Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Query Kombat

As you guys know, I occasionally enter writerly contests in hopes of honing my query skillz. And you know, landing an agent. Well today marks the start of Query Kombat! A unique contest were queries directly face off with each in a March Madness sort of way. (Not that I know much about March Madness. Not really a fan of basketball.)

Over 200 queries were submitted for Query Kombat but out of those only 64 were chosen, so just being chosen gives me confidence in my query and opening 250 words. Now it's going to come down to personal preferences, which is always sticky.

My fingers are crossed that THE DESCENT OF CHRIS CHAPPELL might survive a few rounds. 

If you're a writerly type, head over to Query Kombat and throw in your opinions and comments. Go here for the details, here for this round's rules, and here for my entry. My entry nickname is Villainous Wizard. Don't act surprised. It's sort of what my story is about, and I've only ever been honest on this blog about my super-villain tendencies.

For everyone else, please come back on Thursday when I hope to unveil a not-so sekrit project.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Brief Thoughts on Star Trek Into Darkness (Non-Spoiler)

No spoilers here! Though some spoilers in the links. Links to spoilers are marked.

I could write a review of Star Trek Into Darkness. After all, if I've proven nothing on this blog it's that I'm perfectly capable of ranting about anything.

So instead of writing a full out review I'm going to link you to several other reviews that I in fact agree with.

If you're looking for a non-spoiler review, check out this one at io9.

If you want to talk spoilers with a reviewer who wrote Star Trek novels and is therefore intimately familiar with Star Trek, check out this one.

If you want to laugh at a hilarious mock interview trying to figure out what was really going on in Star Trek Into Darkness, check out this one. (spoilers)

If you want a discussion with a geek icon on the women in Star Trek Into Darkness, check out Felecia Day's brief essay on the subject. (spoilers)

And I have nothing clever to say about this review, other than you know spoilers.

Ok, some brief original thoughts from me.

If you loved this move, that's awesome. Power to you. I have nothing against people liking movies that I did not enjoy. In fact, my mother loved this movie despite it's flaws and she's a huge Trekkie. So there you go. It is possible to love Star Trek and love this movie. Not everyone has to be a debbie-downer.

I did not enjoy this movie. However, I did enjoy the first half. I was with them for most of the movie and was like "wow, this could be going some place really interesting that gives us an opening to talk about the nature of free will and chaos theory and the like." But no, they didn't go that route. Well, maybe they did, just not in a way I agreed with at all. 

Benedict Cumberbatch was amazing. I don't need to even mention any spoilers to tell you that. The man can act. Seriously. He can do more with a look than most of the others can do with an entire scene. Seriously. He's amazing. It might be worth it to see this movie just for him. Maybe.

So did they address any of the problems I mentioned I had with Star Trek previously?

Some yes. Karl Urban was as usual note perfect. Uhurra got to do something that actually related to her job and purpose on the Enterprise. Which was cool. Also Scotty was much better done this time around. Chekov? Not so much.

There were also some really clever subtle call-outs that made fans in the audience smile and didn't detract from the movie. There were also some not so clever call-outs that left me wanting to hulk out and destroy everything around.

I left this movie angry, and I don't do that often. I enjoy most movies, especially on the first viewing, and only discover it's flaws on the second or third time around. Heck, I enjoy Thor in all of it's inconsistent, lack of character development glory. But Star Trek Into Darkness? No. 

Also it's not often that a plot hole is so obvious that my movie buddy has to lean over and say "Why the heck didn't they just..." and proceeds to point out a major plot hole. I love my movie buddies, but they're not usually as discerning on these things as I am. Not because they're not intelligent (quite the contrary) but because they're usually of the opinion "it's just a movie, it doesn't matter, let it go." (They don't take stories/movies quite as seriously as I do.) So when they're pointing out plot holes, you know there's a problem.

Why didn't I like it? Maybe it's because I hold Star Trek to a higher standard. Maybe it's because I really thought with the bar being so low after Nemesis we could only go up. Maybe it's because I'm a curmudgeon. More likely it's a combination of all of these things.

Oh well. Enough with my debbie-downer-ness and curmudgeonly ways. What about you guys? Did you like the movie?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Star Trek: The Bad

Note: TOS means Star Trek The Original Series. 

On Tuesday, we talked about what I thought was good about J.J. Abrams' Star Trek. Today we talk about some of the bad (we don't have enough time to get into everything). So without further ado, and in no particular order, the bad: 

1. Chekov Wonder Boy 

McCoy: "How old are you?" 
Chekov: "Seventeen, sir." 
Me: "WHAAAA????" 

It's true, Chekov was young in the original Star Trek, but he was young because he was a freakin' ensign. It's possible you don't know much about Navy/Starfleet ranks, so let me explain. Ensign is the lowest officer rank in the Navy. So basically a kid straight out of college is an ensign, and he'll be an ensign for two or so years. (Unless you're Harry Kim, and then you never get promoted. Poor Harry.) So Chekov would have been 22 or so. He could possibly have been a little bit younger, but not much. Chekov was a helmsman on the Enterprise. He wasn't a super genius. He wasn't stupid, but he wasn't a wonder boy. It seems Abrams has gotten Chekov confused with another helmsman, Wesley Crusher. 

The writers undoubtedly felt the need to make Chekov a wonder boy because they wanted him to be in the movie, and they needed some excuse as to why he would be at the academy at the same time as Uhurra and Sulu. Let's ignore the fact that Uhurra and Sulu were both lieutenants in TOS which means not only were they older than Chekov, but they had been in Starfleet longer. The writers seemed to forget that last part. According to this new system, Uhurra, Sulu, and Chekov should be lieutenants at the same time. That doesn't even make sense! 

It would have been better if Chekov had been left out of the first movie, and then they could have added him in the second. Which would have been true to TOS since Chekov didn't come in until season two.

2. Uhurra the Hottie 

Question: What does Uhurra do in this movie? 

Answer: She gets hit on by Kirk, she's sassy in the face of his come-on, she rolls her eyes a lot, she overhears a Klingon message, she listens for Romulan because she can differentiate it from Vulcan, and she makes out with Spock. Twice. 

Only two of those things are what I expect from Uhurra, and both of those two involve alien languages and telecommunications. 

But let's ignore the fact that they've reduced a woman who is a pivotal figure in the history of feminism and African American rights to a mere love interest. Let's instead focus on this love situation they want me to buy into. So another question: 

When did Spock and Uhurra become an item? There are two options here. 

(1) They've been dating since the academy which means Uhurra was dating one of her teachers--something that is considered morally wrong by today's standards. (I had one friend who was engaged to a prof and she was forbidden from taking any classes from him. This is how things work, people). This could indeed be the case, since Spock was afraid that assigning her to the Enterprise would be showing favoritism for his girlfriend, so he overcompensated by assigning her somewhere else. But then he let her use that relationship against him to get what she wanted. (So many things wrong here). 

(2) They were not an item before but became one when Uhurra tried to randomly make out with Spock in the turbolift after Vulcan exploded. Look, I'll fully accept that Uhurra is a more confident lady than most of the ladies of today, fully secure in her sexuality and all that. But there is a difference between being secure with your sexuality and randomly kissing a teacher/superior officer without knowing in advance if he returns your feelings. It's not appropriate. Also, she would be directly under Spock's command so Spock's response should have been "I'm sorry. You're awesome, but I am unwilling to enter into an inappropriate relationship." 

Also, isn't Spock married? Did I miss something? Are we now making Uhurra a home wrecker? 

I think Uhurra could have been given a relationship, even with Spock, but this was not the way to do it. The writers reduced a character who established that having a woman or an African American on your crew was unremarkable, because of course women and African Americans are equal to white men, to a mere love interest and point of competition between the main male leads. Kill me now. 

3. Scotty as Comic Relief 

This may offend a lot of people, but Simon Pegg should never have been cast as Scotty. He played Scotty as comic relief, and yes, Scotty liked to joke but he himself was not a joke. Simon Pegg doesn't look like Scotty, he doesn't act like Scotty, he is not Scotty. This was abysmal. The only thing I can really applaud the writers for was not giving into the temptation to make Scotty a contemporary of Uhurra and Sulu. And of course the reference to Admiral Archer and his prize beagle. (Poor Porthos). 

4. So That's How You Gain Command of a Starfleet Ship 

Apparently the way to gain command of a ship is (a) get randomly named first officer even though you are only a cadet and this ship actually has ranking, official Starfleet officers on it and (2) goad your captain into a fight. Now I'm going to let the first one slide, because the whole cadet thing was entirely bogus and I can't even begin to wrap my head around why Starfleet has dozens of ships that can only be manned by cadets. Let's focus on the goading your superior officer into a fight. 

Now, it's true, Spock was probably emotionally compromised. (On the other hand, he was making completely logical decisions, not revenge driven "let's kill Nero decisions", so...not sure he was actually emotionally compromised). However, what sane person would accept Kirk as their commanding officer after he had been (a) accused of mutiny and therefore should be awaiting trial and (b) was a complete and utter jerk to his captain, purposefully goading him into a fight with the sole intent of robbing him of his captainship. Everything about this scene is wrong on so many levels. What person on that crew would accept Kirk? If anything, Kirk's actions were the actions of a mutineer, someone who only seems to care about being captain and in power. The crew should never have accepted him as leader after that. Kirk was just as much to blame for his fight with Spock as Spock was. Neither of them was fit to command. Someone should've put the second officer in charge. Not sure who that is on the Enterprise, but it should not under any circumstances have been Kirk. 

Why the heck would real officers accept a cadet as their captain? There is just so much wrong with this. 

5. Why Must Kirk Be Captain? 

And in that train of thought, why the heck did Kirk need to be Captain at all? We've established a separate timeline where our characters are not exactly as they were in the original timeline. Kirk was not raised by his father in a (presumably) loving family environment where he learned respect for Starfleet and a desire to explore. Instead he seemed to be a hellion. How the heck can old Spock even begin to think new Kirk is the same person as old Kirk? Why does new Kirk deserve to lead? Does he even deserve to lead? I say no. 

I think Spock should have stayed Captain and Kirk should have been first officer (though Lord knows how he would have earned that and Spock's trust...which by the way, how the heck did Kirk earn Spock's trust? By telling him he was unfit to lead? That's a real trust earner). Spock as Captain and Kirk as first officer would essentially have been the Picard/Riker dynamic (which makes sense because Picard/Riker was subverting the expectations viewers had from the original series), and would make a lot more sense. 

But really the fact that this is a different timeline, where things are different, should lead old Spock to question whether new Kirk is the same man as old Kirk. Is new Spock even capable of being friends with new Kirk? I guess it's a nature versus nurture argument. Are Kirk and Spock always destined to be Captain and First Officer, respectively, and friends because their nature destined them to be that way? Or does the environment of a separate timeline and their diverging paths mean nurture them to be different men than they should have been? 

6. What Did We Learn? 

This point I'm about to make is not just a problem of this movie. It's a problem of many of the Star Trek movies. The point of Star Trek is not to be an action spectacle. The point of Star Trek is to make you think about your world, to question what you think you know and how you see the world. Star Trek strives to use science fiction to make political statements, and statements on our world, whether it's Uhurra being a bridge officer or Nazi planets. When Star Trek does it's job right, you learn something, you re-evaluate something. So what did we learn or learn to question through this movie? 

Time travel theory? Nah, there are better movies for that. Nature versus nurture? Maybe, and the result is "nature" and "some people are just destined to be captains", which doesn't actually seem to line up with the ideology of Star Trek as a whole. (Once again, I think this would be a much stronger thinking point if Spock was Captain at the end and Kirk first officer, then we would have a true statement on nature versus nurture). The problem with revenge? If that's the lesson we should be learning, just watch the Wrath of Khan. It does it much better. 

Ultimately, we learned nothing from this movie. It was nothing more than a spectacle. And usually I'm the last person to complain about a movie being a spectacle. Sometimes I just want things to blow up. But is not what Star Trek is about. 

People often posit that the reason why the prequels suck is that George Lucas, ironically, doesn't understand Star Wars. Well I posit the same thing about Star Trek. J.J. Abrams, who has admitted to not liking Star Trek, doesn't get Star Trek. And this movie is nothing more than Star Trek without a soul. 

It was fun the first time or two. It was pretty. There were explosions and jokes, but ultimately, it wasn't Star Trek. 

And this is why Star Trek needs to go back to TV, where it's not expected to be a spectacle, where it can explore the tough questions without worrying about reaching a "broad" audience, an audience of people who don't like it's soul. I miss the Star Trek that made me question the Prime Directive, or what makes a sentient being, or any of the other dozens of questions Star Trek challenged us to look at. 

As I stated before, I'm glad this Star Trek got butts in seats, and hopefully that gives producers confidence to go back to TV with Star Trek right now. Because right now, Abrams' Star Trek is just a shadow of what Star Trek should be. 

Maybe the new movie will pleasantly surprise me. I'm definitely keeping my mind open and I'm hoping that it will fix all the problems that the first movie got wrong. 

But please, producers, give Star Trek back it's soul. Put it back on TV. Because soulless wraiths do not stand the test of time.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Star Trek: The Good

I've mentioned before on this blog that I'm not a Trekker or even a Trekkie. However, I was raised on Star Trek. My mom is a huge Trek fan and Star Trek has played a major role in my life. Needless to say, I've seen every episode of Star Trek ever, multiple times. And when J.J. Abrams' Star Trek came out, I took my mother for mother's day. Because that's the sort of family we are.

I enjoyed the new Star Trek movie when I saw it. They avoided a direct canon violation with the time travel plot. Several of the actors embodied the essence of the people they were supposed to portray (looking at you, Karl Urban. Part of me thinks this actor was possessed by the spirit of DeForest Kelley). And it mostly filled the Star Trek void that had been in my life since Enterprise went off the air. (Say what you will about the terrible middle seasons of Enterprise, season four was great and the show finally started doing what it should have been doing all along. Enterprise deserved the benefit of a season five). Also Chris Pine.


Anyway, when I went to see Star Trek in theaters, I greatly enjoyed it. Much in the same way that despite it's flaws, I really enjoyed The Phantom Menace in theaters. The problem is when there is such a complete void in your life and they suddenly give you anything, you're willing to love it more than you should even in the face of major flaws. But like the Phantom Menace, as time went on, the more I thought about Star Trek, and the more it's flaws became apparent. And the more and more they bothered me.

And since this week is when Star Trek Into Darkness comes out (trying my best not to rant about titles without colons that don't make sense), I thought it was time to talk about those flaws. As well as a few of the good things. 

Today let's highlight some of the things done well in the first Star Trek film.

1. Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy
I said this earlier in the post and I'll say it again. Karl Urban channeled DeForest Kelley. Watching the movie I believed that Urban was a younger version of the crusty old McCoy we knew and loved. Also his lines about his wife and the divorce? PERFECT. That was a perfect little addition of back story that didn't detract from the McCoy we know and love from the original series and if anything added a little more history and depth. Also the fact that McCoy had been to med school, married and divorced before we even saw him on the screen gave him that extra bit of age McCoy needs to have on the rest of the characters. McCoy has been and always should be significantly older than Kirk and I was glad to see they kept that.

2. Spock's Backstory

I'm basically "meh" on Kirk's back story, since even though I don't like it, I can deal with it because we're in an altered timeline. However, Spock's back story was note perfect. I greatly enjoy all the scenes of him growing up in Vulcan, depicting that even highly logical "more evolved" Vulcan kids are mean and have trouble accepting differences. I love the depth that this gives Spock, especially since it answers the question of "Why did Spock join Starfleet?" Though Vulcans and the Federation have a long history, the Vulcans had until this point always held themselves aloof of us mere humans.So it's great to see a rationale for Spock joining a group where he is very much a minority.

3. Butts in Seats
This might seem a little weird, but I think my favorite thing about J.J. Abrams' Star Trek is that it got people into movie theaters and excited about Star Trek. It brought in people who may never have watched a Star Trek movie or show in their lives, or if they did they didn't enjoy it, and made them enjoy Star Trek. And I appreciate that. Because when people give money to things I love, it means I'm going to get more of the things I love! Which I'm all for! And hopefully this movie will help Star Trek regain popularity and get us what Star Trek really needs: a TV show. Because Star Trek is not the sort of franchise that's well served by being a movie. It needs a TV show to really explore the ideas that are the heart of Star Trek. But that's more related to Thursday's post so I won't rant about it here.

4. Chris Pine
Hollywood really hasn't tested me on this, but I'm pretty sure I'd see any movie Chris Pine was in. I fell in love with him in Princess Diaries 2, and even suffered through Just My Luck for him. So casting him as Captain Kirk was a good move. Even if I didn't agree with all the things they did with Kirk.

Unfortunately, my little sister has called dibs on Chris Pine. So I'll have to stick with Tom Hiddleston and Christian Bale. But who needs Kirk when they have Batman, amirite?

So that's what I liked about the new Star Trek. How about you? What were your favorite pieces of it?

New Schedule

Okay, so clearly I can't maintain the Monday, Wednesday, Friday Schedule. So we're going to go down to a Tuesday/Thursday schedule and see if I can handle that. Ok?

This week is Star Trek week in honor of Star Trek Into Darkness. So come back tomorrow for a discussion of what I like about J.J. Abrams' Star Trek and then come back on Thursday for a discussion of what I didn't like.

And of course, go out on Friday and see the new movie.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

My Library!!!

(I know I promised it on Friday, when this post went up early, but here  it is finally.)

So my post of my favorite series is coming. I promise it's coming. But I haven't gotten around to writing it up yet. In the meantime, I worked on something that you might enjoy.

This is a little different. It's sort of a video blog post. Basically one of my friends (shout-out, Alisha!) mentioned she would like to see what my library looks like in my house. And since she doesn't live local to me, that's sort of difficult. So I recorded a video of me talking about my library.

It's a little on the long side because when I talk about books, I could talk forever. It's 35 minutes all together, though I've had to break it up into multiple parts because of Blogger's finicky ways. I don't actually appear in the video, just my books. So yeah, if you have time check it out, if not no worries. I totally understand.

I also apologize for any mispronunciations of anything. When you learn most of the words you know from books, it means you don't know how to say half of them.

So I tried to break the videos at logical points. They range from four minutes long to ten minutes long. Enjoy!

Part 1: Intro and my Non-Fiction Section

video

Part 2: Brandon Sanderson, The Wheel of Time, and Signed Books

video

Part 3: Adult Books
Note: Let me apologize right now in advance for pronouncing Miss Marple as Miss Maple. Just goes to show how much I dislike Miss Marple. 

video

Part 4: Foreign Language Books, Movies, the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and Comics/Graphic Novels

video

Part 5: Unread Books

video

Part 6: YA and MG Books

video


That's it! You survived to the end!!! Hope you enjoyed this tour of my library!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Oops

Sorry guys! The Library that you may or may not have seen posted earlier today (since I just took it down) is not ready for viewing!

I can't get the video to upload, alas, so I'm working on figuring that out.

In the meantime, today has been one of those days when I've seen a million amazing things pop up in geek news, so links to them all here for your benefit:

ENDER'S GAME TEASER TRAILER! 

The actress who plays Uhurra in Star Trek has been cast as Gamorra in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie!

May the Fourth be with you!

And also, a PSA from Wolverine:



That's it! I will post my library post eventually.