The Meaning of Superversive

We depict hatred so we can show that there’s something even more important.

We depict a curse so we can show the joy of breaking it.

What we also need to depict is the boy’s understanding of the girl and the process of the girl opening her heart to the boy.

At the end, the girl probably says to the boy

“I love you Ashitaka, but I cannot forgive humans.”

And then the boy probably smiles and says,

“That doesn’t matter. Live with me.”

That’s the kind of movie I want to make.

– Hayao Miyazaki, project proposal for Princess Mononoke

Coming Soon: “Tales of the Once and Future King”

Prepare yourselves, ladies and gentlemen. We are just a short two weeks away from the release of “Tales of the Once and Future King”, published by Superversive Press and edited by Anthony Marchetta (me), with assistant editor Mariel Marchetta contributing.

So what is “Tales”? Is it an anthology?

Well, yes and no.

Is it a novel?

Yes and no.

“Tales” is something different. “Tales of the Once and Future King” is both.

The main story is a post-apocalyptic fairy tale, and it is a full story – more than a simple excuse to fit other stories in between it, like what is seen in “God, Robot” or the original “I, Robot” that was its inspiration. It has action, romance, knights, vampires, banished kings and fair maidens locked in towers. It’s all there.

But in between it are the stories. And not just one or two. There are eighteen stories from the same number of authors, and they are not just stuck there, but integrated into the main plot. And not just one type of story either. We have your traditional medieval fantasies, yes, but there’s also steampunk, and Lovecraftian fiction, and stories set in the modern day, and stories in space, ranging from a child’s reading level all the way up to young adult.

“Tales of the Once and Future King” is a book with…everything. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

Enjoy the show.

“Coco” and “Spirited Away”

Anyone else see the trailer yet for the new Pixar animated film “Coco”?

Everyone is comparing the movie to “The Book of Life”, and hey, okay.

But I’m amazed that nobody has mentioned that the sequence where the protagonist first enters the spirit world was pretty much taken wholesale from the opening scene of “Spirited Away”.

Yes, “Stuck in fairy land” stories are nothing new. I get that. But watch closely. Individual moments and lines of dialogue from “Spirited Away” are practically just duplicated outright. At one point, our newly transparent protagonist looks at himself and freaks out…just like what happened in “Spirited Away”. Then he yells “I must be dreaming!”…also almost word for word a line in “Spirited Away”.

What’s funny is that I saw this trailer while at the theater to see an airing of “The Castle of Cagliostro”. The movie started with an interview with John Lasseter, apparently a huge fan of “Cagliostro” and a friend of Miyazaki. And after seeing Lasseter gush with the enthusiasm of a ten year old about his love for Miyazaki’s work, I find it hard to believe they didn’t know what they were doing.

I don’t really have anything bad to say here. I just find it interesting. Even the geniuses at Pixar will occasionally decide that copying somebody outright is the way to go, so don’t be afraid to do it yourself as long as you keep things in reasonable limits and attempt to tell your own story.

The Beginnings of Pulp

And a reminder that modern attitudes towards the pulps are certainly not new. This one is for the Castalia crowd.

Here is the estimable Mr. Tom Simon, in part 4 of his essay series “The Exotic and the Familiar”:

Up to the middle of the nineteenth century, while printing was relatively cheap, paper was an expensive commodity. It was made mostly from waste linen, and consequently, the quantity of paper manufactured could never exceed the quantity of linen that was thrown away. (You could make paper directly from flax fibres; but it was much cheaper to let the linen industry use the flax first, and buy up the worn-out linen afterwards.) Men and women made a decent, if undignified, living as rag-pickers – the recyclers of their time. Ragpickers scavenged all kinds of useful stuff from the rubbish-heaps of the world, but their chief stock in trade was linen rags for the paper trade: hence the name of their profession. So long as the supply of paper was limited in this way, books remained a luxury; literacy for the masses, a pipe-dream.

In the 1840s, separately but almost simultaneously, two men invented machines for turning wood into a fibrous pulp. One was a German, F. G. Keller; the other a Canadian, Charles Fenerty. This wood pulp, it turned out, could be used to make paper almost as good as linen-rag paper, and much cheaper. For a few years before this, a few small firms in London had been turning out cheap pamphlets containing lurid adventure stories for a mostly working-class audience. The new pulp paper allowed the pamphlets to be printed by the millions, and ‘pulp fiction’ was born. When The String of Pearls appeared, the usual thing was to release a novel in weekly instalments, and charge (in England) a penny for each issue. The stories were not chosen for highfalutin literary quality; they were written to please a large and not very sophisticated audience.

The English upper classes ignored the new medium. The middle classes, who feared anything that might diminish their advantages over the working class, hated it and sneered at it, dismissing all stories so told as ‘dreadful’. This was a calumny. As Theodore Sturgeon would certainly have said, nine-tenths of the penny serials were crap; but then, nine-tenths of the expensive books favoured by the middle classes were crap. The real sin of the penny dreadfuls was not that they were bad stories, but that they brought printed books within the reach of the Lower Orders.

Included in the article is a link to the also excellent G.K. Chesterton essay “A Defence of Penny Dreadfuls”.

Read the whole thing after the link! It is truly an excellent essay, as is the norm with Mr. Simon.

The Real Problem With “Jessica Jones”

“Jessica Jones” is a show I really liked when I first saw it, but it has joined that unfortunate category of works that I enjoyed the first time around and then disliked more and more the more I thought about them (also in this category: “The Force Awakens”). One personal issue I have with “Jessica Jones” is simply that I find the philosophy of feminism it happens to be promoting abhorrent; but this is something that not all will agree with me about by any means and is not a measure of the quality of the execution.

Another, politically neutral issue with “Jessica Jones” is that the plotting is deeply stupid. Episode ten of “Jessica Jones” is one of the stupidest episodes of television I have ever watched. Characters acted in wildly stupid ways, occasionally out of character, and certain things – like the way Kilgrave’s powers supposedly worked – were directly contradicted (something which, BTW, remained a major problem – if Kilgrave’s mind control works as a virus, then no matter how powerful he is a video of Kilgrave would have no effect on the watcher, and yet in later episodes there he is, mind-controlling people via video).

Now, the CONCEPT behind season one is legitimately excellent. An innocent girl has been forced to murder by Kilgrave, who can mind control anybody who hears his voice – and furthermore, the mind control is utterly absolute and almost impossible to resist in even a token manner. Jessica now must find and capture Kilgrave without actually hearing him speak, and upon finding him must prove he has the ability to control people’s minds without actually letting him do so. That’s a very strong concept!

The biggest problem of the series, even more than the bad plotting, lies in Jessica’s character development. It is botched, and badly. “Jessica Jones” starts the series in a very dark, low place: She is an alcoholic, she lives alone and shuns relationships with other people, and acts like a complete jerk to everyone around her. We learn quickly that she suffered extreme emotional trauma after being kept as a slave by Kilgrave for months before being forced to kill someone. This is a good place for her to start the series! When you start at the bottom there is a path forward from there: Up.

Jessica is ultimately drawn into conflict again with Kilgrave (who, by the way, is portrayed with a mesmerizing creepiness by David Tennant in the best performance of the show). In theory, Kilgrave is the source of her current status. The comics make this clear: Pre-Kilgrave comics version of Jessica was optimistic and upbeat. Then Kilgrave got to her and changed her into someone mean and cynical.

Part of the problem is that the show makes it clear that Jessica was ALWAYS an asshole. Even little child Jessica was an asshole. Orphan Jessica was an asshole. Sandwich saved me Jessica, when she first tries the superhero thing, was an asshole.

Jessica would have been a lot more sympathetic if Kilgrave turned her into this horrid person nobody wants to be around; what he actually did was turn her into a person who is both an asshole AND who tries her hardest to withdraw from the rest of the world as well. An issue that should have been solved with the end of her character arc in JJ.

But Jessica ends the series in exactly the same place as she started: A depressed alcoholic jerk who shuns contact with other people but will very reluctantly play the hero when really really pressed. She does not change. Why?

The answer is that “Jessica Jones” is a subtle but textbook example of placing your message above the needs of the story. Reviews and interviews make it clear that the director was trying to make a point: Just because you underwent trauma doesn’t mean you weren’t a jerk before that, and getting rid of your abuser doesn’t magically solve your problems.

This is a fine message, but “Jessica Jones” was telling a story. And because the showrunner had these pet issues she wanted to get across, the story was weakened. In fact, it wasn’t completed at all, which becomes even clearer when it is actually completed in “The Defenders”. The plot of “defeat the villain” was finished; the personal conflict, “Jessica overcomes her trauma” – which narratively makes the most sense if it is connected to Kilgrave, which it mostly is – is left dead in the water. The one should be intertwined with other, but they don’t affect each other at all. She ends the series in exactly the same place as where she started!

As a result finishing season 1 of “Jessica Jones” is a frustrating experience: You know how it should end, and it looks like the show is setting up for that ending, because it IS setting up for that ending…and then it doesn’t happen.

Because the showrunner was trying to make a point.

“Jessica Jones” had a lot going for it, including some really excellent episodes and great performances by both Ritter and Tennant, especially Tennant. But the show was undone by poor plotting and the sacrifice of the story in favor of the message.

Let it be a lesson to us all.

A Comment From a Newbie Writer

Here’s an opinion for you:

Keeping in mind that I am using exaggeration for effect here…

Any writer who ever uses the phrase “I don’t want [X group] to be reading my books” deserves to go bankrupt and die homeless.

I mean any group, including (but not limited to) Nazis, commies, SJW’s, both Puppies groups, CHORFs, Morlocks, Vox Day, and John Scalzi.

Here is why:

As authors – not writers, but authors – we are in the business of selling our work. We are trying to make a product that people want to read and will enjoy reading. And as an up and coming author without the luxury of a massive fanbase, I literally cannot afford to insult the people who are forking over their hard-earned money, and taking the time out of their day, to pay attention to something that *I* created. It is a privilege of mine, a dream come true.

It is not a right. I do not have the right to pick my readers, they pick me. I do not have the luxury of calling them racists, or homophobes, or SJWs, or snowflakes, because if I do, I am finished. I will lose my base, and I’ll be grounded before I end up in the air.

Insulting your readers is a privilege for the rich. But for working writers? For the people who are still trying to build a career, who are up until 4 in the morning after they finish their day jobs or their schooling? We can’t do that.

And we shouldn’t do that.

Because WE owe THEM.

And we should NEVER forget that.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming”, A Bullet Point Review

– I cannot praise Tom Holland’s Spider-Man enough. He was perfect. Absolutely perfect. It was honestly my favorite live action portrayal of a superhero EVER, even more than Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. What an incredible performance.

– The score is absolutely awesome. Michael Giacchinno actually reworks the original, iconic Spider-Man theme as the main theme of the movie, to fantastic effect.

– “Homecoming” sort of feels like two movies smushed together, one very, very awesome movie and one that’s kind of “meh”. There’s the superhero movie about a young Peter Parker who wants to gain the respect of Tony Stark and become an Avenger, but who still hasn’t really gotten this whole “hero” thing yet, and makes a lot of mistakes. That movie is fantastic! It’s the best Spider-Man movie yet, even better than the awesome Toby McGuire starring “Spider-Man 2”!

…And then there was the sort of meh teen drama going on with Peter. It was…adequate. Okay. A thing. It did the job in humanizing Peter, but beyond that it didn’t really add anything. For a few reasons…

– This was a movie that had Spider-Man surrounded by a bunch of characters who never appeared in the comics before but shared the same names. We had Flash Thompson, who looked and acted nothing like Flash but shared his name, Ned, who was apparently an Ultimate Spider-Man character who never actually had anything to do with Peter Parker, Aunt May as Marisa Tomei, who, what, Liz Allen, a minor character that like 5 people remembered from a short-lived television show, and MJ, a character who is actually a character about as close to the polar opposite of comic book MJ as you could possibly get. Even the Vulture isn’t anything like comic Vulture, but as he’s much more awesome I’ll let it slide.

There is something very, very weird about somebody making an adaptation of something and then not just not using the source material but perverting it into something completely different. SJW’s seem prone to this, leading me to…

– I stand by something I said on this site previously. “Homecoming” was not itself an SJW movie, but it was an envelope pusher. Marvel is testing its limits. Expect the movies to trend more and more leftward the years to come.

– Zendaya’s character is the absolute worst, and that she is supposed to be MJ is a travesty. Just throwing that one out there. Spit in John Romita Jr.’s eye, why don’t you.

– ALL OF THIS SAID – When “Homecoming” is good, it is really, REALLY good. The best thing about the MCU, that the DCEU was missing up until “Wonder Woman”, is that it understands why people love superheroes, and why people love these characters, and it gives people what they want. This movie is packed with insanely cool imagery – Spider-Man climbing up the Washington Monument, Spider-Man rising from the rubble through sheer willpower to rejoin the fight, Spider-Man running into towering flames to rescue a man, Spider-Man attempting to hold a cruise ship together singlehandedly. The Vulture, one of comics’ lamest villains, gets a huge and awesome upgrade here.

And it has those stand-up-and-cheer moments that the MCU is so good at, too. Spider-Man’s character development is expertly handled and immensely satisfying to watch. And even that “meh” half of the film is anchored by Tom Holland’s outstanding performance as Peter Parker.

– Did I mention how great Tom Holland was? So, so great. What a terrific performance, and a terrific portrayal of the character.

OVERALL: Recommended. Probably not up with the very best of the MCU, but it was money very well spent to see it in theaters.