Thoughts on “Dark Matter” by Michelle Paver

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK. IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO HAVE ANY FOREKNOWLEDGE OF THE CONTENTS OF THIS NOVEL, READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED. 

Summary: January 1937. 28-year-old Jack is poor, lonely and desperate to change his life. So when he’s offered the chance to join an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it. After they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year, Gruhuken, Jack feels a creeping unease.

I love books about the arctic.

It’s a bastion of cruelty set against a backdrop of incomprehensible beauty. It’s so hostile and isolated yet life miraculously persists in spite of it all.

I think that is what makes it the perfect landscape for a horror novel.

Not only are characters forced to contend with whatever supernatural entity is on their tail, the very land itself threatens their survival on a daily basis.

So how was it?

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I can’t pin-point precisely where the story lost me.

It started off strong, setting the scene and describing the hopelessness that would motivate someone like Jack to forgo all he knows to venture to no-mans-land.

Then it got dull real frigging quick.

I’m all for a slow-burning horror, but this book was a drudge to get through, which is quite an achievement when you consider it’s a meager 252 pages.

If I had to hazard a guess, I would say this novel’s greatest failing is its characters. Our supposed hero Jack in particular makes for a tedious protagonist.

Jack is supposed to be the underdog, the only lower-class citizen in a team of upper and middle-class scholars who do this sort of thing on a lark, but I couldn’t bring myself to feel sorry for him.

Jack is moody, whiny, and, frankly, he acts like a petulant child even though he’s nearly in his 30s.

“I’ve moved to my bunk because Algie is using his collapsible safari bath, and I’d rather not watch. All that wobbly, freckled flesh. His feet are the worst. They’re flat pink slabs, and the second, and third toes protrude way beyond the big toe, which I find repulsive. Gus saw me staring at them, and flushed. No doubt he’s embarrassed for his ‘best pal.’- 78 pg

70% of his narration in the first act is either devoted to giving tongue baths to Gus or berating Algie for even the slight infraction. Granted Algie is kind of a dick, but the way Jack carries on about him reminds me  too much of my high school days when girls started petty feuds with one another for no reason.

In fact, Jack’s whole demeanor is effeminate to the point of irritation. I can’t tell if it’s because he’s gay, or if the female writer struggles writing from a male perspectives.

Speaking of being gay, I thought things were going to get interesting after it became obvious that Jack was developing feelings for Gus. After all, this novel takes place prior to World War II when feelings like this were not only socially unacceptable but illegal as well. Would Gus reciprocate? Would he be disgusted? Considering they would have to live with one another for a year in confinement, this had the potential to brew some real drama. With no societal conventions to keep them apart in this world so detached from the rest of civilization, how would two Englishmen who truly love each other interact? Would their affections survive the harsh climate and high tensions of living in such an inhospitable part of the world?

Don’t worry.

These question are never answered.

Instead of developing the milk-toast character of Gus, the author gives him appendicitis so he and Algie are forced to leave the island.

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Yeah.

Really.

Bet you thought this would be one of those character-driven novels where people start off as one-dimensional cardboard cutouts but develop as the story progresses, didn’t you?

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No, instead we are held hostage by Jack for the remainder of the tale.

I admit he does become more sympathetic as the story progresses. At first he hated the canine companions they purchased for the trip, but he eventually grew to love them and appreciate them for the good-boys that they were. It’s hard to dislike someone who appreciates dogs for the amazing beings they are.

Nevertheless, I would hesitate to say Jack ever truly becomes “interesting.”  The writer had a chance with leaving him alone to delve deeper into his subconscious to see what makes him tick. Instead it’s mostly surface-level information and him making O-face over Gus.

I never felt a sense of urgency on Jack’s behalf either. In The Terror, the crew were constantly in peril, not only from the monster, but also food shortages and rampant illness. Other than been spooked, Jack is fine. Even though he is isolated, he has ample food and supplies to last him over a year. Hell, now that the rest of his expedition team is gone he actually has more. Why am I supposed to be scared again?

….Oh, yeah, there’s a ghost, I guess.

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Personally, I think the spirit’s story was over-explained. Nobody knew his name or his true origins but the fact that we have his motives explained to us kind of takes away from the dread. If they just left him as some vague, malevolent force that communicated through dreams and visions, he would have been more terrifying.

It could have been like a ghost story/mystery where Jack had to piece together what the ghost wanted and why it was there. Or better yet, it could be called into question whether or not what Jack was seeing was actually real or not. They addressed men go crazy in these parts of the world, so why not play with that?

Instead we’re spoon-fed the whole story by ye old trapper guy. It’s not even that unique of a story.

In the end, the ghost really didn’t do much anyway.

By the time he actually started raising cain, I lost interested and was reading purely for completion’s sake.

In the end, Gus dies like we knew he would due to an accident the ghost caused….somehow. I don’t know, it wasn’t explained very well.

Jack and Algie become friends after this tragic event because the story said they did, and the protagonist and his good-boy husky live some semblance of happily ever after.

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Part of me feels guilty for giving this book a poor review. After all this is Paver’s first novel for an adult audience, which might account for its lack of depth. Nevertheless, this book didn’t do anything for me. The plot had a lot of potential, it just didn’t reach it.

I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.

My Thoughts on the Long Wait for “The Winds of Winter”

After the colossal wash-rag that was season 8, people are growing steadily less patient with George R.R. Martin and his slow output. 

The newest installment of  the series, The Winds of Winter, has been in the works for nearly a decade now and people are chomping at the bit for a return to normalcy. They want to go back to a time when characters’ motivations actually made sense, dialogue was well written, and events were building up to a well-deserved climax.

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Fans after season 8

It’s obvious a book series as intricate as Game of Thrones would take a significant amount of time to create. After all, it’s hard enough as a readers to keep track of all the plot threads Martin has woven over the years, I can only imagine how difficult it would be to be the one weaving the tapestry.

Many have pointed this out in defenses of Martin, claiming fans are just being entitled brats, crying for their toys. Some have even gone so far as to write songs about it, notably John Anealio’s George R. R. Martin is Not Your Bitch. 

I, myself,  have experienced multiple creative dry-spells that have prevented me from writing. I currently have an unfinished fanfiction that has been languishing in limbo since 2018. In spite of my efforts to update, as many positive reviews have been requesting me to do, I have found it difficult to write something that will satisfy the modest readership I have accumulated over the years.

Martin experiences this same sort of pressure on an infinitely higher scale. Game of Thrones is a global phenomenon now. Not only is his creation loved by millions, he himself has become a household name. He’s become so well-known people dress as him for Halloween!

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Most writers salivate over the idea of achieving such a level of notoriety, but it comes at a cost.

Can you even conceive how monumental a task it must be to complete a series that has such far-reaching acclaim?

Having said all this, you might think I’m a Martin apologist who believes he should take however long he wants to create the best book he can possibly make. Considering how disastrous the final season was, the last thing readers want is a rushed product.

………..

But 8 years is too damn long, my guy.

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I sympathize with his situation.

But come on.

8 years?

8 years?!?!

It took Tolstoy 6 years to write War and Peace, a book over 1,200 pages long, and he had 10 children.

I can see a book this crucial to the series taking 3, or 4, or even 5 years to finish.

But not over 8. 

Martin isn’t writing Thrones in between 12-hour shifts at the sheet metal factory. Writing is his full-time job. He has been in this profession since forever.

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Look, in all seriousness, the root of the issue is he knows Game of Thrones is his magnum opus.

If he cannot deliver on the pay-off he has been building up to since 1996, he will never create anything this monolithic or culturally relevant ever again.

That is a terrifying prospect for anyone to comprehend.

But Martin knows the score. He’s been in the writing bizz longer than some of us have been alive.

The defenders are right, George R. R. Martin is not our bitch.

He is a full-grown man with complete autonomy and we shouldn’t expect him to perform for our amusement like a puppet on a string.

Nevertheless, he owes us the books he promised.

We are not greedy for holding him to his end of the bargain. 

Writing is a scary profession, especially when people start noticing you. While there are more people to listen and be inspired by your work, there are also more people to please. Fandoms, while often times accepting, can also be merciless in their critiques. Trying to placate such a large crowd is daunting.

But you have to write anyway.

Some people won’t be pleased with the way Martin wraps up the series. Unfortunately, that’s art. Some will like it, others won’t.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to be finished.

Let’s face it, David Benioff and D.B Weiss set the bar pretty damn low.

Just about anything Martin writes has a 9/10 chance of being leaps and bounds better than that shlock of an ending the show cooked up.

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Game of Thrones: Book 1 v. Season 1

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SEASON 1 OF GAME OF THRONES AND MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE BOOKS. 

Good news! I can consider myself a good nerd now that I have finally completed the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series.

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That being said, I have many thoughts that I am wanting to share on the subject of both the first beloved now maligned TV series and the first book in the timeless saga written by George R. R. Martin.

In this post I won’t be going into the specifics on how the book and show differ necessarily (if you’re more interested in that, then watch this video series by The Dom). Instead, I will be discussing what I think worked best between the two in terms of story-telling.

Points to the show: 

Faces to the names 

George R. R. Martin has unquestionably made one of the most intricate fantasy worlds in existence, rivalling even the likes of J.R.R Tolkien in its density. Its packed to the hilt with lore and customs and people….

….and therein lies one of the issues in Game Of Thrones.

There are too many goddamn people. 

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I tried to read the first book before I started watching the series, but dammit if I couldn’t make it. There were just too many name to remember, too many notes that had to be taken.

It didn’t help that some of the characters had similar physical attributes, making it even more difficult keeping track of who was who.

Wait…is Jorah Mormont this old, white, bald dude, or is he that other old, white, bald dude?”

Converting the written word into a visual format allowed me to put a face to the name and has made my reading experience less confusing as a result.

Cersei

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While in some ways I appreciate the characters in the book more than in the TV show, I think Cersei proves to be an exception to this rule.

Cersei is not a POV character in the first book and so we are only able to see how she interacts with other POV characters a.ka. Sansa, Tyrion, and Ned Stark. While we do get a taste of how nasty and demented she is in the novel, we don’t see her in her more vulnerable moments like we did in the show.

There’s a scene in the first season in particular where Cersei asks Robert if there was ever a chance they could have been happy, to which Robert responds with a heartbreaking “no.”I thought this scene added more emotional depth to Cersei’s character, enabling the audience to see her as something more than just a cackling villainess.

Ned Stark 

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I love Ned Stark in both the novel and in the show. However, Sean Bean’s performance brings much more warmth to the character than existed in the book. For the life of me, I can’t recall a time where Ned laughed or cracked a smile outside of the show. I’m sure it happened, but for the most part he was ever the stoic Northerner, waiting for the next conflict to arise. In the show, there are more moments of levity and he actually lets out a chuckle or two. It makes him look more approachable and gives him sort of a Mufasa-isque quality to him.

Robb and Catelyn’s Grief

In the books, we don’t see how Robb and Catelyn react to Ned’s death immediately after they receive word of it. Instead the story flashes forward to when they arrive at Riverrun, heartbroken but not quite despondent.

In the show, however, there’s a truly  tear-jerking moment where they show Robb futilely hacking away at a tree with his sword and Catelyn going over to console him, promising they will have their revenge on the Lannisters.

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It’s a really sad scene and it shows how deeply Ned’s loss has effected them.

The Music 

This one might be considered unfair because a book can’t have audible music, but it is definitely a point in the show’s favor. The composer, Ramin Djawadi, does a fantastic job of creating atmosphere with his music. I have yet to hear a soundtrack that packs such an emotional wallop. Death scenes, action scenes, emotional scenes. He can do them all.

Those cellos have me swooning every time.

Here’s a free video on Youtube that contains some of the songs from the show. I recommend you check them out here or on Spotify.

Points to the book: 

More Lore 

One of the most obvious draw-backs of visual media is time. With each episode needing to be about 45 minutes or shorter, there isn’t nearly as much freedom to explore the world. I think the show did a pretty decent job cluing in the audience as to how Westerosi society operates, nevertheless, it was always going to be at a disadvantage compared to the book.

Point of View

There are very talented actors attached to Game of Thrones, but there is no substitute for being able to crawl into a characters mind and read their thoughts. The experience of reading is just far more intimate.

In the book, we see so much more about the world and we get small but satisfying tidbits about character’s pasts that make them all the more real. I think some of my favorite inclusions are Catelyn Stark’s ruminations on growing up in Riverrun. They were touching and added more dimension to her character, really driving home how out of control everything has gotten since her youth.

She is an outsider taken to a land much colder and harder than her childhood home. Their climate is different, their customs are different, even their gods are different. Nevertheless, she finds herself having to fight for this alien culture that she has never truly understood.

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More Fantasy

The book is pretty gritty in comparison to the traditional fantasy novel, but there is more of a nihilistic atmosphere to the show than in the book. I think this makes it more palatable for the casual viewer as fantasy tends to be an acquired taste, but I personally like the more fantastical environment the book creates.

Dany’s and Bran’s dreams in particular add a level of sinisterness and foreboding that don’t land quite as successfully in the show. We are shown the dream of Dany walking to the now destroyed remnants of King’s Landing, but there are other seriously messed up things she sees in the book. As for Bran, he has a dream towards the middle of the novel wherein  he has to learn to fly while an endless pile of bones looms below him.

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I can also appreciate the characters aren’t constantly saying “fuck” in the book. It’s not that I have a problem with the word, it just takes me out of the moment. I’m pretty sure “fuck” wasn’t a word in medieval times so when it’s used with reckless abandon in the show, it’s a bit distracting.

Aging down of characters

This might be considered a weird point in the book’s favor, but hear me out. The fact that all the kids are so much younger in the book makes the events that follow all the more tragic.

Can you imagine not even being in your teens and having all your family members murdered? Or, like in Robb’s case, having to take over for you Lord Father after he is held hostage and having thousands of people depending on you to be their leader?

To me, the aging down of the characters drives home the underlying premise of the novel: When we seek to destroy each other, we are also destroying our future a.k.a our children.

Conclusion:

So which do I think is better: the book or the TV show?

I think I’m going to give a cop-out answer and say I don’t know.

There are things I believe the TV show did better and things I believe the book did more effectively. Most of the shortcomings of either are due to their respective mediums and not necessarily a result of incompetence on either side…..

That won’t come until much later.

Normally, I can’t read the book after seeing a film or watching a TV show based on it, however, I don’t believe my having seen the show beforehand hampered my ability to enjoy the book series. In fact, the opposite is true.

So if you haven’t read the books but have seen the TV series, I recommend giving the books a read anyway. There are very well written and will hold your interest regardless if you know what will happen later on.

The Twilight Zone: “The Comedian” Review

Disclaimer: The following review contains spoilers. To watch the free pilot, click here

As a fan of the original Twilight Zone, I thought I would give the revival a try. I heard it would be helmed by Jordan Peele so it was in competent hands. Unlike many writers of political satire in the post-modern age, he is talented enough to take on such a project. After all,  he already has two movies under his belt, both of which have been critical and box-office hits and contain great social commentary.

The pilot for this reboot is about a failed comic, Amir, whom, after a chance encounter with a legendary comedian, is granted the ability to make people laugh. But there is a catch. Everyone he jokes about disappears.

So…what did I think?

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Okay, well, it wasn’t awful but it wasn’t good either.

To its credit, the message is very Twilight Zone-isque and the metaphor of people being “unpersoned” is effective in helping to convey it. Conceptually, it’s a thought-provoking perspective on comedy and how making oneself so available to the public takes away a person’s sense of self.

The execution, however, was a bit derivative.

For starters, the main character isn’t likable from the offset. Sure, he isn’t supposed to be funny (that’s the point), but rather than sympathize with him for his lack of talent in a craft he so clearly admires, I thought he was just a pretentious neckbeard. Not misunderstood, not flawed, but a fedora-hatted neckbeard that thinks everyone should recognize his brilliance because his comedy “means something.”

To add to the general unlikeability of this person, even after he makes his girlfriend’s nephew disappear, he doesn’t really care. It’s true that he freaks out at first, but it seems like he’s more upset that he can now break reality, rather than the fact that his girlfriend’s sister’s child is gone forever. That kid did nothing to him and he quickly shrugs it off like it never happened.

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This makes it much more difficult to feel any grief for him when he comes to his fate at the end of the episode.

Moving on, I realize that the Twilight Zone is meant to be a drama and the most important thing is that the story’s message is properly conveyed, but come on. They couldn’t have made it a little funny? This was an episode about a comedian performing at a comedy club in an episode about trying to make people laugh written by a comedy writer.  I know Amir isn’t supposed to be good initially, but hell even a broken clock works twice a day. Couldn’t the curse have made him just a bit more witty so it’s not as much of a chore to sit through?

I realize it’s a short format so there’s less time to work with, but the characters in this story suffered a noticeable lack of development, especially Amir’s girlfriend. As a result their relationship isn’t well defined, so it’s difficult to care when they end up breaking up. We learned that they were apparently on the rocks before they took a trip to Paris but we didn’t see any evidence there was anything wrong with their relationship prior to this scene. And how can an extravagant vacation cure relationship woes? Have you ever travelled to a foreign country with someone you’re at odds with? That sounds like a bleeding nightmare.

Not to mention, certain scenes with her made no sense. I initially thought it was a dream sequence when she stormed into the theatre and started shaming him in front of his audience.

“I found this book! It’s only filled with names! I don’t even know who most of these people are!”

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Okay……

…….and?

It’s a notebook not a Death Note.

It’s weird but it doesn’t warrant confronting someone in the middle of a crowded theatre  while they’re performing on stage. According to the curse’s rules, anyone he mentions will be whisked out of existence. No one else besides Amir is aware this is happening. So why such a hostile and public reaction?

Seriously, who does this?

The intended “emotional pay-off” wasn’t much of a catharsis either.

The episode tricks us into thinking he’s going to make his girlfriend go “poof” but in reality he turns his own ability inwards and unpersons himself. The reason why this doesn’t work all that well is, when you think about it, he really didn’t lose much as a result of his curse. Other people did.

His girlfriend lost her job, his girlfriend’s sister lost her child, countless other people had their sons and daughters wiped from existence. But what did he lose? A relationship. That’s it. He lost his live-in girlfriend. She didn’t die, she just left him.

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It would make sense if he showed any signs of being self-sacrificing before, but he didn’t. His ego is the size of a hot weather balloon from Day 1 and it only gets worse the more fame he achieves. So why would it make a difference to him if he had to break a few more eggs to make his fame omelette?

From a character perspective, he would have to lose a great deal more in order for him to be motivated to make that final call. Especially when taking into consideration–apart from his girlfriend working at a diner as a result of his actions– we don’t really see any truly negative consequences for him having snuffed out these people.

It would have been more effective, in my opinion, if his girlfriend actually cheated on him as he suspected she might and, in an act of self-righteousness, he unpersoned her only to regret it and effectively commit suicide to undo all the damage he had done.

Would that have been more predictable?

Maybe.

But it would have made more sense.

Overall, this was an episode with a decent premise that just flopped.

Other people seem to enjoy it, but, in my opinion, Black Mirror is a much better spiritual successor to the old Twilight Zone. It focuses more on the technological side of society, favoring the sci-fi elements over the fantastical. Nevertheless, the themes and social commentary it presents hit home much more accurately than this episode.

If nothing else, you won’t have to subscribe to yet another bs streaming site in order to watch it.

Thoughts on “The Terror” by Dan Simmons

WARNING: CONTAINS MILD TO SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK. 

The Terror and her flagship, Erebus, are stranded in the arctic.

Their food source is contaminated.

Sickness is rampant.

Their ships have been ravaged by ice.

And no rescue is expected.

…….Oh, and, also, there’s an immortal polar bear demon that can only be appeased by allowing it or someone else to play another human’s vocal cords like a flute.

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What I liked: 

The characters. I thought Simmons did a pretty stellar job distinguishing between each crew member which is saying quite a bit considering how many characters there are in this thing. As someone who often struggles with remembering who is who in most stories (another reason why I have yet to actually read the Game of Thrones series) his repetition when describing each character and their physical features and rank was very much appreciated. While many other characters could have used a bit more development, I believe he did a good job of making them come alive, especially Crozier, the Captain of The Terror and Erebus‘s Goodsir, the anatomist who remains one of my favorite characters.

The attention to detail. It’s obvious that Simmons did a lot of research with this piece from boat geography, to describing an arctic landscape without just using the word “ice” over and over again, to the ranking system. It’s impressive to read. You actually feel like you’re there, freezing along with them. Before reading this book I had no idea how awful scurvy really is, not to mention the other illnesses the crew had to suffer through. And make no mistake, this book does not skimp out on the gross details or give the dying any sort of dignity. It reports on how they crapped themselves, screamed, bled and farted. While this can be tedious to read it does a fantastic job of conveying the pure hopelessness of their situation which made this piece all the more engrossing.

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Historically accurate attitudes. While it is a bit cringy reading bits where characters go on racist or homophobic diatribes, at the very least I can say that it is historically accurate for that time period and I’m glad Simmons didn’t try to politically correct the characters in order to make them more sympathetic or likable.

Crozier’s second sight. While I didn’t think all of his visions were strictly necessary I loved the reoccurring dream he had where he is forced to partake in communion with his eccentric grandmother. It painted a perfect picture of what was to come and provided the audience with beautifully creepy imagery.

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The surprise ending. I admit I nearly quit reading this book because of the sheer hopelessness of it all. I knew that it real life none of the crewmen survived so watching them furtively cling to life in what essentially would be an exercise in futility seemed like a chore. However, I didn’t give Simmons nearly enough credit and he ended things on a note I had not expected.  Turns out my favorite character, Captain Crozier, survived after all and made a family amongst the natives.

What I didn’t like: 

It’s too damn long. I’m not opposed to slow burns, but this book went on waaaaaay longer than it needed to. I, personally, think they could have cut out maybe 100 to 200 pages or so and it would have been just fine. I actually thought about giving up on this book just because it was such an uphill climb.

Not enough monster. At a certain point in the books, after the crews decided to abandon their ships and go it alone, the monster attacks just…stop basically. And for no discernible reason. I guess it’s because the story would be over with too quickly? I’m not sure but it’s absence is sorely missed and hard to explain. In fact the monster more often than not appears as a sort of McGuffin. If you look at the story itself you wonder if the book even needs a monster at all. It’s not as if the crew didn’t have enough problems already. I mentioned the starvation, the intolerable atmosphere and the spread of illness. Then again, I did like the creature and the mythos surrounding it so I guess I can excuse it.

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Some of the character perspectives are pointless. Not many of them, you understand, but I’m still trying to figure out where Simmons was going for when he wrote the part where one of the oldest shiphand was talking to a former lover of his about the chances of rescue and Darwin and whatnot. It wasn’t a badly written scene or anything, I just don’t see why it needed to be there. Especially when neither of the characters present for that scene had that much of a part to play in the grand scheme of things.

Overall opinion: 

So, in spite of this book’s foibles, I did enjoy it quite a bit and even consider it one of my favorites now. I’m hoping to sample more of Simmons’ work in the future and hope his other pieces are just as entertaining as this one.

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Once Upon A Time: How The Dark Curse Made Everyone’s Lives Better

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS FOR ABC’S ONCE UPON A TIME. 

Ah…Once Upon a Time….a show once so wondrous and imaginative now a collection of overused tropes and timeline retcons.

I remember back in the day when I was first introduced to this show and how much I enjoyed the colorful characters, the intriguing plot lines, and the level of heart that went into the making of this show.

However, now that I look back on it there is something that wasn’t quite right with the premise from the off.

For those of you who don’t know, Once Upon A Time is about story-book characters who are ripped from the pages of their fairytales by the Evil Queen from Snow White and placed into “our world” where they live in complete obliviousness as to whom they used to be. Only the world-weary daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming can break the curse and restore everyone’s memories.

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Now, it’s an interesting concept and, arguably, season 1 has the best plot. However, there is one issue with it that has bugged me about it for years: The curse itself.

Taking into account nobody remembers their past triumphs this seems like a good curse, right? Regina is large and in charge with everyone under her thumb and the Charmings are kept apart.

This was totally a good plan, wasn’t it?

Uh…..no…..not really.

Here’s the thing: While Regina took away a lot of things, she gave them so much more.

1. The townsfolk now have access to modern medicine. From what little we’ve seen of The Enchanted Forest, it seems like they were mostly dependent upon shamans and midwives for their healthcare. Sure, some of the higher-born characters likely had physicians to attend to them but the peasants would have appealed to someone like Rumplestiltskin to end their suffering, and, as the imp is fond of saying “magic always comes with a price.” Even if he did end their woes temporarily it is very likely it would come at the cost of something (or someone) very valuable to them.

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Without the curse many townsfolk would have died in childbirth or any other illness but now that they live in a modern world with a fully-operational hospital that likelihood has been drastically reduced. Thanks, Regina.

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2. Electricity and other modern appliances. No more chopping down firewood in the dead of winter or broiling in the summer heat. I can’t even imagine how many house fires have been avoided because of the lack of unattended candles or poorly doused furnaces.

Electricity allows for so much like communication, entertainment that doesn’t involve watching people being executed, and much faster methods of producing food.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Activities that used to take people weeks to do now take a matter of hours or even minutes. They now have machines that do the clothes washing for them. They have horseless carriages to tote them around. They have leisure time which, back in the middle ages, was considered unheard of.

Also, indoor plumbing.

Need I say more?

3. Access to supermarkets and fresh food. Hunting can result in a lot of deaths. Back in the day you often ran the risk of becoming lost, being shot by an errant arrow, or even being gored by the very creature you were hoping to make your prey. However, thanks to Regina, the townsfolk no longer have to concern themselves with this. Now they can simply go to the store and purchase it at a reasonable price. As an added bonus, they no longer have to worry about famine or plague destroying their crops which would have lead to their deaths in The Enchanted Forest.

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4. They have free public education. There’s no question that public education has it’s foibles, but just consider how much of a boon it is for society. It’s difficult for us to comprehend now, but there was a time when more than half of the population couldn’t even read and that was considered the norm. Without Regina’s curse, most of these people probably wouldn’t have had anything more than a first grade education, if that. Most of them would have been relegated to working on the farm/mill/shop until the day they dropped with no hope of bettering their circumstances without the aid of magic.

That brings us to our final point.

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5. No more magic. Emma can attest to the fact that the world is a hard and painful place even without spells or cantrips. However, once you add magic into the equation, the amount of suffering you can put someone through is limited only by your imagination. Ruby murdered her own boyfriend as a result of her magical condition that turns her into a werewolf, Geppetto’s parents were turned into puppets, Ursula had her singing voice taken away, Merlin was stuck as a tree for hundreds of years, and these are only a handful of examples. Magic seems to be the main cause of strife for many of our protagonists and Regina essentially “trapped” them in a world without it. How is that bad for anyone besides Regina?

I know some people may argue that Regina made them forget their loved ones, which is obviously a bad thing, but here’s the issue: they didn’t know they had forgotten them. It’s like torturing someone but then having them drink a memory potion to forget what they have been through. What is the point?

She didn’t curse them.

She gave them 1st world problems.

Honestly, I could go on and on about all the benefits that come with living in a modern society, nevertheless, I think I’ve made my point.

Regina is officially the unsung hero of Once Upon A Time and may have saved everyone’s lives long before she made the journey to the good side.

So bow down, peasants, before your true Savior.

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And don’t forget to eat your apples.

Thoughts on “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK OUTLANDER AHEAD.

Strap in, folks, this is gonna be a long review. Then again this was a long book, so what do you expect?

What I liked: 

The great characters. I didn’t always like Claire, but she always felt like a person and not just a vassal through which the author could carry out the story. Everyone had an interesting backstory and their own distinct personality, which really helped me get into the spirit of the novel. The dialogue was very personalized as well and I was impressed at how each character was able to give lengthy exposition without it sounding too unnatural. I also found that, despite the Game of Thrones level number of characters, it was easy enough to remember who each one of them were because of how unique Gabaldon made them.

The immersive environment. It’s very easy for a reader to lose themselves in this book. The way Gabaldon is able to describe the lay of the land is impressive and I never had any difficulty wondering where exactly these people were or what the environment looked like. What I can appreciate is the environment isn’t just a backdrop, it’s engrained into the story itself.

Sexy times for all. While the romance between Jamie and Claire may have been a bit rushed, what with Claire still having a husband back home, I believe the chemistry between these two is strong. The fact that they’re both well-developed characters helps me care more about their relationship and I think Gabaldon writes sex pretty well. She doesn’t explain so little that you can’t tell what’s happening, but she also doesn’t explain so much that it comes across as mechanical and weird.

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The historical accuracy. It’s obvious that a lot of research went into this novel and as someone who has tried to write historical fiction with mixed results, I can really appreciate her efforts. The details she put into this really help the story come alive, especially when she writes about the environment and costumes people wear. She also doesn’t shy away from describing the abominable odors that persist in these types of places back in the 18th century. I was doubly impressed when she went into details about which herbs to use for healing and how to describe how someone would properly attend a wounded man back in those days.

What I didn’t like: 

The focus was all over the place. I don’t think I would be out of line for saying that this book is by and large plotless. While there are many obstacles that the lead characters run into, there is no centralized conflict. For the most part, the structure of the story is “this happened, and then that happened, and then this happened.” It didn’t ever seem to be leading up to anything. On the one hand it left me guessing as to what would be the final outcome of the story, but on the other hand it made me wonder just what the point of all of this was. This is a shame because there were so many points of interest such as Claire missing the modern world, Jamie’s outlaw status and, I think most importantly, the inevitable doom that is to befall the Highlanders.

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Claire’s unrealistic reactions to killing. The book makes it clear on several occasions that Claire is accustomed to seeing people dying because of her position as a nurse during the War. However, I’d like to point out that there is a huge difference between watching someone dying and actively participating in their murder. In my humble opinion, Claire’s reaction to having murdered someone is disturbingly understated. Granted the person she murdered was trying to sexually assault her, taking a life is an unnatural act and a psychologically stable person would be horrified at having to do so. Especially one who swore an oath to always preserve life in any way she can. I thought they would explore this more after she was forced to murder a 16 year-old in order to save Jamie, but even then she doesn’t seem to feel that guilty about it. What makes this even more difficult for me to swallow is that this boy really didn’t do anything wrong. He was just a young lad who was trying to do his job to the best of his ability. He just happened to be on the wrong side.

It went on for too long. I think much of this can be attributed to the fact that this book lacked a plot so the author just went along with the story until she felt like stopping. While I enjoyed this book, most of this story didn’t actually need to happen in the grand scheme of things and I’m actually shocked at what they left out. For instance, the final battle to collect Jamie from the infamous Scottish prison….happens off screen…….

We spent pages and pages talking about Claire fighting a wolf (a conflict that I don’t believe even needed to exist since it doesn’t contribute anything to the plot), but when it comes to the climax, the great escape, the novel’s main villain dying….it happens off screen…….

There was no reason to cut that part out. There were so many other pointless scenes that could have been scrapped. They did not need to cut the one part that needed to be in there.

I admit, I’ve gone into this fandom totally blind so perhaps Black Jack comes back with a cyborg eye and there will be a real show-down. I don’t know. I’m just judging this book by its own merits.

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What the hell is up with Chapter 39? So the scene where Claire tries to save Jamie’s life after his torture at the hands of Randall while they’re at the monastery….Can anyone tell me what happened in that scene? I think she was trying to rekindle his will to live but…that should not have worked. Mind you, I only have a passing knowledge of psychology when it comes to PTSD related events, but I’m pretty sure forcing a patient to relive a traumatic event literally days after it happened in an uncontrolled environment would not result in a sudden miraculous turn-around in their mental behavior. Particularly when they are at death’s door to begin with. In fact, I’m reasonably sure that should have made him keel over.

Jamie’s torture. I’m gonna be honest, I thought it was overkill. The extent of his injuries and psychological torture should have left him a completely unresponsive husk of a man or dead. At least if this had stayed as true to life as it had been before. One of the most interesting aspects of his torture was left, for the most part, unexplored. While recounting the horror he faced while against Randall, he lets slip that the sight of Claire makes him ill because Randall basically conditioned him so every time he thought about Claire he would either be beaten or worse. In one of the most emotionally devastating scenes in the whole book, he tearfully explains that he doesn’t want to see her again because just her being there reawakens all of these awful memories.

Me:

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Wow. That is dark. More than dark, that’s completely and utterly heart-wrenching.

Aaaaaaand after Claire’s Most Awful Idea Ever, he’s totally fixed and ready for some bairn-making.

Ummm……

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There’s no reason why this should have worked. You can’t just undo classical conditioning.

Mrs. Gabaldon, you seem like a smart lady and all, but I don’t think you understand how psychology works. Sadly, once a mind is screwed up that badly, the damage is usually permanent. If not, it takes a looooong time for an individual to overcome it.

I think that Jamie’s aversion to Claire would have made an excellent jumping off point for the next novel and would justify a book of equal length, especially if she found out during this debacle that she was pregnant with his child. Not only would Claire have to deal with the impending slaughter of the Highlanders and the Dragoons looking for Jamie, she would also have to confront the possibility of raising a child in a foreign country in the past alone. That’s more than enough conflict for a book, in my opinion. But instead we get a miraculous recovery from Jamie and they all live happily ever after. At least for now.

Overall opinion: 

I enjoyed reading this novel and I’m more than a little interested in reading the next installment. However, I also believe this book could have been so much better if some things were cut and if the story had been given more focus. It was interesting just watching them go about their daily lives, but I think actually giving it a plot would have raised the stakes a considerable amount.

Why I’m Disappointed By Neil Gaiman’s “Trigger Warning”

Perhaps I’m just whingeing over semantics here, but I had to get this off my chest.

When I purchased the audiobook for Neil Gaiman’s book on short stories I was very excited. Not only am I a fan of Gaiman’s writing, I am also a big fan of his narration. His dulcet tones and faint English accent make him a perfect narrator.

I was preparing myself for another boring day of organizing charts upstairs at the dermatology clinic where I worked and I needed something to listen to in order to keep the monotony from reducing my brain to yogurt.

So I placed the charts on a table, plugged in my earbuds, and I began to listen.

Gaiman gave a perfect introduction into this collection, explaining how he’d come to discover the term “trigger warning.” He conceded that, while trigger warnings may be well intentioned, sometimes we need to read things that make us uncomfortable, that force us to ponder imponderable things, see the world in darker hues.

He warned us readers (or listeners in this case) that what we were about to read would likely disturb us.

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I listened for several hours, nearly finishing the book in it’s entirety during a single shift. It was interesting, imaginative, captivating, visceral, everything a book should be. However, there is one thing that it was not: triggering.

I loved the stories, loved the narration, but I kept listening with a growing sense of expectation. Is this the story that’s going to trigger me? Is this the story that’s going to challenge my preconceptions about life and put me on a 2001: A Space Odyssey styled journey to self-discovery?

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The answer to that would be a nope.

Again, I loved the stories, in fact I consider this the best short-story collection I’ve ever read.

But with a title like Trigger Warning you expect something a little more…triggering. That’s not to say they weren’t disturbing. There are stories with murder, revenge, cannibalism, monsters, stalking, etc. They’re horrifying and dark with lovely twists and turns, but nothing I wasn’t expecting from something written by Gaiman.

And they were not what I was advertised.

Now, it’s not Gaiman’s responsibility to make sure that I, specifically, have all of my desires met. He is perfectly entitled to write what he wants and I believe he he does an excellent job of it.

However, let me explain why I was a bit disappointed.

There has, I think, been a shortage of books and stories in recent years that truly push the envelope. Books and stories that challenge ideas and behaviors that we see routinely in our day-to-day lives.

In our new easily-offended world there are any number of taboo subjects that deserve to be explored, but it would seem as if  no one has the nerve to tackle them in a literary capacity in a long while, lest someone get their grandma panties in a wad.

I was hoping that Gaiman, in his uniquely stylized way, would touch upon such subjects or, at least, ignore the restraints that these perpetually offended people insist writers use. Nonetheless, there wasn’t much in his book that would truly “trigger” someone, provided that person doesn’t live in a perpetual state of duress.

I just wanted something a little more challenging. I wanted Gaiman to approach the likes of Lovecraft or King and throw down the gauntlet, saying, “No, gentlemen, this is scary.”

I’ve read a handful of the Sandman comics, I know what he’s capable of.

I only wish he’d gone balls-to-the-walls the way he did with that series.

Or Coraline.

Now that would have been truly triggering.

The Short Guide to World-Building for Noobs

For some people creating new worlds is easy. For others it’s a bit more difficult. Here are a few things I’ve learned from experience:

Write more information about this world than you will use in the story. 

Get out a notebook and write down as much about this world as you can: the landscapes, the history, the language, the climate, the people, everything you can think of. However, keep in mind that most of what you are creating will not make it into the finished product. People don’t like being bogged down by too much information. Nonetheless, it’s important that you have this background information so that it feels more organic. You don’t want the reader to feel as if you’re making it up as you go along.

Remember where you live affects who you are as a person. 

Regardless of how you may dislike where you live or the customs you grew up with, it’s undeniable that where you are born affects your view of the world. The same should be said of your characters. For instance, people who live in less forgiving climates tend to be tougher than people that don’t. Think about your character and how their environment shaped their personality. Did it embolden them? Make them fearful? What side of the mountain they came from can make a difference in their development.

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Travel. 

Exploring new lands, tasting new food, and mingling with strangers is the best way to get your creative energies flowing. This is especially true when it comes to world-building. Traveling can broaden your horizons and inspire you to create new worlds that may nor may not resemble this one. You can look up photographs on the internet about certain landmarks, but it’s no substitute for being there yourself.

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Read about other cultures. 

This doesn’t mean you should directly or disrespectfully rip off of other cultures and their beliefs. However, exposure to new ideas (or at least ideas that are new to you) can inspire you to create your own. Study different religions and sciences. Read short story collections from other countries. Do as much research as you can about different environments.

Good luck!

Are Fairytale Reimaginings Becoming Unimaginative?

If you have perused a YA section of a bookstore in the last three years, then you’ve likely come across the cover of a fairytale reimagining.

Perhaps one book tells the story of Cinderella, a valiant warrior, who loses her magical boot in the middle of a battle and an infatuated warlord must return it to her. Or maybe another centers around a wolf-hunter named Red who falls in love with a werewolf that killed her father, the huntsman.

Regardless, I once thought reimagining fairytales was a creative thing to do.

I loved Wicked in my tween and teen years and all the interesting questions it posed about how history can be biased towards the victor.

But it seems like there’s been an overload of “new” fairy tales in the last few years and it’s made me question if most of them are even truly necessary.

Are most of these books actually trying to improve upon or modernize great stories, or are they just using fairytale references as a crutch to make a quick buck because they don’t think these novels could stand on their own?

In truth, it depends on the book.

If there are nods to the classics here and there, it’s tolerable. However, if it follows the exact same path as it’s predecessor, just with more feminism and modern sensibilities, then it becomes predictable and a drudgery to get through.

Because we already know what’s going to happen. 

I think the creative drought in pop culture also feeds into this crisis. The publishing and film industry are so paranoid about losing money that they are just rehashing stories that they know work. Fairytales have been around for centuries so, in theory, stories that feature classic characters should turn a profit.

I’m not saying we should completely do away with reimaginings. Maybe we could just take a break from them for a decade or so and come back to them later.

Perhaps writers could create their own warrior princesses that have absolutely nothing to do with any previous fairytale.The princess could have a sentient sword or a best friend that was turned into a battle stallion or something. Maybe she could fight her wicked stepfather for a change.

That’d be cool, right?

Could someone get on that?