Justice League- a review. Sort of.

SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***

Really, if you haven’t seen the movie, don’t even go one word further if you want to remain unspoiled.  My usual review style is to talk about plot points in details, and this will be no exception.

So– Justice League — I’d almost say you’d have to have been living under a rock for the last year to not know about this film, but it does occur to me that superhero films are just not on some people’s radar, so the quickest of recaps– Justice League is DC’s latest entry in their Extended Cinematic Universe, their attempt to catch up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  League is the fifth film in the series, recounting the origin of the team uniting Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, the Flash and Aquaman.  Ok, ’nuff said.

In the run up to the film’s debut critical opinion began to be increasingly negative.  Just before it opened, Rotten Tomatoes came out with a rating of 40%, a dismal consensus.  Some reviewers said positive things about the movie, but many more were negative and deprecatory.  Suffice to say that I had very low expectations going into the theater yesterday.

On the whole, however, I am pleased to report that on the whole the movie is not quite the absolute disaster that 40% rating would lead you to believe.  It is not a great film; it is a film with issues; but it is not the muddled shit-pile of Suicide Squad or the even more muddled Batman v. Superman.  On some levels it was pretty good, while on others it leaves you scratching your head wondering why the hell did they do that?, and on yet others feeling like they should just get on with it.

First, the pros–

  1. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince.  I wish they had just come out with the next Wonder Woman movie.  Gadot commands the screen in any scene she’s in; at her first appearance in League, where she foils a bombing by right-wing fanatics (led, in a dangerous bit of typecasting, by Roose Bolton), my impulse was to stand up and cheer.  My admiration goes beyond the fact that she is stunningly beautiful; Gadot gets the character, and brings her to life.
  2. Ezra Miller as the Flash.  He brings a fresh approach to the character, as a nerdy youngster none to sure of his own capabilities, with fears to overcome and enough pain in his own history on which to lay the foundations of a hero.
  3. Jeremy Irons as Alfred.  He’s not on screen much, but when he is brings dry wit to some otherwise rather absurd goings-on.

Well, that was over quick.  Now, the cons–

  1. Jason Momoa is irritating as Aquaman/Arthur Curry.  His underwater biker routine gets tiresome real quick.
  2. Someone else has said that Ben Affleck (Batman) looks as if he would like to be somewhere other than in this film, and that seems a fair assessment.  He gives perhaps the flattest performance of the ensemble.
  3. Yeah, I know, the villain was named “Steppenwolf” in the comic, but for someone of my generation the name really conjures up a way different image.  Threw me out of the picture every time.
  4. Not only that, but Steppenwolf is just not that threatening a villain.  Not sure what it is, but we have had a glut lately of villains with horns (Thor: Ragnarok, Wonder Woman, etc.), so maybe the headgear was too cliche (?).  Whatever the reason, I didn’t get a sense of visceral danger from the guy, despite how many Amazons and Atlanteans he smashes.
  5. On top of that, I thought this was supposed to be a build-up to a confrontation between the League and Darkseid, paralleling the coming confrontation between the Avengers and Thanos in the MCU.  As best I can recall, however, Steppenwolf makes one passing reference to Darkseid, and then, nothing.  This is one area where I still had expectations to be disappointed.
  6. I miss Hal Jordan.  Maybe they just couldn’t squeeze him into the ensemble this time around.
  7. For the most part, the action sequences are kinda, well, meh.  Formulaic maybe too generous.  Once or twice, I had the sense that I was watching a Michael Bay film.  That’s so not a good thing.
  8. Superman’s resurrection sequence is, well, creepy, a quality that was even called out by the Flash in the film itself.
  9. Clark’s reunion with Lois Lane is half sweet and half schmaltz, and I’m not entirely which is which in the scene.  Plus, after he flies her to Smallville for private time, where did they get his clothes?  Ma Kent had moved out and everything….
  10. Oh, and while you’re resurrecting Clark, you leave the mother box that resurrected him, and which the villain has been frantically seeking, out in the open where he can grab it? That’s one for CinemaSins.

If I were to sum up the negative aspects of the film, I’d say that League is a film with far too many color-by-the-numbers elements, some uninspired or even repulsive performances, and which is dragged down even further by the fact that its basic premises were established for it by Batman v. Superman.  It has to try to reconcile some really dumb and incoherent plot points that BvS perpetrated, chief among which, in my opinion, was killing off Superman so early in the franchise.  To League’s credit, it almost pulls it off here and there, but then it commits its own acts of incoherence (e.g., see # 10 above).  It feels as if the people who created the overall story arc really, really didn’t think everything through beforehand and are now stuck in various thematic corners.  And, while I have a high tolerance for grim and gritty, the way the DC films have been going about it just drags your soul down and leaves you gasping for some Guardians of the Galaxy humor.

On the whole, I give League a middling, 2.5 out of 5 Mother Boxes rating.  Considering that I would give BvS one and Suicide Squad one and a half, that’s some improvement, but not much.  It would be nice if the guys running the DCECU could have an opportunity to really, really rethink their approach to their material, but by now, five films in, with more in the pipeline, it’s probably too late.

Well, in any case, here’s to the next Wonder Woman film.  We have to wait until November, 2019, though.  A reason to live.

Later.

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Shadows at Sunset

A few words in advance.

I don’t usually do Halloween stories, but I wrote this piece as a challenge in a writer’s group, and then didn’t get the chance to present it when work prevented me from attending the meeting.  There was a 2500 word limit, so some of the story I should have written got compressed and summarized, probably not in the best way.

This story creeps me out, partly as it is loosely based on a story my Grandmother told me when I was a child.  More than that, though, it touches on a couple of themes that disturb me at my core, including graphic violence against a teenage girl, of which I give everyone fair warning beforehand.  They say you’re supposed to write what frightens or disturbs you, but I couldn’t do this on a regular basis.  I don’t like horror, and I don’t like violence against children, and I don’t particularly like Halloween, but here’s the story, and you can let me know if it’s gratuitous or if it works.  Comments are welcome.

Copyright 2017 Douglas Daniel

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They used to say that, on certain winter days when the sky was so clear and cold that breathing is like a knife in the lungs, and when the setting sun was in its last moment before it let the night in with its mystery and fear, and painted everything of this Earth crimson, travelers who passed by the old Kincaid place would see things that should not have been.  Sometimes it was a shape seen out of the corner of one eye, but gone when you looked with both; sometimes it was lights where there was nothing to shine; but, most often, they said you could see shadows on the side of the Kincaid’s old, tumbledown barn, where there was nothing to cast a shadow.  Sometimes the shadows looked like spattered clots of blood, and sometimes like some sort of blade that fell with horrible swiftness; but sometimes, they looked like a woman, on her knees, pleading for her life.

I never knew my Aunt Amanda; she was a teenage girl when my mother was born, and when my mother was about seven or so, Amanda vanished.  Some say she ran off with a drummer— in those days, a traveling salesman, and not some long-haired musician.  Some say she ran off to Kansas City, or even Chicago, looking to escape the weary life of a Kansas farm, for people said that she was a bright, mischievous girl who could never have been happy for long in a podunk town.  I think my mother always preferred that story, because it held out the hope that someday, maybe, Amanda would return and there would be a great joyous reunion.  She had adored her older sister, and never quite got over her disappearance.

Some other folk, though, whispered that something else had happened, and that Amanda was not the only girl gone missing in the county, although no one could ever put the flesh of proof on the bones of suspicion.  The sheriff never saw a pattern, although much escaped Old Sheriff Nichols and his posse of deputies.  They were mostly interested in writing parking tickets, and, when Prohibition came in, in making sure they got their cut of the bootleg trade.  It was a sad day for them when liquor was made legal again, when I was about four.

It was on a certain summer’s day eleven years later that I rode one of my family’s plow-horses into the yard of the old Kincaid farm.  What with the war and gas rationing, no one would have driven me here.  A horse, even an old roan named Betty Boop, was far more reliable transportation.  It was a moot question, in any event—this was a journey, and a day, I had to face on my own.

My hands sweated on the reins as I guided Betty into the yard.  I was old enough to admit to myself that I was scared.  I was scared of what I thought was going to happen; I was scared that I would be proven wrong and made to look a young fool; I was scared that it might all just mean that I was losing my mind.

The dreams had driven me here.  Three years of them, and the last so precise and vivid that it had led to this noon-time, here in the long-abandoned farm that everyone in Russell County avoided because of the stories about it.  As I got down off the horse, I knew the next few minutes would prove the truth of them, one way or the other.

The barn loomed in front of me.  Just looking at it caused me to shudder.  It was worn and weathered and canted slightly to one side.  It should have been just an old barn, no different from a thousand other old barns scattered across Kansas, but it seemed somehow to breathe out horror.  I hoped—prayed—it was my imagination.

I heard a car.  Around the far bend in the road came Ashton Lamar’s Buick.  As mayor of Russell, he, of course, had a gas allowance, and he could often be seen on the county’s roads, going about the people’s business.  There was talk of running him for state Senate—maybe even for governor.  At the moment, though, seeing that car merely made me go ice-cold inside.

This was happening.  This was really happening.

The car pulled into the graveled drive, and then quickly off into the short grass beside it.  Not into the sandy yard itself.  So as to not leave tracks, I thought, and the cold grew worse.

Lamar got out.  For a man of fifty-five, he was still considerably more than just good looking, and the smile he gave me should have warmed me through-and-through.  He was dressed in a shirt and tie, tweed pants and polished shoes, just how you would expect a man of public responsibilities to dress on a warm July day.  He held out his hands, as if to welcome me.

“Julia,” he said, and he seemed to caress my name with his tongue.  “I’m glad you came.  This is going to be so special.”

The hardest thing I had ever done in my life was to give him back that smile, or at least the smile a middle-aged man might expect from a young girl on the verge of becoming a woman—excited, flattered, expectant.  Three months of enticing this man now came down to this.  “I really want to do this, Mr. Lamar,” I said, and it was the most profound lie I ever uttered.

His smile got wider.  “Call me Ash, sweet girl,” he said.  “Tie up your horse, darling.  There’s something I want to show you.”  He gestured toward the barn.

I hitched Betty to a still-standing section of picket fence in front of the house.  Lamar waited for me follow, and then led me toward the open doors of the barn.  I tried to keep from stumbling in fear.

He stopped just inside the barn, and I caught up with him.  Standing beside him, I could smell his cologne.  The barn, though, was what captured my attention.  A cavernous space that smelled of long-ago manure and hay, it was dark inside, except where fallen boards let in solitary shafts of light.  Dust lay thick on its floor.  A pigeon, disturbed by our presence, fluttered out of its nest in the hay-loft with a rustle of wings.

“Look up there, Julia,” Lamar said, pointing upward toward that loft, and his words were so smooth that, despite the danger, I looked up.

The blow caught me by surprise, even though I had been expecting it.  Lamar’s fist crashed into back of my head, and I pitched forward into the dust.  I think his intention was to render me unconscious, but we Coopers are notoriously thick-headed, and all it did was momentarily stun me, and make fiery sparks dance before my eyes.  I tasted the dust of the barn-floor and struggled to make my limbs move.

He was on me the next instant.  He grabbed the back of my shirt—I had dressed in a flannel shirt and blue-jeans, the better to ride in—and dragged me bodily into the shadowed interior. I was genuinely too stunned to struggle very much.  In the very back, past the stalls, where hay bales might have once stood, with harness hung on the walls, he flipped me over so he could look me in the eyes, his fist clutching my shirt-front.  His smile was now that of a hungry animal, about to taste flesh.

“You stupid little slut,” he said.  “You’re all stupid sluts, every one of you.”

“What?” I said, not really having to act the part of a surprised child.  “What are you doing?”

“Ridding the world of another dumb bitch,” Lamar said.  “It’s my mission, you see—a little fun, and then off you go, with the world a better place for your leaving it.”

“You can’t,” I said.

“Oh, I have,” Lamar said.  “Over and over again, right here.”

He slapped me, hard, once, twice, three times.  I tasted my own blood.  I thought my nose was broken, and my lips were cut by my own teeth.

He grabbed my hair, and twisted my head around.  “Take a look, sweetie,” he said, his words now a parody of affection.

I was forced to look at the ground on which I lay.  I didn’t understand at first, but then, I began to see it.  Beneath a thin layer of soil, and here and there, with no soil at all to cover them, were bones.

Just as in my dream.

“Nobody comes out here,” Lamar said.  “It’s my special place.  Where I put my trophies.  All the dumb little whores who ever followed me.  I started with your aunt, you know, long ago.  She thought I loved her.  Stupid bitch.”

He let go of me, to step over to a stall.  He reached between the boards and pulled out a long blade.  Leaning back on my elbows, resisting the urge to run, with my head still ringing, I somehow had enough sense to wonder, however irrelevantly, where he had gotten a machete in Kansas.

He pinned me to the ground with a foot on my chest, then bent down to stroke the side of my face with the machete’s edge.  The blade was rusty, and where it was not rusty it was crusted with ancient stains.  It stank.

“First,” Lamar said, and now there was nothing human left in his eyes, “what we came here for, just not as sweet and meaningful as you might have wanted.  Then the pieces start coming off.  Then you die.  First, though, the little whore’s clothes….”

He flipped me over again.  I was face-down in the dust, looking at the bones, as he tugged at my clothing.  My nose throbbed and blood ran from it.  Droplets fell from my upper lip into the dust.

One drop.  Two.  Three.

Just as in my dream.

“You’re going to die alone,” Lamar said.

“No,” I said, with the certainty of a returning faith, “and I’m not alone.”

There was something like a chuff of wind, as if someone had opened a door to a hurricane.  Lamar let go of me.  I twisted around to look.

He had also turned around, to stare into the void that was growing, above and behind him.  Darkness swelled, lit by lights that pulsed and flashed.  As I gazed into it, past Lamar’s shoulder, the vortex seemed to point into a blackness beyond hope, beyond thought, beyond time.

“What?” Lamar said, sounding utterly shocked, “what?”  The machete fell from his hand and buried itself, point first, in the ground by my booted foot.

Out of the vortex came shining forms, shrieking, howling, and the sound of them shook my soul.  The walls of the barn swayed and rattled.  The shining ones swarmed about Lamar.

He howled, as if in fear or agony, or both.  The shining ones swarmed around him, circling him like a tornado of light.  He screamed again.

In the next moment, Lamar came off his feet.  The shining ones tore at him.  His blood flew.  He howled, a sound compounded of disbelief, horror and pain.  “No, no!” he pleaded.

There was no answer.  Instead the shining ones bore him away, toward the infinite darkness.  He tumbled, helpless, shrieking, blubbering, to dwindle away into the depths of the black.

In an instant, the vortex was gone.  Perhaps an echo of its roar lingered for a moment, or perhaps it was simply the ringing in my ears.  Otherwise, there was only the dark interior of an old barn.  Dust swirled, and the machete quivered ever so slightly, and that was all.

And then, there was light, growing around me, from some other place.  I got to my feet, shaking.  My shirt was torn and blood still dribbled down my chin, but I hardly noticed, as someone stepped toward me, out of the light.

She was young, and dressed in the shirt-waisted fashion of a generation before.  She had the same auburn hair as my mother, and myself.  She was slim and unhurt.

“Aunt Amanda?” I whispered.

She smiled at me.  She raised her hands to her face, kissed her fingertips, and swept her hands as if sending the kiss to me.  I understood—there was no crossing the chasm between the living and the dead.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

Aunt Amanda shook her head, still smiling.  Then she turned, and walked back into the light.  In the next moment, she was gone, and the light with her.

 

I staggered back to Betty, and somehow got myself on her.  My cover story was already in place; Betty shying at a snake, and me caught unawares and falling off.  Somehow I hoped to elide the fact that Betty was the most phlegmatic horse in the Great Plains, and hadn’t even been startled when the lightning bolt had struck right behind her the year before.

It had been as in my dream.  The blood of a kinswoman—somehow, in this place, at this moment, it was able to exact a measure of extraordinary justice, something beyond the natural order.  I didn’t understand it.  All I knew was that I wasn’t insane, but had been a player on the fringes of something great and mysterious.

The question that troubled me all the way home, however, and ever since, is why meWhy then?  Out of the millions of times in human history a man killed a woman, either out of some ordinary spite or rage, or the sort of deep sociopathy that possessed Lamar, and this once, in a county in Kansas, the natural order was put aside to remove the disease?  Why?  For what purpose?  It has been a question I have not been able to answer all these years later.  It has come back to me with full force, however, as now I have a granddaughter.

And she has begun to dream dreams.

Nowadays they say that, on certain winter days when the breath from your nostrils seems to hang in the air forever, and when the setting sun is in its last moment before it lets the night in with its mystery and fear, and has painted everything of this Earth crimson, travelers who pass by the old Kincaid place see things that should not be.  Sometimes it is a shape seen out of the corner of one eye, but gone when you looked with both; sometimes it is lights where there is nothing to shine; but, most often, they say you can see shadows on the side of the Kincaid’s old, tumbledown barn, where there is nothing to cast a shadow.  Sometimes the shadows look like spattered clots of blood, and sometimes like some sort of blade that falls with horrible swiftness; but sometimes, they look like a man, on his knees, pleading for his life.

Recovered Tales– The Black Tooth Gang

Today I was examining some old 3.5″ floppy drives, with an eye to recovering old writing files, when I came across this story.  I wrote it in 1994, which corresponds to the Jurassic period of my writing (I have Permian and Devonian periods, as well, about which the less said, the better).  It’s kinda silly and maudlin, and was part of that great mass of scribbling I produced decades ago that never saw daylight.  But it has some moments, and I thought I’d fling it out here just for fun.

I’ve previously posted old abandoned writing fragments, but I may just start posting a few more complete stories I find in my archives, assuming they’re not too embarrassing.

Copyright 1994 (whew, I feel old) Douglas Daniel

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“Keep your goddamn hands where I can see them,” the fairy said.

I did as I was told. The little creep had me dead to rights. The piece he leveled at me was a flechette-gun; tiny, like all fairy weapons, but also very high velocity and high rate of fire. It wouldn’t penetrate deep, but enough sustained hits could be unpleasant. And more of the little jamokes, hundreds of them, all armed and in a bad mood, were pouring out of the rafters of the old warehouse at the guard-fairy’s shout. They were an ill-favored crew– black leather, tattoos, and earrings. It looked like a fairy remake of The Wild One.

“What’cha got, Kekero, what’cha got?” they were all saying at once. Their voices were less like rainwater tinkling into forest pools than fingernails on a blackboard. The whole squadron circled me, exuding far more menace than fairy-dust.

“Got us a meat-mountain snooping around,” said the guard-fairy. “Gweezle, you and Slow-fizz search him. The rest of you joes, watch him.”

I kept very still while two of the fairies peeled off and started to search me. I’d been frisked by fairies before, but I had never gotten used it. Every search by fairies is a skin search.

The one called Gweezle came out the bottom of my trouser leg. “He’s clean, Kekero. Not even a pocketknife.” He looked up at me. “You should more talc, fella.”

The other one pulled out my wallet, opened it with the assistance of three others. Their wings hummed with the effort to keep the weight of the billfold aloft. “Hey, this guy’s a private dick.”

The guard-fairy buzzed closer to my face. He jammed the muzzle of the flechette-gun up my right nostril. “What are you doing here, human? You should know your kind ain’t welcome on this part of the waterfront.”

“I’m here to see your boss,” I said.

“You got an appointment?” Gweezle said. The whole, swirling, dancing bunch laughed; and if you’ve never heard gang-fairies laugh, count yourself lucky.

“What makes you think the big boss will want to see you, meat-mountain?” asked Kekero. The barrel of the flechette-gun went a little further up my nose.

“I have a message for him.” I stared the little punk down. “From the Seattle High Fairy Council.”

That persuaded them. Kekero put a heavy guard on the door I came in, and led me back into the depths of the warehouse. It was dusty, broken-down place; a lot of the freight that passed through Seattle had gone from ship to zeppelin-carried years before, and the surface trade wasn’t enough to keep all of Harbor Island busy. Large sections of the waterfront had gone to seed, and had been taken over by squatters, human, fairy, and otherwise. This warehouse was fairly typical. Broken crates littered the floor. Several shipping containers, rusting and empty, were scattered like some giant child’s forgotten toys. The place was built in the shape of a T– main storage area here, work space and loading docks in the back, through an archway large enough to squeeze three Russian dragons through. Sunlight shone dimly through the dirty encrusted window that penetrated the walls, high up close to the ceiling.

The fairies led me up a creaking flight of stairs that threatened to collapse under my weight at any moment. The dust lay thick on the steps. Kicking it up made me sneeze, which gave the tiny creeps something to laugh at.

Their headquarters was in one of the old warehouse offices, in a half-floor over the work-space. The only human piece of furniture left was an ancient mahogany desk. The rest of the office done up in Fairy Provincial. The floor was littered with bones, rat and other kinds I didn’t want to think about, an old, worn-out Playboy, and dust-balls.

I saw at once why these low-lives called their leader `the big boss’– he was eight inches tall and as burly as a fairy got. Uko the Pummeler, chief of the Black Tooth Gang, reclined on a throne carved from a single hunk of redwood, covered with the pelts of cats and festooned with the skulls of past enemies, set in the middle of that mahogany desk. Nymph-fairies dawdled about his booted feet. He smiled confidently as his boys brought me in. His golden eyes were touched with sardonic humor. Definitely too much Frazetta, I decided.

“My good fairies tell me you have a message from our worthy adversaries,” he said. For such a little guy, his voice sure carried. “Concerning what, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“I think we both know, oh mighty Uko.” I went into the pitch, just as I had practiced over and over. I found I had to work to stay focused. Uko had something I hadn’t counted on– charisma. Buckets more than most of the humans I knew.  In one of the Faerie Folk that sort of thing can be overwhelming, even when the package reads “individual serving”. I had to bite my cheek to stay on task.

“The High Fairy Council of Seattle wishes to inform you that it is ready to bargain for the release of your hostage. They are anxious to get her back.”

“I’m sure they are,” said Uko, smiling. Around the office his gang laughed, sending shivers racing down my spine and back. Several of the little thugs buzzed about my head, chortling, poking my hair with the muzzles of their weapons.  “Although it took them long enough to respond to our summons.”  He peered more closely at me.  “How did the High Council settle on a human to do its dirty work?”

I shrugged. “I’m a disinterested party. I get a commission however this turns out.”

Uko lounged back in his throne, stretched languidly. “So tell me– what inducements am I offered to surrender the best hostage we Black Tooths have had a couple of centuries?” he asked. “We won her fair and square, by the rules of feud that have governed the Faerie Folk since before you humans were knocking each other on the head with rocks. Holding the Queen means I hold the whole West Coast Fiefdom by their tiny, luminescent balls.” He leaned forward. “And I haven’t even begun to squeeze yet.”

“Let me be plain, sir.” I paused, waiting, then lifted my hand as if to emphasize a point. One of the little jamokes harassing me, making about his fifth orbit, smacked hard into the back of my hand. He moaned and spiraled to the littered floor. His compatriots, far from taking offense, thought it a great joke; there was much twittering and tittering. “I am very sorry. As I was about to say, I must be honest with you. It is true, that in the short run, you can cause a great deal of trouble. It is also true, sir, that a prolonged hostage situation will only exacerbate the feud between you and the Fiefdom, a heightened state of conflict which– I have to be honest with you– you cannot win.”

Uko cocked his head at me. “Can’t win? Did I hear you right? Did you hear what he said, boys?” The gang laughed, and if I shivered before, this group guffaw practically put icicles on my privates.

Uko stood. He rose up on wings a foot long each, until he was eye-level with me. “Do you think those pansy West Coast simps are any match for us, meat-mountain?”

At the moment I rather doubted it, but I merely shrugged my shoulders. “It’s not my place to judge such issues. My comment was prompted only the obvious fact that the Fiefdom outnumbers you considerably.”

He snorted with contempt. “Let’ em all come. We’ll kick their asses, like we always have. Right, boys?” The fairies cheered and brandished their weapons. It was like listening to a horde of combat-ready chipmunks. “We even got other hideouts. You found us here once, meat-mountain, but you won’t on a return visit.”

“Yet no hiding place is secure forever,” I said. It was hard, playing the voice of cool reason, with these little punks buzzing about and yelling. And the script wasn’t going quite to plan. “In the end you will be brought to battle.”

“Then we’ll cut her throat,” said the chief. “Tell the almighty Fiefdom that.”

I held up a hand again. Three of the bastards did evasive maneuvers. This was not going well. “Before I return to the Council, I must give you the whole message which they charged me to deliver. For the safe return of their Queen, they are prepared to offer the sum of one hundred thousand.”

Uko sneered. “Dollars? You’ve got to be joking.”

I shook my head. “Not Federal greenbacks. Damarzi scrip.”

The whole crowd fell silent, except for some character who let go a long whistle. The Dwarvish scrip was legal tender only in their stores and Caverns, but it traded as one scrip note to ten U.S. dollars on the black market. Uko stared at me, a gleam of calculation in his eye. No one said anything for a long moment.

Then a grin grew over Uko’s face. “Hell, if she’s worth that much now, she’ll be worth even more later. Sure, the High Council can give us the money. As a down payment!” He laughed, and the whole crew laughed with him. My heart shrank to a burnt nubbin. “You go tell the Council that, meat-mountain. You tell them send money, and keep it coming. And you tell them that if they try anything funny, we’ll kill their precious Queen and throw her stinking corpse into Elliot Bay.”

I kept control of myself. Everything we had been working for, the weeks of planning, was going down the toilet. The Fiefdom had been in an uproar for a month and more since the Black Tooths snatched their queen. This would go over like a lit match in a powder magazine.

“I’ll tell them, but…” was as far as I got.

The explosion shook the whole warehouse. I nearly lost my footing; the floor bucked and heaved like a carnival ride. The fairies around me wailed in fear and rage. Glass broke somewhere. There were shouts and gunfire.

“You double-dealing bastard!” Uko yelled. “You tricked us. Kill him!”

I didn’t try to reason with the little jerk. Even as he yelled I moved.

Two long steps, a leap up on the desk. One of the gang didn’t get out of the way fast enough; he squashed with a satisfying pop! under my shoe. The back wall of the old office was glass, dim with dirt and cobwebs. I covered my eyes and jumped.

Glass crashed around me as I landed in the corridor beyond, fetching up hard against the far wall. I scrambled up, ignoring the assorted new cuts and bruises I’d acquired. I jerked the heel off my right shoe, and flung it under the shattered window. In the room the beyond the gang was still milling in bright confusion. One of the punks got off a burst that splintered the wall over my head as the shoe-heel began to smoke. Blood agent, specific to fairies– most it would give me was the runs. Anybody who goes into a gang-fairy hideout completely unarmed deserves what they get.

Two of the jamokes tried to fly through the rapidly spreading cloud to get at me. They screamed and dropped to the floor, convulsing. I could hear Uko ordering a retreat. The sounds of gunfire downstairs swelled; another explosion rocked the walls.

I jerked the heel off my other shoe. It was now a low-yield grenade, would explode on contact once I threw it. I took off down the hall.

The corridor was lined with office doors. I checked each one, kicking down doors where I had to. I cursed the whole way. Someone had jumped the gun. The strike team was supposed to lie low and wait for me to come out. If the Black Tooths accepted the ransom, everything was on track to pay it and bring the Queen out. In any event, the Fiefdom forces were supposed to wait for me to come out. Some junior commander had gotten overeager.

All we had now was Plan B, which stood for bungle, and probably bollix and blunder, as well.  The real problem with Plan B, though, was who had the starring role.  Myself, of course, meat-mountain or sacrificial lamb, depending on your point of view.

I forced myself to focus.  The Queen was somewhere in this dump; that much we were certain of. I had to find her before Uko got to her first. I’d lied to him about one detail– if the Queen died as a result of this operation, I’d get no commission.

I kicked doors, shattered glass, and found nothing but dust and broken furniture. The sounds of fighting were louder. A thin layer of smoke permeated the corridor, making my eyes sting. I could hear shouted orders, those of the strike team amplified and resonating through the warehouse.

A burst of fire chewed the wood of the wall next to me. Three Black Tooths were buzzing at the head of the far stairs from the warehouse floor. They fired again. I felt pain rip through my left cheek and arm. Grunting with the hurt, I tossed the heel and dropped.

The explosion shattered all the remaining glass in the hallway. The shock wave crushed me against the floor and was gone. I looked up. Smoke rolled thick through the corridor, but no one was shooting at me.

I staggered up, wiped blood from my upper lip, and groped my way through the smoke. The remaining doors were all sprung from the blast; at the second one I heard, “In here!”

I battered the door aside and went in. High up, hanging from a hook in the ceiling, was an old bird-cage. Its bars were freshly painted gold. Those Black Tooths were some very sick customers.

As carefully as my wounds allowed, I stretched up and took down the bird-cage. Within– how do you describe beauty beyond the understanding of men? The Queen of the Western Fairies danced a dance of joy within the confines of her prison. Her wings shed light about the smoky, dirty room like a blessing; she was bright and glorious, exquisitely beautiful, golden and delicate. For a moment, I regretted being born a lumpish human– I could have wished to have been a fairy, if just to follow this wonderful creature.

“Thank you for coming for me,” she sang. It was like sweet chimes rung at midnight. “But hurry! You’re in grave danger.”

“That’s for damn sure.”

Uko hovered in the doorway, as his bully-boys, chortling and smirking, filtered into the space around him on buzzing wings, weapons ready. “You almost pulled it off, meat-mountain. Almost. Too bad we don’t give out prizes for second place.”

I wrapped my arms around the bird-cage and charged. If I could get through the cloud of creeps and make it to the stairs, I might be able to reach a Fiefdom strike team. I bellowed and ran.

Fairies squalled and tried to get out of my way. I ran two or three down– they crunched like bugs against the floor. Others battered into me as I ran, like moths against a windshield. Some of them tried to fire, but by then I was in the middle of them, and mostly they hit each other. Fairy screams rang in my ears. But the volume of fire was such that I took hits all over, including a burst that stitched me along the curve of my right butt-cheek.

Angry, contorted fairy-faces flashed before me and I was in the hall. All I had to do was turn right, go a few feet, down the stairs, and I’d be home free. Behind me the Black Tooths were yelling for my blood.

That’s when one of those coincidences happened that convince me that, not only is there a God, but He has an incredible sense of timing. As I turned, another explosion ripped through the warehouse. Maybe my hand-grenade had weakened the floor, maybe not; in any case, under this new insult the floorboards gave way with groaning shriek and collapsed.

I fell. It was twenty or so feet to the floor of the warehouse and I fell hard. I bounced off a pile of rotten burlap sacking, which probably saved my life, rolled and hit the concrete floor.

It knocked the wind out of me. I lay flat on my back for a long time, trying to re-establish comm links between brain and lungs, while all around me the battle raged. It didn’t help when I realized I had lost my grip on the bird-cage sometime during my misadventure. I glimpsed flame, smoke, and flitting forms; both Black Tooth and Fiefdom troops were zipping about, engaged in a flying firefight that surged back and forth. Flechettes sang through the air, chipping concrete and slicing tiny bodies.

My lungs caught with a wheeze. Breathing hard, I sat up. Nothing seemed to be broken, but I was sure going to have one hellacious bruise.

I glanced around. The bird-cage lay on its side ten or so feet away, rocking gently on the concrete. Gasping with pain, I crawled toward it.

The buzz of wings stopped me. Black Tooths swarmed down from the busted ceiling, like a cloud of well-armed hornets, and settled between me and the cage. Most of the itty-bitty bastards covered me, while others lifted the cage. The Queen was still alive, apparently unhurt– she gave a cry of distress that stabbed me.

Behind his gang came Uko. He hovered above me and smiled. “It’s just not your day, is it, meat-mountain? Look on the bright side; you won’t have to worry about how to spend that commission.” He nodded to his flunkies. “Kill him.”

Uko turned in mid-air. The back loading dock doors had been burst inward by explosions; October sunlight poured through. He headed for the open sky, followed by a gaggle of Black Tooths, who between them managed to get the cage airborne.

The fairies covering me closed in, charging their weapons. This time they couldn’t miss. I backed up, trying to see a weak spot in the crowd. There was none. I wouldn’t be running out of this spot. What I needed was a shotgun with birdshot, or a flamethrower.

As if in answer to a prayer I hadn’t spoken, a jet of flame shot from my left and washed over the Black Tooths. Screams reverberated. The flame was so close I had to shield my face. Tiny corpses, crispy black, rained out of the air, pattering on the concrete. The flame cut off; none of the Black Tooths had escaped.

A winged form the size of a horse came around the pile of burlap. Wicked claws scratched the cement; leather wings arched ten feet.

“That,” said the dragon, “will teach you to pick on somebody your own size.”

“Roscoe!” I said, overjoyed. “You scaly son-of-a-bitch! You saved my hide.”

“As usual, boss.” My junior partner examined the toasted evidence of his handiwork. “Looks like it’s a good thing I didn’t dawdle.”

“No argument here. Wait.” The joy went leaking out. I struggled to my feet. “They’re getting away.” Roscoe helped me up, a gentle, taloned claw pulling me to my feet. I hobbled to one of the loading dock doors. The steel doors had been blasted aside.

High over the rooftops of Harbor Island, I glimpsed a flash of gold in the sunshine.

“There! They’ve got the Queen. Lift me, Roscoe. We got to get after them.”

Roscoe looked mournful. “Boss, I ain’t wholly recovered from the hernia I got the last time.”

“Just do it!”

Roscoe moaned as he lifted me over the warehouses and docks and turned in pursuit of the Black Tooths. They were headed southwest, toward West Seattle, rather than north over the Sound as I expected. “Faster!” I said.

“I’m about to split a gut now!” Roscoe yelled back. But his wingbeats increased in frequency.

Fairies, at their fastest, hardly outpace the common housefly. Even loaded with me Roscoe could do twenty to thirty miles an hour. We steadily whittled away at the Black Tooths’ lead. The Duwamish Waterway passed underneath, with straggly trees and old houses behind the port terminals along its banks. We were close behind the bastards when they suddenly spiraled down toward a landing on the municipal golf course.

“Land, land!”

“I don’t like it, Boss.”

“I didn’t ask your opinion; just do it!”

Roscoe obeyed. He set me down a few yards from the Black Tooths, close by the ninth green. A party of golfers stared open-mouthed at the interruption, then betook themselves rapidly elsewhere.

I swayed to my feet as Uko screamed, “Get them!” His remaining gangsters charged us, wings whirring.

“Boss!” Roscoe tossed something to me; I recognized it in mid-air, caught it fair, and blessed the dragon. It was a revolver, one of my specials. Where Roscoe had had it hidden on him, I couldn’t tell, and at the moment I didn’t care.

The Black Tooths charged, firing; flechettes tore up the ground around us. Roscoe flamed three or four. I pointed at a cloud of the twerps and fired. The round burst in front of the barrel; a clouds of pellets scythed through the Black Tooths. It was a shaped-charge, set for muzzle-action and propelling a clouds of tiny balls– a miniature, airborne claymore round. I fire once, twice more, and there were no more Black Tooths flying.

I advanced on Uko. He had the Queen out of the cage; he was holding a knife, fairy-sized, but quite sharp, to her throat. “Stop right there!”

I did. There was maybe twenty feet between us. I calculated distance, speeds and trajectories and didn’t like the answer. “Let her go, Uko,” I called. “It’s over.”

“Bullshit!” The guy held the knife tighter against her throat. Even at this distance I could make out the Queen’s eyes. They were calm and ready, full of meaning. “I can still hurt this piece of baggage. So you and your pet iguana better back off.”

Iguana!?” Roscoe said. “You little…”

“Watch your language!” said Uko. “Nasty words can hurt.” He stared us down.

“Back away, Roscoe,” I said, waving a hand. Roscoe muttered but did as he was told.

“You, too,” said Uko.

I shook my head. “Not before I tell you something.”

He stared at me with suspicion in his golden eyes. He hesitated, but finally said, “What?”

“I just wanted to tell you that I lied. I’m not a disinterested party.” I said the words slowly, clearly, thinking them up as I went, hoping I had read this guy right, hoping I understood what the Queen was trying to silently tell me. “I took this job because I wanted the chance to kill fairies.”

“What?” said Uko.

“I like killing fairies. I like it when they go crunch and pop.” I sounded like some Humanity First street thug; it was their kind of rhetoric, and part of the reason gangs like the Black Tooths existed. “They squeal so nice. I think I killed several today. I’ll be glad when they’re all wiped out.”

“You shit meat-mountain!” yelled Uko. He glared at me, and his attention on his prisoner wavered. The pressure of his knife on her throat lessened.

The Queen writhed about in his grip and bit him on the face. Fairy teeth are sharp, even to other fairies. She bit hard, and Uko screamed and let go of her.

She dropped to the ground and huddled in a ball as I raised the revolver and fired. I aimed high, so most of the pellet-cloud would miss. Even so, three or four struck the chief. He toppled end-for-end, spraying blood on the green grass.

 

They drove the aid car right up on the green to tend to me, while a whole crowd of golfers stood by and complained about the interruption in their game. The Fiefdom troops came and hustled the Queen away under heavy guard; I hardly had a chance to say goodbye before she was a fading dot in the sky.

The paramedic checked me over. “You’re going to need to go to the hospital to get those fragments removed. Still, looks like you were pretty lucky. Nothing vital got hit. Sit quiet while we get ready.”

So I sat on the bumper of the aid car and just worked on catching my breath. Roscoe came and sat by me. He said nothing. He didn’t have to.

So it was he was around when General Hekuro, High Commander of the Fiefdom’s forces, came by with his retinue. He hovered, incandescent in the sun, and cleared his throat. “I wanted to thank you, Mr. Parker,” he said in formal tones, “for your efforts today. If not for you, we might have had more difficulty recovering the Queen safely.”

I glared at the pompous little pimple. “You wouldn’t have had any trouble if one of your boys hadn’t jumped the gun. Which one was it? I’ve got some very choice words for him.”  Not to mention a nice thump on the noggin.

The General cleared his throat again. “No one, as you put it, `jumped the gun’. I ordered the assault.”

I guess I gaped. “You? You’re the butter-brained twit who nearly got me scragged?”

“We had to move. We had a high-gain mike on you, Mr. Parker, and heard most of your…ur, interview with Uko. We determined that her Highness was in grave danger, and that we had to move immediately.”

“You almost got her killed anyway,” I pointed out. I sighed and leaned back against the aid-car. My side and butt were singing harmony to the counterpoint of the most of the rest of my body. “All right, General, I don’t need your thanks. Just make sure my payment gets deposited as agreed.”

The General coughed discretely. “Well, yes, we need to speak about that. When I made those commitments, Mr. Parker, I did it in advance of formal approval from the Fiefdom’s Budget Oversight Committee. I’m afraid the matter will have to go to them first. I have to tell you that they may not authorize the full amount.”

I growled– an actual growl, from deep in my throat. “Oh, no, you little stuffed shirt. You’re going to pay me the money you promised or I’ll put you in a bird cage.”

Hekuro drew himself up. “You have no right to speak to me so. I’m the Queen’s first adviser, I’m General-in-Chief, I’m…”

His recitation was interrupted by a small burst of flame. Not much, by dragon standards– about the equivalent of a human sneeze. But it was enough to set the General’s golden hair smoking. He bounced around the sky for some seconds, yelping and yoodling, while his aides tried to pat his tonsure out.

“Sorry,” Roscoe said, wiping his snout.

I sat back against the aid-car’s door, feeling content. “Thanks, Roz. That’s another one I owe you.”

He waved a dismissive paw. “All in a day’s work, boss.  All in a day’s work.”

SUNDAY PHOTO FICTION – September 3rd, 2017- A WRONG TURN

The Sunday Photo Fiction challenge for September 3rd, 2017— two hundred words based on this image–

210-09-september-3rd-2017

Copyright 2017 Douglas A. Daniel

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“Let me see the map.”

“Darling, I told you, we should have turned left, not right.  We’re supposed to be on Dover Five, not Dover Six.”

“Oh, crap, how did we manage that?”

“Well, I told you we should have brought the Sherman.  You go to the trouble of installing a GPS system and then you don’t use it….”

“And what did I say?  We needed better mileage for this trip, and the Sherman just burns gas like there’s no tomorrow.”

“Sweetie, you’re supposed to be a mechanical genius, can’t you do something about that?”

“Oh, yeah, in my ample spare time, sure.  Could you lay off me, please?”

“I’m not making any judgments, I’m just saying…..”

“Okay, never mind, let’s just get turned around….”

“KRAKEN!”

“I see it!  Get in the gunner’s seat!”

“Traversing!”

“It’s a big one!”

“On target!”

“Loading…you’re up!”

“Firing!”

“You got it, honey!  Look at it go!”

“I would too, with everybody in the harbour shooting at me.”

“It’s gone.”

“Thank God.”

“I love you, honey.”

“I love you, dear.”

“Okay, let’s get turned around.  With luck the ferry will be delayed pending the all-clear.”

“….we still should have brought the Sherman….”

Okay, one more– some predictions for Season 8 of Game of Thrones

I said I was going to put Game of Throne to rest for the hiatus, and now here I am again.  I wouldn’t quite use the word “obsession”, but I’m close, really close….

Naturally–

Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***

I realized today that I didn’t get around to making any predictions for Season 8 in my last post.  Now, it has been proven that my ability to actually prognosticate the direction of the show, even in the short term, is pretty much crap, but my hubris, acknowledging no restraint, will not allow me to sleep tonight until I’ve scribbled down at least a few.  I can come back in a year or a year and a half (or two years, God forbid) and see how far off the mark I actually flung the predictive darts.  Hopefully nobody gets punctured in the volley….

  1. Dany and Jon will have perhaps one episode, perhaps less, of happiness, and then Bran and Sam are going to drop their bomb, and I-cannot-tell-a-lie Aegon Targaryen will tell Dany, and the two of them will breakup in sorrow and remorse.
  2. Not before Jon knocks Dany up, however.  It is known.
  3. Not sure how Dany will handle finding out that Jon has a better claim to the Iron Throne than she does, even though I am sure Jon will repudiate any interest in it.  Dany’s self-identified for so long as the one legitimate heir that finding out who Jon really is may send her spinning off in dangerous directions.
  4. Clegane Bowl will happen.  Count on it.  There is no way the two of them are going to settle their hatred any other way but with a knock-down, drag-out blood-match, not after their face-off the in the Dragonpit.  Anything less would be anti-climactic.
  5. You can also count on a showdown between Euron and Theon.  Theon’s redemptive arc demands it, and if he dies saving Yara, it will be with Theon having found himself at last.
  6. Drogon vs. Viserion– it’s coming.  There’s no way the showrunners can refuse to give us that spectacle. Just no way.
  7. Poor Rhaegal, though– something dire is going to happen to him in the Great War before we get to the climax, if only to even the odds for DvV.
  8. The writers appear to be positioning Tyrion to do something stupid/traitorous.  I hope I am wrong, and I think it would be a horrifying mistake with his character, but hey, I’m just a watcher, not a writer.  Otherwise the good guys would have fuel-air bombs to use on the wights.
  9. Wait a minute– wildfire?  High altitude bombing?  Hmmm….
  10. How Tyrion’s retrograde character development will play into the Jaime-Cersei dynamic is unclear, but that’s another face-off that will resolve itself, probably in blood.
  11. And talking about showdowns the story arc demands– how about the biggest of them all, Jon going mano-a-mano with the Night King?  This was set up right in front of us in Episode Six, when Beric pointed his sword at the Night King and suggested that killing him would destroy all the wights.  Even without that setup, how could we wrap this tale up without the lead good guy, Jon, facing off against the lead bad guy, the Night King?  Three thousand years of Western literary tradition insists on this climactic confrontation, from the Odyssey to Star Wars.
  12. Jon, of course, will die heroically in this fight, after vanquishing the Night King.  For extra points he’ll die in Dany’s arms (crap, this is writing itself).
  13. Which brings us to the subject of who will die.  Actually, it’s easier to say who I think will live.  Personally, I feel fairly secure in saying that the survivors will include–
    • Dany
    • Arya
    • Yara (if only because Theon has to rescue her)
    • Drogon
    • Sam
    • Gilly
    • Little Sam

And that’s about all I feel sure of.  Every other character in this show has at least the potential of supplying a really gripping death scene to the story.  Every other one.  I’m sure there will be other survivors, but my instinct cannot predict with certainty who they may be.  Brace for a blood-bath.

Thinking about what may happen in Season Eight actually sharpens for me an insight other people have shared, that Season Seven really was about getting all the pieces in place, and establishing the inevitable, climactic confrontations that have to play out so this epic can have a halfway satisfying resolution.  From that perspective, despite the haste that typified Season Seven, the show-runners did their job, and I applaud them.

And, now, for sure, I need to put GoT aside for a while.  It’s going to be a long wait, no doubt filled with frustration and spoilerish temptations.  Fortunately, I know, if not a remedy, then at least a means of distracting myself.

Write my own epic.  ‘Nuff said.

Later.

Okay, now that I’ve caught my breath, my take on Game of Thrones, Season Seven, Episode Seven. Woof….

One more time–

Spoilers****Spoilers****Spoilers****Spoilers****Spoilers****

Wow.  Huh.  Sheer dumbfoundedness and gobsmackery.

In my last post I explicitly held off making a judgement about Season 7 in general, because Episode Seven had yet to air.  I am very, very happy I did, because this episode righted a lot of wrongs.

Until Sunday evening, for the most part, I was disappointed with Season Seven.  Not with the acting– it was generally superb.  Not with the writing– it was about as brilliant as ever.

It was the sketchy and rushed feeling of the season to which I objected.

Frankly, the writers, and show-runners Benioff and Weiss, were quite obviously trying to tie up too many loose-ends, connect too many characters,  and lay too much foundation for Season Eight in too little time.  From Jon and Dany’s rushed romance to the cockamamie raid beyond the Wall to grab a wight, it was a season sketched out in suggestive lines rather than painted with full-bodied shapes and colors.  The line-drawings are well-done, but inevitably they lacked the depth we’re used to.

I have no insight into why HBO decreed that Season Seven have only seven episodes (for some strange reason, I was never invited to the story-planning meetings).  Perhaps it was budgetary, even though that’s hard to imagine, considering the show’s success.  I hope that the haste in Season Seven has solid plot imperatives driving it, and that now we’re set for a balanced Season Eight (with only six, albeit longer, episodes).  I hope.

What I fear, however, is that six episodes will not be enough.  I tremble at the thought that GoT will suffer a fate similar to Lost, the poster child of brilliant shows that lose their way and fall flat in their last season. I would kill me, and probably a lot of other people, if Game of Thrones, brilliant as it has been, somehow just peters out and loses all its narrative power as it concludes.

Having said that, I take comfort from the fact that GoT has an distinct over-arching narrative structure passed to the show-runners by George R. R. Martin.  They at least have a general idea where they are headed, and how things will end, something that Lost never seemed to have.  Lost had so many elements thrown into a mix that never quite gelled into a distinct story-line, and so many threads that were never satisfactorily resolved, all coupled to an ending that was like drinking flat beer when you were promised sparkling champagne.  I think, and I believe with some justification, that GoT can avoid that fate because, ultimately, it has the brilliance of Martin behind it, and skilled show-runners in Benioff and Weiss (unlike a certain other popular producer/director, but J. J. is a topic for another rant, at another time).

Having said all that, however, Episode Seven went a long, long way to redeeming the season.  It was not entirely without sin– the whole interaction between Samwell and Bran seemed particularly to gallop past– but on the whole the episode seemed better paced, laced with tension and conflict in the right places, and it brought everybody to where they needed to be, not only to wrap up Season Seven, but to lay the groundwork for Season Eight.  The characters and their interactions felt right, and the action kept you riveted.  And the ending, which for me includes Bran and Sam talking about Jon’s true heritage, Dany and Jon acting on their feelings, and the destruction of the Wall, tied it all together.

So, even though we may have to wait until 2019 for Season Eight, I’m okay with that.  Naw, not really, it’s going to be hell, but it gives me something to look forward to in my lonely old age.  I have hope that Benioff and Weiss may actually pull off something that is, in truth, quite difficult– giving an tale of epic fantasy a truly satisfying ending that resolves the various threads and conflicts in a way that makes you say, “that’s the way it should have ended.”  No pressure, guys….

And now, to sum up, a few final random observations and thoughts on Season Seven–

  1. My personal predictions about the course of the show over the last few weeks have often been off the mark, but, man, did I miss it with Dany and Jon.  Maybe I’m an old romantic who thinks you should build slooowwwlllyyy to the mojo, but I admit it worked out okay– aside from the incest part, that is.  Despite the hurried nature of their romance in previous episodes, this moment felt as if it were a logical– if you will pardon the expression– consummation of how these two people have interacted down to this moment.
  2. From here on out, of course, nothing but heartbreak lies ahead for D&J, especially if Sam and Bran don’t keep their flapping mouths shut.  Does Jon really need to know this bit of family history, especially as it is really doubtful he will want any part of the Iron Throne for himself?  I don’t think so, but I didn’t set up this particular bomb in the story-line, and if you plant a bomb in Season Seven, it has to go off in Season Eight….
  3. One of the big question marks I do have about the characters is, what the hell is going on with Tyrion (or, more precisely, what are the writers doing to Tyrion)?  Working backwards from that look of anger and seeming jealousy he throws at Dany’s door while she and Jon are doing the naughty, to his interview with Cersei in which he seems willing to take the blame for the disasters the Lannisters have suffered, to what appears to be a deteriorating relationship with Dany, I wonder if he is being set up to do something foolish, drastic, or (gulp) treasonous in Season Eight?  I hope not, because that would seem to be the negation of much of his character arc through the whole show, which is why I find it puzzling.
  4. Note also, we seem not to be presented with the whole discussion between Cersei and Tyrion– it cut off right after Tyrion realizes Cersei is (allegedly) pregnant.  Did the two of them talk about something else?  Did the potential of a new nephew and/or niece change something in Tyrion’s attitude and– gasp!– loyalties?  Did he cut some sort of deal with Cersei to get her to come back out and mouth the words of truce and united purpose for Dany and Jon?  I fear we’re going to get an unpleasant surprise on this point in Season Eight.
  5. Littlefinger– yes.  It’s a wonder the collective shout of joy from fans didn’t set off seismometers around the world.  It was worth being played by the writers to be surprised along with Baelish.  Pleasantly for us, badly for him.  An excellent portrayal by Aidan Gillen of a schemer who realizes, too late, that if you plot against everyone, eventually you will find yourself in a cold room, surrounded by hard faces, confronted with the sharp edge of a knife, and with no friends to save you.  Oak-leaf clusters on Gillen’s medal for this scene in how he makes Littlefingers’ self-assurance crumble into whimpering on his knees.  It seemed a fitting way for this bastard to go out.
  6. I also applaud the writers for navigating what I perceived to be a particularly treacherous channel– if you convince Cersei of the reality of the Night King, how does that work with her self-centered take on everything?  But, of course, with utter consistency, Cersei says one thing and does another, still attempting to turn a situation that should be beyond political calculations to her advantage.  Jon would not lie, but of course Cersei did.
  7. For a moment I, and probably a lot of other people, really thought Jaime was going to die when he called Cersei on her BS.  With this open break with his sister Jaime is very close to completing a redemptive arc, possibly the greatest and most profound of the whole show, from an arrogant son-of-a-bitch who shoved a child out a window to someone who is willing to stand up for other people and not think of his political advantage– and who wants to live up to his word.  He sets out alone for the north (and I wonder if he tried to talk Bronn into going with him?), just maybe finally free from Cersei’s vampirism.  He’s probably going to die, but it looks very much as if he will die a man, and not a self-important little asshat.
  8. Also, Brienne is in the north.  I wonder….???
  9. But then, so is Tormund.  Oh, now we talking a serious triangle….
  10. Regarding Tormund (and Beric, for that matter) it took me looking at the scene a couple of times and reading some internet comments to realize that the two of them have mostly likely survived the destruction of the Wall at Eastwatch.  As people have pointed out, they fled westward along the top of the wall (the guys going down the stairs didn’t have a snowball’s chance, which is kinda ironic), and were past the point where the collapse began– and the collapse went from west to east, which means, almost certainly, the two of them are standing on what is now the sharp eastern edge of the wall, looking down on the army of the dead as it advances south.  This realization gave me a sense of relief, because 1). I didn’t want either one of them to die (yet), and 2). I didn’t want the writers to have to engage in some bogus hand-waving to allow them to survive the fall.  They live, without writerly fakery, to fight another day.
  11. The Wall’s destruction was just cinematic gold.  Most movies don’t do it this well….
  12. It’s snowing in King’s Landing.  Where Gendry, in a life of more-or-less twenty years, has never seen it snow.  The bad mojo is rising fast…..
  13. I mentioned heartbreak for Dany and Jon.  The truth is, in Season Eight, if the writers fulfill the promise of this last episode, sorrow and loss are going to spread over Westeros as thick as the winter snows beyond the Wall.  We still have death and betrayal and sorrow ahead.  And now no one– no one— is safe.  We should brace ourselves.

I think that’s all the observations I have at the moment.  Perhaps with GoT on hiatus I can spare some of the energy I’ve expended talking about it for my own writing.  There’s nothing more inspiring than watching good writing at work.

Farewell, Season Seven.  You ended strong.  Tell Season Eight to move its butt.

Later.

 

 

 

Still more random and wild-eyed thoughts on Season Seven of Game of Thrones

As always–

Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***

And, as what follows is based, to a certain extent, on what I deem fairly reliable internet rumors, be doubly wary!

So, one more episode for this season, and it promises a great deal.  The meeting of the Lannisters, Dany, and Jon, plus all their assorted allies, followers and twisted mad scientists (I’m looking at you, Qyburn).  The final full revelation of Jon’s parentage.  Dany and Jon’s first smooch (probably, although I doubt they’ll get as far as second base in this season).  Arya turning Littlefinger into a throw rug (I admit, that’s just wishful thinking).  The continuing advance of the Night King’s army, now complete with its own undead air force.  And whatever stunning surprise the show-runners have in store for the season cliffhanger (although I don’t think it’s actually going to be that much of a surprise, as I shall explain below).

A few random predictions–

  1. I am definitely thinking just “first kiss”.  No mojo, no bedroom rodeo, no makin’ bacon.  If Dany and Jon do get down-and-dirty, I’ll actually be kind of disappointed– it’s still much too soon.  I have no patience for those fans who have been panting to see these two get it on.  C’mon, guys, take a cold shower or something.
  2. All the competing factions of Westeros– or, at least, the surviving ones– meet to under a flag of truce to see Jon and Dany’s evidence of the fact of the Night King and his army.  It’s the pay-off of Episode Six’s intense raid beyond the wall.  Unfortunately, for me the whole plan, concocted by Tyrion, has never made any sense.  It seems more than a little contrived, and I doubt it would have the intended effect, if the characters involved are true to their own arcs.  Cersei, in particular, with her superb ability to see only what she wants to see, will doubtless view it as some sort of trick.  If the writers suddenly turn her into someone amenable to logical argument, then I will be sorely disappointed.
  3. On the other hand, I can see from a story-perspective why the writers would want to somehow fashion an alliance out of all these enemies– it would be a logical course of action in the face of the Night King.  Of course, this would be the ultimate alliance of convenience, and if everyone survives then it will fall apart once the immediate danger is past.  That would lead to the end-game for the Game of Thrones being played out in the last moments of Season Eight.  That could be good, or it could be really bad….
  4. Tyrion’s deteriorating relationship with Dany– I don’t know where the writers are going with this.  I know the essence of drama is conflict, but this one feels not only contrived, but also like a major character is being marginalized prior to being…eliminated.  I hope I’m wrong….
  5. Just for the heck of it, I’m shipping Bronn and Arya.  It sure ain’t going to be Bronn and Sansa.
  6. Unless…he’s always wanted a high-born wife and a castle…no, no, no, I can’t go there….
  7. Brienne and Tormund have to have a scene in this last episode, one in which Brienne either starts to warm to Tormund a little bit, or slices him open to get at his liver, just as the Hound suggested.  It could go either way, but we need resolution.
  8. We also need to see Yara and Ellaria, at least just a brief scene each.  Doubtless Tyene is dead by now, so that’s a bit of inevitable heartbreak.  If a genuine truce is established between the Lannisters and Dany, it would be logical to me for Dany to demand Yara and Ellaria’s release as part of the truce.  Whether Cersei can be convinced to do so is another question.
  9. I predict the whole scary/weird interaction between Arya and Sansa is actually a ploy, at least by Arya and maybe by both of them, to wrong-foot Littlefinger and set him up for a fall.  Again, this may be wishful thinking.
  10. Actually, he’d make a pretty poor throw-rug.  Turn him into a drum-head instead.
  11. I am increasingly in the camp of those who think the Night King laid a trap for the Magnificent Seven so he could get a wight-dragon.
  12. Of course, one of the huge gaps in the story-line itself has been the motivation of the Night King.  What does Mr. Freeze want, anyway?  Aside from wiping out humanity and turning the world into a snow-cone.  At this point you got me.
  13. They’re probably going to hold off on killing off any major characters in the season finale.  Because they’ve never done that before, right?
  14. I think it’s obvious that the season cliffhanger is going to be Viserion destroying the Wall.  What else is the Night King going to use him for, aerial advertising?

Enough of that.  I was going to express some opinions about the overall course of Season Seven in general, but I decided to wait until after Episode Seven.  That’s because 1).  the season is not over and I want to be fair, and 2).  my opinion may just get me chased around the countryside with pitch-forks and torches.  I’ll wait.

Later.

A father’s confession

To Kate:

I cannot tell the sun

to stop for you,

nor the moon to

wait upon your convenience.

I cannot tell the sea

to stand back so you

can gather sea-shells and starfish.

I cannot command the stars to come down

to garland your neck with glory

and light your path in the darkness.

I cannot rebuke the wind

so that it gives you only

the kiss of soft breezes.

I cannot do even these

little things for you.

I can only tell you

I love you

always, always, always.

 

 

 

Thoughts, questions and “OMG, Why did she do that?!”- Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 5

More a review than previous posts, but I’m saving some space for the wild-eyed rants at the end.

SPOILERS****SPOILERS****SPOILERS****SPOILERS*****

Okay, a slower-paced episode than last week, which could be like saying a 747 is slower than an SR-71.  Almost anything would feel slow after the Battle of the Loot Train, so it’s a relative thing.

At the same time, the narrative seemed, ironically, sort of rushed.  Look how many high points the story hits– the aftermath of the battle, Randyll and Dickon Tarly are executed (more about that later), Jon gets to pet Drogon, Jorah returns, the plan to snatch a wight and bring it south is hatched (more about that later, too), Gendry is found (after what appears to be a fifteen minute search), Jaime and Tyrion meet, Gendry meets Jon, Jon and company head north to connect up with Tormund, Beric, Thoros, and the Hound join the party, and they all head out into the north.  That’s leaving out Arya’s spying on Littlefinger (and his disinformation campaign against her) and the fact that bat-fuck crazy Cersei is going to be a mother again.  If I left anything out it’s because it all went by really fast.

Oh, yeah, Samwell missing the secret of Jon’s birth because he wasn’t listening closely enough to Gilly.  Listen, son, if you’re going to be in a long-term relationship with a woman, you need to work on your listening skills….

Basically, I have the sense that the writers felt they had to cram a lot of sausage into the casing of one episode, in order to set up the climax of this season, and to properly lay the groundwork for Season Eight, which will have to be about the Great War, lots of major characters going down for the count, and that bittersweet ending GRRM has been promising us.  Because this particular kielbasa link is tightly packed, we spent mere minutes on reunions, plans, spying, dragon-petting (don’t try this at home, folks), executions, plotting and Avengers assembling that could have occupied two or three or even more episodes in previous seasons.  It’s not nearly as satisfying presented in this warp-speed manner, but I can’t fault the writers too much.  They are running out of time (to be precise, scheduled air-time), and I suspect that they felt it necessary to cover this much ground quickly so as to make sure the climax of the season, and the beginning of Season Eight, work the way their supposed to.  Hopefully the remainder of the season, and the remainder of the show, will be better paced.

Re: the execution of Randyll and Dickon– I agree with Tyrion, Dany shouldn’t have done it.  At the very least Cersei will use it against her.  Serious political mistake.  More than that, though, it reminds us that Dany does have a dark side, a willful insistence on her way that sometimes leads to unnecessary deaths.  It doesn’t make her mad, it makes her a frail, fallible human being who sometimes does things out of frustration and spite.  Also, as I feared, she has arrived at the point of demanding fealty she has not earned.  “Bend the knee, or die” is a threat as heavy as chains.  As Varys put it, someone indeed needs to make her listen.

And then there’s the plan to capture a wight and bring it south to convince Cersei the threat from the Night King is real.  Leaving aside the fact that Cersei will use any truce to her advantage, and that she will see anything Dany and Jon come up with as some sort of trick, the whole thing just sounds cockamamie to me.  Capturing a wight, transporting a wight, displaying a wight– I’d almost say its a waste of time, considering how oblivious Cersei is to anything but the agenda spooling out in her head.  I love the idea of a desperate raid into the North, but couldn’t the writers have come up with a better mcguffin than this for its object– a wonderblatt horn of the First Men, perhaps, or a pool of magic volcanic fire that would make effective ammunition against the Night King’s army?  I do wonder, but then, I’ve never had to write for TV show, nor have I ever been under the kind of pressure the writers for GoT are under.  The whole world, and probably a significant portion of the heavenly host, are watching, so I hesitate to criticize them too much.

But, as much as I quibble, it was a pretty good episode, and got us, however imperfectly, to where we needed to go.  Along the way, I should mention that I like how the writers are handling Dany and Jon’s growing affection for one another– again, a piece of business that would best have been developed over a whole season, but, again, the clock is ticking.  Instead they are doing it by expressions and looks and a few words spoken in just the right way.  If you have only so much time to work in, this is the way to do it.

I think I can refine a few of my first predictions now–

  1. Jon and Dany will share one romantic kiss before Season Seven ends.
  2. The real hanky-panky will start after about the five minute mark of Season Eight.
  3. Then Jon’s true parentage will be revealed, and the two will break up with tears and heartbreak and disappointment.
  4. Jon will then die heroically saving the world of men,
  5. Just about the time Dany discovers she’s pregnant.
  6. At some point Arya will slice Littlefinger open like a seven-layer red velvet cake.
  7. And the Night King will end Season Seven by blowing up all three hundred miles of the Wall.  Now that will be a season cliffhanger.

Later.

Sunday Photo Fiction – August 13th 2017- Memento

A response to the Sunday Photo Fiction flash challenge for August 13th 2017– 200 words based on this image–

208-08-august-13th-2017

Copyright 2017 Douglas Daniel

*****************************************************

“He needs to grow up,” Jason’s step-father said, finishing off his eggs.

“It’s only been six months, William,” Jason’s mother said.

“And he keeps carrying that stupid toy around, Amanda,” William said.

“His father gave it to him,” Amanda said.

“Still, sooner or later he needs to man-up.”  William said.  He stood, draped his suit jacket over his arm and picked up his briefcase.  “Shareholder briefing today, don’t wait dinner for me.”

“All right.”

Jason heard the front-door close behind William.  Neither of them had seen him.  He was getting good at not being seen.

He went upstairs.  September sunshine shone in his room—school would start soon.  He lay down on his bed.

He opened his hand and stared at the little blue TARDIS in his palm.  He remembered—a crisply cold winter’s night, the Milky Way an arch of diamonds stretching across the sky above them.

“There, son, there’s Pleiades, and next to it is Taurus the Bull—see the two horns?—and there, see those three stars in a row?  That’s the belt of Orion the Hunter.  Find Orion’s belt and you can find your way around the whole sky.”

Jason closed his hand on the TARDIS.

Pray and Write

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