Saturday, September 23, 2023

Don't Destroy My Favorite Franchises

Listen folks, We've reviewed a few movies and TV shows here at Jimbo's, and something we've seen a lot of lately is movies that don't live up to what came before them in their franchises or sometimes even in print, and I'm not just talking about the whole "The Book is Always Better" thing. The fact of the matter is that, in far too many cases, movie studios have made movies where they've placed the emphasis on effects and not story.  

Don't get it twisted. I love a beautiful movie. I've had many conversations with all kinds of people regarding older stuff that I love that just doesn't look right anymore because the effects are so dated. I grew up on Star Trek: The Original Series, but if I watch it now, the only part that still looks futuristic is when the crew uses the transporter. I love watching Babylon 5, but it's gotten to point where I almost have to watch the space battles with my eyes closed. Watch Robocop at some point and tell me the Point of View shots don't look stupid and old. I get the importance of special effects, especially in the Science Fiction and Fantasy that I love so much, but that's not all there is to a flick or series. 

Seriously, I watched Game of Thrones later than everyone else (life sucks when you don't have HBO) but I get why everyone was upset about the last episode. There was no reason to have Cersei burn all of King's Landing down. The latest iteration of The Flash had amazing effects but the script was amateurish. Don't get me started on the Star Wars prequels that were entertaining individually, but went together like oil and water. Seriously, I could have conceived a better story arc than they did. As a matter of fact, I did "write" my own outline of how the next two would go in my head. It was better than what they came out with, and it didn't even include Emperor Palpatine.

Seriously Hollywood, explosions, camera flare and ripping off The Matrix Reloaded aren't the keys to making lots of money.

And, before you criticize me for thinking I know more about how to make money with a movie than a Hollywood executive, you may want to realize that movies like Matrix Resurrections, Green Lantern, The Flash, Fantastic Beasts The Crimes of Grindlewald and Star Trek: Nemesis all lost money. The reason wasn't bad special effects. My reviews of The Crimes of Grindlewald and The Flash both indicate how impressed I was with the way the looked. The reason all of those movies failed is simple: They were poorly written.

Yes, movies and TV are visual mediums, but at the end of the day, they're stories. Story telling is something humans have been doing literally (and I mean literally literally, not literally figuratively) since time immemorial. The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest known written story in history. It was written almost four thousand years ago. I can guarantee you that it wasn't presented with visual effects by Industrial Light and Magic and didn't come in THX sound. It still exists because it was a good story.

Think about it: Other than simply being authors, what do the writers of Gilgamesh, Homer of Illiad and Oddysey fame, William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes, Mark Twain, Jules Verne, Mary Shelley and Charles Dickens have in common? They all lived, worked and wrote in an era with no special effects and their stories will all be remembered by generations who won't even know that Wonder Woman 1984 ever existed.

Frankenstein has been put on film a bunch of times, but when it was written, there was no such thing as a video recording device. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea was eventually adapted into a movie version, but not until decades after it was written. Romeo and Juliet was written before the founding of the United States. So was Don Quixote. The reason that you can still buy a copy of  A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court a hundred and thirty-four years after it was written and couldn't get a ticket to The Flash a month after it was released in the theater is because ACYIKAC is a good story and The Flash reads like it was written by an amateur. A good story lasts. A pretty movie with no story behind it doesn't.

If these movie and television studios want people to spend money on their product, they're going to need to come up with some better stories. That's the key here, folks. It's not making your movie look fancy. It's not substituting demographics for story. Marketing helps, but it's not the end all be all either.

Unless you're James Cameron. I don't get the success of the Avatar movies. They're not good and they succeeded. I'm wondering if perhaps Mr. Cameron hasn't sold his soul to Satan or something, because those movies are drek and they sold massive quantities of tickets. I freely admit that that guy is the exception to the rule. 

That's not to say that there are no good new stories. Ghostbusters: Afterlife was amazing. Black Panther was even better. I loved all of the Harry Potter movies even if they weren't as good as the books. Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, House of the Dragon, The Last of Us, and even The Big Bang Theory (admittedly more SF/F related than true SF/F) were all well written and entertaining. 

And there are more ideas out there. There have been plenty of works reviewed by yours truly right here at Jimbo's that would make excellent movies. 

Why yes, I am trying to get some truly talented authors paid exorbitant amounts of money. That's so they'll keep writing. I mean, honestly, the best way to encourage your favorite author to keep writing is flat out bribery. Give them money to write and they'll keep freaking writing. And, let's face it, Hollywood's ability to pay my favorite authors is far greater than mine.

Seriously Hollywood, do the right thing. Get some writers that are good at their craft. At the end of the day, they're every bit as important as your on screen talent. Your livelihood and my entertainment depend on it.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Declan Finn's Politics Kills

Oops. I almost started this review with a quote from The Godfather. It would have fit, but I don't wanna get sued. It should be noted however, that The Godfather 1-3 (and yes, I included number three in there. I love it and all who disagree with me are wrong.) is one of my favorite movie series and I probably thought of it because White Ops is becoming one of my favorite book series. 

Of course, this is Book Two. Politics Kills is perhaps the most appropriately titled book I've ever read in my life. Being the guy with a degree in history and an interest in both Military and Political history, I can assure you that there are no two human endeavors as closely linked as politics and war. Wars are, of course, fought by killing people. Sean P Ryan, leader of a group of Rangers, which is also a business venture owned by his family, is no stranger to wiping out enemy forces when he needs to. And his need is frequent. Dude basically goes through a battle a day, or at least it feels like it. 

Something you don't really get a great feel for with a lot of Finn's writing is the passage of time. There's usually so much going on that you don't have time to get bored and start wondering how long it's been since the last thing happened. The next thing is already happening, so why worry about it? I actually enjoy that aspect of it. Unless you're writing historical fiction and I'm picking it apart (and I'm not even one of the bad ones. I once had to read a thirty plus page paper about the historical inaccuracies in The Last Samurai for a Japanese history class) I don't really need to know what the date is. Just tell me what's going on and I'll take it from there.

I also like the fact that we get to see Ryan's shell crack just a bit. He's always (through the one whole book that came before this in the series) had this kind of unreachable quality to him. He was fiercely loyal, but there were times when it felt like his reaction to pretty much anything were either anger or loyalty. We get to see a lot of both in Politics Kills, but we get to see a softer side of the man himself and it's something that he has to come to grips with. The fact that he manages to do it adds a lot to his character.

It's kind of mentioning this, but it kind of stuck out at me. Most of Finn's characters are intensely Catholic. His long, and so far best, series is of course the Saint Tommy, NYPD series and if a man is going to be a Catholic saint, the intense Catholicism is necessarily part of the character's personality. The first book in his Love at First Bite series is entitled Honor at Stake: A Catholic Action Horror Novel. Sean Ryan is definitely a Catholic character, but White Ops is not as heavily Catholic as his other work. It didn't really matter to the quality of the story. I'm not Catholic myself so it's not like it had to be there for me to enjoy the book, but it's definitely something different. 

I also kind of figured I'd mention that for those of you who may have avoided Finn's earlier work because of its heavy emphasis on religion. I know some people don't care for that overly religious reading and so I thought I'd let everyone know that if that's how you feel (and you have every right to) that this is a good chance to try an awesome author without the overtones that you don't care for. 

One wonders if parts of Politics Kills are based on Finn's opinion of the United Nations. There is a governmental body with a similar function and it is indeed called the United Planets. I find myself underwhelmed by both the intelligence and competence levels of the members of the UP council. They waste time like champions, but forget about getting stuff done. Of course, that may be because of an undet...

Nevermind, that would've been a spoiler. We have a very strong policy against spoilers at Jimbo's and sometimes we even follow it. Like now. And maybe tomorrow. Probably.

Of course, as in any Declan Finn novel, we have both heroes and villains. This is not some boring halfway crap where everything is in shades of gray. The good guys are good. The bad guys are bad. We have someone to root for. We have someone to root against. The reasons for our rooting interests are sound. In short, this is entertainment with stakes. I love it when I can get behind the hero because he wants to defeat the villain.

Of course, that's why I never cared for Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels (I much prefer her Brainship series). Thread is just dumb and there's really no rooting interest. It's mindless. It falls from the sky. It has no motivation. It just exists. Give me a power seeking, money-grabbing antagonist every time and I'm happy. Finn is good at that. 

It'll be interesting to see where Finn takes this series next (there are three more currently out and I'm not sure if that's the whole series or if there are more coming. I'm a horrible fan, I guess) because most, if not all, of the horrible, terrible, not good, very bad people we've been rooting against are no longer threats. Of  course, there could be someone ever worst waiting in the wings. I guess I'll have to see.

I'm like that though. I made my daughter hate Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince because she fell asleep watching it (which was my plan all along) and I wouldn't tell her who the Half Blood Prince was. I told her to watch the movie.I guess I'm telling myself to read the book now. That's fine though. I plan to. 

But heed my warning: Beware the earworm. A force like that is hard to stop.

Bottom Line: 5.0 out of 5 Nuclear Space Mines

Politics Kills
Declan Finn
Tuscany Bay Books, 2022

Politics Kills is available for purchase at the following link. If you click the link and buy literally anything from Amazon, I get a small percentage at no additional cost to you.

Weird Giraffe Games Stellar Leap

On the left is Stellar Leap, the game I'm reviewing. On the right is my oldest daughter Riley, holding the champion card. She may or may not have beaten her old man like a rented mule while playing the game. I mean rumor says she did, but we all know how rumors are. 

So, something I thoroughly enjoy but don't bring to the page enough is tabletop gaming. I've been known to spend hours with the crew at the gaming shop (Guild of Blades in Clawson, Michigan if you're familiar) performing goofball tasks trying to win cool points by schooling my friends in the exacting art of science of asswhoopery. So, just a couple of weeks ago, I reported to GOB before anyone else, knowing we were going to play a new game and prepared to unleash hell on some people who had to have known what was coming. Tommy, after all, is always complaining that I always win. The reason why is simple: I figure out what I need to do to win the game and then I do it.

And Stellar Leap is a game with a fairly shallow learning curve. You need victory points to win. There are various ways to get them. There are "Events" in the game that are triggered by an individual but effect everyone playing. After a certain amount of Events, I want to say it's six, you total up the victory points and whoever has the most wins.

Of course, if you bring your daughter and she's as intelligent and ruthless as her father, she can ruin all your plans of winning. I've been crying daily because of the totally unearned beating I received at her hands. I'm pretty sure she's going to tattoo "I beat my dad" on her forehead as well. Live is so unfair.

It's totally not my fault though. Gameplay flows so easily and is quickly paced enough that her young age was obviously an unfair advantage. Before the rest of us could even figure out what was going on and how to score points, Riley was off and running, completing missions and racking up points. When we were picking up specialized cards to tailor out gameplay with scoring systems particular to each individual player, she somehow managed to ferret out the best one without having played the game before. Hmm...

I guess I'll be watching her.

The game focuses on resource gathering and exploration/discovering new planets and asteroids. There are victory points awarded based on the number of discoveries made by each player. I focused my strategy on discovery and the points I could gather that way. There are also victory points awarded for things like how many resources that you have at the end of the game (and how many resources per victory point depends on the card you draw individually and can vary from player to player.) There are only four resources, but they're used for everything from traveling, to mining, to gathering, to well...

Basically anything you do in the game. 

Some of resource gathering is intentional. Resources can be mined from asteroids and gathered from planets. There is a phase of your turn where you can do so and you are limited to so much mining and gathering per turn. Some of it is random. At the beginning of every players turn they roll two dice (that's 2D6 for you roleplayers out there) and, depending on where the planets are (You can't live on an asteroid. You can only mine it and return.) what kind of resources are available on a given planet and what's rolled, resources are distributed immediately. This makes things interesting, because an apparently defeated opponent can go from nearly out of resources to having a surfeit of them, all without doing a thing themselves to cause it.

Oh, and the one universal part of the experience is that everyone starts off resource poor, but we all had oodles and bunches of resources at the end. Stellar Leap feels like a Ferengi game at times, because it is all about Acquisition. Acquiring planets, acquiring resources, acquiring victory points, but sadly not acquiring properly trained kids who let their father win. I'll have to work on that one.

Population is a big thing, not just because you get victory points based on how many meeple you have at the end of the game, but because exploiting the planets and asteroids that get discovered is an exercise dependent upon having a population there to do so.

Probably one of my favorite parts of the game was the ease of setup. Setting up Stellar Leap is not the time soaking, day wasting exercise that a game like Axis and Allies is. It took us about five to ten minutes the day we played it and none of us knew what we were doing. If I had it to do again actually knowing what went where and how things were supposed to look I could probably cut that time in half now. Clean up took a bit longer but was still a lot easier than most of the games I've played. Seriously, I've seen Monopoly take longer to clean up than Stellar Leap did. And believe me, both me and the stinkin' meanie I brought with me were hungry after gaming and in a hurry to go get some grub. I'd have noticed if it had taken a long time. 

Seriously, I'd recommend Stellar Leap to anyone who likes tabletop gaming and doesn't necessarily feel the need to overcomplicate things. Don't get me wrong. I've played some extremely rule-intensive games with millions of pieces (and if you haven't played Nemesis you're doing it wrong. Just the minis that came with that game nearly made me lose my mind in an excess of pure joy) but it's nice to have a somewhat more relaxed experience where I can just play the game without all the drama. 

Oh, and the factions are easy to understand. They're not overcomplicated and, really, the difference between factions come more from the cards you draw at the beginning (and I still can't remember what they're called) than choice. This is really the one time you can pick your team based on your favorite color and not look like a goofball.  That part is cool, too.

Bottom Line: 5.0 out of 5 Space Dinosaurs

Stellar Leap
Weird Giraffe Games, 2019

Stellar Leap is available for purchase at the following link. If you click the link and buy literally anything from Amazon, I get a small percentage of your purchase at no additional cost to you.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Encouraging The "Reluctant Reader"

<rant> Batten down the hatches folks. This is a blog post that has been brewing for forty years now, and no that's not a typo or an exaggeration. I have dealt with the American educational system since the fall of nineteen eighty-two. It's not going to be pretty. It's not going to be polite. I can almost guarantee a huge amount of butthurt from ninety-plus percent of the educators in this country if they read this post.

Guess what?

I don't give a rat's ass. The field upon which I grow my fucks is barren and I shan't be buying any to give you. Seriously, this is the type of thing that should have been said years ago by young men and parents' groups alike. Why young men? Because "reluctant readers" is a coded phrase used by educators. It means boys. There is a real challenge getting boys and young men to pick up a book. This then leads to men that won't read because they never have. Teachers in this country blame Attention Deficit Disorder. They blame television. They blame video games. The list of things that teachers in this country blame for the fact that boys won't read is long and doubtless all of those things contribute to the problem.  But none of these things, individually or as a group, are the primary cause of the fact that boys will not read unless forced.

The primary source of the problem, the main reason that these kids won't lift up a book, the cause of low reading comprehension scores in reading, and the problems in math and science that are propagated by problems created when a non-proficient reader can't comprehend the words written in their textbooks are caused primarily by the teachers in this country. A child cannot learn chemistry if they don't read well enough to understand their chemistry book. Try doing math homework if you can't puzzle out the examples in the math text. The selfsame people that will tell you how hard they work to teach their kids to love to read are flat-out doing it wrong. Most of that is institutional, and some of it is quite frankly gender related.

Yeah, I said it.

First, let's start with institutional: 

English Literature was the most feared class at Hazel Park High School when I was a student there. Why? Because the teacher (who shall remain nameless for her own protection) gave the same speech at the beginning of every class:

"This book is now your life. If you play a sport, quit the sport. This book is now your sport. If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, break up with them. This book is now your boyfriend or girlfriend. If you have a job, quit your job. This book is now your job."

She was, of course, referring to the textbook for the class. I'm sure, in her mind, she was trying to be fair and warn students of the work required in her class. Everyone I knew that took her class talked about how much work it was. From that point of view, it was probably fair. But, my friends, I ask you this:

How much excitement did you just get about reading that book? How badly do you want to pick that book up and learn everything in it, having just heard that speech? What reason did she have to believe that her students would actually be encouraged by what they had just heard? 



So you agree with me.

Listen, I was a smart kid who loved reading and probably could have pulled down a really good grade in that class. When my turn came, however, I already knew the speech. I took Mythology instead and spent a semester with Zeus and Osiris instead of Shakespeare and Lord Byron. No way was  I dealing with that crap. I had her for the American Lit my sophomore year (English Lit was for juniors at HPHS) and she tried to recruit me. I turned her down flat. I had no interest in that.

And I'm the guy who got his bachelors degree while working full time and taking care of his oldest kid while going to school, albeit at a later age.

And listen, I get the idea that it is absolutely necessary to have assigned readings, just like it's necessary to assign math problems and science experiments. I just don't see how force feeding a student to the extent above benefited them. Although, to be fair, this aspect of the problem isn't just about "problem readers" because the girls all hated it, too. Still, willingly and knowingly forcing that kind of an attitude on a teenager is a problem. But, let's face it, most students didn't like reading before that point anyway, especially the "problem readers." Why? Because the stuff they teach in school is boring, pointless and in no way encourages young males to want to consume it.

I'm gonna be beaten up by a herd of literature teachers for this, but here it is:

"Important literature" should only be taught during the high school years or later, and then only to students in college prep courses or actual colleges. This isn't because of some elitist push on my part. It's partially because the advanced students are the only ones likely to benefit from the lessons taught by deciphering those books. But also, it's because the system kills the interest of young men when it forces him to break down the feelings evoked by a book like Romeo and Juliet. The frustration evoked by trying to decode the language in Shakespeare's stories is just as bad for a lot of dudes. (And for the love of GOD please translate Shakespeare's work for use in high schools. If we can translate Don Quixote, which was written in Spanish, to English, we can translate Shakespeare into modern English. The stories are still relevant. The form of English  they were written in is not. The original language can be preserved and passed on for future generations and taught to students studying literature and history in colleges where it will be relevant.) 

If you want students to get better at reading, they need to practice. The only way to practice reading is by reading. Realistically speaking if, as a society, we want young men to have an interest in reading we have to give them things to read that they will find interesting. A lot of what is taught in American schools straight up sucks. It's boring. The students in your class who are bored and are asking "When am I ever going to use this in life?" are right. 

But here's the thing: What they could use in life is skill in reading. What a young man is not getting is skill in reading when he buys the Cliff's Notes version of The Scarlet Letter because he couldn't care less about some chick who nailed the wrong dude and had to wear a red A on her chest. And no, that's not his fault because of lack of empathy. It's the teachers fault for trying to ram boring bullshit down his throat.

Here's something very few teachers want to hear, but all of them need to accept: It's not the student's job to learn to love reading the crap you shovel in front of them. It's the teachers job to put interesting books and stories in front of the student to encourage their interest. If, as a primary or secondary school teacher, you are out there forcing things on your students because of their literary importance YOU ARE ENCOURAGING ILLITERACY. YOU ARE CRIPPLING YOUR STUDENTS ABILITY TO LEARN ALL OTHER SUBJECTS. YOUR INTENT IN DOING SO IS IRRELEVANT.

Let me make myself even more clear here: I am the owner of this blog. This is the three hundred and sixtieth post here. I started this blog because of my love of reading. I have continued it because of my love of both reading and writing. With the exception of two years of my education (and I'll get back to this in a minute) if I had been introduced to reading, and only read the crap I was fed in school, there is at least a seventy-five percent chance that I would be functionally illiterate at this point in my life.

Yes, I mean that literally. 

The system and the teachers that perpetuate it are the primary cause of the lack of reading skills in this country. They work hard. Most of them aren't happy about what's going on. But working harder using the wrong techniques isn't going to make things better. </rant>

And yes, I do understand that girls need to love reading, too. The facts are, however, that girls do much better on tests of reading ability than boys do, and it's not because of intelligence. It's because of interest.

"So," you're asking, "What's the solution, Jimbo? Do you have one or are you just talking to hear your head rattle?"

Yes, I have a solution. And please ignore the rattling coming from my head. It's one that will work wonders for the United States and pretty much any other country where kids think for themselves. I'm not saying it will work for every student, but it will work for a lot more than the current system does. I like to call it the Emlet System, because I point blank stole it from Mrs. Yvonne Emlet, whom it was my pleasure to study under for both my fourth and sixth grade years. She was an amazing teacher, as many of my former classmates have attested. I don't know if she'd call it a system, or even if she even intended it to be one, but it felt like one to me and (this is the most important part) it worked. And seriously, someone needs to give this woman an award. I can line up students of hers that will echo that sentiment if it helps. I've heard more than one declare Mrs. Emlet to be "the best teacher I ever had." 

And by the way, I go to church and a small group there with her now and I'm supposed to call her Yvonne. I usually do, but in her official capacity she'll always be Mrs. Emlet to me. 


Mrs. Emlet had this thing where she would assign stuff that was fun to read. Some of it was actually "literature" I suppose. We read Tom Sawyer, but it wasn't until years later that I even realized that he was an "important author" who wrote "classics." I just wanted to be the guy who tricked his buddy into painting the fence so he could go fishing. I read Where the Red Fern Grows in her class. Johnny Tremaine, The Battle Off Midway Island, Across Five Aprils, and a couple of other books whose titles I can't remember were things that I consumed and loved. I've re-read most of them since and I need to find out the title of at least one of the books I can't remember because I want to re-read it. Several of the books she assigned were things that I later bought for my daughters. That didn't always work as well. Girls tend to like things that boys don't. There really are differences between the genders. Lesson learned and applied here. 

I'll be honest here. I'm not necessarily sure how well Old Yeller would appeal to a young man in 2023. The system will still work though. It just needs some tweaking. It probably depends on region as well. I loved Where the Red Fern Grows because it had a lot of hunting and fishing in it and I grew up fishing and hiking. I couldn't hunt until later because of age restrictions, but it was something I had an interest in anyway, probably even more than the other stuff because I wanted to hunt and couldn't. In some communities that might still appeal. In others, maybe not. 

So what will work? 

Comic books at lower grades will work great. Everything from graphic novels like Diary of a Wimpy Kid to Marvel or DC and their superheroes. There are also novels published by both Marvel and DC. Somewhere out there, someone is rolling their eyes and making testosterone jokes, but the testosterone is the point. Boys like exciting stuff. Superheroes are big right now and their primary consumers are male.

Detective novels are good. The Hardy Boys immediately come to mind, and I'm thinking that Nancy Drew might just feed the excitement requirement for boys and get that female demographic interested because Nancy is a girl.

And yes, boys will read books with a female main character if it's a well written adventure. The keys are excitement and a fast paced plot with some action. 

If there is a teacher out there stuck on "The Classics" I recommend authors like Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain. I already mentioned Tom Sawyer. Huck Finn was another good book. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court was as fun as it was humorous. I read Treasure Island and Kidnapped before I found I was supposed to. Redwall is popular among kids, too. Non-fiction works, but only if it's written for the age group and is something of interest to your students.

I guess maybe I wasn't "smart as paint" the way I thought I was.

And, well, harnessing other interests can help get kids interested in reading. Like...

(Buckle up kids. It's going to get ugly)

The novels on this list are all video game tie-ins. I've read a couple Halo novels and the old Everquest novel series, as well as a World of Warcraft novel or two. They're good books. They should be pretty easy reads starting at about eighth grade for most kids (I could have read them earlier than that, but I could read before I started school, so I'm probably an outlier here.)

The Young Adult genre didn't exist until J.K. Rowling forced it into existence with Harry Potter, so I didn't get a chance to read any of that until later, but there are plenty of good books written specifically for tweens and kids in their early teens that didn't exist when I was that age.

Most of the books reviewed on this blog would work for a high school student. Anything with sexual themes would be marked, but there's something I want to mention here as well:

I get the logistical problems with what I'm suggesting. There's only so much money in the book budget, and there are only so many copies available via interlibrary loan or whatever your state's version of MelCat is. 

If you teach students who tend to have cell phones, there is at least a partial solution:

Things that are out of copyright are usually available on Project Gutenberg for free. I just checked and Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson are both available, legally, as free ebooks that the kids can read on the phones that they already own. 

Alternatively, if your district issues computers (my daughters go to a school that checks out Chrome Books to their students) they can read the same books on their computers that they could on their phones. 

Baen Books also has a Free Library full of ebooks containing works of derring-do and they publish top-notch Science Fiction and Fantasy. Granted, this is meant more as a marketing tool than a charitable donation, but the books are the books.

I find myself wondering if publishers make charitable donations for this kind of thing, but I have no knowledge either way. It can't hurt to ask. The worst case scenario is the publisher saying no and nothing changing. 

The bottom line is that where there's a will there's a way and nothing is going to improve until there are changes made in the system. To all the educators out there: Please think about what you just read. You are the people that can implement changes that will save your students and this country. If you're saddled with district curriculum requirements, then put together a coalition and show up at school board meetings loaded for bear. If you care as much about your students as you say you do, it will be worth your time.

If you made it this far and you have suggestions for good books for boys and young men, please take the time to drop the titles/authors/buy links in the comments.

Oh, and if you've read this post and agreed with it, please share the link.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

DC Comics's The Flash

Gather round, my friends, and allow Jimbo to make a confession in front of God and everyone. I freely admit that I have not, in all ways and at all times, necessarily been the biggest fan of superhero movies in the DCEU. This is for reasons that should be fairly obvious to anyone who knows my taste in movies: The DC heroes tend to be broody and boring. The scripts tend to have been written to suck the life out of the audience so that it can be used to clean the toilets. The punch lines aren't funny. The characters aren't believable as people (and no, I don't expect a scientific explanation for why Superman can fly. I just want him to act in a matter that makes sense most of the time and to have a reason for why he doesn't at other times.) or that they try to put too much in (my nickname at one place I used to work was Green Lantern and even I thought that the GL movie was subpar) but with 2023's The Flash I can happily (ish) report that it rates a solid "Meh."

Seriously, the story was pretty decently written. I mean, the whole "The Flash lost the Speed Force" thing was okay, and it makes sense that he would try to get it back. The whole multiverse thing is a well established trope for a reason and it was explained by Bruce Wayne about as well as possible, given that he wasn't talking to a twenty-first century geek from the real Earth that would just understand it because it's so commonly used by so many authors. I mean, the plot evolved in a more or less organic manner and was easy enough to follow. Even the one guy who took things WAY TOO FAR had a valid reason for doing what he did and I can't say I'd have acted any differently than he did given his abilities. 

The acting was okay and, although I wasn't really a big fan of Michael Keaton as Batman the first time around, it was still nostalgic in a weird sort of way. Ezra Miller was really good as both versions of Barry Allen. The only DC movie I've really liked was Wonder Woman and so it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed Gal Gadot reprising the role. Part of my dislike for DC movies in general started in the early 80s when, even as a small boy...

(Jimbo ducks behind both concealment and cover and calls for close air support and probably a dust-off.)

Christopher Reeve couldn't sell me on his version of Superman circa the early 80s. That was  when I was watching the Super Friends and Justice League cartoons and trying to talk my mom into buying me comics at the grocery store and before I was old enough to ride my bike to the comic shop. Still, those movies were kind of painful to watch and, to this day, I'd rather watch a DC cartoon than a live action movie. Even my ex-wife got that. She used to buy me DC cartoons on DVD for Christmas. True story.

And both cuts of Justice League still sucked, Zach Snyder be damned. 

I will give The Flash this much: The fight scenes were excellent and, given the powers of the characters involved, believable. Seriously, there's not a whole lot more impressive than the ability of someone moving at faster than the speed of light to apply an asswhooping. I love the way they slow things down. It really does remind me of the way things look in the comics at times, with Barry able to basically stop and think while moving at a quadrillion miles a second.

Well, give or take, anyway. Just work with me.

The special effects were pretty awesome as well, but somebody help me out here: I've seen too much of this lately. Why are movie studios spending all of this money on special effects when they'd do better saving themselves tens of millions in special effects and spending a couple million extra for a decent writer? Or, and I know this is straight sacrilege...

But has DC ever though of hiring a lifelong comic fan as a director instead of some goofball who just doesn't get what fans love about comics? Of course, there are plenty of fans of Trek and Wars wondering the same thing about the people helming the properties in their universes as well. 

But I'm digressing.

Seriously, if all you want from a film is awesome visuals and cool fight scenes you can get that from The Flash all day long. Watch that movie on a loop, guy, because it's here and it's great.

I may have missed a trick or two here because I've never really been a fan of The Flash as a solo comic as I have been of super groups he's been in, but I will say they didn't screw too much up that I could see. Like Barry Allen is Barry Allen except where he's not because he's not intended to be. If you don't get that watch the movie. 

And, on the script front, I have to give it this much: Barry does at least take the chance to do something we'd all do if we could. I mean, I can't and the real world doesn't work that way, but damned if I wouldn't have the second I figured out that I could. That much of the movie I felt in a way that I really wish I wouldn't have.

At the end of the day, I'm glad I got a chance to watch The Flash. I can't say that about most DC movies I've seen. It's just that there are times when the movie feels like it was outlined by a world class writer and had the details added by a freshman writing major at a commuter college. This movie tried really hard. But hey, I'm pretty sure I got a quick glance of the Golden Age Flash at one point, so that was cool. Watch for it. Tell me if I'm right.

Bottom Line: 3.75 out of 5 Thunderbolts

The Flash
Andy Muschietti
DC Comics, 2023

Some products related to The Flash are available at the links below. If you click the links and buy literally anything from Amazon, I get a small percentage at no additional cost to you.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

How to Make a Story: A Recipe


Tools needed: 

Writer (They're usually easy to catch as they tend to be fairly sedentary.)

Sitting Surface (May need to be reinforced, depending on the size of the writer.)

Writing Surface (Usually a table or desk)

Writing Implements (These vary by Writer, but are typically some variation on either pencil/pen and paper or a keyboard)


Chocolate (must account for individual tastes of the writer.)

Caffeine (writer's favorite type is best)

Music (again, type varies by writer)


First prepare the Sitting and Writing Surfaces by clearing them of everything. This includes the cat, recalcitrant children and expectant fans.

Place the Writing Implements on the now clear Writing Surface.

Place the writer on the Sitting Surface. This some times takes a bit of adjustment. Not all writers sit the same.

Wait? Did the writer forget to feed the cat? Did the child need that thing for school? Is something good on TV? Did the writer forget to check his Facebook this morning? Is work calling? Does the writer smell chicken frying?


Anti-distractify the writer. How? You're asking the guy who's writing this instead of working on his story? Really?

Hold on! This might work!

Bribe the writer!

Offer the Writer the Chocolate and Caffeine if they will return to their Sitting Surface. You may need more Chocolate and Caffeine if the writer has already consumed what you previously brought.

Slowly and carefully place the Writing Implements on the Writing Surface. Do not spook the Writer! Begin playing the carefully selected Music.

Allow the writer several seconds to vibe to the Music before the words begin to flow. This is crucial. Lack of vibeage will ruin the Story.

When the writer pauses, be patient. Story making requires much braining and sometimes it is necessary to pause while previously lowered caffeine and chocolate levels once again begin to rise.

Add more Chocolate and Caffeine. 

Ignore the swear words. That one part didn't work and the character won't do as they're told. This is Tuesday. It, too shall pass. Nevermind what Gandalf said. He just wanted to keep all the loot.

This is definitely a time to throw caffeine and chocolate from a safe space on the other side of the room.

Ignore the evil cackles: The :!":?"?:":")-"-)")--")-ing character finally got his 💩 together. The Writer fixed his little red wagon. Actually, the Writer probably BROKE his little red wagon, but at least the story can continue.

Note to self: Add Little Red wagon to list of ingredients when editing.

Continue feeding the Writer his Chocolate and Caffeine.


Now the Writer has to Utilize the Latrine.

Hold the Writer's hand after he emerges (hopefully he washed it) and guide him back to the Sitting Surface and gesture toward the Writing Implements. 

Feed the writer a Salty Snack. Help to soak up some of that caffeine you fed him.


I didn't list Salty Snack on the ingredients list? Why do I have to anticipate everything? You're the one who adopted a writer. Why wouldn't you have a variety of snack foods available? Goofball.

The Writer has reached the denou...



The good part of the story. Things are almost done. His eyes start to close. His fingers are drooping.

Hit the Writer with a mega dose of Caffeine. With a mighty effort the Writer will now charge forward till the ending of the story. 

When the author sighs, slumps forward and pushes the Writing Implements away and appears faint, the First Draft of the Story has been completed. Congratulate the writer who will now be exhausted and a bit melancholy as the excitement of writing is over for the day. Be sympathetic and, for God's sake DO NOT DARE TO UTTER THE WORD "EDITING."

There are links to some books about writing below. If you click the links and buy literally anything from Amazon I get a small percentage at no additional cost to you.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

The Backbone of Surprise by C.S. Ferguson and Greg Ferguson

So I, being me, picked up my copy (metaphorically. I read the e-book.) of The Backbone of Surprise by C.S. Ferguson and Greg Ferguson wide-eyed with curiosity and not knowing what to expect precisely. I knew I was getting a work of Military Science Fiction, but I didn't know much else besides that. The Amazon blurb gave me a bit more of a clue, but not much of one. It opens with a battle and that's always a good thing. I went from zero to "Let's find out what these heroes are made of," in nothing flat. And trust me. These heroes are no slouches.

But then things take a turn for the worse and something weird happens. For me, it started with "WTF?!?!?" proceeded to "OOOOUCH!!!" and then "NO REALLY, WTF?!?!?!?!?!?!!" I mean, yeah. That was rough. It was awesome, but I'm still in pain just thinking about reading that. Of course, our hero, Digger Stewart, had to find out what had just happened, too. And that's when you truly wander down the rabbit hole. And please believe me when I tell you that Alice ain't got nothin' on this book. It gets really weird, really quickly.

But, let's face it: We're science fiction fans. At least I am, and I'm not sure why you'd be here if you weren't. Weird is what we do. It's our main thing. Who else dresses up and goes to conventions? If you can do the Vulcan Hand Salute, the whole world thinks you're crazy. Drop a Star Wars quote, even an obvious one, and people think you're out of your mind. Well, trust me on this one. Digger ends up with so much weird in so little time, all while under fire, that he feels like a normie in the middle of a meeting of the 501st Division. 

And things just keeping going farther into the strange. Digger feels a little overwhelmed at first, then he has to get involved in the crazy (kinda the way you wished that one girl you dated in high school would have) and that's when things get interesting. He ends up in a military unit that he never knew existed (and doesn't exist on paper) doing things he never knew was possible and in parts it almost feels like there are two separate Science Fiction universes mixed here. It's a transportation thing, and it's just kinda...


I love it. And it's not really a concept I haven't seen before, it's just that when it's mixed with another form of FTL travel that it has nothing in common with...

Yeah, that's not how us weirdos usually work. It's cool though and it makes some things possible...

Meanwhile, other things are happening and the enemy is bigger and more organized than the heroes know...

And that's where things got a little strange for even me. Don't get me wrong, it was an awesome kind of weird, but we're doing some things here that hit some hot buttons for a guy like me. 

The Backbone of Surprise is the first book in a series entitled The Transhuman War. Transhumanism is something that pushes a few buttons for me, and some of them are flat out contradictory. Since it's my blog, let's explore this for a second.

There are ethical concerns with transhumanism. The Holocaust (yep, Jimbo just Godwinned his own blog) was more about eugenics than it was about hatred. I know that's not how it's taught now, and believe me racism and hatred were a big part of it, but Hitler was breeding the Meister-Reiss and the people he had murdered were slaughtered because they didn't fit his definition of the perfect human. Whether it was for racial and ethnic reasons, because of congenital deformities, mental challenges, or sexual orientation, the Nazi movement was bent on engineering all of that out of the human genome. They decided to achieve their goals though mass slaughter and that taints everything that comes after.

There is also a religious angle with transhumanism and it's one I'm not fully qualified to discuss. (Jimbo spends too much time on SF/F to read theology too.) My ex-GF would get all fired up about this, but she's no longer with us. Suffice it to say that some people see it as a violation of God's plan for the human body. There may be Bible verses to back that, there may not. I haven't studied it.

And yet...

There are no death camps in The Backbone of Surprise. There are no persecuted minorities, although there are hints that the bio-engineered are leaning toward hating on normal humans, there doesn't seem to be a whole that they can do at the time of the book on a wide scale. And then there's this...

If I'm reading the backstory on this correctly, and I wasn't exactly taking notes, cybernetics in particular were outlawed because they were used in a war. There are a couple of different aspects of this that bother me:

1.) Wars aren't between people. They're between governments. People just get stuck doing the dirty work. Denying a person the ability to do something because some government official gave the wrong orders rankles me. 

2.) Government over-regulation makes me angry. Making yourself think quicker or run faster does nothing to harm another person. From my point of view most things that don't cause physical harm should be legal. And no, I'm not worried about your feelings. Those are a separate issue.

And our heroes are fighting for the government against people who make cybernetics and bionics. It's like gun control writ large. And, since I already Godwinned the post, it's worth mentioning that the first industrialized country to introduce nation wide gun control was Nazi Germany. And, let's face it, 

I'm a big fan of the people doing things that only governments used to be able to do, because that dilutes government power. Of course, when people want to use that same technology to build their own power base, results are mixed. And a lot of what Biofate, the bad guys in the book, are doing is geared toward an eventual takeover as well.

There's a lot to The Backbone of Surprise that I don't necessarily know how to classify in a real world sense, and I think it's good to have this discussion because a lot of the tech in the book will probably be available in the not-too distant future. It's better to have a plan, I guess. I just don't know what an intelligent plan looks like and how, or really even if, fairness plays into it.

Of course, none of that has anything to do with the entertainment value of The Backbone of Surprise and entertainment value is what I usually review based on. The Fergusons have given us the gift of a rollicking good time, fun characters, political intrigue and intense combat. I can't wait to get more of this series and I'll be checking the rest of the trilogy out soon. Even if it does make me think too much.

Bottom Line: 5.0 out of 5 Broken Laws

The Backbone of Surprise
C.S. Ferguson and Greg Ferguson
Theogony Books, 2023

The Backbone of Surprise is available for purchase at the following link. If you click the link and buy literally anything from Amazon, I get a small percentage at no additional cost to you.