet for the writers to indulge in their mystic weirdness. The party he’s hosting has the Cosmic Owl, Death, and Ooo’s four-sided deity Grob-Gob-Glob-Grod in attendance. Oh, and the Lich, Adventure Time’s most daunting villain. That’s all well and good, but Finn is going through some heavy biz, which makes all this other weirdness intriguing window dressing. It happens that Finn’s dad is in a place called The Citadel, which Prismo informs us is a place for nasty cosmic criminals. Ever the optimist, Finn assumes his dad runs the place. After all, he’s a goody-goody hero, it’s to be expected that it runs in the family. It’s pretty clear to the audience, however, that Finn’s dad is actually there for other, more obvious reasons. Meanwhile, for some reason, Primso seems pretty keen to help Finn out.

I’m still not sure what the plan is, here, because Prismo essentially has to die for Finn to get to the Citadel. If the initial plan were to work – in which Finn “kills” the wishmaster Prismo, a cosmic crime – Finn would be immediately imprisoned. Prismo would know that, right? Instead, the Lich wakes up and murks Prismo’s corporeal body for real, which seems to take Prismo by surprise. That doesn’t feel right, though, so I can only see this run of events as a long con by Prismo, that somehow he forsaw the Lich waking up and donking up the Citadel. It’s impossible to say if the eventual fate of the Lich was the intended result or not, but regardless this episode is followed up immediately, to the point where this may as well have been a single episode.

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Martin is a fun guy.

Escape from the Citadel

Poor Finn. He has so many conflicting emotions doing battle within himself over the entirety of this episode, it’s no wonder it takes him so long to start putting his adolescent life back together. Like, he just watched the horrific murder of a friend at the hands of the brutal force of darkness and destruction, and he’s still brimming with excitement to meet his father. Which he does, and it is definitely not what he expected. Finn’s dad, Martin, sucks. He sucks so much in this episode that it’s almost a parody of every deadbeat dad in existence. It’s almost too much of a caricature for Adventure Time, which I think they noticed later on and have since rectified, but here Martin is selfish to the point of sociopathy. Whereas at times Finn is selfless to the point of unbelievability (which was tempered nicely last season with his issues with Flame Princess), his father is barely interested in the existence of a son. Not only is Martin not interested in Finn’s reality, but also in his ability to track Martin down at the edge of space-time in some weird cosmic prison.

Nothing goes right, and all turns to chaos. Not only is his dad a dickhead, but the Lich is back and threatening all realities again. Actually, at the moment when the Lich arises and says “fall,” I’m guessing Finn is already in a bad place and is for the first time in his life considering just letting darkness reign. Of course, if he does it’s only a brief consideration. That hero’s heart compels him to take action, which he does, and saves the day. Of course he goes after his father, and of course his father runs away like a little bitch. Finn loses his arm, and it’s devastating seeing the poor kid lying there trying to absorb all the awfulness that just unfolded for him. It’s refreshing that there’s no quick cartoon fix for Finn’s problems, either. All this stuff sticks with him, as it should. Oh, before moving on, I would like to say that the art direction on this episode is neigh perfect. It’s all dark violet tones which sync up perfectly with the themes of the episode and the melancholy atmosphere.

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James II

After all that, we need a little respite. This episode, a follow-up to “James,” is light-hearted and goofy, the kind of episode that people who don’t care about lore will enjoy. Also people who like fun. Basically, the clone of James enjoyed the celebrity of being a hero so much, he has faked his own death 25 times. Princess Bubblegum discovers this, and hijinks ensue. Not a lot to talk about, it’s just a good time. Oh, and now whenever I meet someone by the name of James I can only think of the James character answering “James” with a weird half-laugh at the beginning when the banana guard asks him his name. It’s a good voice.

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It’s like a, like a, like a, really good episode.

The Tower

Okay, now that we’ve had that brief reprieve from Finn’s feelings, we’re back with an episode dedicated entirely to them. Nah, it’s okay, it’s actually really well done. Finn refuses to accept that losing an arm and finding out that his dad sucks is somehow traumatic. So he tries to go about his life as if nothing happened, and of course the barely contained rage and sadness bubble up anyway. “The Tower” is an episode about how to work those feelings out, and how it’s okay to feel like shit sometimes. In this instance, Finn discovers that his roiling internal feelings have manifested themselves into a weird psychic arm that turns Ooo into Minecraft. So he builds a tower into space, because that’s where his dad is, and Finn would like to tear his arm off. Like you do. Honestly, this is perfectly natural anger and aggression working themselves out in a weird, Adventure Timey way.

Meanwhile, down on the ground, Jake and Princess Bubblegum are arguing over how Finn is dealing with his trauma. Jake is of the opinion that what Finn is doing is healthy and natural, and is coming to terms with his feelings in his own way. PB, who is always the interventionist, believes that Finn is going too far. As for myself, I lean towards Jake’s point of view on this. However, PB basically saves Finn’s life, because it’s easy to go too far and become self-destructive (as we’ll see in a couple of episode with “Breezy”). Bubblegum also understands that a little catharsis will do Finn good, to the point of helping him understand that a desire for vengeance is natural but not helpful. Also, PB takes a punch for the team. As we’ll see going forward, PB is complicated and is starting to soften a bit. However, her default setting is “Princess Bubblegum knows best, fuckers,” and is generally not willing to wait around for people to catch up with her conclusions.

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LESS ARTSY MORE FARTSY

Sad Face

This episode is one of those situations where I can appreciate the sentiment but dislike the end product. I would imagine that any creative team feels stifled after a while, even on a show which seemingly has no creative limits. I’m honestly having a difficult time thinking of a show this successful that is also so completely original and strange, all the time. Still, the team is still beholden to a network, and this episode is a reaction toward pressure to be more conventional. It’s a metaphor episode, and it’s fairly obvious and heavy handed. Worse, it’s just not very good. When Jake is asleep, his tail comes to life and joins the bug circus as a sad clown. At first he’s a goof, but then he gets artsy and the fans hate it. He sticks to his creative guns despite not being profitable. There’s not a ton of dialogue, and what there is lacks the snappiness and wit one expects of an Adventure Time script. It’s cool the team was willing to take a shot at their audience and corporate overlords, but it does so in an uninspired and leaden way. It feels weird talking shit about an Adventure Time episode, so let’s move on.

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This picture makes the episode look more fun than it is. It’s like this but with more ennui.

Breezy

This might be the horniest episode of Adventure Time. Actually, no, it is absolutely the horniest episode of Adventure Time. Like, I might be wrong here, but it’s fairly clearly implied that Finn fucks Lumpy Space Princess. Perhaps that’s just my filthy, filthy mind at work, but the staging of that scene is highly suggestive. Anyway, Finn is still bummed. He’s moved past his all-encompassing desire for revenge, but now that righteous anger has been replaced with emptiness. Finn is not inclined toward the depressive end of the emotional spectrum, so he has little experience with feeling this way. As someone who has been fighting depression for most of his life, it’s curious to see a character attempt to deal with something that I take for granted for the first time. Since this is the theme of the episode, it’s naturally a bit of a bummer.

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Is there anything she can’t do? The answer is no. ❤

Yet Adventure Time doesn’t flinch from the difficulties of being a confused, fucked up teenager. Since this is still, somehow, ostensibly a show for kids, not much is made of Finn’s sexuality. Frankly, it’s off-putting, which is why this episode isn’t the easiest watch. In an attempt to feel something, Finn starts “making out” with random princesses. His idea of what constitutes “making out” is funny, since it usually means a brief, close-mouthed kiss and that’s it. Finn meets a large bee named Breezy, who desires the daisy growing out of Finn’s arm stump. The sadder Finn gets, the worse off the daisy gets. So Breezy helps Finn hook up with many princesses, which of course does nothing to fill the void. Eventually Finn runs into LSP, and boy I don’t know. I’ll give Finn the benefit of the doubt, considering his inexperience (and LSP’s for that matter, she talks a big game but we’ve seen in the past that she’s reticent to go too far), and assume he only got to like, second base. LSP has plenty of lumps, after all. Still, it’s upsetting, and you can feel Finn’s emptiness when he realizes what he just did. Poor Finn. Revenge didn’t work, and neither, apparently, do make-outs.

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Yo, I have no idea.

Food Chain

I don’t know what the hell this is about, but I respect them for going for it. I think it’s super cool that the Adventure Time team gives up an episode or two a season to guest animators, I really do. This one doesn’t really work for me, but I like that they do it.

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Pretty much sums up the entire episode.

Furniture and Meat

Season 6 is a land of contrasts. It has some of my very favorite, top-tier episodes. It has some that I straight up don’t like, which are rare to the point of uniqueness. And then it has episodes which seem to have perfected the very concept of mediocrity. “Furniture and Meat” is such an episode, because I have nothing negative to say about it, really, but it’s not one that I actively rewatch. I’m not quoting lines from it or cribbing fun phrases (wait, just reviewed my notes, I do use “ya dumbs” sometimes). The one noteworthy thing about this episode is the underlying politics of it. Between this and an episode we’ll get to shortly, “Ocarina,” it’s clear the Adventure Time team has something to say about late-stage capitalism. That message is “money corrupts,” basically. But then when Jake threatens Wildberry Princess’ autonomy with his finance-based power she goes full dictator, so I’m not actually sure what the final message is here. Don’t fuck with Wildberry Princess, I guess.

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My favorite part of the episode is LSP’s apprehensive look at the beginning.

The Prince Who Wanted Everything

I wish I liked the Fiona and Cake episodes as much as the writers seem to. I feel like I got what I needed after the first one, and the subsequent episodes feel a little like filler. I guess everyone loves Lumpy Space Princess so why not give us Lumpy Space Prince? As he says in the episode “I DON’T CAAAAARE!”

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HI DARREN!!

Something Big

I love this episode so hard. “Something Big” is a sequel to the season 5 episode “Sky Witch,” and is about what Maja ends up doing with the sentimental magic she acquired from Princess Bubblegum at the end of that episode. Maja uses that magic to summon Darren, an ancient, sentient, war machine monster which she uses to attack the Candy Kingdom. First of all, Darren is a great name for such a creature, and Adventure Time continues to be the best when it comes to mystical creatures using casual, flippant language. Darren is confused and has no idea what is happening. His name is Darren. It’s like if Athena was named Madison, or Hercules was named Josh. It tickles me. Anyway, what makes this episode special is the concise nature of the storytelling. Within the space of 12 minutes, we get a reminder of who Maja is, we learn what she intends to do, there is an epic battle scene, there are several fun character conversations, and somehow at the end there’s still time for mystical philosophizing. And I guess they were still running short because there’s a post-episode stinger? Which is only there because they straight up killed a character? It’s incredible.

Yet for all that, I think the main reason I enjoy this episode so much is that it’s a showcase of the kind of snappy dialogue which Adventure Time excels at. The fun the writers have with the language brings me true joy. Something as simple as Darren saying “what the flip is feelings?” or Finn saying “Yo, what’s up APTDubsy?” manages to subvert expectations of how the language works and it just endlessly pleases me. Of course, none of that would mean anything if the performances of the voice actors weren’t up to scratch, but every single actor delivers. Some of my favorite lines have nothing to do with the writing. The Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant shows up and says “Hi Darren,” and Steve Agee’s delivery on that cracks me up every time. To the point where I need to makes friends with someone named Darren so I can just yell that at him every time I seem him. Same deal when Finn agrees to make the guaaaaac. Or his offhand “oh, word, thanks,” when he drops said guac. Everything sounds natural to these characters, and it one of the major reasons this show is so great.

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Cuuuuute.

Little Brother

Well, this brings us right back down to earth. I dunno. Shelby’s all right. His little brother is cute. For whatever reason there’s not much here that brings me back. It’s fine.

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Jake’s kids are kind of the best. They’re only missing Gene…

Ocarina

Jake is kind of a jerk, and he’s definitely a terrible father. He doesn’t mean to be, of course, and that’s the crux of this episode. It’s not all bad, considering his kids apparently age super-quick. Not sure how Rainacorns work, honestly, I guess they live a long time but also turn into adults pretty much immediately? Anyway, it’s a good excuse for a bunch of new characters with excellent voices (including most of the cast of Bob’s Burgers). This is a Kim Kil Wan episode, however, and he’s a huge drag. Well, he’s the polar opposite of his father, anyway. Kim Kil Wan has no time for frivolity, and is all about making sweet cash. In an effort to teach his father a lesson in responsibility, he acquires the deed to Finn and Jake’s treehouse. It’s at this point that Finn learns what capitalism is, because he has no idea. Jake, being a free spirit, obviously has a dim view of this ideology his son has embraced. This is one of the rare times Adventure Time flirts with politics, but it’s fairly clear that the team has a dim view of unfettered capitalism. After all, Ooo is a fantasy land where people live happy lives doing whatevs. The Candy Kingdom is all planned by Princess Bubblegum. The other kingdoms seem to have a basic trade system, but mostly peeps are just out their living their best lives, you know? Yet here and there modern economics seem to creep in, and it never goes well. Kim Kil Wan finally gives up his ambition to force his father into getting a day job, and Jake still sucks as a dad. Not much changes, except maybe a better understanding of a father by a son.

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Lame wizard road trip!

Thanks for the Crabapples, Guiseppe

This quote from Finn pretty much sums up this episode: “Hey, Abracadaniel’s here… with a bus full of lame wizards.” I appreciate that there’s an entire society of wizards in Ooo, and most of them are terrible. I feel like Guiseppe is here to try and fit a little more mysticism into the world, but I don’t actually follow. I can, however, appreciate Ice King and his buddies being goofs, so it’s not a total wash.

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I mean, Thelma and Louise in which nobody dies.

Princess Day

Marceline and Lumpy Space Princess are the Thelma and Louise I didn’t know I needed. I enjoy watching Marcy have to be the responsible one, for once, which offers more depth to her character. Marceline might act like a gloomy teen most of the time, but she’s still 1000 years old and does, in fact, have a heart of gold. LSP is a sociopath, so while Marcy is down for a good time she still has to keep LSP in line. Meanwhile, “Princess Day” is also cool because we get a glimpse into the governance of Ooo, which will come up again later in the season. I like that we get a little bit of rough world building here, as I’m a sucker for a good sense of place. The Land of Ooo has always been a little squiggly around the edges. Different areas show up when they’re convenient for an episode’s plot, and time and space are fungible. Good luck sitting down and making a map of the place (although in recent episodes they’ve started getting close, and I’m not sure how I feel about that). Still, there are systems in place. There’s a history. For the most part, these things aren’t important to whatever story is being told. This episode is mostly about Marceline and LSP being friends, but we also get insight into the princess-based governance system. A system, it should be noted, that the most powerful princess barely pays attention to.

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A Peppermint Butler in his natural state.

Nemesis

Speaking of my cartoon crush, Princess Bubblegum, she shows up in this episode that is ostensibly about her, even though she’s not in it that much. Over the last few seasons, PB’s character has shifted from a simple trope-inversion (helpless-princess-in-need-of-saving turned into super-intelligent-princess-who-runs-shit-hires-a-hero-to-keep-weirdos-off-her-back) to a more dynamic personality with a long history and troubling habits. She’s still the smartest person in Ooo, but more and more we see how isolating and stressful that is. Over the course of the series (and I’m including later seasons here), it’s revealed that she has a ruthless streak. There’s a darkness about her, a willingness to do whatever is needed to protect her kingdom. However, she’s also a force of positive change and overall good. Her heart is in the right place, and more often than not her conscience prevails upon her authoritarian tendencies. It’s a constant struggle, however, and “Nemesis” comes about as a reaction to some of her citizens, who (rightfully) distrust her.

The main character of this episode is someone who we’ve never seen before, and so far have never seen again. His name is Peace Master, and he drives a minivan with this three kids in tow. He shows up at a conspiracy meeting headed up by Starchy, who is basically the Candy Kingdom’s Alex Jones. Peace Master despises “the dark arts,” and basically accuses Princess Bubblegum of being an evil practitioner of said dark arts. Obviously, Princess Bubblegum doesn’t truck with wizardry of any kind, because she’s a dang scientist. She does, however, use technology with less than noble intentions. PB has created a surveillance state, basically, and Peace Master busts her spying on the conspiracy meeting, which she is listening to for amusement. Now, PB may not believe in magic, but Peppermint Butler sure does, and the rest of the episode is Pep But and Peace Master having a battle of wills. The first rule of Adventure Time is: Don’t Fuck With Peppermint Butler, which Peace Master learns the hard way. For the most part, this is a fun episode, but it does ask some serious questions about how PB conducts her kingdom.

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Yeah, punch that weird alien cat.

Joshua and Margaret Investigations

I feel like Jake’s parents are best in small doses. Stretched out to an entire episode, their old-timey gumshoe shtick wears a little thin. While this episode does set up a later episode having to do with Jake’s origins, this still feels unnecessary. Maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t really need to know why Jake has stretchy powers. I was happy with Princess Bubblegum’s explanation, which is to say he’s a mutant. I guess she was right? Or the genetic hybrid of this father and some weird inter-dimensional monster? It’s not really clear and frankly it doesn’t really matter to me.

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Somehow so menacing.

Ghost Fly

This episode is surprisingly dark, considering BMO nearly manslaughters Jake. Also there’s some fun Cronenberg-lite body horror happening. “Ghost Fly” is not a Finn-focused episode, but he has some great random Finn lines which I appreciate. There’s not a ton to discuss here, I don’t think, but not because I don’t like the episode. It’s fun, mildly spooky, and makes for another good addition to the unofficial Adventure Time Halloween playlist.

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This episode is exceptionally orange.

Everything’s Jake

This may not be a great episode, but it is also a great episode. Allow me to explain. The story is fine, I don’t know, whatever. Basically, Magic Man shows up to fuck with Jake some more and sends him into himself, literally. There’s a whole civilization created within Jake himself, which is threatened because Jake gets hungry and can’t eat anything because it turns out you can’t eat yourself (unless it’s that one Stephen King short story where that dude totally eats himself). He makes some friends and then is sad because he has to essentially destroy this weird civilization inside his own body in order to survive. I’m not sure what the lesson here is, other than Magic Man is a real dick. That said, this episode is great because Billy West shows up and the whole thing is one big homage to Futurama, which if Adventure Time and the good seasons of The Simpsons didn’t exist would be my favorite show ever. I didn’t catch it right away, either. Goose shows up, says “how long’s it been? Two, maybe three years?” with Fry’s voice and woosh, right over my head. I didn’t even catch the Zapp Brannigan bit! It wasn’t until the end when it’s literally the Professor speaking that I’m like, wait, this all seems familiar. Then Finn does his best Zoidberg impression and okay, I see what you’re doing, this is great, I love you all. It’s an okay episode that reminds me how much I love Futurama, even if Bender sounds like Jake to me now instead of the other way around.

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Finn and Jake dancing around at the equinox.

Is That You?

I like this episode, and I’m happy with how it ends because like most right-minded citizens of the world I know that Kumail Nanjiani is a treasure and I’m happy to see he’ll show up on the show again. Still, I know Adventure Time has a ruthless, realistic streak and I was surprised to see that Prismo was brought back so soon. This episode has a convoluted plot which depicts the curious resurrection of the wish master, which involves copies of Finn and Jake and a mystical recording of Prismo himself. I’m not sure it all hangs together, a concern it seems the writers had as well, considering some of the dialogue. Still, this is a solid episode, and it features the Adventure Time crew indulging in some semi-mystic weirdness while still remaining grounded in the characters. I appreciate that Jake and Prismo have their own relationship outside of Finn, and Finn is understanding of that. This entire series to this point has been focused on the two brothers, Finn and Jake. With the introduction of Prismo, even more so than the existence of Lady Rainacorn (which, hmm), establishes Jake as his own person. It’s also an indicator of Finn’s budding independence. So that stuff is pretty cool. Plus, Finn gets a dope new sword at the end.

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This really is a beautiful looking episode. 

Jake the Brick

This might be a top five favorite episode for me, and I am well aware that makes me a weirdo. Especially considering the last time I said that, I was writing about “We Fixed a Truck,” another episode that I imagine most people don’t find all that noteworthy. Well you’re all wrong. As with “We Fixed a Truck,” “Jake the Brick” is an extremely chill episode. It soothes. It’s a delightful, unstressful, anxiety-abating 12 minutes of television. Oh, and perhaps unlike “We Fixed a Truck,” this episode is a visual showcase. The first minute is absent of dialogue, and is Finn taking a silent hike through the wilds of Ooo, and it’s just gorgeous. He finally comes across Jake, who is enacting a childhood fantasy of being a brick in a brick shack when the brick shack falls down. I don’t know, don’t think about it.

Anyway, the rest of the episode turns into Jake narrating a Planet Earth vignette, which in this case is the story of a bunny in the forest of Ooo. As Jake narrates, we’re treated to a series of brief scenes of various characters going about their business while listening to Jake talk about a bunny on the radio. The music is soothing and perfect throughout. It’s a peaceful episode, and one that demonstrates how well constructed this world is. While I enjoy the more action-packed, lore-heavy episodes as well, these quieter episodes do as much, if not more to cement Ooo as a realized place. This episode shows that life continues outside of the big, weird events that we usually see. Also, sea lard.

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My tooth hurts.

Dentist

We’re going to wrap up the first half of season six with a strange but great episode. This is almost a response to critics pining for the ‘random adventure’ days. Finn has a toothache. And I don’t know why it’s so funny every time Finn says “my tooth hurts,” but it is. The writers must have realized that Jeremy Shada is brilliant at Finn’s odd habits of language and have decided that even simple phrases can be effective. Which is to say Finn saying “worms” is funny. Anyway, Finn has to go dentist, which is way more of a production than one might expect. Turns out that dentist is ants, and because this is Adventure Time if Finn wants to fix his tooth he has to fight a monster. In so doing, he’s teamed up with Tiffany, Jake’s erstwhile partner in crime who blames Finn for usurping his place as Jake’s bestie. Things go poorly for Tiffany, but at least Finn gets his teeth fixed. There’s not a lot to talk about, really, since the main draw here is the absurdity and the strange and wonderful script. Worms.

In Which I Continue to Highlight the Brilliant Writing

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It’s mad griz, bro.

“Prismo, you make me happy, Prismo.” “Oh, stop.” “I’m always smiling when I’m around you. I just noticed that. I always am.” “I’m always smiling when I’m around you, too.” “Tee hee, this feels so good.” – Jake and Prismo, proving that sexuality is a spectrum, “Wake Up”

“Hey, um, those guys are doing selfies on the Lich. Is that safe?” – Peppermint Butler, “Wake Up”

“Yeah, but why isn’t he killing everyone in the room right now – controlling our minds, making us rip each other’s eyes out while we buttercup one another?” – Peppermint Butler, who appears to make a jerk-off motion when he says ‘buttercup,’ “Wake Up”

“The Citadel is a nasticized prison. Only the worst of the worst end up there. Real stinkfaces. These guys are the pits. The armpits.” – Prismo, “Wake Up”

“I look like a big old hairy raisin.” – Prismo, “Wake Up”

“I just woke up from my nap. Uh, but I’m ready to go back to bed. I’d like to go home and take a nap… are you my son?” – Old Man Prismo, “Wake Up

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I’m still at a loss as to how two dots and a line can be so expressive.

“Good riddance, too. I hope you rot forever, you awful jerk flapper. Some people just make the world a worse place to be just by being around. That’s right. Bad apples. Lock ‘em all up I say, at the bottom of the ocean, where it’s too dark to see.” – Finn, taking a hard line on crime, “Escape from the Citadel”

“Jeez, man, now I wish I hadn’t said all that stuff before. Now my heart feels all yellow and green.” – Finn, “Escape from the Citadel”

“Did he trick us again? I think he did!” Finn, who puts in some work this episode, “Escape from the Citadel”

“Thanks, kid. Now where did you guys park your starskipper? This place is coming down quick, and I’m talking quick, like zip zip, like wow, like boom boom wow.” – Martin, “Escape from the Citadel”

“Finn, I know we normally come out of these things okay, but I’ve got a bad feeling about this. Just promise me if both my eyes get fried off, you’ll fry yours off too.” “What? No.” – Jake and Finn, “Escape from the Citadel”

“Ah! Uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh.” Finn, “Escape from the Citadel.”

“You just got to fetch me a glob of that guardian’s blood, son. It’s got that good nooch that keeps us young in the crystal.” “Nooch?” – Martin and Finn, “Escape from the Citadel”

“Now, rub some of that sap on my leg there. Make sure to get it in the chicken wing hole.” – Martin, “Escape from the Citadel”

“Why-did-you-abondon-me-in-the-forest-when-I-was-a-little-baby?!” “You know me… I’m a funny guy.” – Finn and Martin, “Escape from the Citadel”

“I got to run to the store!” – Martin, who sucks a lot, “Escape from the Citadel”

“Fall. You are alone, child. There is only darkness for you, and only death for your people. These ancients are just the beginning. I will command a great and terrible army. And we will sail to a billion worlds. We will sail until every light has been extinguished. You are strong, child. But I am beyond strength. I am the end. And I have come for you, Finn.” – The Lich, and The Lich’s best speech. Holy shit. “Escape from the Citadel”

“Right in the doorbell.” Finn, saving the day again, “Escape from the Citadel”

“Brand new baby. The Lich is super cute now and he smells real neat. That sap rebooted him or something. I like him a lot.” – Jake, “Escape from the Citadel”

“Over here, fellas. Next stop, the Candy Kingdom. Previous stop, this weird place.” – Startchy, “Escape from the Citadel”

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Casually drop-kicking orphans is never not funny.

“Wow, James sacrificed himself for you again, PB.” “Yeah, that’s like the 25th time, right?” “Obviously you’ll have to reclone him.” “Totes.” – Finn and Jake, “James II”

“And remember the time James saved PB from that contaminated cupcake?” “Yeah, he ate the whole cupcake. What a guy.” – Jake and Finn, “James II”

“Is this… James heaven?” – Finn, “James II”

“Dude, I’ve been to your funeral like 25 times.” – Finn, “James II”

“How can 25 guys look like one guy? You mean they’re vigintiquintuplets?” – Banana Guard, “James II”

“Now for your assignment, James. Go unto the wasteland and never come back.” Wh-wha?” “Do it and I’ll send you a medal every day.” “Yay! Come on, every James!” – Princess Bubblegum and James, “James II”

“Parm, parm, parm. Asiago’s like parm.” – Finn, cheese knower, “The Tower”

“You just went through some outrageous beeswax with losing your favorite arm and et cetera. You can’t expect to just bounce right back to normal.” “I can’t?” “Nah, man. Listen. All these princesses, donating all these gross fake arms – the mean well, but they’re throwing you off your game. You got to go at your own pace. If you listen, deep in your melon heart… that’s where the real instructions are.” “Melon wants to punch my dad in the face and steal his arm.” – Jake and Finn, “The Tower”

“Me, I’m going to go to the spaghetti store and get a new mop head.” – Jake, “The Tower”

“Wow. It’s like a, like a, like a, like a magic Finn arm.” Finn, with a tic I just do now, apparently, “The Tower”

“My biggest powerometer back at the castle was flipping all the way out. It looks like Finn somehow manifested a sort of telekinetic electro-emotional prosthesis.” “Word, word.” “With this much raw power, he could be a danger to himself or others, so I quarantined the area until I can coax him down.” “Pff, TMLO Princess.” “What does that mean?” “That Means Lay Off. Finn’s feeling this one out solo style. Give the kid a chance.” – Princess Bubblegum and Jake, “The Tower”

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Refreshing!

I really enjoy Finn’s revenge song.

“Get out of my house or I’m gonna face blaaaaast you.” – Carroll, “The Tower”

“Baby’s building a tower into space/To tear off his dad’s arm/From, like, where that round of the arm bone meets that weird flat bone at the top of the back/Gonna pull that until it comes off.” – dang, Finn, “The Tower”

“I used to be water. Like a pond or something really wet. I used to hate people swimming in me. Kickin’ and stuff. So what did I do? I evaporated. I got myself out of there.” “You should have pulled off their legs.” – Carroll and Finn, “The Tower”

“I just thought about my anxieties and it’s like my mind-hand touched a hot memory-stove.” – Carroll, “The Tower”

“Oh, man. My hogmaster.” – Finn, “The Tower”

“Buuuuuuutts. Butts.” – Finn, and another phrase I use constantly, “The Tower”

“Bong, bong. Hey, buddy.” – Princess Bubblegum, “The Tower”

“Too much artsy, not enough fartsy.” – Some kind of bug, also WE GET IT, GUYS, “Sad Face”

“Look at her. It’s like looking at a big, sad dollar sign.” – Same bug, “Sad Face”

“But I’ve been pounding pickle juice like I was preggos. For the electrolytes.” – Finn, “Breezy”

“It’s cool. I guess I’ll go make out with Crab Princess.” – Finn, “Breezy”

“You ain’t my man! So why you all in my lumps?” – Lumpy Space Princess, “Breezy”

“Hey Finn, can you pour this juice in my mouth? Tee hee.” – Raggedy Princess, “Breezy”

“So, how you feelin’ buddy?” “Pretty grease. I made out with Crab Princess, so that’s grease. But really I don’t feel nothin’. Maybe if I made out with lots of girls, I will feel something?” – Finn, and no, that’s not how it works, son, “Breezy”

“Let’s wing-man you some make-outs!” – Breezy, “Breezy”

“You’re about to get waggle-danced, ya chicken.” – Hillbilly Bee, “Breezy”

“I’m lost in the darkness, Breezy.” – poor Finn, “Breezy”

“I know all about your dirty deeds. Now it’s Lumpy’s turn to slump those lips! Bring it in, baby… What? That’s it? I didn’t wait infinity for a dip in the kiddie pool. We’re taking this to the deep end!” – Lumpy Space Princess is a sex machine, “Breezy”

“How did I get mad chubs? I only ate one grub.” – Finn, “Food Chain”

“She’s beautiful.” “She’s just a caterpillar, dude.” – Finn and Jake, “Food Chain”

“All this dosh is threatening the structural integrity of the treehouse.” – BMO and another metaphor, “Furniture and Meat”

“I continue to chill.” – Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant, “Furniture and Meat”

“No people or money allowed in the fountain, ya dums!” – Captain Strawberry, “Furniture and Meat”

“Thanks, but we’re middle class.” “Oh, really?” “Upper-middle.” – Upper-middle-class berry boys, “Furniture and Meat”

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Yay BMO!

“How much do you think I’ll have to pay ‘em to lick the dust off this dirty stuff?” – Jake, who is a creep in this episode, “Furniture and Meat”

“Finn and Jake, yes, you have insulted me, but worse than that you have abused the power of money! We will deal with you swiftly and ironically, by encasing you in your own molten gold!” – Wildberry Princess, “Furniture and Meat”

“Let’s bounce, po’ boys!” – Jake, “Furniture and Meat”

“No! That’s not how I sound! Read it in a better voice!” – LSP, “The Prince Who Wanted Everything”

“Eat these worms! Eat these worms and sharpen your teeth!” – Lumpy Space Parents, “TPWWE”

“First I need freaky clothes. Cool freaky, not monster freaky.” – Lumpy Space Prince, “TPWWE”

“The only way to defeat parental disapproval is not caring about anything. I don’t caaaaare!” – Lumpy Space Prince, “TPWWE”

“Thank you, son. You’ve freed us from adult mediocrity and fatuousness.” – Lumpy Space Parents, “TPWWE”

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Action PB is hot.

“Rest in peace, Root Beer Guy.” – Princess Bubblegum, “Something Big”

“I had a dream I was fighting an army that could birth new soldiers from their own blood. I was endless. Does that make sense?” “Yes. You want to go conquer the Candy Kingdom?” “What’s that?” “It’s a place that contains the highest levels of caring and sentimental affection in all of Ooo.” “What’s caring? What kind of world is this?” – Darren and Maja, “Something Big”

“I promise as well, to deliver destruction so thorough that all realities are affected.” “Okay, we’ll talk about that.” “All realities!” “Hey! We’ll talk about it!” – Darren and Maja, “Something Big”

“Women my age don’t hang out! Where are they hiding? I need a young girl with an old soul to heal my heart.” – Colonel Candy Corn, “Something Big”

“What the jam? All right. Finn or no Finn, PB’s got to get in that biz.” – Princess Bubblegum, “Something Big”

“What the flip is feelings? Darren only understands life and death!” – Darren, “Something Big”

“HI DARREN!” – Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant, aka Steve Agee, “Something Big”

“Eli, were you asleep forever too? All this stuff is different now. What are we even doing here?” “Yes, it’s been a difficult adjustment.” Eli shoots lasers from his nose. “Yeah, right.” – Darren and APTWE, “Something Big”

“Well, I guess my kids still have a daddy.” – Banana Guard, “Something Big”

“Party tonight in the Candy Kingdom! Okay, y’all bring food and bevs. Finn, you make the guac, all right?” “I’ll make the guaaaaaaaaac.” – Princess Bubblegum and Finn, “Something Big”

“Finn! Finn!” “Yo! What’s up, APTDubsy?” “What do I do now?” “Dude, I don’t know. Probably not go back into the basement. You’re so bigguns! You should be free, boyee.” “Free to do what? I need psychic commands.” “Can you help me dice tomatoes for this guac?” “No.” – Finn and APTDubsy, “Something Big”

“I can fly and do lasers from my nose.” – it’s a good skill, APTWE, “Something Big”

“Show me them legs! So many legs that griz is unreal!” – Some gross bug, “Little Brother”

“Someday you’ll be Kent’s food! Ha ha ha!” – Kent, “Little Brother”

“Uh, I was born earlier today so I don’t really got a sense of my own mortality.” – Kent, “Little Brother”

“I name this sword… Punch Party.” – that’s a good name, Kent – “Little Brother”

“Ugh. I’ve got hunger cranks.” – Tina Belcher. I mean TV, “Ocarina”

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You almost feel bad for Captain Capitalism, here.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah! I’m real late! Happy birthday puppies. Okay, so putting it out there, I didn’t remember to bring you guys any birthday presents. But I did bring lunch. It’s macaroni salad!” – proceeds to pull a wad of macaroni salad from his ‘pocket.’ Jake, “Ocarina”

“But son, I’m your pop. What would your mother say, doin’ this to your poor pip-pop?” “I’m sorry dad, deeds don’t bleed.” – Jake and Kim Kil Wan, “Ocarina”

“You’re gonna sleep like that?” “Yeah man. It’s tough. I’m a tough kid.” – Jake and Finn, “Ocarina”

“Gee it’s great to be back home, eh Mr. B?” “Heh, yeah. I can’t wait to wash my gross fat butt.” – Some more gross bugs, “Ocarina”

“Man, can I tell you something? I don’t even know what’s going on here. I mean, like what the heck is a deed? How come he can buy our house when it’s our house and Marceline gave it to us and we live there? And now we’re arrested? This is crazy. It’s crazy!” – Finn, who doesn’t understand capitalism, “Ocarina”

“Where did I go wrong?” “I don’t know, but I’m not tryin’ to be sleepin’ on a ladder no more.” – Jake and Finn, “Ocarina”

“I’m gonna be frank here. Your son’s a real-time jingle-blaster.” – Finn, “Ocarina”

“Whoa. Kim Kil Wan is rich, like wow, like, hello, what?” – Finn, “Ocarina”

“Yeah, it’s not hollow. I made the holes with the back end of a pencil.” – Jake kind of sucks sometimes, “Ocarina”

“Hey, Abracadaniel’s here… with a bus full of lame wizards.” – Finn, “Thanks for the Crabapples, Guiseppe”

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That Guiseppe touch a brother’s heart.

“These are not my tear drops, daughter dear, but just a sheen of dew that lingers here, past other fields where other fathers lie, who kept their daughters far better than I.” – Guiseppe, who clearly has some regrets, “Guiseppe”

“Hey. I could freeze all of us. Then we’d be safe from the drowning. And once someone discovers our preserved bodies, we’ll be saved! Be like 200 years, tops.” – Ice King, “Guiseppe”

“Now, onto more pressing matters. Brigands have been attacking our western seaports, dozens of unregistered princesses roam the land, and trade deficits are at an all-time high. Historically, Breakfast Kingdom has traded one sack of sugar a month to Slime Kingdom in exchange for four eggs, but egg production has plummeted.” “I can’t just pop out eggs on demand! I’m an artisan!” “You have an egg in you right now.” “How dare you!” – Breakfast Princess and Slime Princess discuss the minutia of governing Ooo, “Princess Day”

“You guys, I’m bored out of my face! I make a motion to stop talking about dumb stuff that’s laaaaame.” – Lumpy Space Princess, “Princess Day”

“Guards, take this pomplemousse out of my sight!” – Breakfast Princess, “Princess Day”

“Hey, you want to ditch this jazz?” “I’d love to, but I’m really invested in this crossword puzzle.” “Figs.” – Marceline and Princess Bubblegum, “Princess Day.”

“Hey, calm your lumps!” – Marceline, “Princess Day”

“Whoa! Holy flippin’ flap! Red alert! Pep But, start brewin’ up some chamomile tea so I don’t stress out!” – Princess Bubblegum, “Nemesis”

“Stop laughing! You’re stressing daddy out!” Promptly wrecks his minivan. “See?! See what happens when you mess with the dark arts? I’ll get you dark one! You wrecked Peace Master’s minivan!” – Peace Master, “Nemesis”

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“Yo! Red alert! Right guys? Whatcha doin’ about it?” – I like it when PB gets all intense, “Nemesis”

“Your dirty hobo birthday tricks won’t save you long time!” – Peace Master, “Nemesis”

“Bam! Now you got a monster kid.” – Peppermint Butler, who should not be fucked with, “Nemesis”

“One more thing. Show us your underwear.” “You fiend.” “Now, um, uh, walk around like a big chicken” Peace Master does so. “Now eat some dirt off the ground.” “Please don’t make me.” “Hey! You want three demon babies!” Peace Master eats some dirt. “Okay, stop. I took it too far. We’re done here. Run along, children.” – Peppermint Butler and Peace Master, “Nemesis”

“Steak break!” – Joshua, “Joshua and Margaret’s Investigations”

“What’s the big idea, Wyatt? Why’d you burgle your wife’s pie?” “Because it’s amazing! Oh I can’t get enough of it.” – Joshua and Wyatt dance around a sex metaphor, “Joshua and Margaret”

“I’ll show that peepsie the pepper!” – Margaret, “Joshua and Margaret”

“You’re about as fine as a canary in a cat mine,” Margaret, “Joshua and Margaret”

“Focus chi, stop a man’s heart.” – Karate Magazine, “Ghost Fly”

“I think I got restless leg syndrome.” “Is that from getting chubby?” “What? No, man, it’s just restless leg.” – Jake and Finn, “Ghost Fly”

“My horse hates your horse.” – Adventure Boy Magazine, “Ghost Fly”

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And yet still way into Adventure Boy magazine.

“I’m sorry you were born a fly and I had to kill you. You disgusting, disgusting creature. – Jake, “Ghost Fly”

“That’s weird. BMO doesn’t like 30’s jazz.” – Jake, “Ghost Fly”

“They leave those little fly doodies on your soul!” – Jake, “Ghost Fly”

“How’d you do it, Rusty? How’d you shake them otters?” – Finn, talking to his magazine, “Ghost Fly”

“I killed Jake! Yay BMO!” – BMO, “Ghost Fly”

“The waffle doll shall fall lest you eat the yellow dough.” – Magic Man, “Everything’s Jake”

“Huh, everything’s made of… me.” – yes, that’s the title, Jake, “Everything’s Jake”

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Whoops! Wrong crossover.

“How long’s it been? Two, maybe three years?” – Goose. It’s funny because that’s how long Futurama had been off the air at the time. “Everything’s Jake”

“What is that?” “Oh—oh, that. Don’t worry about that. Do not, don’t worry about that.” – Fry, I mean Goose, “Everything’s Jake”

“Jakey can’t eat any of those nachos. But Jakey need nachos!” – Jakey, “Everything’s Jake”

“Oh my stars, it’s just as I envisioned. O mighty Jake Globs, I beseech your aid! Do you have bagels?” – The Professor, “Everything’s Jake”

“No, these picks were made by our friend to be mouth-loved” – Jake, “Is That You?”

“Jake, why are you pretending to dig up Everything Burrito?” – Finn, “Is That You?”

“Something messed up is haps, bra.” – Finn, “Is That You?”

“Dude, I can’t wat to get this batch of pickles to Jake. He’s totes gonna bust a pipe when he gets hit with the cumin and the undertones of sage that come in later.” – Prismo, “Is That You?”

“Wait, why is this happening? It’s like a rerun of the worst junk. The Lich life-sucks Prismo’s dream host, which eliminates Prismo forever. Ugh! It’s mad griz, bro! And then the space police or whatever they’re called show up because boppin’ Prismo was a cosmic crime. I remember feeling like someone had peeled a layer away from my brain and my reality was no longer anchored to any point of reference. And I had to fight to keep from being crushed under the weight of an unforgiving new paradigm of ultimate reality. So cool, man.” Jake, in what is clearly a kid’s show for kids, “Is That You?”

“Whoa, Finn! Hey. Are you gonna wake up Jake?” “Yeah, is that gonna kill you again, though?” “My past self is doing plan B, right?” “Uh, yes, although I got to say, this whole thing seems rickety as yoga balls.” “Yeah, tell me about it.” “You tell you about it!” – Primso and Finn, “Is That You?”

“Hey, did we get turned around somewhere? I feel like we’re lost.” “Nah, I was just stalling. Don’t think about it.” – Finn and Prismo, “Is That You?”

“Shut it, Prismo. Heroes risk everything for their friends, although I admit you’re more Jake’s friend than mine. Sometimes you can think someone’s totally cool but you never become besties. And I don’t know why that happens but regardless let’s do this.” – Finn, “Is That You?”

“Finn sword, dude.” – Prismo, “Is That You?”

“Finn, ever since I was little I wanted to see what it’s like to be a brick in a brick shack when the brick shack falls down. And this shack is gonna fall down. Just look at it. Like sand castles in the sun, baby. Ha ha! You’re too young, you wouldn’t understand.” “Ha! You’re right, I don’t understand. But I’m cool with your mystical journey or whatever.” Jake and Finn, “Jake the Brick”

“Ooh, I’m starting to get a little tippy in my teacups.” – Jake, “Jake the Brick”

“It’s not about the bunny! The bunny is incidental to the brick experiment.” – Jake, “Jake the Brick”

“Ladies and gentlemen, this bunny is indominatable!” – Jake, “Jake the Brick”

“Your tooth looks bad, dude. Smells like a garden shed in here.” – Jake, “Dentist”

“Just go dentist, dude.” – Jake, “Dentist”

“Finn, this is literally serious. You have to go dentist.” – Princess Bubblegum, “Dentist”

“Dude. You. Have. Got. To. Go. Dentist.” “No! I’m too strong for this world!” – Jake and Finn, “Dentist”

“I don’t want to go dentist, Jake. They put you in a hole filled with snakes and rotten butter and they leave you there.” – Finn, “Dentist”

“Soft sand. Ant.” – Finn, “Dentist”

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Spy flies!

“Welcome to dentist, cadet! I’m Lieutenant Gamergate! Snakes and rotten butter, a common mistake. You were expected to arrive with snacks and a flashlight.” – Lt. Gamergate, which I don’t know about that name, guys, “Dentist”

“So… dentist is ants?” “Dentist is dentist, cadet! Drop and give me 20!” “I don’t have any money.” “Funny man goes dentist, huh?” – Finn and Lt. Gamergate, “Dentist”

“Holes.”

“My tooth hurts.”

“Worms.” – Finn, with some A+ delivery, “Dentist”

“That guy wants to kill me!” “Tough nuts that’s dentist!” – Finn and the Queen, “Dentist”

“Heed my words, Finn. As the miller’s wheel forever outrages the seed, so the good apple boringly receives his neighbor’s worm. And all the good corn gets smashed to grease, to grease under the miller’s flipping wheel. You’re getting greased!” – what? Tiffany, “Dentist”

“I don’t need some fancy thinger to kick butt!” – Tiffany, “Dentist”

“I was friends with Jake. Then some baritone Herb stole him away from me.” – Tiffany, “Dentist”

“We’re opposites, you and me. Oil and goody-goody snow-white baby-vanilla-bean mitten water!” – Tiffany, “Dentist”

“You good?” “My tooth hurts.” – Tiffany and Finn, “Dentist”

“Dang it, Tiffany, weren’t you paying attention? We’re two peas in a pod. We’re not oil and water, we’re oil and vinegar. It’s good, man. It’s yummy. It’s good for you!” – Finn, “Dentist”

“Well, the good news is the worm queen was defeated. Choked to death on some foreign object, presumably Cadet Tiffany, who is missing in action. Which is the bad news.” – Ant Queen

I got them other seasons, yo: Season 1 | Season 2 | Season 3 | Season 4 | Season 5 Part One | Season 5 Part 2

Posted in Adventure Time, Post-Post-Apocalypse, Television | Leave a comment

Wool

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Novel * Hugh Howey * Stay Inside Forever * 2012

Synopsis

Here’s the apocalypse pitch: to go outside is to die. The air is toxic, everything is dead. As far as anyone knows, all of humanity is contained within a single “silo,” which an enormous vertical city mostly underground. There’s maybe a few thousand people left. That’s enough to ensure genetic diversity, but reproduction is strictly controlled as to not overwhelm the silo. Nobody is exactly sure how long the silo has been in existence, but it’s been several generations at least. Nobody remembers knowing anybody who remembers the before time. The entire world has been the silo, which is an impressive bit of technology. It’s a self-contained unit, of course, capable of producing power and food indefinitely. It’s cool and all, but society has gotten a little strange within these confines. Classes are still stratified, with the mechanics living down below with the power plant and the administrative elites living up top. From the top of the silo, one can view a screen of the outside, which is possible due to some cameras mounted on the only bit of the silo to protrude from the ground. Those cameras present something of a problem.

The first section of Wool is illuminating, and does an effective job of introducing the difficulties of this nearly terminal world. I almost don’t want to spoil it, despite it only comprising the first 40 pages or so. Suffice to say, there is a ritual surrounding the physical act of cleaning the camera lens, so that the citizens of the silo might enjoy a non-blurry view of the grey wasteland outside. The three most powerful people in this society are the Mayor, who is in charge of the overall operation, the Sherriff, who keeps everyone in line, and the head of IT, who manages the smooth running of the silo’s computer system. All three of them have a role in the cleaning ritual. When someone violates the most significant taboo, which is simply expressing a desire to go outside, they are condemned to cleaning. IT puts together a suit in which they might survive outside for a short time. The Sherriff arrests them and the Mayor makes it all official. The person who publically expressed this desire to leave the silo is then suited up, marched out of an airlock, and is set to clean off the camera lens before they stumble off to die.

I don’t want to get into specifics above the break, but if you’re looking for a quality post-apocalyptic science fiction novel, look no further. Wool is great. There is an array of well-drawn, compelling characters and the story is tense without being bleak or dire in the way these stories can get sometimes. The world which is eventually revealed is fascinating, and I’m impressed with Howey’s restraint. He doesn’t over-explain, never feels the need to show us the entire drafting document of this particular apocalypse. This is not to say that anything feels vague or undercooked, mind you, Wool just avoids the pitfall of excess exposition. I’m happy to report I was pretty satisfied how this particular story is handled, even if there is a larger sense of stifled frustration. That’s not a negative thing, mind you, it’s simply reflective of the compressed, limited world of Wool. Okay, time to talk details.

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Uh-oh.

Discussion

Let’s go back to that first section of the book, because it does an exceptional job of setting expectations and tone, not to mention sketching out the structure of this weird, damaged society. We learn from Sherriff Holston’s sad march to death a few useful things. We are told about some of the aforementioned structure of the silo, but more importantly we discover something behind the psychology of the place. Conspiracies are hinted at. From here, Howey is merciless in fucking with the reader, subverting expectations of how this is all going to go. We’re told right away that to go outside is death, and we’re introduced to the cleaning custom as well as the oddity of said custom never failing. Like yeah, it is weird that those condemned to death by their own people inevitably perform the cleaning ritual, despite seemingly having no motive to do so. Then Sherriff Holston is forced outside, and our suspicions are confirmed! It’s not death outside at all! The screens were a lie! And this motherfucker makes us believe this for like three pages before he subverts the expected subversion. No, outside is still death. The screens were telling the truth. The suit is a lie. Damn, that’s cold.

Yet despite that opening fake-out, there are plenty of fun twists to come. None of them feel cheap, and when they come the revelations are limited to what makes sense for these characters to understand, but still manage to satisfy reader curiosity about how all this happened. As with any kind of story about a post-apocalypse featuring people who don’t remember the before-times, there’s a heavy amount of dramatic irony happening. Part of the fun is watching characters react to learning what we already know. In Wool, this moment never really comes. Yes, Juliette is expelled from her silo and makes the shattering discovery that there is more than one silo. More than one self-contained world. And yes, even more significantly, Lukas discovers the secrets of IT and how all this came together in the first place. Eventually, we even get a location. Atlanta, of all places. And yet we’re never privy to any documents. There’s no 1984-esque info dump. Which is good, because Wool isn’t terribly concerned about the past. Like Juliette, this novel is concerned with how this society is going to move forward.

I’m not sure what the deal is, but I’ve been engaging with a lot of fiction featuring woman protagonists who are mechanics lately. I guess it’s a way to toughen up your lady character, which sounds cheap and exploitative, but so far none of these characters feel unearned. Anyway, Juliette is very much practical-minded. She’s used to working on machines, after all, and despite everything that happens to her, Juliette’s approach to society seems to work the same way. Obviously, after the uprising and the downfall of IT, things are going to have to change within the silo. Everyone knows about the existence of other silos now, and so they must proceed accordingly. Either they continue along the path they were assigned over a century ago, or they take stock of their situation and move forward in violation of the founder’s intent. Considering how downright evil the founders were – considering they essentially destroyed the living earth so that their own culture could survive – it makes sense to renounce their plan.

One of the reasons apocalyptic fiction is so effective is because it reduces humanity to its basics. The silo is a self-contained unit, filled with a manageable amount of people. There’s enough people inside to represent a significant segment of humanity, in terms of personality if not race or culture, while at the same time not overwhelming the individual. There are enough people to form a significant class structure, but not enough to form significant wealth inequality. If anything, most people are aligned to their coworkers more than anything, although there is a secondary stratification between levels of the silo itself. This clarity of structure allows for an examination of human nature, of our hostility, our camaraderie, our short-sightedness, our curiosity and ingenuity. All that shines through over the course of this novel, and it’s in large part to the depth of these characters. Juliette is almost too cool, as if Howey didn’t want to tell us anything bad about her. Meanwhile, Bernard is an exercise in how to write a proper villain. He’s a nightmare, but a plausible one. He’s one of these assholes who makes you stop hating him from time to time to actually gauge what he says. All in all, I don’t really have anything bad to say about this book. I mean, other than I’m annoyed I didn’t write it, of course.

Posted in Books, Post-Post-Apocalypse | 1 Comment

Thor: Ragnarok

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Film * Taika Waititi * Space-Viking-Heaven Apocalypse? * 2017

Synopsis

I surprised myself by looking up how many Marvel Cinematic Universe movies I’ve actually seen. Turns out, including this one, it’s a majority of them. I’ve seen ten out of the eighteen (!!) that have been released. Of course, I’ve not seen either of the two previous Thor movies, which I assumed would put me at a distinct disadvantage when it came to following Ragnarok. It’s a testament to how interconnected these movies are that I wasn’t at a loss, story-wise. Actually, it’s more that all of the MCU movies are specifically designed to work as stand-alone films. I may not be enthusiastic about these things – I watch them because my wife is into them, basically – but it’s hard to not appreciate the craft at work here. There is definitely a template when it comes to making a Marvel movie at this point, and from a cynical point of view it exists solely to make an obscene amount of money for a massive corporation. However, it’s hard to really dwell on that when the end product is this entertaining. Ragnarok isn’t some monumental achievement of filmmaking, but it has personality, it has an identity, it has a look. Oh, and most importantly, it’s pretty fun.

All that said, I barely know just what in the hell is going on here. Mind you, I’m not talking about the plot itself, that’s pretty easy to follow. Our large blonde hero learns that Ragnarok, which the prophesied downfall of Asgard, is on its way. Asgard happens to be Thor’s home planet (at least I’m pretty sure it’s a planet), and Ragnarok presents an apocalyptic threat which will destroy all the fancy sci-fi buildings where he lives. Thor jets home to find Odin, his dad, so he can warn him and thus save the day. Except that when he arrives, he finds out that Odin has peaced out and Loki has taken over Asgard because he’s such an irrepressible goofball (also, for some reason, my wife wanted to let everyone know that she’s in schoolgirl-love with Tom Hiddleston, so despite the fact that I’m fairly sure he doesn’t read my blog, here you go, Tom). Well, bad news, because Odin is dead and Thor’s evil older sister, Hela, shows up all pissed off and looking to take over. Also she’s much stronger than Thor, and fucks up his favorite flying hammer. The movie is essentially Thor figuring out how to oust his powerful sister. I’m not sure exactly how much there is to “spoil” about a film like this, so I guess I’ll keep the rest of the particulars out of the text until after the break, but suffice to say Thor enlists some familiar faces to help him do battle.

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Well, he is a total dreamboat.

That’s all well and good, but let me tell you straight away that you shouldn’t watch Ragnarok for the plot. The story is there and it’s fine, but it’s not why you’re here. What makes this one of the better MCU movies is everything surrounding the whatever story. Two things jump out right away, and over the course of the movie it becomes clear that they’re actually the pillars the entire thing is built on. The first thing is humor. Now, most MCU movies are pretty good about not taking themselves too seriously, which is important when you have full-grown adults flying around in spandex outfits, you know? Even in the more action-oriented entries like The Avengers or the Captain America movies, there is still plenty of pithy dialogue and interplay between characters which serves to lighten the atmosphere. All existence might be in peril, but that’s no reason to be a downer, you know? Ragnarok takes that usual MCU-humor and runs with it. Honestly, the snappiness of the dialogue is better and the overall vibe works better than Guardians of the Galaxy, and certainly better than Guardians 2. Obviously it helps immensely to have Jeff Goldblum in your movie, but there’s also the second pillar of the film, which is the whole bananas aesthetic. Look, most MCU movies tend to look kind of bland. Like that sick fight in Captain America: Civil War at the, uh, airport. Blah. Thor: Ragnarok says fuck all that, how about some insane Day-Glo splatter-colors and a fuckin’ DEVO soundtrack all up in your face? I didn’t know I wanted that, but yeah, okay, sign me up.

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Oh, you.

Discussion

Generally in this section I tend to take a wider, more analytic view of the work in question. Honestly, with this movie, I’m not really feeling it. This is not to say I think Ragnarok has no redeeming value, don’t be silly. I obviously quite enjoyed it. It’s just that for a movie about a world ending there really isn’t all that much that resonates outside of Marvel’s own universe. I mean, Earth is barely in the movie. We go to New York for a scene to help integrate Doctor Strange further into the overall tapestry and that’s about it. Most of the time (or at least what feels like most of the time) is spent on some weird garbage-world. And I mean literal garbage, as in the planet is covered in garbage. The design is actually quite visually stunning, but the setting still leaves us in a kind of story limbo. Usually that’s annoying. If the plot is Thor trying to get his rightful throne back, why have him spend an hour in a whole other storyline? But then Jeff Goldblum shows up and you get distracted. Well, him and all the bright colors and the weird almost-but-not-quite 80’s vibe everything has. Plus the Hulk is there, for what I’m sure are very good reasons, and it turns out that it’s fun to watch Hulk smash shit.

Thor: Ragnarok is very good at distracting you. It kind of has to be, if we’re being honest, and now that I’m writing this in the cold light of day, I have some questions. These might be the result of me not having seen the other two Thor movies, and having zero other context for this stuff because comic books are for nerds. Anyway, that whole subplot on the gladiator-garbage planet hinges on Thor being unable to leave due to a device which shocks him into submission. Now, I might be missing something, but isn’t Thor the goddamn god of thunder? That’s like his whole thing! I mean, if you’re going to use this quite frankly hackneyed plot device, at least toss off a self-referential joke about it. I dunno, that bugged me. Obviously you have to handicap your hero for a while so we can have the cool scene where he finally realizes his potential or whatever, but maybe figure out another way. Also, I’m not sure what the difference between Thor and the other heroes is. If he’s an actual god, his power should probably be unlimited unless otherwise stated. It occurs to me that these answers are probably found somewhere, like why he needs a goddamn spaceship to evacuate his people from his doomed home… world? Dimension? Hmm. I guess there are limits to the whole “every movie must stand alone” thing.

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Instead of a Dark Lord you shall have a QUEEN.

Another thing, is it weird just how New Zealand-y this movie is? I looked up the director, and prior to Ragnarok the most noteworthy directing credit he has is four episodes of Flight of the Conchords, so that checks out. He voices one of the gladiator-aliens and my wife immediately looked him up on IMDB because she thought Rhys Darby was doing the voice. Nope, turns out that the New Zealand accent is just universally hilarious. If that offends any New Zealanders, hush, you live in fucking Middle-Earth for crying out loud, I don’t want to hear about it. Unless you use your goofy accent, then I will gladly listen. Also, speaking of Middle-Earth, that first scene is absolutely riffing on the Mines of Moria scene in Fellowship of the Ring, right? What with all the orcish creatures swarming down the pillars before Thor fights what is essentially a Balrog? Also, tell me that Hela isn’t just Galadriel if she had taken the Ring. Like, you’re already using Cate Blanchett, why not go all the way with it? Well, it works because she’s great and plays the villain with just enough sarcastic menace that I was able to overlook her weird magic antlers. This move, man.

Posted in Film, Superheros | Leave a comment

Red Mars

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Novel * Kim Stanley Robinson * Space Conservation * 1993

Synopsis

This is one of my white whale books, all of which I intend to slay in 2018 lest I go all whale-crazy like Ahab. At least I think that’s what happens, because Moby Dick is one of those books I’ve never been able to finish. Soon. Right now, however, is a book about something very different from murdering majestic sea creatures out of spite. Instead it’s about murdering an entire planet! I’ve tried to read this sci-fi classic no less than three times before, and failed each time before I finished the first hundred pages. Usually, that’s enough for me to relegate a text to the discard pile forever. Yet there’s something about this book that hinted at something better, something I would enjoy if I could manage to engage with it. Also, it’s one of these seminal science fiction texts that I feel like I should read. Actually, that’s the one thing in common with my other white whale books: being the person I am, I should read and enjoy them. It’s a special kind of stupid available only to people who have made the critical error of making the study of language and literature one of their life’s focal points.

Red Mars, then, is a story about the colonization of Mars. This is a concept that’s in the news lately (as of March 2018), because Elon Musk is going to save humanity with his rocket cars. This is hard science fiction, by which I mean there are graphs and equations and shit. This is also a large scale novel which takes place over many, many years and deals with many characters and several viewpoints. There’s a lot to keep track of, but for the most part Robinson keeps it all together. It’s also the first book in a trilogy I may or may not return to. Red Mars is a dense, sometimes intense read, so it’s hard to work up too much enthusiasm to return to the Martian chaos that Robinson unleashes with his story of not only colonization, but the eventual terraforming of the red planet.

I bounced off this book the first few times because quite frankly the story starts poorly. The novel begins in media res, many years after the first people on Mars showed up, when there are full-on cities and towns popping up around the planet. That’s not the issue. No, the real problem with the introduction – and we may as well get it out of the way – the book as a whole, is that Robinson isn’t great at writing characters. They’re certainly not the worst I’ve ever encountered, not by a long shot, but it’s clear that Robinson is more comfortable talking about science and his vision for the colonization of Mars than he is about people. So he begins the book with one of the weaker scenes in the entire story, made even more annoying because it’s clear that the scene is supposed to be actiony and mysterious and is intended to pull us into the intrigue of the novel. It does not. It’s confusing, the reader has very little idea of who these people are and what they’re supposed to be doing. The viewpoint character is a near-unreadable jackass, made even worse because he then promptly murders his friend and then bingo-bango, we skip back in time to the beginning.

In this instance, the beginning is the long rocket-ride to Mars. The important characters of the novel all come from the “first 100,” who are the group of people who make the initial effort to set up the earliest settlements. This group is ostensibly led by the Russian Maya Toitovna and the American Frank Chalmers. The crew is comprised of mostly Russian and American scientists, although there is a smattering of other internationals. One of the Americans is a man named John Boone, who is the actual first man to have landed on Mars, so he carries a lot of weight. However, there are plenty others in the first 100 who are vital to the story which follows, some whom are more interesting and complicated than others. Unfortunately, the principal arc belongs to Maya, Frank, and John who have the most tepid love triangle ever going on between them, made all the more uncomfortable since these people all start off in middle age and by the end of the book are in their 70’s. Which, okay, old people fuck, sure. But they’re so clumsily written, and their relations are filled with broad, didactic explanations of their fits of passion, that it’s nearly impossible to give a shit about them. Anyway, the various relationships in the book are not a compelling reason to read this book. That best reason is Mars itself.

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I much prefer the understated cover. It’s way better than the weird 80’s montage cover above. That one looks like Huey Lewis’ “Working for a Living” should be playing alongside of it.

Discussion

Actually, Mars itself seems a little dull. The planet has as much landmass as Earth, so it’s a vast place, and the landscape is a contorted mass of extremes. Insane canyons and craters and impossible mountains seem to be the rule rather than the exception. Plus it’s crazy cold, heavily radiated, and is a nightmare of dust. What makes Red Mars compelling is Robinson’s attention to detail and his unwillingness to shy away from political reality. There’s a lot of idealism present in science fiction, and often the reason given for humanity pushing into space is simply “because we can.” I fully understand that idealism and wish the rest of the planet felt the same way, because space is awesome and we should be up there doing stuff. Yet humans are also awful at running Earth, so what makes us think that we’d run Mars any better? Red Mars is all about that conflict. The first 100 are mostly idealistic scientists, and not even they can agree about the best way to manage the colonization.

There are various positions among the first 100, and these positions become synonymous with the various characters. Again, depth of character is not the strong point. For instance, Arkady is like, the fun one, but mostly he’s the Communist. Frank is the angry realist. Ann is the strict preservationist. Sax wants to terraform. John just wants everyone to be cool. Phyllis wants money and power. Hiroko goes freaky religious and nativist. We see all of this right away, and while as characters these people aren’t terribly compelling, the ideas they espouse are. Since Red Mars is all about scope and scale, it’s fascinating to watch these ideas bloom and grow into entire movements which end up tearing the planet apart, and it all makes logical sense. Humanity is not homogenous, therefore if all of Earth is going to be represented on Mars, there is going to be conflict. Because we’re essentially psychotic apes, this conflict will nearly always turn violent.

One thing I had a hard time trying to figure out over the course of reading Red Mars is who the hell was paying for all this. It would be insanely expensive to even land a single person on Mars, let alone a hundred. Their initial ship had to hold a hundred people for like nine months! Then, when they get there, they have to have the supplies and equipment to build a functioning town on the surface of an alien planet. What’s the financial return on that? As the novel progresses and time moves along, thousands of people start making the journey, and that’s when those initial ideas start turning into movements. You’ve got the “transnationals,” which is to stay the corporate masters of late-stage capitalism who show up and are there to exploit resources. Never mind that there’s no immediate return on this massive investment, they keep sending equipment and people to mine the bejeezus out of the place. So the miners and builders are in direct conflict with those who were up there first and side with Ann, who are called “reds.” Because Mars is red, you see. These are the preservationists, who believe that Mars should just be left alone like a planet-wide national park. Then you’ve got conservationists who want to mediate between the two, and meanwhile tensions rise and I still don’t understand how anyone is making any money.

There’s one other major factor aside from profit, and that’s the state of the Earth. As the novel moves forward, it becomes clear that our home planet is in trouble. Overpopulation is a major problem and every country is feeling the pressure of insufficient resources and an angry, increasingly desperate populace. Mars is then seen as a release valve for the teeming masses, never mind that the colonization process is nowhere near ready for a major influx of people. Terraforming takes decades, if not centuries, so in the meantime people are forced to live in cramped enclosures with people they vehemently disagree with. When violence breaks out, it’s the infrastructure that breaks down. The novel ends with cataclysmic aquifer breaches and not a much about the future of the planet settled. Red Mars is a novel of ideas which are becoming more immediately relevant. We’re going to have to figure this out eventually, and when we do it’s too much to hope that our nature will have evolved all that much. The best way to do that is to engage with these ideas now, before we start whipping rockets into space.

Posted in Books, Colonialism, Corporations, Environment, Government | Leave a comment