Saturday, December 31, 2016

Trash You Scorn

It will not get better. This is as good as it gets, solely frets, don't place bets. It's broken. Your clumsy shaking fingers can't fix it and nobody sells replacement parts anyway. You are trash. You blew your chance. You fumbled and stumbled and crumbled and crumpled and failed and wailed and your life's been curtailed, existence derailed. You are trash. She hates you. Your failure's domain's their love ballad's refrain. You cannot contain your inveterate stain, your inverted disdain, all trash failure's pertain to intrinsic discourage for little things forage in glorious waste in all their distaste for your carrion plumage, your detritus foliage til they lick your chops. You are trash. It's stuck in your teeth, the dregs of your life chewing inwards spewing inwards crunching inwards punching inwards til your innards suck inwards and the rest follows after amidst glorious laughter the apes swallow faltering spatter you sputter and fail to discredit your knees weak at the ankles your hands limp at the shoulder your sclera inked black behind shades in your pillow under the blanket behind the lock and the space. Darkened room doom-doom-doom, it's your heartbeat you taste in the waste in the double-sized emptiness, polyester aridity dreaming nowhere's fluidity. Fear the galvanic, the titanic panic, the stick in your knees, your posterity's pleas, trees feed bees to the birds to the spurns to the limit of turns for consumption resumption.


No collagen squamous scrapes temples tridiunal, no thrill of distilled endocrinic arsenic, none of your chains lovely luce, ferric truce, I'll not derring do, not for you, for your squalid foetal residues, for your lashed batting practiced nor your skirted regenerate foliate two-three skidoo. I am trash, truth is true, but I won't reek for you. Laugh my gutter but it flows as I lean, not to your plumbing curtained, force-feed me your disdainful mockery train. Disqualified version intros loserdom, an aging monarchic aversion, mind the throne, one alone, you will not usurp my self-hatred's reserves for your patchwork soft dreck, my wreck will not fit snugly between the inviting high pass, I'll not play your brass band all for a hand. I am trash - all the land knows it chose it grows it and shows it. I live at the end of your fingers turned to follow my scram but I won't ride a pram, pair your medics in vedics and coopers in barrels of monkeys scriptural and prurient murals show romuloids certa their maters in hand-in-hand, every land has its tablets but if that's all your form functions then learn to discern. I shy and avert, branches drooping, stooping, your intentions intuiting. Too much ingrown affinity scratches my bark from inside but my cortex yet cohedes in futility no matter your myriad unities all around bully-varlots' res polity. I will not break, not for you to wrap me around and show me around town. Why wouldst thou breed more sinners, winners, beginners at dinners need not apply, winters autumned all summers, trash piling up, but don't worry it will soon rain and carry away this distemperate waste far away from your animals' pens. My rabid dissolution will not infect your pets' obedience.

Monday, December 26, 2016

You Lot'a Heels!

"Capitalism has made it this way
Old-fashioned fascism will take it away"

Marilyn Manson - The Beautiful People

"I don't read no papers and I don't listen to radios either. I know the world's been shaved by a drunken barber an' I don't have to read it."

So, it's December 26th. The kids have already unwrapped their presents and declared them unsuitable. You've packed your angry uncles and drunken cousins off to their respective abodes of the damned and you've finally got your home to yourself again. Mostly. There's probably still a great-aunt Mildred shuffling around the house, rifling through your sock drawers in search of fresh gossip, and the nursing home won't take her back until after New Year's. Oy vey.

In the U.S., among the rest of the Christmassy banalities on da TeeVee, you've likely also run across that sodden oldie, It's a Wonderful Life. For those outside the U.S., I can confirm that American TV stations really do put their viewers to sleep with that damn flick every single year. It's so pervasive that I've started attributing random scenes from other old movies to it. Well, given that the scene I wanted to discuss comes from another movie directed by Frank Capra, I may be forgiven my momentary confusion.

In fact, as Wikipedia and Youtube kindly jogged my memory, I realized that Meet John Doe makes a much more relevant movie for this particular holiday season. Despite some dragging dialogue and a very weak, sappy ending, a story about (among other things) a fatcat ironfisted would-be dictator hijacking populist sentiment for his own benefit rings painfully true after the recent election. Donald Trump is D.B. Norton. However, the most important scene in the movie comes early on (minute 22 here) where "The Colonel" a hobo, expounds his philosophy of life to a couple of incredulous bystanders.


"The heelots!"

"Who're they?"

"Listen sucker, you ever been broke?"

"Sure, mostly often."

"Alright. You're walkin' along. Not a nickel in your jeans, you're free as the wind. Nobody bothers you. Hundreds of people pass you by in every line of business: shoes, hats, automobiles, radios, furniture, everything. They're all nice, lovable people, and they let you alone. Now, is that right?"


"Then you get a hold of some dough and what happens? All those nice, sweet, lovable people become heelots! A lotta heels! They begin creepin' up on you. Tryin' to sell you something. They get long claws and they get a stranglehold on you, and you squirm and you duck and you holler and you try to push 'em away but you haven't got a chance, they gotcha! First thing you know, you own things. A car, for instance. Now your whole life is messed up with a lot more stuff. You got license fees, and number plates, and gas, and oil, and taxes, and insurance, and identification cards, and letters, and bills, and flat tires, and dents, and traffic tickets, and motorcyle cops, and courtrooms, and lawyers, and fines, and a million-and-one other things! And what happens?"

*confused head-shakes*

"You're not the free and happy guy you used to be. You gotta have money to pay for all those things. So you go after what the other fellers got. And there you are: you're a heelot yourself."

This sentiment somehow gets lost in the rush toward a stereotypical Hollywood ending (hero gets girl and social approval, not in that order) (it's never in that order) but it fills in the gap in the great mystery of how something as disgusting as Trump can happen. The film's last line, delivered in defiance of the fatcats, should rather have been delivered in defiance of the idealists at the rally.

"The people! Try and lick that!"

The "Tea Party" and the rest of the reactionary redneck imbeciles begging to be enslaved by corporate overlords are the John Doe clubs, the masses so eager to cannibalize their own ersatz principles. Like it or not, half the United States wants to believe Trump's lies - and the other half thought Clinton's a valid alternative, which is almost as stupid. The degenerate rabble aren't being corrupted. They are the corruption. They don't become a lot of heels by getting a chance at power. They always were heels and always will be, incapable of not scrabbling for power over each other, to enslave each other, to vote lying filth into power because the brainless sheep have deluded themselves that somehow the lion will share.

The world will not be fixed by the moronic circle-jerk of populist rhetoric, by hordes of mindless vermin patting their neighbour on the right on the back while stabbing the one on the left. You, dear reader, are the poison in the apple. D.B. Norton, Donald Trump, whatever you want to call that same beast always in the limelight, that's just a parasite. It could not survive without you. Your stupidity feeds it, John Doe. Helping the little people accomplishes nothing as long as each and every one of those little people thinks of nothing but being big, of becoming the slavemaster instead of a slave. The real problem isn't that sixty million retards voted for Trump. It's that three hundred million retards want to be Trump.

"You live with apes, man, it's hard to be clean."

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Oughtn't'a fait

So, everyone remember History of the World, Part 1? In the Inquisition sketch, a Torqued-up Mel Brooks bounces these few lines off his backup singers.

"Chorus:    Hey, Torquemada, whadda ya say?
Torquemada:    I just got back from the auto da .
C:    Auto da ? What's an auto da ?
T:    It's what you oughtn't to do - but you do anyway!"

Of course, transcribing can't do justice to Brooks' comedic timing and his shit-eating grin. Minute 3:50 in this video.

It occurred to me recently this pun wouldn't work for someone who didn't know the minimal French to catch the "fait" instead of "fé" in that context. It took me a night's sleep to realize that what really amazed me was the context itself, that a big Hollywood production would actually expect its audience to know a single, solitary word of a foreign language; and not just any language but that evil, evil French!

General knowledge. We all know better than to expect so much of the public these days, don't we?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

P of E, Wizardry, Skills and Bills and Version 3

To my great shame, the first computer roleplaying game I played was... not. It was Blizard's original Diablo, and though I'll gladly defend its excellent atmosphere, ambience and general immersiveness, it was anything but intellectually taxing. My first exposure to the Dungeons and Dragons routine was Neverwinter Nights. I played a druid. For its expansion packs I played a wizard, an abjurer to be precise, and gloried in cockblocking the various spellcasting bosses with my superior knowledge and forethought, staying one move ahead of them. For NWN2 I played a halfling druid with such a low strength score that he had to buff himself in order to wear his own armor, much less carry anything else. I refused to shapeshift and made myself a pure spellcaster shifting the tide of battle with well-placed buffs and summons, nothing so crude as direct slappity-slap.

I'm a nerd. I play characters which out-think their opponents. Out-thinking is out-predicting. I loved the third edition D&D prestige class requirements. Remember those?
I've never been particularly crazy about prestige classes themselves, mind you. Usually they limit or water down a basic class rather than build on it, though I was pleased with their implementation in Dragon Age: Origins. In the NWN games I liked the prestige class requirements more than the classes themselves. I liked having something to play towards, purposefully building my character toward some grand apotheosis. I liked that my characters should aspire to be more than they are, not merely spinning their wheels on the leveling treadmill but purposefully becoming more than those around them. Transcending. Predicting that transcendence.

Predicting's also half the point of choosing a spellcaster in the first place, relying not on fighters' simplistic all-purpose cudgeling of everything in sight but a minutely preened and rarefied selection of arcane tools fitted to specific purposes. I never felt the slightest inclination to play a sorceror. I am that thing which predicts, which memorizes spells every day. I'm smarter than you. I hated seeing favored souls and spirit shams get inserted into the game, idiot-friendly versions of clerics and druids. Much as The Order of the Stick avowed, however, the ultimate insult to spellcasting, the vilest injury to the honor of the wise and intelligent, was the warlock, an overpowered fighter in all but name, endlessly spewing magic arrows without regard for circumstance. Warlocks belong in Diablo, an "action" version of a genre which no longer deserves its name.

I don't even play D&D, aside form cRPG adaptations, yet I immediately and quite firmly adopted the mindset of the snobbish spell-memorizers. Suits me just fine.

Last year, Pillars of Eternity promised largely to bring back the late '90s, to re-create the basic gameplay of Baldur's Gate 2 in a more mature setting with better mechanics. It succeeded for the most part. Its stat system was much better thought out than D&D's has ever been, with no conveniently inconsequential "dump stat" like charisma. Its melee engagement system and vulnerabilities made for some interesting fights. Unfortunately, its skill system fell far short of what it should have been, failing to fully flesh out the combat.

Fffff... There's an obvious decline toward the lowest common denominator in D&D's spellcaster regression, from thoughtful wizards to sorcerors who don't plan ahead to warlocks who just piss magic missiles all over the place. Unfortunately Pillars of Eternity's spellcasting falls decidedly into the sorceror / warlock camp. PoE druids are spirit shamans getting access to every possible spell at every level, with shapeshifting handed out as a complete freebie. Wizards technically had to memorize spells, but they dropped like candy and the daily spell repertoire was so vast as to never require swapping.

If you're gonna bring back the good old days, then bring back that good old nerdy spellcasting and character progression. Choosing a particular spell to cast should cost you something. You should be forced to pine at some point or another for the alternatives you passed up in favor of your current strategy. Every choice in character progression and combat strategy should come with a cost, a weak point, a missing half, a caveat, an opportunity for you, the player, to feel like the most idiotic speck of slime on the planet for being so stupid as to not have correctly predicted your necessities. If you want to burn with the Art, then the Art should burn you.

Baldur's Gate 2 was based on second-edition D&D, with no prestige classes. Thus PoE lacks prestige classes, any purposefully chosen path of advancement. PoE was made after the audience got accustomed to dumbed-down spellcasting in late third edition. Thus the spellcasting's simplified into all-purpose freebies instead of actively selected counters and silver bullets. Somehow, while trying to bring back the best of the old D&D-inspired cRPGs, Pillars of Eternity managed to combine the worst of both worlds, at least as far as character development goes. The less said about instant endless re-training the better. Lucky PoE's end-game was salvaged by good writing, because as far as building up my character goes the leveling and combat had started to feel utterly meaningless.

Dungeons and Dragons has been the most representative role-playing game out there, but fourth edition was by all accounts an idiotically dumbed down caricature of itself and fifth edition seems only marginally better, if at all. Most products cater to the mass-market, which means catering to utter cretins by removing any requirement for planning and foresight. However, it hasn't been so long since I played Neverwinter Nights that we old-school niche market of nerdy spell-memorizers have completely died off. We should be seeing some RPGs tailored to players who like to think, to plan and predict and investigate and prepare and strategize. D&D seems to have cast its lot in with the idiotic majority, attempting to go pop. Adapting it will likely yield nothing worth playing, and it's not like we see anyone bothering to adapt D&D for computers any more.

We need new systems for old gamers. PoE was a breath of fresh air but it shied away from a true incarnation of old-school magic schooling. We need games with wizards, not sorcerors or *shudder* warlocks. Ick.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Deadlock 2

There was always something missing.
I've played a lot of games and talked about them here, trashed many, praised a few. Deadlock 2 was something I got from another guy back in high school and enjoyed playing it well enough, but while arguably as good or better in technical terms than most games of its time, something in Deadlock 2's composition has left it somehow... forgettable.

It might get classified as a 4x turn-based strategy game, but its many restrictions on expansion and rather limited scope preclude the 4x label. It adopts a much more balanced and thoughtful approach to turn-based strategy than normal 4x endless x-ing. While tempted to put up a screenshot of a battle for dramatic purposes, this up above more truly represents Deadlock 2. It's a resource management game. You'll have to actually pay attention to the upkeep costs of everything you're building so as not to starve yourself of any particular fodder (as I did this game with energy) and it's one of the few TBS games where you won't find yourself just blindly hitting the "end turn" button repeatedly waiting for something to happen. Your bases give you something to fiddle with every turn.

The combat side of things is relatively weak, mostly relying on building up overwhelming numbers with little regard for counters or finesse, but once again, this is a resource management game. Maybe that lackluster combat is why Deadlock 2 never really qualified as one of the greats. Once you've managed to balance your resource production, you're let down by the lack of anything truly interesting into which to sink them. Maybe it's because of its relatively shallow and speedy technology tree (you blow through most techs every couple of turns) that it never feels very momentous. Maybe it's because of the relatively small maps (that up above being the biggest map size) that your conquests never feel glorious. Maybe it's the painfully gullible AI that fails to put up a fight so long as you flatter it.

Logically, this game should be better remembered. The interface can occasionally get in your way with its pop-up messages but mostly offers a surprising amount of customization and information for a 1998 program. The resource balancing proves challenging enough, the various playable races run a large gamut of bonuses and drawbacks altering the pacing of the game for each one, the various notification screens and pop-up messages are humorously written and voiced, the randomized terrain makes you plan out your colonies' role. The visual and aural aesthetics carry off that glorious pulp scifi book cover "Jetsons" look surprisingly well. And yet... it's as if a lot of good features met and simply canceled each other out, interfering instead of amplifying. It lacks any singular vision, any... point to it. I can't help thinking this whole technical team should've been bottled up and giftwrapped for some mad genius of computer gaming to fuel a more focused, visionary project like Alpha Centauri.

As it stands, Deadlock 2's still worth buying if you catch it for a couple of bucks, so long as you're not expecting anything Earth-shattering.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Goddamn Noisy Box

Oooogh. I really shouldn't watch TV.
Caught a morning show today. Aren't morning shows wonderful? All the cheerful, upbeat jingoistic stupidity you need to start your day as a hopeless cog in the system on the right foot.

One segment was a couple of sound bites from Buzz Aldrin, plus some presenter commentary on Aldrin being hospitalized after his aborted Antarctic excursion. Apparently he "began to show signs of altitude sickness" and was treated for some "excess fluid in his lungs" - which makes it sound like he caught a sniffle. Look, you fucking morons, altitude + octogenarian lungs = pulmonary edema a.k.a. drowning in your own juices. It's probably not just a big of phlegm you get to spit on the sidewalk, and you, you pathetic dimwitted apes watching at home should not need to have that sugarcoated for you. Yes, one of your heroes might have died. Big shock: it's gonna happen eventually anyway. Yes, he took a chance, took a risk and almost croaked for it but it was his own decision, and his capacity to take such risks is supposed to be part of why you like the geezer in the first place, so show some respect for the poor schmuck by not infantilizing his trials and tribulations!

Another segment cheerfully announced an increase in loan interest rates because "the Fed believes the economy is strong enough to take it" - yaaayyy, cue confetti and cheerleaders, we're strong enough to get even more screwed by the rich! Retards! The point isn't whether you CAN take it but that by no ethical standards should you ever HAVE to take it. No, the fatcats who take all your money at your job should not get to charge you even higher interest when you borrow your own money out of their overstuffed pockets to buy yourself a place to live. This is not fucking rocket science! No-one has the right to profit just for already having money. Interest is robbery, wealth acquired off others in exchange for nothing.

Or maybe it is rocket science. Maybe 300 million of you degenerate true-blue imperial underlings are sitting at home imbibing this droning pablum for an hour before work every single work-a-dunce morning without ever gathering the minimal mental fortitude to see through it. Keep it cheery, keep it light, keep it optimistic. Keep the mentally deficient rabble happy. The astronaut's illness wasn't that grave, and the body politic's illness has healed enough to get mercilessly reamed by the ultra-wealthy. Good news all around! Also, the price of toothbrushes has always been this high and we have always been at war with Eurasia. Or was it Eastasia. Who cares, just look at that majestically waving flag logo on screen.


Monday, December 12, 2016

Monster Pulse

Ah, magic kids. Aside from fueling the entire anime industry, there's just something about magic kids that never gets old. Literally. You could drag a story out for twenty years while your characters wonder if senpai's noticed them yet. In any case, to offset their superheroics with a bit of (socially acceptable) vulnerability, a dash of pathos to underscore the high notes, why not make your protagonists kids? With their puberty doubling as a metaphor for superpowered transcendence (or vice-versa) and oh, so touchingly lost in a confusing world of mature content, they're sure to seem more meaningful than some forty-year-old mailman with eye lasers. Plus, they'll be more relatable to the audience most likely to read comics in the first place, right?

So here's Monster Pulse, a webcomic about magic kids. Nondescript ghostlike things attack kids' random organs, which then leap out of their bodies and become those kids' monstrous yet very devoted pets. Think of it as a cross between Pokemon and Parasyte. PG-rated body horror. A boy and his stomach-dog. The various monstrous body parts running around make it amusing enough, but as an added bonus the author manages to write rather believable tween heroes, capricious, self-deluding, playing to their own imaginary audience. They don't act like sock-puppets for schoolteachers delivering life lessons to impressionable youngsters. Light on pedantry, hitting the right balance between sappy and screwy, Monster Pulse is interesting enough to retain its audience until the author runs out of recognizable organs to monstrify and the references get too obscure for its intended audience.

Sorry, but I just don't see readers sticking around for new characters based on eyelashes, parietal glands or synovial bursae.

And before you ask, no, there's no penis monster... yet.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

V:tM - Bloodlines ! Clan Selection

"We're the low art gloominati and we aim to depress"

Marilyn Manson - The Golden Age of Grotesque

So here I am about to re-re-re-re-re-embark on another playthrough of Bloodlines. Last decade I first experienced the game as a Gangrel, which role suited me just fine. Over the next couple of years I replayed the game ... oh, about three and two halves times? Hard to remember.

See, Bloodlines earned its lasting fame not least through its shockingly high replay value. Albeit almost entirely linear and story-based, the seven different playable clans offered an excellent mix of playstyles. The missions didn't vary much. You killed the same bosses, got more or less the same rewards. Yet still different clans felt different on a very fundamental level. Your ability to make money, the way you acquire blood, the simple acts of walking and talking all caught different flavors. Not all seven choices were completely different, granted. Some blurred into each other, but overall, playing a Gangrel or Tremere in Bloodlines felt much more like a true choice than playing a warrior or mage in other RPGs.

This was accomplished by addressing more than just numeric values, more than how hard you hit or how hard you're hit. Frenzying at the wrong time got me killed a few times as a Gangrel, but wading into fights with maxed-out defenses was still fun. My Tremere barely needed weapons, kiting most things with her stupidly overpowered blood strike ability. Bloodlines was also one of the few games whose aesthetics prompted me to play female characters. The female Tremere's nerdy/bohemian look contrasting with her pugnacious bearing serve as a pretty close approximation of my Jungian anima. Shockingly, despite my antisocial Gangrel basic personality, I thoroughly enjoyed playing a female Ventrue as well, enjoying the interpretation of the pinnacle of vampiric society as not necessarily manipulators but self-possessed imperious dictators.

The most interesting clans to play are the ones suffering limitations on their movements and feeding. Unfortunately, the game's highly urbanized setting offered few options for a Gangrel roleplaying take on things. As a Ventrue I was forced to pass up most feeding opportunities while hunting down the cream of the crop. It gives the game a different flavor, sneering past countless rats and bums while on the lookout for some guy in a suit. In contrast, the most lauded addition to the game was the Nosferatu's need to avoid ever being seen by humans, both greatly ramping up the difficulty and providing a unique skulking boogeyman roleplaying style. In fact, it's best not to play either a Nosferatu or Malkavian your first time through, as their way of interacting with the world is so... "off"... as to heavily warp the core game experience.

As for Malkavians, it was the last clan I tried before finally wandering away from the game years ago, only getting halfway through with mine. So as I've decided to play one all the way through now I won't get into their weirdness yet except to say their +2 inspection stat is the least of their concerns. The Bloodlines skill system itself is fodder for another post, but suffice to say biting the proverbial bullet and investing heavily in firearms (the low-damage option) combined with Malks' relative lack of brute force should make boss fights interesting for me. Since I'll likely need to buy warehouses' worth of ammo, I've also decided to be an expert haggler.

I remember enough of the game to know in general terms what's supposed to happen, but after five, six or seven or however many years I'm not likely to remember the correct dialogue choices.

Hey, what could go wrong?

Thursday, December 8, 2016

ST:TNG - The Icarus Factor

In an effort to relive my early teens, I am re-watching old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is both better and worse than I remembered it, as was my youth most likely.

Seriesdate 2.14
The Icarus Factor

a.k.a. Character Development for Dummies

Riker's up for a promotion. Meh, what else is new? Seems like at least once a season he's about to get his own ship, if not elevated to godhood. Granted, by the middle of season 2 TNG's characters badly needed some fleshing out, but this episode sloughs through this perceived necessity in such a painfully hamfisted fashion that it's difficult to take as anything other than blatant filler. Despite steadily increasing production values (more glowy special effects, more extras, fancier costumes, etc.) pretty much nothing happens here. There's no Sci in this Fi. The Enterprise docks under flimsy pretext for its due dose of human drama.

Look, there are good and bad ways to handle character growth. Ideally you can work it into the over-arching plot and action instead of standing characters in front of each other declaring their feelings for one another. This ain't opera. Unfortunately that's exactly what the main plot consists of. Riker's father visits and it turns out father and son don't get along. Cue long-winded commentary on father-son relations.

Luckily the B plot's a little juicier. Worf's about to miss some sort of coming of age ceremony so his buddies arrange one for him on the holodeck.
Ooof! Right in his quadruple Klingon nipples!
Turns out the ceremony's little more than getting zapped shitless with cattle prods. Sorry, I meant "Klingon pain sticks." Unlike the rest of the episode, this scene stuck with me over the years. Simplistic as it may be, it does its job of reinforcing Klingons' warrior cult, and sets the stage for later interactions with both Worf and others of his race. In contrast, Riker's daddy issues are simply mind-numbingly irrelevant. Yes, we get it, his dad pushed him too hard and his ambition's not his own, and once he resolves his family drama he decides not to pursue the power-trip of commanding his own vessel. We might give a damn if this tied into anything at all in the rest of the show, but it's an extraneous non-issue fabricated for the purpose of this episode to be resolved by its end. Unlike Worf's ongoing struggle for Klingon identity, Riker's little journey of self-discovery plays into no greater pattern of either personal or universal meaning. No wonder I'd utterly forgotten about it. It's utterly forgettable.

Regardless of the two plots' relative relevance however, the episode mainly just suffers from amateurishly belabored writing. Geordi, Wesley and Data cycle through half a dozen repetitions of their intent to arrange the ceremony for Worf because We. Are. His. Friends/Family. Kumbaya with cattle prods. Pulaksi and Troi indulge in a couple minutes of repeating "men are such children" reinforcing that supposedly patriarchal society of ours - you know, the one engaging in endless implicit and explicit male-bashing.

Descriptions somersault over descriptive into the ludicrously hyperbolic. The cattleprods aren't just painful, but so excruciating they can make a two-ton space-rhino's head explode with but the merest touch, according to O'Brien. Riker and Riker Sr. eventually settle their difference in a match of Anbo-Jitsu, The Ultimate Evolution In The Martial Arts -

- which apparently involves whacking each other with giant cotton swabs a la American Gladiators while spewing gratuitous (and presumably mangled) Japanese phrases. Why not just dig up Mr. Sulu to fry you up some Tempura for half-time while you're at it?

The actors did what they could with the stilted, declamatory dialogue they were handed. Everything else like sets, effects, extras, the whole feel of the Enterprise is beginning to come together around the middle of season 2. However, none of that could salvage the misconceived, overwrought yet somehow exquisitely forgettable script.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Elves Are Special, Damnit!

"Tears unnumbered ye shall shed; and the Valar will fence Valinor against you, and shut you out, so that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. [...] For though Eru appointed to you to die not in Eä, and no sickness may assail you, yet slain ye may be, and slain ye shall be: by weapon and by torment and by grief [...] And those that endure in Middle-Earth and come not to Mandos shall grow weary of the world as with a great burden, and shall wane, and become as shadows of regret [...]

Then many quailed; but Fëanor hardened his heart and said: 'We have sworn, and not lightly. This oath we will keep. We are threatened with many evils, and treason not the least; but one thing is not said: that we shall suffer from cowardice, from cravens or the fear of cravens. Therefore I say that we will go on, and this doom I add: the deeds that we shall do shall be the matter of song until the last days of Arda.'"

J.R.R. Tolkien - Of the Flight of the Noldor, from The Silmarillon

I'll admit I don't read that much fantasy, being largely a science fiction fan with fantasy scoring a distant second, and as I don't keep up with the flow of popular... anything... I get very little indication of how the old fantasy staples are treated in modern fiction. I'm painfully aware of the denigration of vampires in that imbecilic Twilight scatology. Nobody seems to want to touch Greek myths except to Germanize or Nordicize them. What about elves though?

Much of my exposure to pop culture comes through games. I played Baldur's Gate 2 recently and was delighted at Suldanessellar paying apt homage to Tolkien's Caras Galadhon, an immortal, airy city among gigantic treetops, a great repository of wisdom and artistic beauty, and by elves themselves being rather dignified and well-spoken. As usual with the computerized DnD adaptations, it's hard for me to figure out just how much of the decline in quality reflects computer game developers' disdain for their audience's intellect or DnD's own disdain for its own audience's intellect. The Infinity Engine games were apparently based on second edition DnD. Elves were still rare and their culture still considered superior by default. By the time of third edition and the Neverwinter Nights games (certainly by NWN2) elves were already run-of-the-mill citizens drawling out vernacular. By the time of Dragon Age: Origins, elves were mere gutter trash.

It's not just that direct line of games at fault either. Elves in Pillars of Eternity are incredibly dull and pretty much irrelevant. The Elder Scrolls games since at least Morrowind have always placed elves on an even footing with humans and other beasts, being just one other set of playable races. Some of this is due to the necessary over-riding demand for balance in a game, though DnD's own slow character advancement for more powerful races outlined a valid means of handling this without homogenizing.

Secondly, these once-impressive ideas simply suffer a sort of devaluation as they become familiar. Sensationalism falls victim to very rapid hyperinflation, as the comic Full Frontal Nerdity once noted in relation to DnD. As, in fact, many complained about fourth edition becoming an overblown super-saiyan caricature of itself. This is, however, nothing new, and for decades players played their DnD campaigns enamored of the rags-to-riches trope in a setting which apparently still respected Tolkien's elves by the late '90s. When it gets old you start over with a new campaign; you don't demean the world to suit your self-aggrandizement. I doubt the tendency to lower the status of elves from divinely favored trustees of the world to somewhat hateable snobs to regular joes and then slaves can be chalked up to mere specialness inflation.

There's a vandalism to it. Everyone who writes about elves does so, inescapably, from the starting point of Tolkien. He brought the myth into the modern era. Tolkien's elves had many facets, but whether proud, fearless, clever, wise, graceful, artistic, inquisitive, gracious or whatever, they retained their central superiority. Elves are better than you. Exposed to anything superior, the masses, the animalistic vulgus, knows no reaction but to smear creativity, wisdom and wit, to drag it down into the muck of commonality. It's no accident that this diminishing has played out as the market for fantasy ballooned around the turn of the millennium. The denigration of the fair folk comes of mass-marketing a niche product.

So take it back. I'd never say we should be stuck on Tolkien, but if you're going to write about elves try to remember that elves are by default better than normal human trash. The ending to the Lord of the Rings is one of the saddest I've ever encountered in literature: the loss of magic reducing the world to our disgusting human trash-heap, and it's been all too faithfully been re-enacted by diluting the imaginative ambrosia of fantasy in the reeking muck of mass appeal. Take back the elves. Don't knuckle under to the craven masses who shy away from the concept of superiority. Forestall the doom of Mandos. Remember the craft of Fëanor. Fight for the gems.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Fizz vs. Flat

"I'm someone else, I'm someone new
I'm someone stupid just like you"

Marilyn Manson - Born Again

If you live in the U.S. you've likely seen Pepsi's latest ad campaign. Regular schmuck does something regularly schmucky, chugs a can of sugar-water and equates the achievement with his/her hero(-ine) doing something heroic. Flash-cut to hero doing heroic thing equating self to schmuck doing schmucky thing.

I'm sure this sort of thing's been done before but for me it highlights a peculiar ward or confine of our contemporary worldly prison. Nobody bats an eyelash at American anti-intellectualism any more, at the American Cult of Ignorance. So it's no surprise the hero in these commercials will likely be some idiot jock or pop tart with a monosyllabic thousand-word vocabulary. We all expect the public to glorify all the wrong ubermenschen. To twist the knife a little harder though, the cerebrally challenged of the world are effacing the very concept of superior ability.

Granted, this is no new wound. It's the ongoing sepsis of postmodernism, the denial of objective reality, "don't judge me" culture in its ongoing rampage against ... culture... but it is worsening. Yes, Roseanne and Married with Children were popular in the '90s but they presented the average cretin in all her slovenly, inglorious glory. You couldn't stomach identifying with Al or Peg Bundy. When Seinfeld purported to be a show about nothing, it did so largely tongue-in-cheek, as its core cast's petty concerns repeatedly clashed with one-shot characters' more valid knowledge, attitudes and endeavors.

"I'll put down your disco and take your heart away"

And now? The fat schlub from King of Queens has a "new" sitcom, with an identical female co-star in an identical drywall cookie-cutter house mortgaged by Goldie Sacknuts or whatever, doing things I could not find interesting even if amoebae ate away half my frontal lobe. This is the society which even had to sanitize Sesame Street because it was way too way-out-there. Ever notice the nerds on The Big Bang Theory never talk about nerdy things anymore? Some will say it began with reality TV, but that's more of a symptom than a causative agent, predicted by Ray Bradbury half a century before by the "family" in Fahrenheit 451. As early as the late '90s, books like Higher Superstition were sounding an utterly ignored alarm bell for the loss of discerning, critical thinking even within major universities, not to mention pop culture. If you google a Shakespearean quote now, the top hit is actually the mis-quote from NoFearShakespeare.

It's only been a dozen years since The Incredibles came out. I disliked its cut-and-pasted superhero comic anti-intellectualism, the denigration of the mad scientist. However, in the midst of that villain's big monologue comes the best line you could ever place in the mouth of a villain in a children's cartoon:

"When everyone's super, no-one will be!"

Only a villain would equate superiority with mediocrity, with the degenerate vermin which make up the bulk of the human species. No, much as I despise the knuckledragging mouthbreathers whose only worth is physical, they are still better than you, Average Joe, and this trend of degrading not only validly superior beings like intellectuals but even the public's idiotic jock and bimbo heroes by equating them with mediocrity is... well, apocalyptic. The notion that you don't have to do anything well, of giving every kid in the class medals, of building up self-esteem for the sheer hell of it, of gilding the dross of mundane existence instead of always reaching for the next bit of knowledge, the better, the superior, that is very likely the end of Western Culture. This is how you get President Trump, a Simpsons one-liner turned living nightmare.