GENESIS: Bk1 of The Kingdom Come Series Reviews

GENESIS: Book One of The Kingdom Come Series (All Reviews)

 Ok, Now they're all in one place: Amazon, B&N and Goodreads :) Amazon Customer September 29, 2016 5/5 A great read wit...

Sunday, April 2, 2017

JL: I just can't get excited

It looks like Snyder has learned nothing...

ITS BACK!!!!!!

1) It's one of the best Scifi Shows on TV
2) If you're not watching it, I'm not sure what you're doing with your life.


I have seen it. Better than expected.

*Star Lord and Mystique deliver :)


I have seen it. And it was good.

Rhythm: The Enemy of Story, by Aahabershaw


This is going to be partly a writing post, partly a gaming post, and partly a literary post. I don’t outline these things, so who the hell knows what’s going to happen next. Let’ start with… (throws dart) literature. Okay, so the past few years I’ve themed my Lit Survey class around the Hero’s Journey (mostly Campbell’s Monomyth, etc.). Inevitably, we start talking about superhero movies in the class, as superhero tales are the ones most recognizably Campbellian in form. While I do like these movies (overall), after reading hundreds and hundreds of pages of student work on Calls to Adventure, Crossing the Threshold, the Normal World Vs the Special World and so on and so forth, I tend to get bored with the whole thing.
Now, as it happens, it’s rather difficult to escape the basic rhythms of this story form, particularly if you intend to tell a story involving a protagonist intended to be even vaguely heroic – this stuff is deeply ingrained in our collective unconscious and our ideas of story. Inevitably we wind up following some variation of this path – both in our reading, our own writing, and even at the RPG table.
The challenge, though, is to resist the urge to paint by the numbers – follow the journey, step by step, like a kind of roadmap. While you can tell some very competent tales that way, you also fall into being predictable. Spend enough time with this structure, and things cease to amaze you, which is, frankly, a terrible loss.
Of course, totally diverging from this format has its own problems – the story becomes unsatisfying or strange to the point where you no longer connect with it. Kafka, for all his brilliance, isn’t telling stories that delight and engage so much as confuse and confound. This has its place and its own appeal, naturally, and I’m not suggesting the avant garde, post-modern, or abstract tale is a worthless endeavor. It’s that if you want to tell a heroic story but you also want to make it new, you need to find variations of the monomyth that are poorly traveled. There are many ways to do this, of course – shake up who your hero is, shake up the setting, shake up the stakes, and resist hitting the steps of the story “cleanly.” If you want a master class in how this is done, watch any given Cohen Brothers film – they are regularly, consistently unusual and amazing, even though, in broad terms, they are (usually) telling the story of a central character who is yanked from their normal world, sent through an ordeal, who then returns to the normal world somehow changed and enlightened. They just do it in the messiest, most bizarre way possible.
Oh great, more piles of gold…
In tabletop RPGs, there are dangers in rhythm, as well. The standard form is this: Players receive a call to adventure, they delve into the dungeon and slay monsters, and they are rewarded with treasure. In D&D in particular, this is what we sign up for, right? But there is only so long this can happen before the game gets old. Too many gaming sessions can be described as “role-play, role-play, kill little thing, argue, big battle, treasure.” I fall into this routine myself. There are plenty of games out there that don’t lend themselves to this, sure, but plenty more that do, I’d argue. Even in those games that don’t do this, the danger of routine still looms large, it’s just that the routine changes.
I say routine and rhythm is “dangerous” because it risks, to my mind, what is ultimately fatal to a book or game alike: becoming boring and predictable. Nobody wants that. Nobody wants things to go smoothly and perfectly all the time (even when they say they do) because it kills the excitement of the unknown. For gaming, as with storytelling, this requires you to consciously seek variations on a theme. Break the mold. Have the dungeon be empty, but have it lead players on some different, deeper quest. Have the monster be absent – it’s back at the village, killing and eating all those people your players are sworn to protect. Never forget the narrative fun that can be had with a cursed item (note: not for making players look stupid, but for giving them benefits that have extreme costs. Yes, that’s a +5 sword. No, you can’t ever sheathe it or wipe off the blood. Enjoy visiting the orphanage.). Have the players be wildly overmatched to the point where they need to flee the dungeon (and make it back through all the deathtraps backwards). Have the adventure involve no dungeon AT ALL. Have the players save the town from a flash flood. Drop them in a desert with no food or water and watch them scrabble to survive. Make one of them king for  a day.
The point here is that, as important as the forms and rituals of our storytelling world are to making our stories satisfy, we also need to remember that variety is the spice of life. Break the mold. Change the dance. Improvise.
Good luck!

Let's Get Serious! —In which I alienate Phish Fans, by Joel J. Adamson


What is it that makes readers connect? Sincerity and honesty. The kind of sincerity I’m talking about might be called being “serious” but as Alan Watts pointed out, the word “serious” has a sort of dry unfunniness about it, and that isn’t what I’m getting at. Fantasy literature in particular has this problem, much less than it used to, that it’s hard to take seriously a book about wizards and dragons. Ursula LeGuin seems to have eventually convinced everyone to take such books seriously, but not without plenty of books getting written to convince people otherwise. Wizards and dragons sound like childish topics, until you read Gene Wolfe, Stephen R. Donaldson, or dare I say Robert Jordan?

Books weren’t what brought my attention back to this over the past week, however. I bought Blurryface by Twenty One Pilots and noticed that this album is funny, ironic, absurd and self-referential, but extremely deep. The lyrics are about insecurity, uncertainty, life, and death; my favorite lyric is from the hit song “Ride,” which points out that we all have people we say we’d take a bullet for, but there really aren’t any bullets flying right now. I especially relate to “Stressed Out,” which points out that when we’re young, we tend to think our confidence will grow, but when you get older you can develop crippling insecurity. That was grad school for me. They’re blatantly honest about the superficiality of other music and how disappointing that is (“Don’t trust a perfect person and don’t trust a song that’s flawless”). It reminds me, of all things, of Laurie Anderson, whose songs are silly, but at the same time are about life and death and the nature of consciousness. She can be talking about a game of Simon Says and point out you could die at any moment. And wouldn’t you feel like it had already happened?

Last night I watched a film called Teeth about a teenage abstinence freak who discovers she has a toothed vagina. It was a risky move: the potential for being downright silly was tremendous given the topic, but this movie pulled off a scary, even funny, but psychologically deep story. No one, not the men who try to rape the main character, not the promise-ring wearing teenagers, nor even her metalhead brother were caricatured. This movie had the best inclusion of material from evolutionary biology that I’ve ever seen. They clearly did their homework with both scientific, psychological, and mythological material. Despite all the guys who get their dicks cut off in this movie, I found it hilarious, especially the card at the end saying “No men were harmed in the making of this film.” My question is: why wasn’t it stupid?

An example that shows the contrast is Katy Perry. She’s capable of producing songs that really get right to the heart, she’s an accomplished vocalist, and I like the themes of some of her songs: “Roar,” “Firework,” “Wide Awake,” and “Chained to the Rhythm” are all great songs that are totally sincere. On the other hand are some of the dumbest songs on radio, where the theme is basically “Let’s get our nails done and get drunk” or “I got drunk and fooled around on my boyfriend.” What distinguishes the two? If Katy Perry is a capable singer and songwriter, why is some of her work so superficial, whereas much of the rest really speaks to the listener? (This might be a good time to mention I can’t stand Phish. Look at the difference between Phish and the Grateful Dead and you’ll know what I mean. Music is a big joke for Phish whereas the Grateful Dead, if they weren’t exactly serious, were sincere about the meaning in the songs they sang)

This is where content, not style, shows its importance. Style is not enough. Katy Perry’s worst songs demonstrate that you can have a full command of style and sing or write about totally superficial material: money, clothes, alcohol, socks. The ephemera of life. If you really want to touch readers you have to talk about things that are universal. Life, birth, death, alienation, love, glory, courage, honesty itself. You can even do it in an absurd way, or in a non-universal way, but as long as the story you’re telling is believable, or if you walk the reader along into the fantastical elements of the story, it will reach them. In the case of Twenty One Pilots or Katy Perry, they get to the heart of the matter right away, having only two-and-a-half minutes to do so. When Katy Perry says “You’re gonna hear me roar,” we know that’s a metaphor, but it’s a metaphor we can all relate to; it speaks to a universal need to be heard and appreciated.
In the case of Teeth, Dawn’s mutation (teeth in her vagina) is not really believable, but the filmmakers walked us in to that using mythology, science fiction, and good ol’ teenage lust as she confronts her identity. By the end of the film, she is willing to concede that she’s a monster, but she’s a monster on a mission, and I was totally on her side. Not believable exactly, but sincere. A real exercise in rising conflict.
Don’t take yourselves too seriously, kids, but be sincere. People can tell the difference.