51pDeMCtI9LApocalypse? We’ve all been there. The same old trips. Why should you care?

Well. Probably you shouldn’t. There’s the timeline collapse in just over a month, but that’s not it. It’s that the galaxy, far away and long ago though it might be, has been on plenty of brinks before. Maybe the stakes have never been higher than a mad god bent on domination and accidental destruction of all she surveys, but the fact of the matter is, plenty of those lower stakes that have come before have felt more like they mattered.

And I don’t think it’s that none of this is even semi-canonical anymore, nor even that I’m feeling escalation fatigue. It’s that after eight books in a series that arguably took more time than was necessary to tell the story at hand (probably by fifty percent, at that), the final book was incredibly rushed and earned almost none of its outcomes.

But the part at the end where they started laying groundwork for the next big series due to start in a few more years? That part, yeah, annoyed me because of the timeline collapse. This does me no good, you guys. None. All it does is leave unnecessary loose ends. And it’s not like it’s your fault? But it’s hard to forgive when the rest of the book was so disappointing already.


MV5BODgyODc1Njg0NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjM4NDA2MzE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_I was speaking with friends on the internet last week about how the Friday the 13th series of movies from the ’80s has an emergent continuity. That is to say, there was nobody with an overarching vision of how the series would turn out, or for that matter how many movies there would be or on what schedule. Nevertheless, each new film built on the last, keeping track of what had gone before and incrementally advancing the gestalt image of Jason Voorhees that is now a part of the shared cultural experience.

Spectre is the, what, fifth James Bond movie since the series was rebooted? No, fourth I see. I know that the first two went in sequence, and then apparently in my head the third one contained two movies? Which makes it sound bad, but I did not and retrospectively do not find it to be so. It contains guns, explosions, chases, hot chicks, and vodka martinis. Which is to say, yep, James Bond movie. But it definitely has the same emergent continuity that I had observed earlier that week, elsewhere. (Because I saw it opening weekend and still took this long. Sigh.) Maybe it was a writer taking advantage, or maybe it was actually planned all along; all I know is it did not feel cheap or unearned when it happened. Is that because I know about SPECTRE from the previous continuity? It could be, but I’m a fan of the series and so I don’t mind if that’s why.

Lastly: Christoph Waltz of recent Tarantino fame continues to impress mightily.


519RnNkaTkLThen I read the one other book that is between me and being caught up. Downside: Ascension is the next to last book in that Fate of the Jedi series I’ve been reading, and I started the final book since, which means the story bleeds together a little. Plus also, nevermind 43 years of in-universe spoilers, it’s also reaching the point where it’s hard to mention anything and not hit big-time in-series spoilers too. Once again, not a ton to say about this one, long story short.

A thing that is noteworthy, though, is the tone of the series. It’s never been exactly grimdark; I mean, it’s Star Wars, for crying out loud! But the first two thirds of the series were all very serious, with an Imperial ex-admiral as chief of state for the current governing body (Galactic Alliance), and the Jedi in disgrace, and all the slavery talk I’ve mentioned previously, and a new incursion of a planetful of Sith, and a weird dark god trying to take over everything. Not that the final third hasn’t been like that, but there was a note of hopefulness throughout that has been firmly quashed. Not to the extent that I have any serious concern for the wellbeing of the galaxy or really even of any of the main characters (well, maybe a little bit), but to the extent that it doesn’t really feel like a Star Wars movie.

Upshot: I’m still glad this timeline is due to collapse in a month and a half.

The Walking Dead: Life and Death

81CYT1T10KLSo, uh, it’s been a while, right? I was in the middle of a move, and early in that process (so, like, late September / early October) I read two books. Since then, I’ve slowed way down on my reading, with no time for movies in ages, and I haven’t even unpacked a game system yet, which means I’m not as far behind as you’d think, even though I am massively out of date.

That said, I’m not sure you’d have gotten much a review of the latest Walking Dead out of me regardless. Because Life and Death proves what I’ve been saying for more than a year now: this series is over, it’s just continuing to shamble forward like an implausibly on-the-nose simile of some kind. Something something new high stakes enemy that is the same as all the previous high stakes enemies that I used to care about? Blah blah Carl is still cool, and I’ll keep reading, but man. This should have ended after All Out War, period.

A thing that’s more interesting to me is why I forgive this kind of behavior from superhero comics. There’s no reason why The Walking Dead can’t be an open-ended series in which new threats continue to emerge, challenge our heroes, and fade away. Contrariwise, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t bother me that superhero comics follow this exact same formula, only on a more repetitive track. I started to say that, well, tWD is more realistic, and that’s why it bothers me, because realistic stories are more obliged to have conclusions. But, um, worldwide zombie apocalypse does not actually fall under the realism category. It might seem like I’m that far gone, but I’m not. (Or maybe I am, and that’s the answer? Disappointing, if so.) I guess I could be trained by expectations for superhero stories to last forever, so they get a free pass because it’s always been that way. Or maybe I’ve been trained by other graphic novels I’ve read over the past ten years that do have endings, and would not have cared if this was yet another in a series of ongoing plots.

Whatever the case, Kirkman definitely missed his chance for a graceful exit, and while I’m not exactly hate reading these yet, it’s definitely hard to recommend them as any good. They’re, you know, fine? I’m just not sure I care that much anymore, and that’s sad when you consider how good it used to be.

Last minute new theory that I should test with future books: maybe I get bored with post-apocalypse once it doesn’t feel like an apocalypse anymore. There’s just a substantial difference between people on the run from undead and human menaces at every turn, and people who are plotting a war with a large-scale enemy while also holding a giant weekend trade days flea market.

Skin Game

91WhO9pwfPLI read Skin Game in early September, wrapping it up whilst out of state on personal entertainments, only to find myself firmly entrenched in the emptying, cleaning, and packing of my house ever since I got back. Well, and sometimes work. (Also, I’ve watched a handful of basically terrible movies on streaming television that I shouldn’t ought to have watched and will not be bothering to review.[1])

The upshot of this is that while I know what happened in the book and can say that I liked it and still want to read more (once they exist), I do not have the sense of immediacy that I’m used to having when writing these reviews. Or maybe it’s being diluted by the incredible stresses of selling and moving house. And eventually buying, one expects. So instead of that, I’m going to talk about the series.

Specifically, I’m going to talk about having read 15 books, a short story collection, and a graphic novel. (Pete tells me there’s maybe three more graphic novels and/or ongoing comics with material I’ve not read.) Because here’s the thing about the Dresden Files. They are a bunch of entertaining, largely standalone books, as I’ve probably conveyed extensively since 2007. But they are also telling a long-form, overarching story about this man and his place in his world, and that story is perhaps beginning to buckle under its weight. Everything that happened in Skin Game was predicated on events from previous stories. And there’s nothing wrong with that! ….except the part where I’m almost certainly missing more and more nuances because of not remembering enough details to know, for example, how important this or that player is.

And this isn’t even a problem with the story not being complete. If I were reading all of these in a row, I’m pretty sure I’d be losing details by now regardless. And there are something like ten books left? It’s… it’s a daunting undertaking, is I guess all I’m saying. But they are good. I honestly can’t even tell if I’m complaining or not? All I know is either my memory is not up to this task, or my willingness to immerse myself in long, long stories deeply enough to not miss things has waned sharply over the course of my thirties[2]. Or, you know, some combination of those. In this case, clearly, I’ll just have to get used to missing things or being a little confused by them. Because I have no intention of stopping, or even of waiting until the series is finished before I resume.

[1] “The world’s first NC-17 found footage movie.” Sorry, guys, but I’m pretty sure if it had been actual porn it would’ve had more of a plot than that. ….and that was the good movie of the two.
[2] Which, notably, encompasses the lifespan of this site in fairly close parallel.

Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS

MV5BMTM5NDUwODA2NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDg5MDgyMQ@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_After probably decades of waiting, I have finally seen Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS. I can’t say exactly how I knew to be looking for it, but the mostly likely candidate is Joe Bob Briggs, who I’ve certainly mentioned before. Odds are good you’ve never heard of this movie, so: Ilsa is the warden of a German prison camp / medical facility during World War II. She regularly receives shipments of prisoners, mostly women, most of whom she uses in experiments designed to prove that the pain tolerances of women far outstrip that of men. The goal of these experiments is to show the German high command that women should be allowed on the front lines.

Which is in its way a shockingly progressive topic to be bandied about in a ’70s prison exploitation flick. And that right there is the heart of the film: the dichotomy between a highly feminist script in which there are (nearly) more Bechdel moments than breasts, and the sheer number of exploited breasts in said script. Not to mention tortured, murdered naked bodies, prisoner rape scenes, and the ongoing subplot in which Ilsa takes the male prisoners into her bed and then castrates them for not satisfying her fully. Everyone is exploited every which way, in ways that it was once or twice even hard for jaded old me to watch, and yet… it’s hard to explain. It’s not a good movie, nor I suspect would NOW find it particularly laudable despite the merits I have described, but it’s powerful, and not simply for having a number of very strong, fully-realized characters in situations that are very probably not particularly sensationalized, much as I could wish it were otherwise. There’s the core of a really amazing story there, buried under layers of schlock, titillation, and graphic violence.

It’s just as well that the two or three sequels are much harder to find than even this was, as I suspect all pretense of exceeding the the grasp vanished, as with most sequels of powerful ’70s exploitation films. But I’ll still watch them if I can find them, because… well, it’s a compulsion, really.


51PsKh7O1yLYep, still on pace to clear out my current pile of books, or at least most of the series I’ve already started but which are possible to finish. Conviction is the seventh in a nine book series, which means things should start coming towards a head. And I cannot dispute that exactly this has happened. The Jedi have meddled in politics to the extent that they seem poised for the same downfall orchestrated by Palpatine decades ago, Luke Skywalker seems poised to pull a Whiskeyjack at any moment, the fragile truce with the Sith has ended in a spectacularly bad way, and the slave thing from the last couple of books is… well, okay, that’s about the only thing that is going well. Long story short: while it’s hard to credit a Lucasbooks storyline ending in disaster, this one feels a lot more likely than the time extra-galactic entities invaded or the time yet another Jedi-turned-Sith started yet another galactic civil war.

Anyway, though, none of that is particularly important. I’m focused on the title of the book, instead. See, conviction has a couple of meanings right off the top of my head. There’s the one about a guilty judgment being rendered in court, and there’s the one about having a strong principled reaction to a topic. Both of these could plausibly apply to the book. On the one hand, a leftover plotline from the previous Sith civil war series is the trial of the Sithlord’s apprentice, who was manipulated into murdering a very old, very popular Imperial admiral. As you might imagine, this is the book wherein the trial wraps up and a verdict is handed down. But then also, you’ve got the slavery thing and the foolish Jedi political gambits thing and also you’ve got Vestara Khai, who I’ve previously mentioned is a present day Sith apprentice who is gradually being turned toward the Light, or at least it seems so. Plenty of space for the principled stand kind of conviction in any or all of these situations.

And seek it though I tried, I could not really find any obvious example of the latter in any of those slots. Which means that the entire book is named after an event that was maybe 5% of the current book and which has been maybe 10% of the series as a whole, and seems to have no real bearing whatsoever on anything that’s actually going on out in the galaxy meanwhile. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised to report that what I’ve considered a dangling thread from a previous series is actually pivotal to this one instead? But man, there’s no clue that it will be, except for the literary one that it’s in the books at all. It may be a bad sign, that not being enough to satisfy me.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

81Evx+k+qaL._SL1500_So, I’ve never played a Metal Gear game. It is plausibly the video game series about which I know the absolute least, in fact. I knew there was some guy named Snake who uses stealth and explosion tactics as needed to do military missions, and that’s about it. But Ground Zeroes was free on XBox Live and I have a new console, so, hey, why not?

Now I have learned that Snake is the occasional head of a South American third wheel uneasily placed between the US and the USSR during the Cold War, who uses those stealth and explosion tactics I mentioned earlier. In this particular game, he uses them to infiltrate Guantanamo Bay in 1975 and rescue two of his teenage proteges from the CIA prison camp onsite. Also, something about his group having nuclear capabilities and being inspected by the UN tomorrow, so he’d better do his rescue mission fast? I cannot tell if I was supposed to feel like a bad guy, nor if I would have felt less like one if I’d played the previous games.

What I do know is that it was damned short and did not leave me craving either the sequel or the many preceding games in the series. Gameplay was fine, but the storyline was definitely not friendly to newcomers. Which may be my fault? It honestly is weird that I know nothing about this series, but nevertheless, here we are.

Hercules (2014)

MV5BMTQ4ODA5MTA4OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjMyODM5MTE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_I saw Hercules last week because it was in the 10% of shows on my Netflix queue that were neither horror nor serial. (Well, and because my girlfriend didn’t want to watch a horror movie.) I have resisted reviewing it until now because it was just so… bland.

Don’t get me wrong, I always like The Rock. And that guy from Deadwood, Swearengen, who plays his seer sidekick, is a true delight. It’s just that the plot is… I can’t say bland again. Deconstructionist is not, per se, a negative. But this particular deconstruction took all of the literal and figurative magic out of the Hercules myth and turned it into not much more than a war story. Train the troops, fight the battles, and if I wanted a Greek war movie, I’d just watch Troy again.

It ended up better than I’m describing, but not enough better to be worth saying good things about. Or maybe the wait was too long? Either way: meh. You can do better, The Rock and Swearengen and people prospectively viewing this movie.

Fantastic Four (2015)

MV5BMTQ4MzY2ODI5Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDYyNDAwNTE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_It’s kind of astonishing, how different of a viewer I am today than I was ten years ago when Fantastic Four came out. I mean, am I more sophisticated as a viewer of movies? Probably not at all. But as a viewer of comic book movies… well, that is definitely another thing. I’ve read like 3500 comics from the ’60s and ’70s, and another 800ish in the Ultimate Marvel series in the modern era. I have definitely formed a lot of opinions and learned a lot of knowledge over those ten years, is what I’m saying.

Now a Fantastic Four reboot has come along, and I actually feel qualified to talk about it this time. (That review in the link above? It is rough and unpolished like nobody’s business.) Unfortunately… man. Sure, they’re no Marvel Studios, but 20th Century Fox is good at making X-Men movies. They were even pretty okay at making Fantastic Four movies, last time. But this? It was pretty enough and it wasn’t actively awful, but it is not what I would call a good movie.

They did a lot of things right. The Storm family dynamic was great, and the friendship between Ben Grimm and Reed Richards, if it was not entirely earned without another significant chunk of footage, was nevertheless well-acted and felt entirely real. Victor Von Doom was delightfully self-interested. Really, every character was great. But the plot was just so awful. Origin story: mostly good, except for the part that was insulting and either a) also made no sense or b) was more insulting than I think. Supervillain arc: utterly wasted and with no understanding for the character. Middle act between these two ends of the movie: okay, that part was pretty good. But not nearly good enough to make up for the failures.

I should say, there were scenes from the previews that did not actually occur in the film. So maybe the director’s complaints about studio edits ruining his vision have merit? All I know is, I did not care for whomever’s vision actually made it to the screen.