Corroding Empire: Amazon’s Civil War

The controversy over The Corroding Empire just gets stranger and stranger.

The Corroding Empire

Amazon KDP has given Castalia House’s new science fiction parody more green and red lights than a drag racing track.

First it was thought that the book had been pulled at the behest of Tor Books, publisher of The Collapsing Empire.

Suspicion also fell on Collapsing Empire author John Scalzi, who tweeted this message the same day:

However, details emerged last night that neither Tor, Scalzi, nor Amazon per se were to blame for The Corroding Empire’s publication delays. Castalia House Lead Editor Vox Day explained:

UPDATE: Since some people seem to want to go on the warpath, let me be perfectly clear here: Amazon is not to blame. I even suspect that it is entirely possible that Tor Books is not to blame either, based on a) when the book was pulled and b) the fact that the book has shown as Live for nearly 24 hours but still does not have a page on any Amazon site. The most likely scenario, in my opinion, is a rogue low-level SJW employee, possibly two, in a specific department.

I have already spoken to the manager of one department and they have begun to investigate why Corrosion is Live but not available. They’ve done everything we asked and we have no problem with the way we have been treated.

Today, Vox announced that Corrosion (The Corroding Empire Book 1) was finally live on KDP.

As we suspected, there appear to have been internal shenanigans taking place at Amazon, as one or more SJWs appear to have abused their positions to interfere with our ability to sell THE CORRODING EMPIRE.

We’re still working with Amazon to sort out exactly who was responsible for precisely what, and to establish what, if anything, legitimately needed to be changed according to their guidelines. This should all be nailed down by the end of the day, but in the meantime, you can now order the book and post reviews again.

The Corroding Empire isn’t out of the woods yet, because following that conversation, it was blocked again, reinstated again and blocked a third time in short order.

Corrosion (The Corroding Empire Book 1)

Here is where the matter stands as of this writing:

UPDATE: Finally got to speak to a supervisor. She’s not only escalated the matter to legal, but has assured me that the book will be unblocked, stay unblocked, and that the matter will be fully investigated. It’s not just the three blocks, the culprit(s) also put the book on the Excluded list for Amazon Associates, which prevents others from being paid when someone buys the book.

The publisher insists that the issue is with rogue elements within KDP quality control and not with Amazon itself. If so, we could be witnessing a civil war within the world’s largest book distributor. However the situation gets sorted out, the resolution should be informative for publishers, authors, and readers alike.

@BrianNiemeier

CASTALIA Miyazaki Retrospective: “Castle in the Sky”

Image result for castle in the skyI was going to call this a review, but considering that it’s a film from the 80’s universally considered a classic it would sort of be like writing a “review” of “Casablanca”. It’s obviously not on quite that level (though certain Miyazaki films might be – if you haven’t seen “Spirited Away”, do so right now), but you get the idea. Hayao Miyazaki is a director I heard praised so much by critics and friends I trusted that I figured I might as well try him out eventually. So I went with “Spirited Away”, his 2002 Oscar winner and widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time.

So was THAT particular film as good as promised?

In one word: Yes.

In two words: HELL, yes.

“Spirited Away” is what “Alice in Wonderland” should have been, adding the plot and character development “Alice” always lacked. This review isn’t for that film (though one will probably be forthcoming), so in lieu of a full explanation of what made it so great I’ll say that if you haven’t seen it…see it. Not “If you like anime”. Not “If you’re okay watching a children’s movie”. If you like films at all, see “Spirited Away”.

Okay. That out of the way, what about “Castle in the Sky”?

“Castle in the Sky” was the first film released under the acclaimed Studio Ghibli banner (“Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind”, also considered a masterpiece, was actually NOT an official Ghibli film as many think – it was more like a test case to see if the production team could make enough money to justify a studio), and the third film by legendary director Hayao Miyazaki.

At this point, Miyazaki was already fairly well known in Japan. He was a popular manga writer and a writer/artist for several different animes. His first feature film, a Lupin III piece titled “The Castle of Cagliostro”, received mixed reviews by Lupin III fans but in later years has become widely recognized as a classic thanks to its stunning visuals and compelling action setpieces – two aspects of Miyazaki’s work that are used to full effect in “Castle in the Sky”.

Miyazaki’s second feature film, “Nausicaa in the Valley of the Wind”, is the first film that made people sit up and realize what an exceptional talent they had on their hands. “Nausicaa”, like several of Miyazaki’s works, is widely considered one of the greatest animated films ever made, known – as Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli films always are – for its striking visuals and fascinatingly original story. The success of the film spawned the creation of the also-legendary Studio Ghibli, an animation studio whose unbroken string of successes was at one time rivaled by only classic Disney and Pixar (all three have since diminished somewhat, alas).

So how to top that?

By creating one of the best adventure films ever made (“best ever made” is a phrase you get used to hearing with Miyazaki).

“Castle in the Sky” was both intensely familiar and like nothing I’d ever seen before. The movie feels sort of like a children’s “Indiana Jones”. The action scenes are absolutely stellar; there is a chase scene aboard a train early on in the movie that is possibly the best I’ve ever seen, and things only get crazier from there.

The plot: A young girl – somewhere between 12 and 14 – named Sheeta has been captured by the army, lead by the villainous Colonel Muska (in the English dub a wonderfully hammy Mark Hamill), who are holding her aboard their giant airship, Goliath. A family of sky pirates lead by their matriarch, Captain Dola (an ugly old crone played by a perfectly cast Chloris Leachman), attack Goliath in an attempt to kidnap Sheeta themselves; the distraction gives Sheeta a chance to escape. She slips from the airship and goes tumbling towards the earth….

…Right into the arms of Pazu, an adventurous and outgoing young orphan boy about the same age as Sheeta. For Sheeta did not fall the whole way; the crystal she carries around her neck apparently has magical powers, and it allowed Sheeta to float safely down into Pazu’s arms (who immediately almost drops her).

From there, events move at a breakneck pace, as it becomes clear that both the pirates and the army haven’t given up on finding Sheeta and stealing her crystal. Together, Pazu and Sheeta try to escape from the pirates, the army, and maybe – with luck – perhaps find Laputa, the City in the Sky of the title and the source of Sheeta’s crystal, themselves.

The movie has a sort of optimism and enthusiasm for life I don’t think I’ve ever seen replicated before. When Pazu meets Sheeta, there’s no hesitation whatsoever – he believes her story immediately and designates himself her protector with absolutely no strings attached and  no regard for his own life. The townspeople, when they realize Pazu and Sheeta are on the run, do their best to aid him – none think for a second to doubt his story or convince him to go to the police. Later, at the end of the aforementioned train scene, the army shows up. At first, Pazu and the train conductor are pleased until they see Sheeta’s terrified reaction – and then the army is an enemy. No doubt, no hesitation, no fear of reprisal.

And the amazing thing is that this is all so effortless. No attempt is made to convince you that people would act like this – it’s just assumed. At one point in the story, before a rescue attempt, Pazu yells “Sheeta means everything to me!” To be clear, Pazu met Sheeta perhaps two days ago – and the wonderful thing about this moment is that you believe him. The scene could come off as weird or creepy, but instead it’s sweet and sincere, because Miyazaki has sold you that this is the sort of world, and Pazu is the sort of person, where a relationship forged with a stranger could inspire such love and devotion.

This protective giant robot makes an impression in one of "Castle in the Sky"'s most memorable scenes.

“Wait, you mean a giant robot took on the army and this WASN’T worth mentioning to you?”

As good as the action scenes are – and they really are remarkable – the relationship between Pazu and Sheeta is perhaps the best part of the film. There’s never one big romantic gesture – never the Big Damn Kiss – but it’s tons of little things throughout the movie that all add up to one of the best movie romances I’ve ever seen. And between twelve year olds!

If there is one moment  that I had to pick to convince somebody that “Castle in the Sky” is worth watching, it would be this one:

Pazu and Sheeta have just landed in Laputa for the first time, having barely survived a horrible storm. They are alone, on top of a sort of outcropping and tied together (as a safety precaution from the flight – if one fell out, the other can hold onto them).

They decide to go and look down at Laputa for the first time, but Sheeta is unable to undo the knot binding them. So instead of waiting, Pazu simply picks her up and carries her over to the edge of the outcropping. With Sheeta in his arms, they stare in awe at the City in the Sky for the first time, a breathtakingly gorgeous view of a crumbling castle overtaken by nature, clouds drifting through the scene almost like ghosts. The two take a moment to simply stare, as Joe Hisaishi’s incredible score plays in the background

And that’s Miyazaki in a nutshell. It’s a small act of love transforming an already visually stunning scene into something quietly transcendent.

And that, my friends, is the very definition of superversive.

 

laputa 13 (1200x647)

Men With Screwdrivers and Men With Magnifying Glasses

In the spirit of moving the discussion off site and getting readers moving back and forth, I offer you Jeffro’s excellent review of A.E. Van Vogt’s “Black Destroyer”…and a comment on one of the main points of difference between the superversive movement vs. the pulp revolution movement (I said something similar in the comments to the post; this is an expansion).

From Jeffro:

The “hero” of the story isn’t really the Hari Seldon-like Elliot Grosvenor. Granted, the guy has a knack for navigating the tedious and byzantine bureaucracy that encysts almost any sufficiently complex STEM-related activity. But the real “star” here is Nexialism, a sort of meta-science that allows this guy to be way more insightful than the stodgy and blinkered scientists of his space collective.

I’m sure that this seemed like a really good idea at the time. And the resolution here is way more developed than the typical “reverse the polarity” and “re-route a phase inducer” tricks of science fiction television. But really smart guys thinking their ways out of difficult problems is only ever going to be just so compelling. Nevertheless, the heavy and the setting do manage to overcome this inherent weakness of the unrestrained Campbellian ethos.

Okay. Let’s pretend we’re not reading science fiction for a moment. What sort of fiction is made up mostly of “smart guys thinking their ways out of difficult problems?”

Anybody?

Give up yet?

Yeah. It’s detective fiction.

If you want to categorize more specifically here (like Campbellian vs. pulp sci-fi), we can talk about Agatha Christie style detective fiction (Sherlock Holmes stories were as much or more adventure tales as mysteries, though there were certainly “Men with magnifying glass” varieties of Sherlock Holmes as well – see “The Adventure of the Dancing Men”). Christie is famous/notorious for ending her mysteries by gathering all of the subjects in one room as her detective marches around and explains all of the clues you missed that point to the killer. Her most famous story and her masterpiece, “And Then There Were None”, has only the most lightly sketched characters, and the setting might as well be random. There is little to no action in the entire story. It is notable for one and only one thing: Its brilliant, mind-bogglingly ambitious, and incredibly shocking plot. And coming from a fan of that book – yes, it lives up to its promise. It’s a brilliant book. And if you take away the plot, there’s just about nothing to recommend it except maybe atmosphere, which Conan Doyle was better at anyway.

“Well,” sez pre-Christie-ites, “What character is more famous, huh? Sherlock Holmes, or Agatha Christie’s clone of Sherlock Holmes? Answer me that, smart guy!”

Sure, okay, you can make that argument. But you’ll also need to explain why Agatha Christie is the bestselling fiction author of all time* along with Shakespeare, and, by the way, ahead of J.K. Rowling.

So what is the point of all of this? I can hear the complaints now – “Wait, so you’re denying we have a problem? Didn’t you see the sales numbers? Are you denying that the pulp works have been shoved down a hole? Are you saying you don’t want to see a revival of pulp works? Do you just hate fun? Huh?”

(Okay, those last two are a bit over the top, but the others are variations of questions I’ve been asked virtually every time I disagree in some manner with one of the pulp revolutionaries.)

Well, no, I’m not saying any of those things. I’m just saying – be careful not to extrapolate personal taste into objective fact. What you might consider to be an Obviously Worse tic of a certain style of books may well be exactly what somebody else loves about it. Because apparently smart guys thinking their way out of difficult problems is something people do like to watch quite a bit after all.

Go figure.

*In case you were wondering, the highest rated sci-fi writer on the list is Stephen King, followed by R.L. Stine, Roald Dahl (of course he was a sci-fi writer; what else is “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”?), and then, yes, Edgar Rice Burroughs. The highest rated fantasist is Rowling, naturally.

CASTALIA Review: “Stardust”, by Neil Gaiman

Stardust by [Gaiman, Neil]Neil Gaiman is a guy who I’ve noticed gets a lot of flak around these parts. It is true he has SJW tendencies, but then, most authors do. And he IS immensely popular.

Mostly – and I am going by anecdote here – it seems that people believe that he (along with Ursula Le Guin) is somewhat emblematic of post 1970’s fantasy and science fiction: He is a good pure storyteller but with little depth (like “A Study in Emerald”, a fun and clever Lovecraft/Holmes pastiche that has little to distinguish itself besides its cool premise) even though people act as if he’s wiser  than he deserves credit for.

He is also known for lapsing into stupid SJW propaganda, such as the notoriously terrible story “The Problem of Susan”.  So that gets him a lot of flak from these parts as well.

Still, something about him seems to capture people. I decided I simply needed to find the right book, and picked “Stardust” (the novel version, though I’ll purchase the comic/picture book version soon if I can.

“Stardust” is an excellent book that showcases all of Neil Gaiman’s strengths but also highlights some of his flaws. It is a fairly straightforward story about a half-fairy young man who goes to fetch a shooting star for his beloved in Faerie and ends up falling in love with the star, who turns out to be a beautiful woman named Yvaine. Along the way they are harassed by evil witches who wish to steal Yvaine’s heart and use it to regain their youth. Occurring concurrently is a subplot about the sons of the current, dying king of the kingdom of Stormhold struggling with each other for control of the throne.

The story is very straightforward, which is to its credit. Gaiman set out to write a fairy tale for adults, and that’s exactly what he did. Some sections are simply wonderful, like this bit of dialogue early in the story:

“For a kiss, and the pledge of your hand,” said Tristran, grandiloquently, “I would bring you that fallen star.” He shivered. His coat was thin, and it was obvious he would not get his kiss, which he found puzzling. The manly heroes of the penny dreadfuls and shilling novels never had these problems getting kissed.

“Go on, then,” said Victoria. “And if you do, I will.” “What?” said Tristran. “If you bring me that star,” said Victoria, “the one that just fell, not another star, then I’ll kiss you. Who knows what else I might do?

Tristran Thorn went down on his knees in the mud, heedless of his coat or his woolen trousers. “Very well,” he said. The wind blew from the east, then. “I shall leave you here, my lady,” said Tristran Thorn. “For I have urgent business, to the East.” He stood up, unmindful of the mud and mire clinging to his knees and coat, and he bowed to her, and then he doffed his bowler hat.

Or this:

“He stared up at the stars: and it seemed to him then that they were dancers, stately and graceful, performing a dance almost infinite in its complexity. He imagined he could see the very faces of the stars; pale, they were, and smiling gently, as if they had spent so much time above the world, watching the scrambling and the joy and the pain of the people below them, that they could not help being amused every time another little human believed itself the center of its world, as each of us does.”

That is grade A, classic fairy tale stuff right there. That is exactly what you want and should see in a fairy tale.

The witches, his villains, are also excellent. They are something of a hybrid between the new trend of the seductress witch and the classic crone variety, stealing back they’re youth by capturing hearts – and, we learn, the heart of a star is especially potent. Gaiman ends their story with neat little lesson about how pathetic evil is before we lose sight of them for the last time.

The way my book was written it had a preview of Gaiman’s next book BEFORE the epilogue, so I had stopped reading. I only learned there was an epilogue after I looked up the book online, so I went back and read it later. It provides closure to the story and ends on a mostly positive but bittersweet note just a little bit reminiscent of “The Lord of the Rings”. It’s a nice little coda.

Gaiman explicitly says that the book was meant as a throwback novel reminiscent of Lord Dunsany, C.S. Lewis, and James Cabell, which is all to the good, and he is mostly successful in his attempts to conjure that sort of mood.

The problem – and this gets at, I think, why the old-fashioned Castalia crowd tends to dislike him – is the “adult” part of the adult fairy tale. The truth is that the things that supposedly made it more adult added absolutely nothing to the story. There is a graphic sex scene at the beginning of the novel where we see the conception of our hero, Tristran:

She wriggled and writhed beneath him, gasping and kicking, and guiding him with her hand.

She placed a hundred burning kisses on his face and chest and then she was above him, straddling him, gasping and laughing, and he was arching and pushing and exulting…

There is more, but I trust you get the idea.

And no, it did not have to be there. Contrast that scene with this scene from Josh Young’s story “The Secret History of the World gone By”from “Forbidden Thoughts”:

He was gratified, then, to see a pair of dainty breasts topped by dark nipples and that the dark thatch of hair between her legs lacked the equipment with which he was most familiar.

Anders was in the spring of his manhood, and so it went as such things go.

So why was Gaiman’s scene there? Well, it’s Adult, and you know how the Adults like all of the Sexing! Isn’t he so Adult?

Later, a unicorn is killed and then decapitated in a manner described as gorily and graphically as possible. After Yvaine falls to the earth, she drops the only serious curse word of the book, an F bomb so out of place for both the novel and the character (who never comes even close to cursing again) as anything one can possibly imagine. Again, there is no reason for this; all it does is jack up the rating from PG to R.

So why did Gaiman do it? Why was it important to him to add these sections specifically to create an “adult” fairy tale, and why did his concept of “adult” depend on the additions of sex, gore, and curse words, three things that even the great J.R.R. Tolkien had no use for? I think the answer is interesting, and gets to the heart of the bad taste Gaiman leaves in a lot of the Castalia folks’ mouths: Gaiman is ashamed of fairy tales.

The Sleeper and the Spindle by [Gaiman, Neil]These sounds odd, and even somewhat counter to some of Gaiman’s quotes, so I’ll try and make my case.  In the book’s afterword, written by Gaiman, he describes a time where he had to make a speech at a symposium of academics discussing myth and fantasy. The day before the speech, listening to the conversations, he got angrier and angrier, believing they did not understand the power of fairy tales. The next day, he tells a story to convince them of their power – a story with a twist:

It was a retelling of the story of Snow White, from the point of view of the wicked queen. It asked questions like, “What kind of a prince comes across the dead body of a girl in a glass coffin and announces that he is in love and will be taking the body back to his castle?” and for that matter, “What kind of a girl has skin as white as snow, hair as black as coal, lips as red as blood, and can lie, as if dead, for a long time?” We realize, listening to the story, that the wicked queen was not wicked: she simply did not go far enough; and we also realize, as the queen is imprisoned inside a kiln, about to be roasted for the midwinter feast, that stories are told by survivors.

Do you see the issue? The power Neil Gaiman sees is not in Snow White. He claims it is Snow White, but it isn’t, because Snow White is about something utterly different, teaches a different lesson, has a different hero and villain.

This isn’t the only time he’s done this. See here as well:

Snow White meets Sleeping Beauty in this fairytale mash-up where things are not what they seem. When three dwarfs learn of a sleeping plague spreading throughout the land, they alert their queen. The queen, already feeling that marriage means the end of her ability to make choices in her life, gladly postpones her wedding, grabs her sword, and sets off with the dwarfs to get to the bottom of the magical curse.

This is not somebody with a respect for fairy tales as is, but with an idea for ways to turn them into something they’re not – something that is the opposite of what they should be.

I reject that, and I believe we all should as well.

Strong Female Characters in the Castle in the Sky

This is a companion post both to my “Castle in the Sky” retrospective (consider that my official “Castle in the Sky” addition to the full Miyazaki retrospective) and colleague Marina Fontaine’s excellent article on strong female characters. This was originally written as a section of the Castalia post until I realized it both made the article too long and didn’t really fit with the rest of the piece. But I liked how it came out, so here you go:

After reading Marina Fontaine’s terrific article on strong female characters, it got me thinking.

Sheeta is a GREAT character, one of my favorite female characters perhaps in all of fiction. She is brave, she is competent, she is important, and she is very, very girly. In frightening or dangerous situations she’ll cry, she clings to Pazu for protection often and throws herself into his arms, and she never even attempts to fight anybody head-on; the few times she engages with someone physically it’s always when they’re paying attention to somebody else, and even then she’s sometimes overpowered.

And yet, she is very much a heroine; her bravery and intelligence are essential to defeating Muska, and even when she is kidnapped she’s always actively trying (and sometimes succeeding) to escape and foil Muska’s plans.

And Sheeta is likable too, even lovable – and I think this is a testament to both her and Miyazaki’s portrayal of men in”Castle in the Sky”.

I’ll explain. There is, of course, that notorious scene at the beginning of “The Force Awakens” where Rey is surrounded by unsavory characters and beats them all up with her amazingly fantastical stick-fighting skills. When Finn tries to jump in and help, Rey snarls at him and throws him away; she is a wymyn. Hear her roar! She don’t need no man.

Well, you know the scene.

In order to make Rey appear more competent “The Force Awakens” minimizes the skills and bravery of its men. When Finn goes to help and is rebuffed, he dutifully obeys; apparently he got the memo that Rey is a Magical Stickfighting Master. I’d say he was hoping that the desperado gang would beat her up, but considering how he follows her around like a puppy dog the rest of the film this is definitely out.

In contrast, whenever Pazu goes to help Sheeta, she is always, always tremendously grateful. Even the several times she doesn’t want Pazu to help her, her rebuffs are never angry, but instead take the form of desperate pleas, made not because she doesn’t need him, but because she’s worried he’ll be hurt. Sheeta knows Pazu is trying to help, knows Pazu is protecting her, and – quite unlike Rey and those other Strong Wymyn Characters (See: Black Widow in “Iron Man 2”) – she appreciates it. When Pazu is obviously outnumbered and unable to effect a difference and he still stands up for Sheeta, unlike in films like “Star Wars” and “Iron Man 2”, it’s never once played for laughs. Pazu isn’t a loser for standing up to people stronger than him. He’s a hero!

And – importantly – sometimes, Sheeta DOES need Pazu’s help. Even more shockingly – shockingly, I say! – she’s actually humble enough to ask for it!

Can you imagine something like this being made in the west? It’s simply not done anymore. Strong Wymyn Don’t Need No Man’s help, right?

And somehow, with pigheaded ignorance, western feminists praise Miyazaki as One Of Them. Nonsense. None of them would dare to make a character like Sheeta the lead when there are Reys to be worshiped.

A (Brief) Defense of Asimov

I’ve noticed that down at the Castalia blog Asimov has been taking a heavy beating lately. REALLY heavy. The comments section crew has been merciless.

And I do get it. Asimov is best described as bloodless. His stories are much like his robots; every now and then there’ll be a brilliantly shined gem, but it’s ultimately still a gem. There’s no spark of life to his tales. And I too find his opposition to heroic fiction rather repulsive; despite my cynical nature I am actually a romantic at heart (but don’t tell anyone).

That isn’t to say he didn’t write some excellent stuff. The “I, Robot” collection is uniformly excellent, and “Caves of Steel” is to this day one of the most clever mysteries I’ve ever read (never really “got” “The Naked Sun” though).

The robot stories play to Asimov’s strengths. They’re weak on description, and weak on character, but they are very, very, VERY strong in plotting and ideas. Asimov was skilled at twisting his laws around like pretzels in order to get them to do the tricks he wanted, and some of his stories are super clever.

He also wasn’t AS bad with character as is often claimed. Some of his best robot stories, like “Liar!”, only work because they play off of existing character traits; Susan Calvin, at least, definitely had a distinct personality that definitely played an important role in several stories.

I mean…we’re getting comments down there trying to claim that the three laws of robotics weren’t actually that influential. The THREE LAWS OF ROBOTICS.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here’s the thing: In all of the years before I decided to try reading sci-fi – and I didn’t even try any until after high school outside of “A Wrinkle in Time” – the Three Laws were one of the ONLY sci-fi concepts I’d ever heard of. Seriously. I, who knew nothing about science fiction, knew what the three laws of robotics were.

To say they didn’t influence things is misleading. Now every AI created since either had to consciously accept or consciously reject the three laws; there was no ignoring them. Even little known things like the webcomic “Freefall” make sure to reference the three laws. A hit summer blockbuster was made based around them (the “I, Robot” movie, a pretty good film with little relation to the book it shares a title with outside of the three laws conceit).

Do I think the laws would work? No, I do not. But so what? It’s fiction. It’s a fascinating premise for stories. Honestly, I doubt the two laws of “God, Robot” would really work either, but they make for really interesting Legos to play with.

I got the impression from a couple of reviews that people looked at “God, Robot” as a sort of “response” to Asimov. Nothing could be further from the truth. “God, Robot” was not a critique of Asimov, it was not a response to Asimov, and it was certainly not a repudiation of Asimov. It was the opposite: It was a homage to Asimov. My hope isn’t that those who read the book come away convinced that we one-upped Asimov, it’s that they come away convinced to pick up “I, Robot” for themselves and see why I loved it so much.

So here’s to Isaac Asimov. Was he perfect? No, but he was brilliant, influential, and exceedingly clever, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of about that, either.

 

“A Series of Unfortunate Events” Netflix Review

As I’ve documented, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is very much not superversive. That said, after writing two articles on the series I thought I’d give my first impressions on the Netflix series. Currently I’m almost done with the first half of “The Wide Window”, the fifth episode in the series (each book takes up two episodes; since “The Wide Window” is book three I’m on episode five of eight in the first season).

Rapid Fire:

– First off, I loved it. I want to make that clear now so all criticisms are remembered in that light. These are minor flaws I’m picking on. That said…

– Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf is a mixed bag. He wasn’t sinister enough in “The Bad Beginning” but his acting gained more range and subtlety by “The Reptile Room”, and now that I’m in “The Wide Window” (which I consider one of the series’ better books) I think he’s managed the perfect combination of terrifying and hilarious (“Please call me by my first name: Julio” cracked me up).

– The death of Uncle Monty (oh come on, the book is 18 years old now, I’m not going to bother with spoilers) was perfectly executed. That was legitimately heartbreaking, and DARK.

– Like NPH, I wasn’t sold on the children’s performance as the orphans at first, but I thought they did better and better as the series has gone on. They were all somewhat stiff in “The Bad Beginning”, but their acting in “The Reptile Room” was spot on, and so far they’ve done quite a good job in “The Wide Window”.

– I am REALLY unsure how much I like all the integration with the larger conspiracy subplot in the background. Don’t get me wrong, some integration was necessary, but I think this might be a step too far. We know too much too soon. I’m especially unsure of how much I like the big twist at the end of “The Bad Beginning”, though I would bet money that those people aren’t who we think they are. Maybe they could make it work – we’ll wait and see.

– As I was worried about, they unfortunately weren’t willing to commit to all of the darkness in “The Bad Beginning”. The scene in the book – which I recently re-read – where Klaus confronts Olaf on his plan to marry Violet, and Violet reveals he has kidnapped Sunny, is not funny AT ALL. Not in the slightest. It is absolutely terrifying, and disturbing. There isn’t a hint of a joke in any of it.

But the Netflix version added some subtle jokes to the scene. The jokes were very dry, and they were in keeping with the tone of the series, but they were still jokes. The show wasn’t able to commit to the full darkness, and it was a bit disappointing.

Ditto with the scene where Olaf slaps Klaus in the face. In the book, the whole theatre troupe laughs at him, but in the show, everyone goes silent. The book makes it clear that not only do they have no allies, everyone even approves of their mistreatment. The show lessens the sting, even if only a little bit. It was slightly disappointing.

Now the good stuff!

– The hook handed man and the person who looks like neither a man nor a woman (hereafter “the androgynous person”) were a delight. I cracked up when Olaf yelled to the children what they were supposed to do while dinner was cooking and the andogynous person suggested “We can wait patiently”. Also, apparently there is honor among thieves, because when the hook-handed man gambles with Sunny, he keeps his word when he loses.

– There is so much fan service it is ridiculous (in a good way). Throwaway lines, background shots, hints and references, there are TONS of Easter eggs for the eagle-eyed fans to catch.

– The tone is dead-on pitch perfect. Awesome! It’s a terrific adaptation.

– Most importantly of all, Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket is PERFECT, and I mean perfect. I can’t imagine anybody executing the character better than the series has done. He’s so freaking good, and so funny, that just by having him there I’m willing to forgive a ton of the series’ (in my view, minor) flaws. Seriously. I can’t emphasize enough what a dead-on flawless portrayal and interpretation of the character it is.

A final note: I was in the comments section of a review article cheerfully joining in on an active discussion with other ASoUE fans, a scenario that as you might imagine doesn’t happen particularly often. At one point, after a long, interesting conversation where many intelligent points were made, I linked to my Castalia articles on the book series, so people could see in more depth why I had an issue with the ending without me having to spell out my full case in detail again.

Later I again respond to somebody making a case why I thought the ending of the series – which is an explicit endorsement of moral relativism – is morally repugnant. Instead of an attempt to refute my points or offer an intelligent disagreement, a commenter wrote this:

I find it funny that somebody who writes on a website for Vox Day’s publishing house is trying to criticize someone else for promoting a “facile and evil philosophy.”

That was his whole response.

There you go. Doesn’t matter how intelligent my points are or how well I articulate them, I write on the blog of a publishing house that employs Vox Day as the editor-in-chief. So clearly I’m evil.

Sometimes there’s not much more to do but shake your head and hit “block”.

For the interested, my comment:

Snicket stacks the deck so much that by the end of the series he has essentially creates circumstances that force the orphans into a position of moral relativism – a lie.

Moral relativism is the philosophy of hip faux-Nietzche teens. Adults learn, ultimately, that just because bad people do good things and good people do bad things doesn’t mean you’re forced into a pattern of secrets and lies. Heroes and villains exist, and you can always choose what to be. But Snicket takes away agency and presents a facile and evil philosophy as unavoidable truth. It’s not. It’s a lie.

I expand here:

By book the twelfth, it becomes more clear than ever that Snicket has stacked the deck completely. He essentially forces the Baudelaire children into a situation where they are forced to burn down a building and leave people for dead. Stacking the deck is good to create conflict and amusing situations; it is not good to convince people that sometimes it’s necessary for children to burn down buildings and leave people for dead.

Now we reach book the thirteenth. In book the thirteenth, Snicket goes even further and tries to make the case that good and bad are a relative thing that doesn’t exist at all. To do this, he sets up Ishmael. Ishmael is essentially a man “Beyond good and evil”. The island’s customs, in very clear terms likened to religion, (Snicket uses the term “opiate of the masses”, a term Marx uses to describe religion), are set up by Ishmael as a way to control the unthinking people.

The Baudelaires, abandoned with Olaf for the apparent crime of rejecting the religion of the island, are forced again into an alliance with him, further cementing the idea that, as people beyond good and evil (religion, which they are smart enough to reject) they, Olaf, and Ishmael are in fact of a kind; they are the overmensch.

Later, some members of the island plan on a revolution, to overthrow Ishmael, and a false choice is set up: Olaf or Ishmael. Nobody tries for the third option – rejecting both and living according to an objective morality, where nobody is beyond good and evil and morality is determined not by customs but by natural law, discoverable by human reason and that all humanity is answerable to. People are either too stupid or too wicked, you see, to do the right thing, or else are forced into circumstance to do bad things – which means those things really aren’t good OR bad either way; morality is relative, right?

Ultimately we learn that Olaf, the Baudelaires, their parents, and Kit Snicket are really not so different, since they all lied at various times. This, itself, is a lie; just because people sometimes make bad decisions doesn’t mean you can’t choose to be a hero – a volunteer – or a villain. But no; we all either go with Ishmael and die, or stay with Olaf on an island alone.

And the series ends with the Baudelaires keeping secrets from young Beatrice; the opportunity of them simply telling the truth is something Snicket doesn’t even consider, because he doesn’t see a problem with lying. Everybody lies, said Dr. House.

It’s a wicked lie itself.