All posts by Doug Daniel

A former tanker, one-time graduate student, present-day IT contractor, and largely unknown author. Working on that last part.

Princess of Stars– sort of a progress report

Wanted to share this– the hard-copy line edit– as always, helping to keep red pen manufacturers in the black–

IMG_20180710_223213445

Part of what you’re seeing on this page is the fact this portion of the story was cobbled together of out maybe three different versions of the same scene.  Being a pantser is sometimes a very messy business.

As always, I do hope that by the time I finish the edit I will still be able to read my corrections; my hen-scratching does seem to be getting more and more problematic as I get older.  Oh, well.

Advertisements

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom– a review, or who left all this dino-poo on my front porch?

I went to see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom today–

I have been generally a fan of the Jurassic Park/World franchise since its inception– loved the first movie, enjoyed the second and third films, even though they were not nearly at the same level, and really liked the first Jurassic World film, despite having to give my suspension of disbelief an extra lube job just to keep up.

This time around, though– well, my poor suspension may have busted its torsion bars.  To put it succinctly, this is a stupid movie.

Not that Chris Pratt, who I generally love in everything I see him in, didn’t do his best.  Ditto for Bryce Dallas Howard.  I lay none of the blame for this eyesore at their feet.  No, in this instance I can only suppose the director (J.A. Bayona) and the writers (Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow) bear the heavy responsibility for hatching this turkey (or turkey buzzard).

Oh, where do I start?

Oops, almost forgot…..

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

T

R

E

X

R

U

L

E

S

!

Put simply, what with the exploding volcano (which was seen in the trailer) and the standard corporate villain planning to market rescued dinos to international scumbags, the movie exhibits the standard sequel weaknesses of amping up the action to ridiculous heights while recycling the core conflict.  I particularly have a pet-peeve about the volcano, which, like the one in Dante’s Peak, exhibits traits that do not usually go together, i.e., free-flowing magma and peak-destroying magmatic explosions.  It makes me grind my teeth–

  1. Owen (Chris Pratt) outruns (almost) a pyroclastic flow.  And lives to tell about it.  Without even getting singed.  SPUNG!
  2. The characters (or the writers) think they can survive a pyroclastic flow by diving into the sea.  Wrong– pyroclastic flows can cross extensive bodies of water, on a layer of super-heated steam.  Parbroiled, anyone?

Okay, enough about the volcano– as irritating as I found it, it’s not even the core problem with the movie.  Moving on–

  1. The idea that you could weaponize dinosaurs in some useful manner for modern warfare is a major motivator for the bad guy (Eli Mills/Rafe Spall).  Please.  A mechanized infantry platoon would chop any dinosaur you care to name, including the vicious hybrid who’s the main dino baddie in this flick, into little quivering dino cubes.  It’s just silly (and, yes, it was silly in the first Jurassic World, too, they just didn’t play it up as much).
  2. There are vague references to “pharmaceutical uses” for the dinosaurs as an additional motivation for the bad guys, but its never elaborated on.
  3. Claire’s evolution (or is it devolution?) from corporate hotshot all about exploiting the dinosaurs to a save-the-dinosaurs activist just hit me wrong.  Granted, the events of the first film would have jarred anybody, but I’m not sure I’m buying this.
  4. Blue, the surviving velociraptor from Jurassic World, is now a leading character and so smart I expected her to start doing arithmetic, like a latter-day Trigger the Wonder Horse.  It got really irritating.
  5. Why in hell, when you’re trying to escape a vicious predator with better senses than you, would you turn off the lights?  Oh, yeah, to heighten the tension.  Screw that, leave the lights on, I want to see where the bastard is.
  6. Why, why, why would a girl (Maisie Lockwood/Isabella Sermon) smart and resourceful enough to elude the main villain for good portion of the film, run to her room and jump in bed to hide from the hybrid dinosaur?  If she were five, maybe, but this kid is a pretty sharp ten-year old, or thereabouts.  It was another example of dumb things being added to the film to artificially pump up the tension.
  7. About that kid– there is a revelation about her that made me suddenly sit up, all interested– and then they do nothing with it.  I mean, at that point I would have watched a film just about the kid.  And no, I’m not going to tell you what it was, although I bet a lot of people guessed it ahead of time.  A missed opportunity.
  8. The final fight against the hybrid, which takes place in and around and on top (?) of the mansion/laboratory of Benjamin Lockwood, a partner of John Hammond (who, btw, I don’t remember ever being mentioned in any of the previous films).  How does a dinosaur weighing probably two or three tons get on the roof of a mansion, anyway?
  9. And then a final bit where Claire seems to target Owen with a laser-guided dart gun, only it’s to trick the hybrid, but Owen has to get past the hybrid to make it step on to a glass roof so it would fall through, only it doesn’t, and then Blue saves the day by jumping on the hybrid, which falls and gets impaled on a triceratops horn, and I didn’t really understand how all of that fit together.  It was so confusing I had a passing thought that Claire was about to betray Owen.  Bleh.
  10. What is with the screaming tech nerd?  Shit….
  11. The number of people doing positively stupid things just so they can end up as dino chow is stunning.  Granted, in general the Jurassic movies depend on the humans being seriously mentally impaired in the presence of dinosaurs, but it was really bad in this film.  Really bad.  It made me wonder which was the intelligent species

In short, and in general, a disappointment.  Not that I had particularly high expectations going in, given the reviews beforehand, but the actuality fell short of even those.  Artificially pumped-up danger, nonsensical character actions, and same-old, been-there bad guys– all of it mashed together and not particularly well-seasoned, it was a dish for which I lost my appetite about halfway through.  Too bad, because it had two of my favorite things– dinosaurs and exploding volcanoes.  How do you mess that up?

Later.

 

 

Just a note….

Just a note, to note, in passing, something that happened last night.  Last night I completed a first draft for Princess of Stars.  The progress bar over there on the side reads “100% done”, which, over the last three years, is something I frequently despaired of ever seeing.

The breakthrough came in the first week of May, when I dumped thousands of words that were just…not…working, rethought the action of the middle third of the book, changing it essentially from a chase to a quest, and gave myself wholly over to writing while striving to ignore the ever-circling harpies of judgment.  This last week I pushed on despite developing a touch of carpal tunnel, and finished at about 9:15 PM yesterday.

The whole process for this novel was far more rocky for me than usual.  There were a lot of reasons for that, some of which I’m not really ready to talk about.  It wasn’t just that I found this novel hard– there were times when I was ready to chuck the whole writing thing altogether, and other times when I just couldn’t get my hands to the keyboard to do anything productive.  Some days it was just easier to watch YouTube videos.

By the grace of God and some hard thinking about what I was trying to do, I managed to get this first, and most essential, task done.  I’ve mentioned in other posts that once I have a draft in hand, I know I have the basic problem of any novel licked.  Like Aristotle’s ‘beginning, middle, end’, it sounds trite to say it, but it’s true– the most important thing you have to do when writing a story is to finish it.

Of course, having said that, there are weeks of work ahead.  I tend to see all my first drafts as narrative horrors, but this one is particularly scaly and gruesome.  I’m going to be a while getting everything ironed out and reconciled.  But that’s a normal part of my writing process; it was the inability to get to that first draft that log-jammed me for months and months on end and caused me to doubt whether I’m cut out for the writing life.

Well, truth to tell, I still have doubts, but with this novel, the completion of the Divine Lotus series, out of the way, I can move on to other projects and test the proposition in fresh fields.  Hopefully ones not filled with stuff that makes me sneeze.  I hate that.

Is the story any good?  Beats the crap out of me.  I’ll have to rely on others to make that judgment, because mostly I can only see the flaws.  But just finishing this, after so long a struggle, is a win, and a sure sign that final victory is in sight.

Later.

 

 

The Rubicon – Trump and what must be done

Looked at from a certain perspective, the course of the Trump administration so far could be depicted as a series of moments best characterized by people’s reactions to them– summarized perhaps as “OMG!” or “WTF?” or “ROFLMAO!”  The last might be more common, I think, if most of the stuff this incompetent buffoon puts out did not have so many serious implications.  His ludicrous imposition of tariffs on our allies (Canada?  CANADA?) is just the most recent example.

Unfortunately, any humor we might have found in the gyrations of a president unhindered by such mundane virtues as truthfulness and an allegiance to facts is fast becoming impossible.  His clownishness has begun to have real world impacts, to the point that some think the Western political and economic order as we know it is in danger.

More than that, closer to home the implications of Trump’s attitudes and actions are crowding in on our domestic political life.  To put it succinctly, we are now effectively living through a constitutional crisis.  To put it more informally, this shit is getting real.

The Mueller investigation may be approaching a climax.  Certainly, Trump’s hysteria over it continues to grow.  This past week, it reached a gobsmacking peak when Trump asserted the idea that he can pardon himself in the event of any indictment.

Please, roll that one around in your brain for a minute.  What Trump is saying, effectively, is that he is above the law.  That he can commit crimes and then escape any consequences for those crimes.  This is, essentially, the assertion of an absolutist privilege, something never countenanced in the Constitution or among the Founding Fathers.  This would be a major cornerstone for an authoritarian regime.

I take some comfort in the fact that most people, aside from Rudy Giuliani and a few of the more servile Trumpist lackeys in Congress, think the idea either laughable or unacceptable or both.  Any attempt by Trump to pardon himself, most agree, would swiftly bring impeachment down on his head.  It’s so obviously a threat to our republican form of government that even hard-shelled right-wing GOP congressmen would have to reject it.  As a possibility, it probably exists on in Trump’s own deluded imagination.

But to me the fact that Trump is even willing to broach the idea publicly means we must have crossed some sort of Rubicon last week.  To anyone other than a true believer, there can be now no doubt as to how Trump sees himself, and himself in relation to the Republic.  This man has been a threat, is a threat, and will be threat, to that republic until he has been removed from office.

Now, a reality check.  It’s so easy to type the words, “remove from office”, but not at all easy to carry out in fact.  Under our Constitution, removal of a president by impeachment has to meet a high bar–that of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors”.  This was intended by the Founders to prevent presidents from being removed for mere political disagreements.  This requirement is right and proper, and has helped keep the United States from the sort of governmental chaos that other nations have all-too-often known.  But it means that removing a president, even one that deserves removal, is not easily done.  Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were both acquitted in their Senate trials, and Richard Nixon resigned before the articles of impeachment against him could be completed.  Removing a president by impeachment, in other words, has never actually been done.

To remove a president from office means that matters of evidence have to be presented to the Senate in a trial.  If we want to remain a nation of laws– which is really what this is all about– that means we can’t impeach a president just because we dislike him or disagree with him.  This is essentially what they tried with Bill Clinton and the effort fell flat, as it should have.

Evidence is what the Mueller investigation is about.  At this point in time, however, we don’t know what, if anything, Mueller has uncovered, beyond the indictments that have already been made public.  There is plenty of gossip, supposition and rumor about what Mueller is finding, but we really don’t know.

In the end, he may not find anything, especially around the charges of collusion with the Russians.  It may be all smoke and no fire.  Despite the overheated nature of press speculation around the investigation, there may yet be nothing there.

If that happens, then we have one problem– how to deal with the incompetent, narcissistic clown occupying the White House.  Because, quite aside from alleged criminality, Trump is still horrifyingly unqualified to be president, intellectually, morally, and in terms of skills.  He is already causing damage to the reputation of the United States, our ties with our closest allies (Canada, come back!), and our diplomatic efforts to make the world safer and more free.  He has no policy other than his whims and what he thinks will please his base.  And the Constitution makes no provision for the dismissal of a president for incompetence– otherwise, our history would look very different, perhaps for good, but far more likely, for ill.

In the case of Trump remaining in office, then for the sake of the country he will need to be legislatively quarantined.  That would mean Congress would have to act to reduce his power and hedge him about with legislation that will limit the damage he can do.  To a certain degree, this needs to happen, anyway– the powers of the presidency have grown outlandishly over the last seventy or eighty years, in large part because the successive crises this country has faced that required a strong executive power.  With Trump as chief executive this realignment of the executive branch of the government becomes an emergency priority.

This would not be easy.  Among other things, Congress would have to act in a bipartisan manner that’s almost a myth nowadays.  This is where the paralyzed, sclerotic state of our national government would come back to bite us.  An incompetent president, blundering around like a drunken Godzilla and destroying the functionality of government, our alliances, our economic ties with other countries, and on and on, should be a matter of urgency for all Americans, regardless of political stripe.  Instead, we see a Republican congressional leadership, in both the House and the Senate, who have been willing to hold their nose and lend their lip-service to Trump, in the cynical hope that he will further their agenda before he topples.  If Congress continues to be controlled by these sort of opportunists then there is little hope of reining in Trump, unless and until he commits some blunder so horrifying– getting us into a shooting war with North Korea, for example– that even the Republican leadership could not ignore it.  But by then, the damage will be done, and millions could suffer for the GOP’s lack of courage.

If, on the other hand, the Mueller investigation does turn up evidence of an impeachable offense– well, then we have the same problem.  Impeachment would require votes in the House pass the articles; the trial in the Senate would require a two-thirds vote to convict.  It’s an open question whether the current majority party in either house has the patriotism and the spine to follow through with an impeachment and trial, even if a plethora of smoking guns are lined up in a row in front of them.  In Watergate Republicans were among the leaders who helped force Nixon out of office.  In a Trump impeachment, it seems doubtful that more than a handful of honorable GOP members would even show up.

As an aside, there used to be something called the Republican Party in this country– the party that produced Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower.  That party is, sadly, long, long gone.

Whether it is to contain a chaos-producing president or to impeach a criminal one, it seems unlikely that Congress in its current form will have the will or the ability to do what is needed.  The only remedy then will be to change the composition of Congress in the next midterm election.

Note– this is not a partisan call for Democrats to swarm the polls.  This is a call for everyone who cares about their country to vote for people who will do what is needed to contain Trump, or bring him to justice, regardless of partisan label.  At this point I don’t care if you call yourself Democratic, Republican, Socialist, Tea Party, Green, Independent or People for the Restoration of High Button Shoes, if you recognize the danger Trump poses and are willing to act to counter it, we need you.  Like yesterday.

After that, if Trump is still in office in 2020, he needs to be voted out.  Period.  End of sentence, and slam the door.

After Trump, however his administration ends, it will then be the patriotic duty of all Americans to start picking up the pieces and putting things to right.  At that point, we will need to address the systemic problems of our political system that allowed this waste of mortal matter to gain the highest office in the land in the first place.

But that’s another post, for another time.

Later.

 

 

 

 

A flash fiction challenge– “Long Term Investments”

Wow, two weeks in a row– I haven’t done this in a while.

Below is my response to this week’s flash-fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig– 1000 words on the subject of real estate, of all things.  And for some twisted reason, this one slotted right in behind the piece I wrote last week— same universe, same space opera sensibility.  Only…I think this one is all too likely, if we ever do create an interstellar society.  Which makes me kinda queasy when I think about it….

Copyright 2018 Douglas Daniel

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

The sun sparkled beautifully off the waters of the bay.  Juarez took in the vista, with purple headlands shadowing the horizon across the water, and boats, pleasure craft and working vessels, dotting the blue of the water.  The sun was warm, but the breeze off the bay was cool and refreshing after days in a ship getting here.

“And this is the result of, what?” he asked Harkess.  “Two hundred years of terraforming?”

“To bring it to its current state of perfection, yes,” Harkess said.  “But Pequod was comfortably inhabitable within thirty years of our first landings.  And many of the prospects in our portfolio would require even less work than that– in fact, some are step off the ship, plant a seed, and you’re done.”

“Doubtless those go for a higher premium,” Juarez said.

Harkess conceded the point with a nod.  “Of course, as with any other piece of real estate, the asking price of any of our worlds is predicated on ‘move-in readiness’, among many other factors.”  He smiled. “To be honest, it is a balancing act most investors have to make. Savings in initial costs for a less human-friendly world will usually be invested in the subsequent terraforming as a matter-of-course.”

“Yes,” Juarez said, “The investors I represent have been studying the market for some time.  They understand the basic points of planetary investment.” He shifted in his seat. “But as a middle-rank association, we must be careful where we finally decide to put our money.  We’re not a conglomerate; still less are we Shareholders. One false step and we could all be penniless.”

“Of course,” Harkess said.  “And Advanced System Opportunities has assisted many groups in your situation, Citizen Juarez.  The New Way Chosen, for instance, came to us when they wanted to find a world for themselves. So did the Purified.  We have a great deal of experience helping investors of modest means become Proprietors on their own planet.”

A servant came out on to the terrace, bearing a tray with a bottle of wine and two glasses.  He placed the tray on the table between the two men, poured wine into the glasses, bowed and left.  Juarez thought the man bore unmistakable signs of being a mod, but said nothing.

“Please, Citizen Juarez,” Harkess said, indicating the glass before the representative.

Juarez lifted the glass, inhaled the bouquet, and then took a respectful sip.  “A local vintage?”

“Yes,” Harkess said.  “We’re quite proud of it.”

“It is truly excellent.”  Juarez took another sip. “I understand that ASO has a relationship with the Voronovs.”

Harkess nodded.  “Quite a long and fruitful one, to be honest.  Historically, and in the present, they have been a tremendous help.  And, of course, we keep all our licensures and permits with the Consortium itself in order.”  He paused. “May I ask what your investors’ intentions might be?”

Juarez looked at Harkess over the rim of his glass.  “My investors are committed to making whatever world we chose into a place fit for extensive human habitation– but precisely because our resources are not unlimited, we need to see some early profits.  To help us bear the cost of development.”

“Naturally,” Harkess said.  “That would mean some easily exploited mineral assets, or some of the higher yield cash crops, such as coca or makatinte.  Considering the resources of your group, I would assume that we are not talking about mining gas giants or any other such larger scale operations.”

“No, you’re quite correct,” Juarez said.  

“Yes– I think you will find, citizen, that we have several opportunities in our portfolio right now that might meet your specifications.”  Harkess smiled. “And if not, well, there’s hardly a week that passes without one of our survey ships jumping far beyond the Perimeter, discovering new worlds.  I am sure we will be able to find something that will please your investors.”

“That’s all very well and good, Citizen Harkess,” Juarez said, hesitating, “but I’m afraid I must ask about… infestations.”

“Ah,” Harkess said.  “You needn’t trouble yourself, Citizen Juarez.  ASO has extensive experience handling infestations.  In the five hundred standard years we have been in business, we have dealt with more than one hundred.”  He smiled. “In my operations days, I handled five myself.”

“Really?” Juarez said.  “Are they…difficult?”

“Generally, speaking, no,” Harkess said.  “Every world has its particular vulnerabilities.  Our techs and operations people are quite skilled at crafting solutions peculiar to each situation, one that is guaranteed to do no permanent harm to the planetary biosphere.  Naturally, we don’t beat our own drum about it, but we’ve never had a failure, nor a complaint.”

“I see,” Juarez said.  “Unfortunately, that’s not quite what I was asking.  Do you ever…face opposition?”

“Ah– no, we never have.  None of the species we’ve confronted have ever had a technology more sophisticated than bronze axes.   Primitives like that are quite easy to deal with– one tailored bio-plague, a couple of neutron weapons, and it’s generally over before they know it’s begun.”

“What about the Hegeri?” Juarez asked.

Harkess’ studied, pleasant facade seemed to harden, just a little.  “The Hegeri…the Hegeri are a unique case. They were taught their technology by a human renegade.  It is not…native to their culture.” He smiled again. “Besides, they are on the other side of the Volume.  The Consortium fleet has them well in hand. Nothing to concern us.”

“Well, that reassures me,” Juarez said.

“As it should, citizen,” Harkess said, beaming now.  “Besides, if it should turn out the planet you choose does have an infestation, it’s always possible that they will leave some picturesque ruins.  We’ve found that sort of thing is generally a boon to the tourist trade on any given world.”

Now Juarez smiled.  “Citizen Harkess,” he said, lifting his glass, “I think your firm and my investors are going to have a very profitable relationship.”

Harkess lifted his glass, too.  “I hope so, citizen,” he said, as they clinked glasses.  

FLASH FICTION– “A MATTER OF DISCRETION”

My response to a flash-fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig, to write 1500 words of space opera in honor of May the Fourth.  It so happens I love space opera, although I’ve seen very few good examples of the genre lately (I have been dodging The Last Jedi like a healthy man dodges plague victims).  My little piece below is based on an (as yet) unpublished space opera universe I’ve had rolling around in my head for decades.  If I ever get the Divine Lotus series finished (and that is a long, sad tale) I might just turn to the universe of the Consortium, Shareholders, and the Perimeter.

Copyright 2018 Douglas Daniel

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

“Damn Shareholder,” Rong muttered.  He leaned against a tree trunk and wiped sweat from his face.  

“Shut your mouth,” Teal told him.  He was drenched in sweat, as well; this world reminded him strongly of Novo Brasil.  “He hired us, he gets to set the agenda.”

“Indeed, Citizen Xiang,” the Shareholder said, from twenty meters away.  He spoke without turning around or looking up from the ruined wall he was examining with a sensordoc.  “I beg your patience—this will not take long.”

Teal gave Rong a sidelong glance.  “Enhanced genetics, tooler. Don’t forget it.”  Rong glowered, but clamped his lips tight.

Maria appeared over the rise beyond the wall, pushing aside vines and creepers.  “Shareholder Mann, there’s more ruins on the other side.”

“No matter,” Mann said.  He snapped the sensordoc shut.  “I’m picking up no ipinsotic traces at all.  Nothing. This location’s a waste of time.”

Teal resisted the urge to calculate the cost of the fuel they had burned getting here.  “Your orders, sir?”

“We go on to Mackason IV,” Mann said at once, with asperity.  “The reports can’t all be wrong.”  He seemed as if he were about to say more, but he stopped himself.  “I want to lift as quickly as possible.”

“We’ll be in the air five minutes after we close the hatches, Shareholder,” Teal said.

 

It wasn’t until they were well on trajectory for the jump radius that Mann sought Teal out.  They were alone in the Pleasant Virgin’s cockpit, with holographic readouts flickering around them.  Mann settled himself into the chair at the astrogator’s station and regarded Teal.  “All in order, Captain Xiang?” he said.

“We’re fifteen hours to jump,” Teal said, “and the ship is operating normally.”

“Good,” Mann said.  His regard of Teal sharpened.  “But not all of your crew appear to be happy.”

“Well, Shareholder,” Teal said, “with all due respect, I’m afraid there’s not much I can do about human nature.  We’ve hit eighteen worlds in fifteen systems in the last month, and so far every one of them has been a dry hole.  For whatever it is you’re looking for. Frustration’s bound to show itself in this sort of situation.”

Mann said nothing for a moment.  “You knew that the exact nature of this mission would remain confidential, captain.”

“Indeed, Shareholder, it was made very clear to me,” Teal said.

“And we Purcells hired you and your crew precisely because you have a reputation for keeping secrets.”

“It’s a point of pride with us,” Teal said.

“Well, then, captain, I would appreciate it if you had a word with your people,” Mann said.  “The House of Purcell needs your discretion, and your very fast ship, to complete a task of some urgency.  To help us complete that task, we are paying you a handsome sum. Surely enough to quell any ennui you and your people may feel.”

“Yes, Shareholder,” Teal said.  “I will speak to them.”

 

“Pilkin’ bastard,” Maria said, running a hand over Teal’s bare chest.  “Never was a Shareholder worth the skin holding ‘em together.”

“That may be,” Teal said.  He enjoyed her touch; their lovemaking always put him into drowsy contentment.  “But he is paying the bills, and without this job we might be scratching for a commission.  Things are hard at the moment.”

“In this quadrant,” Maria said.  “T’other side of the Volume, there’s plenty of opportunities.”

“I’ve heard it all already, pretty puss,” Teal said.  “And maybe once our coffers are full, we’ll head that way.  But we have to finish this job first.”

Maria raised herself up on her hands, looked down on Teal.  “D’you have any idea what he’s looking for?”

“No,” Teal said, fim, “and I don’t want to know.  It is not our business. We were hired to haul him about and keep our mouths shut.  As long as I’m captain, that’s what we’ll do.”

Maria stared at him, solemn.  “So be it, then,” she said.  

 

Mackason IV, from a descent trajectory, looked much like many another Earth-type world—ocean blues overlayed with white clouds, green-brown landmasses here and there.  A cyclonic storm occupied a quadrant of the main ocean, but it was too far away to affect their chosen landing site. Teal took the Virgin in fast, not caring if they left a prominent re-entry trail.

They landed on a rocky plain, in a level area between jagged hills.  Even coming in they could see the ruins that covered the land between the high ground; as they landed Teal saw broad roads and the bases of broken towers.  Mann, leaning over his shoulder to stare at the displays, gave off a palpable air of excitement. “This is more extensive than anything I have ever seen before,” he said, transfixed.

They all hit dirt, Rong, Maria, Chris, Mann and Teal.  Mann had his sensordoc out at once. Even from several feet away, Teal could tell the readout was exploding with data.  

“This is incredible!” Mann exclaimed.  “The readings are off the scale! This is what we’ve been looking for!”

“Rong, Maria, fetch the containment vessel,” Teal said.  The two of them hurried back into the ship.

Mann led Chris and Teal through a broken archway, and down a flight of steps.  At the bottom was a sort of small amphitheater; scattered in the dust that coated the amphitheater’s floor were scattered lumps and shapes, most of which were hard to make out.

At the foot of one pillar, however, something glowed ochre.  Mann approached it; it glowed more brightly, while the sensordoc’s readout became even more fevered.

“There!” Mann cried, pointing.  “An active device! It’s what I’ve been looking for.”

“Doesn’t seem much,” Chris said.  The femman knelt down, extend a hand.

“Don’t!” Mann yelled.  

The warning came too late.  Chris touch the device. There was a flash of light, and then a scream.  Teal, squinting past a hand raised against the light, glimpsed Chris afire, screaming.  In the next instant, the femman was simply gone.

“The fool!” Mann cried.  “The utter fool!”   

 

They got the device in the containment vessel using hand-grav tools.  They sealed the vessel; then, with a smug Mann leading the way, they secured it in the Virgin’s front cargo bay.  “We are all rich now,” Mann told them.

They lifted ship at once, with Mann in the crew mess preparing a report to his superiors.  Teal was happy to retreat to the cockpit to put the Virgin on a trajectory for the jump radius.  He still didn’t know what they had found, and he wanted to know even less than before.   

He had just finished setting the jump coordinates when he heard a muffled thump.  The sound was strange to him.  Then the security display popped up a flashing alert, weapon discharge- crew mess.

“What the hell?” Teal said.  He climbed over the seats and slid down the ladder to the crew level.

He burst into the mess and was confronted by a scene of blood.  Mann lay on his back on the middle deck, his eyes staring sightlessly at the overhead.  Rong stood over him, a slug-thrower in his hand.

“Had to do it!” he yelled at Teal.  “The Sheffields– they’re offering a million!  A whole million! The Purcells are nothing compared to the Sheffields.”

Teal yelled in rage and threw himself at Rong.  The man had no time to bring his weapon to bear on Teal before the captain was on him.  He fired another shot, but it missed Teal and caroomed off one of the bulkheads.

Old training kicked in for Teal; without thinking he batted the gun out of Rong’s hand, then drove punches into the man that first stole his wind, and then his life.  Rong’s body fell over Mann’s and lay still.

Teal, panting, sensed rather than saw Maria in the mess’ open hatch.  “He’s ruined us!” he said, his hands clenched in unspent fury. “Ruined us!”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Maria said, “it probably depends on your point of view.”

Something slammed into Teal.  It threw him into the bulkhead.  He slid down, slumped against the compartment wall.  He couldn’t move; the stink of burnt flesh rose up into his nostrils.

“What…?” he gasped.

Maria came amd loomed over him, the quantifier in her hands crackling with residual heat.  “The Sheffields– what a joke. The Voronovs will pay far more. And it will all be mine.” Maria lifted the quantifier.

 

Maria reset the jump destination.  It would take a week to reach the Voronov base where she was to meet her contact– a long ride in an empty ship.  To top it off, she found she was actually sorry that Teal would not have understood why she had to do this. It would have been better with the two of them.

However, three million Consortiums bought a lot of consolation.  

Maria sat back in the command chair, contemplating her future.  She smiled. It was indeed time to examine opportunities on the far side of the Volume.   

Avengers: Infinity War– wild-eyed and totally wacky speculations on what happens next– SPOILERS!!

Okay, just in case the title of this post didn’t get through to you–

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

If there is anyone who has still not seen Avengers: Infinity War and wants to remain unspoiled, STOP READING NOW!!!

T

H

A

N

O

S

S

U

C

K

S

Okay, for here on out it’s your own fault if you get spoiled.  Totally.

So, massive numbers of people have seen the film, and a significant subset of those are freaked out by the ending– about how the good guys lost, how Thanos won, how could they kill off so many characters, on and on.  Come on, guys, what did you think was going to happen?

Despite certain claims to the contrary, I totally disbelieve the idea that Avengers 4 is going to be a “completely different” film.  The Russos are very good story-tellers and they laid a cunning trap for us.  Infinity War is, in truth, Part One of a two-part epic.  As such, it ended exactly as it should have— with the heroes at their uttermost lowest point, defeated, on their backs, not knowing what to do next.  The story required it.  Anything else would have been tantamount to cheating, or, worse, cowardice as story-tellers.  I don’t think you can accuse the Russos of cowardice.  The stunned, weeping fans stumbling out of movie theaters around the world are evidence to the contrary.

Okay, so how do the good guys claw their way out of this hole?  The original comic is no sure guide to where the Russos intend to go.  But there are clues in the movie.  What follows is pure speculation based on my viewing of the film.  I could be way, way off-base, but I think there are points of light in the darkness.

First, Dr. Strange saw 14-million-plus possible futures, out of which there was only one– one— in which the good guys win.  From the moment he ran through those futures, he had to be working overtime to set that one possibility up.  This is the context in which everything that came after has to be understood.

While on the way to Thanos’ homeworld of Titan, Dr. Strange explicitly tells Tony that Strange would let Tony and Peter Parker both die before he gave up the Time Stone.  At the critical point of the battle with Thanos, however, when Tony has been stabbed and appears to be dying, Strange suddenly reverses course and hands the Time Stone over, ostensibly in exchange for Tony’s life.

Most people commenting on this assume that means that Tony Stark is critical to ultimate victory for the good guys, and I would not argue with that.  After Thanos’ departure with the Time Stone, Tony asks Strange “why”.  Strange effectively answers the question in two parts.  He first tells Tony that they are “in the end-game now”.  Then, just before he dissolves, he tells Stark that “this is the only way this could have played out.”  In other words, the one path to victory is in place.  It remains to be seen if the surviving heroes can walk it.

Well and good.  But I think there’s more to that scene than meets the eye.  Watching Strange as he surrenders the Time Stone, the way the scene is cut, and the looks Strange gives Thanos, suggest to me that Strange has jiggered the Time Stone with a hidden spell.  There may be some sort of temporal time-bomb ticking away in it.  Its exact nature, I can’t guess, but I suspect Thanos will not like it.

Another moment in the fight on Titan was also suggestive of something bigger.  At one point Tony manages to scratch Thanos, who laughs it off by saying something to the effect, “All that effort for one drop of blood?”

Hmm.  The very fact that the film calls out what would otherwise be a insignificant injury suggests to me that Tony Stark, armed with one drop of Thanos’ blood, may be a formidable foe, indeed.  A drop of blood means that Tony now has Thanos’ DNA– and Bruce Banner, world-renown biochemist (along with all his other degrees) yet lives. Tailored bio-weapon, anyone?

Finally, there’s Captain Marvel.  The sight of her emblem was the one thing that seemed to lift people’s spirits in the showings I attended.  Some have compared her to Superman, and, by the rood, we could use a little of that OP sledgehammeriness right now.  Or a lot.  Lots and lots.  Seeing Captain Marvel open a really big can of whup-ass on Thanos will probably make my year.

How this all plays out in Avengers 4 is anybody’s guess.  We won’t have a clue until we see a trailer– hell, at the moment I would settle for the movie’s fracking title— except that there will surely be intense battles, further losses, and probably a bittersweet ending.  It would another kind of cheat if the good guys won, and dialed everything back to exactly as it was before Thanos attacked the Asgardian refugee ship.  The lesson of Infinity War seems to be that, when confronting ultimate evil, losses are inevitable.  It may be that some of the surviving heroes will pay the ultimate price, even as they– possibly– rescue some of those who were lost.  We’ll just have to see.

It’s going to be a long year…..

 

 

 

 

 

Another reaction to Avengers: Infinity War– but with SPOILERS!! YEE-HAW!!

Because I am the obsessive fan-boy that I am, I just had to go see Avengers: Infinity War again this evening.  That’s twice in twenty-four hours, children, and it may end up being three times in forty-eight hours, assuming that tomorrow I can do my morning exercise, pay my rent and do my laundry in a timely manner– you know, all the real-life check-off items that exist merely to allow nut-jobs like me to spend inordinate amounts of money and time re-watching Marvel movies.  What was once merely entertainment is now a way of life.  I am nerd, hear me roar.

(On the other hand, I wonder if seeing the same movie over and over again in a short amount of time is like doing too many wormhole jumps at once?  Hmm.  I’ll let you know, assuming my eyeballs don’t fall out)

Suffice to say, I enjoyed the movie even more the second time around, in part because I was prepared for the repartee going past at Warp Six.  I caught more nuances (especially one that is the core of this post– more about that in a minute), and the audience tonight was especially receptive and engaged.  Also, I didn’t have a distraction this time around that detracted a bit from my first viewing, i.e., tonight’s show was not 3-D.  I didn’t mention it in my post last night, but the 3-D yesterday, for some reason, seemed kinda muddy and dark.  Maybe it was my aging eyes, maybe it was the glasses.  All I know is that I liked the regular format better.

Now, about that nuance I mentioned–

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

Proceed no further if you don’t want to know some details about the film.  There, I have said it.  Don’t blame me if you keep reading and have your illusions shattered.

 

 

Okay, late in the film, Thanos has kicked everyone’s butt who came against him on his own ruined homeworld of Titan– Iron Man, Spider-man, Nebula, Drax, Mantis, Peter Quill/Starlord.  He has stabbed Tony right through his advanced armor and it looks like curtains for our playboy/philanthropist/genius (probably didn’t get the order right, but you get the point).  Dr. Strange, injured and collapsed nearby, tells Thanos he will surrender the Eye of Agamotto (aka, the Stone of Time) if Thanos will spare Tony.

Two critical points here– this well after the point in the film where Strange tells Tony that he, Strange, would let Tony and Peter Parker (Spider-man) both die before he would give up the Time Stone.  It is also after Strange, using the Time Stone, has examined 14 million-plus possible futures and found only one in which the Avengers were able to defeat Thanos.  That’s the setup.

(By the way, Tony and Strange do not like each other.  It’s almost worth the price of admission just to hear Strange call Tony a “douche-bag”.  Oh, yeah….)

Then Strange, strangely, reverses course and hands over the Time Stone to Thanos, ostensibly to save Iron Man’s life.  When Tony asks him why he did it, Strange says something to the effect that “this is the only way it could play out”, right before he dissolves (yes, Thanos wins the battle to reset the universe.  That’s part of why the cliffhanger ending is such a pisser).

Uh-huh.  I had funny feeling last night about Strange surrendering the Time Stone so meekly, and tonight I paid particularly close attention to Strange’s expression as Thanos takes the Time Stone.  By doing so I think I caught a piece of subtle business, about on the same level as the look Obi-Wan gives Han Solo when Han makes his ‘parsecs’ crack in Star Wars.  Strange is particularly intent as Thanos takes the Time Stone and puts it into his gauntlet– as if he wanted to make sure Thanos took it and added it to the gauntlet’s array of stones.

Bingo.  I am certain that Doctor Strange, that tricksy smarty-pants, has put some sort of mystical whammy on the Time Stone.  One that Thanos is not going to like.  At all.  One that is going to tick away like a time-bomb and play a big part in the Avengers’ ultimate victory.

The thought makes me grin maniacally and rub my hands in glee.  It makes the cliffhanger easier to deal with.  It is the sort of smart plotting that has made these movies, in general, a joy to watch (okay, not all equally.  Can you people just get over hating The Dark World, please?).

Last night I begged the movie’s producers to speed up the release of the next Avengers film.  I know, realistically, that’s not going to happen, if only because the next film is undoubtedly tied to the release of the Captain Marvel movie (oh, and there’s a sweet tidbit teasing that flick in Infinity War, too).  But I am a-quiver with anticipation.  The next year’s going to pass sooo slowly….

Meanwhile, the only solution is to go see Infinity War again.  I’ll just try not to cackle when Strange hands over the Time Stone.  You’re riding high now, Thanos, but just you wait, bitch– you are going down.

Later.

 

 

 

An immediate reaction to “Avengers: Infinity War”– assuming I can form complete sentences….

This is not a review of Avengers: Infinity Warwhich I just saw on an early showing.  It is more of a quick and emotionally-laden reaction, with just a few observations on a few points in the movie.  Above all, in opposition to my usual habit, I am going to avoid any spoilers, as it would almost certainly make me the subject of mob violence.

Okay, here  we go–

Holy shit.

Holy wild-jungle-spawned bouncing off the wall pull the eject cord and tumble end-over-end through an exploding volcano shit.  With sprinkles on top.

Character deaths.  In the first five minutes.  Before the freaking opening credits.  OMG….

Lots of repartee, much of which goes by really fast, which demands a second viewing, assuming I can find a spare ticket for this movie over the weekend in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area.  Frankly, not quite all of it worked– a couple of scenes between the Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor (that’s no spoiler, their meeting was in the trailers) were a little weak, in my opinion.  But those were minor blips in this tsunami of a movie.

Speaking of trailers, be aware that there was a lot of stuff in the trailers that was not in the movie, and some of the stuff that was didn’t play out quite the same way.  It’s all part of Marvel’s master-plan to keep the fans guessing.

Note:  there is no mid-credits scene, but there is a comparatively long one at the end, and you want to wait for it.  Definitely.  For sure.  I’m not joking.

Huge cliffhanger at the end.  Freaking huge.  If the cliffhanger at the end of The Empire Strikes Back was Mount St. Helens, then this one is fracking Mount Tambora, the reason 1816 was known as the “year without a summer”.  You are warned.

Precisely because of that cliffhanger, they cannot get the next Avengers movie into theaters soon enough.  All we know at the moment is that it is due to be released sometime next year.  We don’t even know the title.  Marvel and Disney, you cruel bastards, make the next movie a Christmas release.  You can do it….

I don’t think there was a weak performance by anyone in this picture, although some of the mid-rank characters go by pretty quick.  Somehow the filmmakers pretty much pulled off the feat of giving all the main characters enough to do so that none of them are slighted, which was something I was seriously worried about.  It’s doubly impressive that the action takes place in several locations at once, and even more impressive that they still found time give Thanos some depth and feeling– not like another super-villain I could name from a certain recent movie.  Yech.  Really, there is no comparison.

Be prepared for a movie that moves really fast, and bounces between a lot of different locales.  Personally I didn’t find the pace too hard to keep up with, but you definitely don’t want to go out for popcorn during the middle of the picture.  Very bad idea.

See this movie, but hold on tight and brace yourself for that cliffhanger.  Anybody who expects this movie to end tied up with a neat little ribbon is delusional.  But it is a tremendous setup for the next film.

Christmas, you guys!!

 

Again

I was thinking
of that day
again
when the sky
boiled black
and the dark elves came
athirst for blood
my friends falling, falling
my arms, blood-washed,
too weary to make
one more stroke
and you came
descending in light
a fire of vengeance

The skalds sing the song
of that day
again
they make it pretty
the young men
laugh and say,
“this dry stick
did these deeds?”
I pay them no heed
how can you listen
to children
who never had to see
the face of the world
crack open, and bleed.

Winter has come
the north wind is sharp,
again
I sit closer
to the fire,
someone else’s bearskin
about my shoulders
all I have now
is someone else’s
my food, my bed
my fire
only my memories
are truly mine

There will be no
Valhalla for me
a straw death is my doom.
Still…
for the sake of that
one hour, that one day
perhaps a grace
will be extended
I will see my friends
I will see you
kiss your lips
and walk with you,
hand-in-hand,
again