Monthly Archives: February 2014

Supervillain Ideologies: Sinestro and the Sinestro Corps

The best way to describe the Sinestro Corps is: a Vorlon leading an army of Shadows. For those not familiar with Bablyon 5, what I mean is that Sinestro is an order obsessed authoritarian who leads an army of chaos breeding psychopaths.

By itself, this situation cannot stand because Sinestro is leading an army of beings he, himself, despises the most. Unless, of course, Sinestro is either using his Corps for purposes hidden from his troops or he is a hypocrite.

The truth, for those who have read The Sinestro Corps War and Sinestro’s subsequent actions since, is clear. Sinestro, though banished from the Green Lantern Corps, is still loyal to the ideals of that organization taken to a radical and militaristic extreme. For Sinestro, the Corps should not just preserve order but impose it, harshly. This is typified by Sinestro’s totalitarian regime on his homeworld. He wants to spread this ideal to the entire universe.

So, why use a force composed of, largely, chaos producers to achieve his goals? Simple.

To defeat the Sinestro Corps, the Guardians allow their Green Lanterns to kill. This action is the start of an increasing militarization of the Guardians of the Universe to the point that they, themselves, begin to impose order on the universe. Thus, Sinestro manipulates the Guardians into embracing his ideology.

Therefore, it is obvious that Sinestro is merely using his Corps to force the Green Lanterns to become more like him in ideological outlook.

But why do the Sinestro Corps follow a leader who will  likely dispose of them once he has achieved his goal? Because (duh) they are a bunch of psychopaths who don’t think much further ahead than “when do I next get to commit mass slaughter?”.

 

 

The Superhero Binge Posts

I’m currently on a binge of superhero comic books. So expect a series of posts with comic book related topics. Here is a preview of some of the topics I’m planning on tackling.

Supervillain Ideologies featuring Sinestro, the Court of Owls, Zeke Stane, and any others interesting ideologies I come across during my binge.

Teen Titans vs. Young Avengers

And any other interesting topics I come across.

A Post About My Taste

Do not read The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon. Despite all of the gushing press it has received, it sucks. 

But, thankfully, this is not a review about a horrible book. Rather, this is an exploration of my personal taste. 

I straddle two worlds. On one side, I’m a science fiction,fantasy, and comic book geek. On the other side, I’m passionate about literary literature. Understandably, this split wreaks havoc with my enjoyment.

I’m not one of those sf fans who can inhale most works in the genre and enjoy them with gusto. I tried The Bone Season and The Witches of Karres based off of reviews provided by Black Gate Magazine. I tried them and hated them. One of the books comes off immediately as your standard young adult fare, only remarketed as an adult starter. The other book is so boringly cliche, I barely made it past three pages. Ugh. 

Is it wrong for me to not be able to immerse myself with as much enthusiasm as other (mostly) science fiction and fantasy fans? Am I really not a fan because  I won’t stick out with what I feel to be poorly written crap? 

I really want to challenge that notion. I want science fiction and fantasy to be as well written as the best literary fiction. Even if it goes unrecognized. 

The more I think about influence, the more I wonder if a near exclusive diet of fantasy and science fiction is really the best way to go. 

Or am I letting my culture vulture side gain too much influence?

Review: More Than This by Patrick Ness

I love More Than This by Patrick Ness. I will buy this book, and make a point of hunting for Ness’s other work, at the first chance I get. 

Seth Wearing wakes up after drowning in the ocean. Instead of the home he has spent his teenage years in, he wakes up near his childhood home. How? What is going on? These questions, and more, plague Seth as he struggles to survive the ruined world he has awaken to. 

And trust me, the answers are surprising. 

First of all, Seth is an amazing character. His presence is so well realized, it is amazing. He just comes off the page, alive. 

Don’t get me wrong, some of his story is, honestly, eye roll inducing. But it is a testament to Ness’s mastery of characterization that I didn’t just put the book down and never come back to it.

The supporting characters, unfortunately, don’t come nearly so close to the realization that Seth achieves, but their characters are still very well done. Especially Regine and Tomasz.

Furthermore, kudos are to be given to Ness for creating, perhaps, one of the best representations of a gay teenager I’ve ever read. Ness gets it so right. While Seth’s homosexuality is an important plot point, it does not define him. He’s gay, so what? The handling is just matter of fact. 

Amazing. 

I did mention that I had an eye roll. And this novel does induce quite a few of them. Again, a testament to the great writing and characterization that I didn’t put the book down.

My biggest issue with the book, and one that is seemingly endemic to young adult literature, is that some of the story is needlessly grimdark. Does Seth’s life have to be that screwed up? And, even though this is a stupid question, why did the family move to Washington and give up NHS? (Unless, spoilers, the NHS doesn’t exist anymore when the story takes place).

Needless to say, the circumstances of Seth’s death are not shocking. 

The shock, I think, comes from the genre mashup revelations. The novel is a mix of the hero’s journey, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and The Matrix. While the influences to the two previous works are obvious, More Than This is not derivative. In fact, the direction Ness takes the narrative is very interesting. 

Overall, I really love this novel. I want to buy it now.

 

The Desire for a Complex Hero

What makes a hero?

I ask this question because I’m interested in how heroes become, well, heroic. How does background affect character? How does character affect plot?

Now, not all heroes are the same. Some heroes are the ultimate boy scout (Superman). Some heroes are tortured by the death of loved ones (Batman and Spiderman). Some heroes want recognition (Naruto). Some heroes fight for a dream (X-Men). Some heroes fight for greed (Conan).

There is the traditional hero. There is the antihero. There is the modern hero. 

I’ve written about about heroism in fiction before. I’ve criticized Harry Potter for how the titular hero shrugs off the abuse he’s suffered. I’ve ranted (several times) about Naruto’s unsatisfactory handling of Naruto’s repressed resentment. 

Thinking about my criticisms (mostly aimed at Naruto), I wonder if in some cases interesting heroes are shoehorned into a traditional (or would stereotypical be a better word?) mold. I’m not sure if contorting heroes into expectations is really all that wise. 

I want to see a resentful hero struggle with saving the community that scorned him. I want to see a hero who troubles the world, not restores it to a status quo. I want to see a hero fight with himself to overcome his faults. I want to see a hero fall to his flaws. I want to see a hero who dances on the edge of light and dark. I want to see a hero plunge into the abyss. Etc. 

But more than reading or watching stories that feature the above scenarios (which I, personally, intend to explore), I want to explore and (eventually) understand why these heroes act the way they do. What motivates them? What drives them?

In the end, what I want to see is more complexity in the hero.

Review: A Tale for the Time Being

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki is a postmodern novel that explores the tragedy of the human condition. Yasutani Nao, a Japanese school girl who has spent most of her life in America, writes a diary detailing her life and her decision to, perhaps, commit suicide. Her diary comes into the possession of Ruth, a middle aged writer, when it washes up on the beach of the Canadian island she lives on. Together, the two narratives intertwine to interrogate the various tragedies that befall both women. And it is that entanglement, separated by several years, that ultimately saves both women.

I honestly love this novel. The various voices are distinct and extremely well done.

And it forces me to think about how people interact, even separated by time and place. 

There are some things about the novel that bug me to no end, though.

For one thing, Nao undergoes tribulations that would make any grimdark fantasy writer proud. She is the subject of intense bullying at her school. So intense and extreme that I, personally, have to wonder, within the world of the text, why no one seemed to notice what was going on. The abuse is so obvious and organized that the school administrators should have been aware of it. (Her parents do become aware of it, but due to both of their failings, they are largely powerless to stop it until it is almost too late).

I understand that one of the themes of the novel is triumphing over the most crushing adversity. But the bullying is, honestly, just too much. 

In many reviews I’ve read, Nao’s story has been much preferred over that of Ruth’s, but I actually find Ruth the more interesting character. Nao’s problems are obvious. They pound the reader over the head with their excess. Ruth, on the other hand, faces subtler, and no less frightening, problems. 

As much as I love this novel, there is a bit of being cheated. 

Nao’s diary purports to be telling the reader (Ruth) the story of her great grandmother, Yasutani Jiko. But, in fact, the story told is that of Nao herself and, later, her great uncle Yasutani Haruki. While Jiko comes off as an amazing cipher and mentor, whether or not her story is actually told is irrelevant to the text as a whole. Rather, it is Nao’s development of her “superpower” and the conscience of the two Harukis that form the core of the diary.

The other bit of being cheated comes from an award that this novel is up for. The Kistchies are a set of awards that are aimed at speculative fiction.

Is A Tale for the Time Being speculative? I, personally, would say no. There is a scene, the denouement, where Ruth’s dreams may be temporal projections, which alters the history of the text. But while this occurrence might be magical realism, or even Canadian gothic, I would not call it speculative. Nor is any of the literary quantum theory engaged within the text exactly speculative. Rather, this is what modernist and postmodernist literature is. The whole point is to explore the nature of fiction and reality. 

That A Tale for the Time Being engages in the same dialogue should not be surprising. I can see the argument for calling this novel speculative. It does “speculate” about the nature of reading and reality. And the time traveling dreams are a speculative trope. But, again, I do not think this novel is exactly speculative. What sf elements are present are not essential to the text. 

Despite that, I do love the mixture of genres present. And I do love the novel. 

Even if I will never look at Japan the same way again. 

A Four Movie Review: Iron Man, The Sorcerer and the White Snake, District 9, and Star Trek (Reprise)

At my local library, there is a limit of five movies. This past week, I checked out five movies. Of the five, the one I will not be reviewing is Howl’s Moving Castle. I love that movie and I’ve already written about it. Or at least the book by Diana Wynne Jones. 

Anyway, on to the four movies I will be reviewing.

Iron Man (2008 dir. Jon Favreau)

I can’t believe it has taken me this long to finally watch this movie. The short of it is that I love this movie. Seriously, this movie is great. 

The evolution of Tony Stark from playboy merchant of death to hero is powerful. Especially when contrasted to Obadiah Stane, who is likely what Tony would have become eventually, though maybe not so maniacal. 

Robert Downey, Jr. is, honestly, an inspired choice to play Tony Stark. Is there any questions as to why he headlines the Marvel Cinematic Universe? 

Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow are equally well casted. Especially Paltrow’s awesome Pepper Potts. 

The one problem I have with this movie is with Stane’s villainy. He goes from being a very well developed corrupt corporate executive to a standard maniacal super villain. I like Stane when he acts like the cool mentor who is selling Stark weapons to both sides. But Stane as the Iron Monger is just your average supervillain. 

But that problem aside, I love this movie.

The Sorcerer and the White Snake (2011 dir. Ching Siu-tung)

My opinion about this film is torn. On the one hand, I love the scenery porn. On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure what the hell the movie is trying to tell us.

The visuals are gorgeous. Even if the CGI is poorly done at times. 

The film tells the story of Susu, a white snake demon, who falls in love with Xu Xian, a doctor and herb picker. Standing in their way is the sorcerer/ abbot Fahai, who views all demons as not belonging in the human world. 

Throughout the film, Fahai’s sentiment is supported as he and his disciples battle and trap various malignant demons (an ice harpy, a bat demon, and a pack of fox demons). But, those sentiments are challenged by Susu and Qingqing, the green snake, who are largely benevolent. And, perhaps most tellingly, by Neng Ren, a monk who is transformed into a bat demon.

Things begin to fall apart when Fahai learns that Susu and Xu Xian are married. He demands that she either leave him or face what ever punishment he decides to mete out. The conflict comes to a head when Xu Xian stabs his wife and subsequently steals a magical herb from the temple to save her.

Once saved, Susu attempts to return the favor. At this point, Fahai is clearly the movie’s antagonist. For much of the final fight, he is no match for Susu.

But then, a deus ex machina occurs and the whole point of the movie seems to be lost. In my opinion, this event ruins the movie. Of course, given the deus ex machina, not that surprising.

District 9 (2009 dir. Niel Blomkamp)

This movie is not as bad as I thought it would be. But I’m still not overly fond of it, either. 

The biggest problem I have with the movie is that it tries to be The Office married to a science fiction thriller. I don’t think this works. 

Another problem I have is that the politics of the movie are a little too much like a hammer. Allegory should always be more subtle.

Do I think the apartheid South African government would do what they did to the aliens? Yes. But I seriously doubt that the rest of the world would have let them get away with it, even if speciesism is as omnipresent as the film makes out. I just don’t buy it.

And that, I think, is where science fiction runs into one of its major weaknesses. Does the reader/ viewer actually buy the world created? 

Star Trek (2009 dir. J.J. Abrams)

Speaking of not buying the world created, I still don’t like this movie. I just don’t buy it at all. The plot is still stupid with a poor antagonist. 

I may be the only Star Trek fan who prefers Into Darkness.

Too bad Star Trek won’t be returning to television in the near future. That is where the franchise belongs.