Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Shelf Stagnation Part 3

On a lark, I decided to check up on the two local Barnes & Nobles and see what the state of the SFF sections are like. I was also looking for some film noir in a reasonable price range. No such luck there. One Music & Movies section was almost completely swallowed by Funko Pop figures and their dead-eyed stares.

The second one had a small Buy One Get One stand and look what I found:

It was the only copy I saw in the store, too

The first one was in a tiny suburb with a surrounding population that was of the “Upper Middle Class and Above” class of Liberal. I don't say this as a knock against DA LIBRULS, but to give context. It has a Whole Foods and a Trader Joe's within a quarter mile of each other. Bernie Sanders would love it.

The context is important, because I noticed a subtle but significant shift in SFF shelves. A lot more Witcher novels than before. Way more than I'd ever seen in one place. The Jim Butcher section was bigger. Frank Herbert's Dune series took up half a section and wasn't just the first book anymore. Robert Heinlein's area grew. There's a small patch of Michael Moorcock books. The big, fat Chronicles of Amber omnibus (that I already own) was back in stock. C. J. Cherryh had a big section all to herself. Edgar Rice Burroughs had staked out a little corner with the B&N editions of Tarzan and The Martian Tales Trilogy collection. The Weiss & Hickman Dragonlance Chronicles was on the shelves in a new-er edition. Friggin' Dragons of Autumn Twilight and everything.

Sure, George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series took up an inordinately large section by itself. That's to be expected since the HBO show is still a big deal. But aside from Martin & Gaiman, the only real TradPub big names I was able to recognize were Scalzi and Jemisin. I didn't even see Wendig aside from his Star Wars books.

Here's the kicker: Military Sci-Fi, especially Baen books, had a much bigger presence. In a very politically liberal section of town.

Crazy, right?

Today I checked out the other one, in a more regular middle class outer ring suburb. Its more rural than the other one and has a wider political demographic.

Similar story. MilSF had a strong presence. Larry Correia had a strong presence. Heinlein's section was bigger. Mercedes Lackey had a big section. John Ringo had a big section/ Warhammer 40K had grown big enough to take up its own shelf. Shelf space that, if you took away the big promotional displays for Star Wars thanks to The Last Jedi, dwarfs the actual Star Wars section of the SFF aisle.

This isn't to say that boring LitFic SFF wasn't there. It is, but in comparison to almost a year ago?

There is variety again.

Its no secret that Barnes & Noble is struggling to stay alive. Selling books keeps it alive. You know what has dedicated, loyal fanbases who buy books? MilSF readers. Tolkien pastiche readers. 40K readers.

While the variety has gotten better than its been in a couple years, early, early SFF still doesn't have much going. The only Pulps are Lovecraft, Howard & Burroughs (arguably the Big Three Pulpsters, but still, I'd lose my mind if I saw Merritt on a B&N shelf).

There's still the problem with boring cover art, but I did find one book that stood out visually. Legacy of the Demon by Diana Rowland, whom I've never heard of before. Its apparently the 8th book in a series, but just look at that cover. A ruined tank in the background, a big angry demon that's been shot a few times, and a lady about to stab a giant cattle prod in its big, dumb demon face. Action! Monsters! Pretty ladies kicking ass! I almost bought it on the strength of a cover with stuff happening on it alone, but the rest of the series has a lot of the standard “Protagonist standing and looking at something intently” that's endemic to the field.

No idea if the series is any good, but bravo, good cover.

Now, I don't think that this is some kind of sea change. I'm not sure if anything can save B&N in the long term aside from big changes in the big publishers, and I don't see that happening.

What makes me consider this as a trend worth noticing, is that in the second store, there was an entire (small) shelf dedicated to Westerns. Westerns. I can't recall ever seeing a Zane Grey book in a Barnes & Noble before. Mark my words, Westerns are quietly creeping back to life.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Appendix N Review: The Gods of Mars

After the events of A Princess of Mars, John Carter returned to Earth and spent ten long years trying to find a way back. In our world, Edgar Rice Burroughs produced the sequel, The Gods of Mars, in 1913, a year after Under the Moons of Mars was serialized. Like its predecessor (and Tarzan of the Apes, which he published in 1912 also), The Gods of Mars was serialized in the All-Story Magazine incarnation of Argosy. It would be published in novel form in 1918.

John Carter returns to Mars in a way similar to how he first got there: by astral projection/wishing really hard. Again, the “How” he gets there isn't important, its just a means to an end. He arrives on Barsoom the same way as the first time: bare-ass naked.

Only this time, he's in a scenic forest in a river valley.

Populated by white apes and carnivorous tree-men that want to kill and eat anyone who arrives.

Welcome to Martian Heaven: The Valley Dor, endpoint of the sacred River Iss. Leaving the valley is considered blasphemy and cause for execution. 

Martian Heaven sucks.

On arriving, John sees some Green Martians attacked and killed by the local fauna, and rushes to the aid of the lone survivor, who happens to be Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of Thark and Carter's best friend on Mars not named Woola.

The two fight their way out of the forest and into the cliffs of the valley, where they find the Holy Therns, white skinned Martians who claim to be the gods of Mars and control the creatures of the valley, enslaving anyone who survives them. They also wear cute little blonde Prince Valiant wigs because they're bald and vain.

John kills one of their priests, takes his wig and costume as a disguise, rescues a Red Martian woman named Thuvia, and the three rampage their way through the Thern fortress, reaching the top only to find it attacked by sky pirates. John sends Thuvia and Tars Tarkas off and boards one of their airships, killing the crew save one, Xodar, a prince of the Black Martians, the self-proclaimed First Born of Mars, and incidentally, a people also claiming to be gods. He also rescues a White Martian girl, Phaidor, who falls in love with John, but John is faithful to his wife Dejah Thoris, and is also disturbed by Phaidor's casual cruelty.

Xodar has some tricks up his sleeve, and John & Phaidor are captured by reinforcements, and taken to Omean, an underground sea where the Black Martians make their home. The First Born are ruled by the cruel (self-proclaimed again) goddess Issus, and like the Therns, they enslave the other Martian races to serve them and fight in their arenas.

Hmm: long-lived, beautifully-featured, ebony-skinned, underground raiders who worship a cruel goddess and love to party at the expense of others.

It really activates the almonds.

Anyway, Phaidor is taken to be a handmaiden of Issus. John is sent to the arena. Xodar is sent as well, since he lost in combat to John, and must serve him. Naturally, the two become best buds working to escape from their virtual death sentence. In prison, they find a pale young Red Martian youth who is obviously John Carter's son Carthoris, but the book plays coy with it for a while until the two are able to have a moment's rest.

There's already so much going on that going through the plot would take pages and pages. John Carter escapes. We get back to Helium and Red Martian intrigue. A reunion with cool dude Kantos Kan. Dejah Thoris went to the Valley Dor to look for her husband and son. John Carter wants to go after her. More intrigue. A titanic air battle between the fleets of three navies, and John Carter cutting down any bastard that stands between him and Dejah Thoris.

And then it ends on a massive cliffhanger because by this point Burroughs knew he had his audience hooked.

While some of the twists are blatantly telegraphed and a lot of convenient coincidences take place that stretch belief, the book hits the ground running and never lets up on the adventure.

The section that stands out the most to me is where John is taken to the arena and sees a group of female slaves inspected by the hideous Issus and a few are selected and taken away. John learns that the ones taken away were to be eaten by Issus and her court, while the rest would be torn apart by animals in the arena.

In a modern story, John would feel bad as he watched the innocent women get slaughtered for the entertainment of the First Born, then do some arena fighting, then plot his escape, then try and fail to escape, then mope a lot, then try again, then maybe succeed and that would take up half of the book and whoever was helping him escape would die and he'd feel extra bad about it.

Not here. This is Pulp! As soon as John learns that the women are going to be killed, the red mist descends over his eyes and he punches his way out of his cage (because Earthmen have super strength on Barsoom, remember?) and begins butchering everything between him and the throne of Issus. Not only does Carthoris join him in this, but every single slave in the arena, man and woman, join his uprising and John Carter nearly succeeds in reaching Issus, if not for the ancient hag queen's trickery. And this is only about halfway into the book!

Burroughs is awesome. John Carter is awesome. The Gods of Mars is awesome. Read the Barsoom books. That's an order.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Legends Never Die: Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Oseon

Published in late 1983, Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Oseon, was the second in the Lando trilogy.

Following the Rafa adventure, Lando, now with moustache, finds himself with a hold full of valuable life crystals, but finds himself unsuited to the life of an honest merchant. Forms, fees, pirate attacks, repairs and unfavorable prices have depleted his wealth. Plus, someone is very clearly trying to kill him with sabotage, so he turns back to his primary moneymaking skill: gambling.

He arrives in the Oseon system, which is made of two things: mining asteroids and pleasure asteroids. After a successful night at the Sabacc tables, he's attacked by a strange old man and kills him in self-defense (Lando's first kill in the trilogy). The local governor is sympathetic to the self-defense claim, but Oseon has a strict no guns policy among civilians, and the penalty is death. He offers a deal: Lando will ferry a local police officer (no nonsense cop Bassi Vobah) and an Imperial narcotics agent (the flustered avian Waywa Fybot) to an asteroid of “the single richest being in the galaxy” Bohhuah Mutdah. Mutdah has apparently been buying the highly illegal drug lesai and having it shipped during the Flamewind, a regular seasonal flare of solar radiation that drew millions to the system to see the pretty lights but also made navigation almost impossible.

Fortunately, Lando and Vuffi Raa are able to get through (the little starfish-shaped droid turns out to be an excellent flight instructor), and the following string of betrayals and deceptions leads to the revelation that the architect of it all was the Sorcerer of Tund, Rokur Gepta, who is really, really mad at Lando for fouling up his plans in the last book.

This is probably the most Libertarian book in the series. Lando's distaste for government and law enforcement shines through, so much that Lando never once entertains the idea of charming Bassi, the local cop sent with him. Even the sympathetic governor is presented as well-meaning but largely impotent compared to his orders. Waywa Fybot, the Imperial Narc, is treated as a joke at first, seeing as he's a two and a half meter tall yellow birdman.

Sabacc remains important, but takes a back seat to the intrigue. Lando and Vuffi Raa's relationship has settled into an amiable partnership, with “And don't call me master” becoming Lando's de facto catchphrase of the trilogy.

The jokes keep flying fast, including the mention of a constellation called the Silly Rabbit, but its gets serious when it needs to, and the climax shows just how petty and dangerous Rokur Gepta can be.

Probably my personal favorite of the Lando Calrissian Adventures, I definitely recommend it for fans of smooth-talking gamblers who keep ending up in bizarre situations. 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Good Writing Fragments: Ann C. Crispin and the Han Solo Trilogy

A brief one today because this week is kicking my ass and I have two reviews to write and a beta read that I need to finish, among other things.

I started Re-reading the A. C. Crispin Han Solo Trilogy with The Paradise Snare. The trilogy is, at its core, an origin story for Han Solo that ties together the various fragments of Expanded Universe material that accrued around him into something coherent.

“But Han Solo doesn't need an origin story!”

Indeed. Neither does Indiana Jones or other characters that draw from broad heroic archetypes.

But, there is this one passage in the first chapter of the book that is outstanding.

“He'd learned long ago that showing fear of any sort was a swift guarantee of a beating—or worse. The only thing bullies and fools respected was courage—or, at least, bravado. So Han Solo had learned never to allow fear to surface in his mind or heart. There were times when he was dimly aware that it was there, deep down, buried under layers of street toughness, but anytime he recognized it for what it was, Han resolutely buried it even deeper.”

This is on page 8 and it cuts to the quick of Han's character. He's about 19 years old at this point and already we have a character portrait that is true to his presentation in the movies and gives him a deeper layer of complexity without undermining his heroism.

Its also bittersweet. He's had a rough childhood, and his recklessness is his coping mechanism.

It manages to tell you all of that within four sentences so that the real story can begin.

That's good writing.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Last Jedi is a Big Pile of Badly Written Garbage and Here's Why

I was very close to reviewing The Last Jedi with a two word review and being done with it.

However, since there are people I know and love who enjoy this pile of badly written garbage, I feel a need to get into it a little bit more.

So here is a list of problems the movie has at the storytelling level. None of it has anything to do with “HURR DURR THERE'S WIMMEN AND MINORITREES IN IT AND DAT'S BAD BECAUSE I'M A WHITE MALE IN CURRENT YEAR.”

No. Star Wars was always diverse. Nobody cares that there are Space Asians and Space Hispanics and Space Blacks alongside Space Whites. You see anybody shit talking Lando? Hell no. That man gets respect wherever he goes.

For formality's sake, the entire list that follows is one big spoiler. That's your warning.

So here is a list of script problems with The Last Jedi

  • Super Leia. Everything about that entire scene begs the question: WHY?
  • Why was Admiral Ackbar, a cult favorite thanks to his meme, even in this if you're going to give him one line and unceremoniously blast him into space? I know his voice actor died, that's not a valid excuse.
  • Why are there no familiar aliens besides a wookiee, a sullustan, and a mon calamari? Where are the Rodians? The Twi'leks? Why come up with all new background aliens when existing ones are completely absent?
  • Why come up with new background aliens when none of them have any bearing on the plot whatsoever?
  • Why even bother with having Nien Nunb around? And why does the mask/puppet look cheap and awful?
  • Where are the alien characters? Every major speaking character is a human. In Star Wars. Snoke comes closest, but he's just a fugly looking near-human.
  • Why is the main black guy an incompetent coward? Loveable coward is something doable, and Caiphas Cain in 40k pulls it off well, but here he's just a cowardly idiot pratfalling his way across the screen. Boyega has charisma that makes him watchable, but the subtext is borderline offensive, especially compared to badass black Star Wars characters like Mace Windu and the smoothest man in the galaxy, Lando Calrissian. The implications here are...“problematic,” as the Millenials like to say.
  • Canto Bight. All of it. Arms dealers are bad, but they also provide arms to the good guys, so...?
  • Finn is told he has to feel bad about how alien horses are being abused when he spent his entire life growing up as a child soldier with a serial number instead of a name? Rose, you don't know shit about having a hard life compared to that.
  • Why is Finn so well-adjusted for being an escaped slave soldier?
  • Why is Poe the only character who feels like he belongs in a Star Wars movie? Why does the movie spend its running time shitting on him for this?
  • Why isn't Benicio Del Toro's character a cool alien design? It would probably be cheaper than hiring Del Toro.
  • Why even bother with Snoke when you're going to kill him just as he's starting to get interesting?
  • Why start your movie with a yo mama joke that completely undercuts any kind of menace or competence Hux might otherwise have? Even the most incompetent Imperial of the OT, Admiral Ozzel, wasn't reduced to a joke like that.
  • Why didn't the First Order deploy starfighters immediately after entering the system at the beginning? That's standard procedure, and the captain of the “Fleet Killer” dreadnaught POINTS IT OUT.
  • The Dreadnaught is remarkably undergunned for self-defense so that plot can happen.
  • The Resistance Bombers are the most useless ships in the entire series, especially considering how bombs have worked throughout. But no, we need to have B-17's IN SPAAAAAACE.
  • Paige's sacrifice at the beginning is elaborate and reasonably well done, but she's a character we have never met before and have no reason to care for her sacrifice aside from general pathos for the situation. Somebody we've never met before dies in battle and we're supposed to care....why?
  • A-Wings. Why even have them if they do nothing?
  • A-Wing squadron leader, the woman with the scarf, was criminally wasted. She had flashes of personality and flair and could have provided someone for Poe to bounce off/clash with on the chain of command in the subsequent power vacuum. And I'm not just bitter because she was prime waifu material.
  • Why is there gritty realism about the horrors of war in a movie about space wizards with laser swords? That's not going to move toys off the shelves, you know. Priorities, people!
  • “We can track them through hyperspace” is not a new idea. That's how they found the base on Yavin in the FIRST MOVIE FROM THE 70s!
  • Why not use an Interdictor to prevent the Resistance Fleet from jumping to hyperspace to necessitate the chase instead? And Finn & Rose's mission would be to find a way to shutting down the gravity well projectors so they can get away? Minor tweaks could have salvaged that premise and make both factions look competent.  
  • Why don't the stable kids speak Galactic Basic?
  • Why didn't Admiral Tumblr Hair tell Poe that she has a plan? He repeatedly asked for orders and was stonewalled by Admiral Tumblr Hair, who was proving to be an ineffective leader in a moment of crisis. Poe's mutiny was fully justified given the circumstances and the failure of Tumblr Hair to lead effectively. This is evidenced by the large number of crew who mutiny with him.
  • Autopilot exists in the setting. Why does someone have to go down with the ship when everyone else abandons it? Other than to feel sad for the poor sap stuck at the helm?
  • Why are your escape shuttles unarmed and unshielded? Especially since the Resistance was supposedly bankrolled by people in the New Republic on the down low? You deserve to get blown out of the sky.
  • Why is the New Republic gone? They're the major faction in the galaxy and would have administrators, senators, functionaries and so on all across the galaxy. How incompetent can the New Republic be?
  • Why does Yoda do any of the things he does in this movie? He acts like he did when he was trying to bamboozle Luke when he first showed up on Dagobah instead of the actual Master Yoda once he revealed himself? Why is he an asshole now?
  • Why are Force Ghosts able to affect the mortal world now?
  • Why does the Yoda puppet look so bad?
  • Why does Luke abandon the galaxy at large because he considered killing his flesh and blood when he defied the two most powerful Dark Siders in the galaxy and ultimately refuse to kill either of them because he believed in the goodness of his own flesh and blood. Even sticking with the movies, none of Luke's backstory in this makes any sense.
  • Why show Luke's submerged X-Wing when you don't use it? This is Chekhov's Blue Balls.
  • When does the Star Wars movie start?
  • Why is Rey able to fence with a lightsaber after an afternoon where she spins around some rocks.
  • Why doesn't she ever apologize to the lizard nuns for making a mess of the place and nearly killing several of them?
  • Why is Rey's backstory a big nothing after all that buildup in the last movie? Don't tell me to read the books, important information should be
  • Why didn't Luke have the balls to show up on Crait to face his nephew when the net result was the same? Its FAMILY, Luke. Your SISTER is in danger you sellout.
  • Why do you just die at the end Luke? Is it because of sadness, like how your mother died in Revenge of the Sith?
  • Why are Snoke's bodyguards so useless and incompetent?
  • Why is their armor so cheap looking?
  • Where are the Knights of Ren that were talked up so much last time?
  • How does Poe know Maz? he's never met her before as far as we know.
  • Why is Maz even in this?
  • Why is the middle of this a poorly done remake of that one Nu Battlestar Galactica Episode everybody likes?
  • Why didn't Vice Admiral Tumblr Hair tell Poe her plan?
  • Why wasn't Ackbar or Leia the one to hyperspace ram the Super Super Star Destroyer? It would have more emotional impact than Admiral Tumblr Hair.
  • Why is Phasma anything? She accomplishes less than Boba Fett did in the movies.
  • Why are there flashback sequences in Star Wars now?
  • Who gives a shit if Not-Hoth is made of salt instead of snow? We know its not-Hoth. We can tell from the speeders and walkers. You don't have to pretend to be clever. We just want this three hour movie to end.
  • Why does Han have a beloved set of dice hanging in the Falcon when we've never ever had them before over the course of FORTY YEARS? Besides “brand synergy” with the upcoming Han Solo movie, of course.
  • Why do the dice on Crait fade away AFTER Luke dies and fades away himself?
  • Why is Rian Johnson getting a trilogy all to himself?
  • Why does Vice Admiral Tumblr Hair have cotton candy hair?
  • Why does Vice Admiral Tumblr Hair not wear a military uniform during a military operation?
  • Why do we have giant alien sloth titties in Star Wars? Why does Luke go Al Franken on them?
  • Why does Rey only manage one expression: Dull Surprise?
  • Why is Poe repeatedly knocked down, berated and emasculated by his military superiors for repeatedly making the right call? Is that any way to treat a Hispanic heroic role model? Why is the lesson here to blindly follow authority in a rebel movement?
  • Why didn't Vice Admiral Tumblr Hair tell Poe her plan?

So that's it. I'm done with this damn movie. I'm glad it seems to be struggling at the box office. Its not good, its not worth the false hype, and its not worth your money. Avoid it if you love Star Wars, because it shits all over the franchise and demands that you say "thank you."

If you feel like listening to me and a couple others in the Pulp Rev scene go off on the movie, you can find it below.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Return of the White Hats

This has been on my mind for a while now, but The Last Jedi and a lot of people's visceral reaction against it, helped crystallize this line of thought.

The Last Jedi, in an attempt to be dark and serious, and “different”, hates heroism and actively punishes it. Poe Dameron, hotshot fighter pilot, is the only truly heroic character in the film. He's the only one who consistently, and without hesitation puts his life on the line for the cause and makes hard, decisive command decisions in stressful times aimed at protecting lives. He is constantly punished for this. By other characters, by plot twists, by supremely horrid writing.

He is a classic Capital-H Hero. He's not conflicted about doing the right thing. He's not dripping with parental angst. He's not considering turning into a villain. He's a true blue, dyed-in-the-wool Hero. Even with dumb, quippy dialogue, he's got a natural charisma that shines through the poor writing that makes you want to follow him into ADVENTURE.

And the movie shits on him. It does everything it can to not let him be a hero. To beat his heroic impulses out of him. To make him submissive to the plot because “its the dark middle chapter of the trilogy.” Because a Space Opera about space wizards with laser swords demands gritty realism about the horrors of war.

This is not unique to The Last Jedi. Superman in particular has suffered a lot from this in movies. Henry Cavill cuts a heroic figure and has the physique, smile, and natural earnestness to pull off Clark Kent. He spends the bulk of Man of Steel wanting to use his powers for the good of his adopted planet, but is repeatedly told no by his adopted father, the very man who should be nurturing him to use his abilities wisely. This carries through into Batman vs Superman, where Superman is more feared than Batman by the world at large, and the plot manipulates him into fighting Batman. Yet again, Cavill seems to want to play Superman at his full heroic glory, but the movie won't let him. I haven't seen Justice League, and don't plan to, so I can't comment on him there.

This goes back at least as far as Superman Returns, from 2006. There, Brandon Routh was cast as a next-generation Christopher Reeves. Tall, handsome, and with a comforting smile. The actor looks the part of Superman. But what do we have? A Superman who abandoned Earth for years. A Superman who abandoned Lois for years, leaving her to raise a son without him. The movie has flashes of Superman. He saves a jet in a genuinely thrilling sequence. He cleans up the local crooks with aplomb and rescues people left and right. Yet the movie bogs itself down in half-assed navel gazing and doubt while a deliciously evil Lex Luthor (played to perfection by Kevin Spacey before we realized he might actually be very evil in real life) executes his plot.

To get a good Superman movie, I'd argue that you have to go back to Superman and Superman II from the late 70s-early 80s. And even then, I recommend the Richard Donner Cut of Superman II over the theatrical. Superman III sucks and is boring, while Superman IV is a hilarious trainwreck. Those movies let Superman be Superman: Bright, heroic, hopeful, inspirational, and reassuring. The world is a better place simply by having Superman in it.

For some reason, the movers and shakers of entertainment have decided that audiences don't want straightforward heroes anymore. Antiheroes are pushed as the best option, since they're conflicted and dark, and that's realism, because real people are flawed and don't always do the right thing. Straightforward heroes, if they show up, have to be defeated by cynical villains who aren't dumb enough to play fair. Or they have to be treated as jokes. Buffoons to be laughed at for their outdated idealism.

Deconstruction is fine in measured doses, because you can learn a lot about stories and storytelling by taking the pieces apart. However, if you don't put the pieces back together, you're left with a mess. When you deconstruct everything, you have nothing left except a dull expanse of broken ideas and characters. There's nothing to take away from that kind of entertainment landscape but nihilism.

All your heroes are broken lunatics and there is no truth to storytelling. That's the lesson from deconstructionism for its own sake.

Batman needs to be moody and anti-social at all times. Green Lantern needs to be indecisive. Luke Skywalker needs to be a fallen hero who ran away from the galaxy's conflicts in out-of-character cowardice.

This is what major movies tell us, and is it any wonder why all of the major entertainment franchises are tottering on the brink of collapse? Audiences are drifting away because they no longer satisfy them.

A large part of the reason why Wonder Woman exceeded all expectations was because she was allowed to be Wonder Woman: Warrior princess, peacebringer, avenger of injustice, and Hero. Not only that, but Steve Trevor was equally as Heroic, which made their relationship all the more enjoyable.

The Marvel movies have also delivered on that kind of storytelling. Captain America is recognizably Heroic in his movies, though the MCU is getting long in the teeth now, and even with the acquisition of FOX, I don't know how audiences are going to react past Infinity War.

Audiences are sick of nothing but gray antiheroics. They're also sick of retreads of familiar, recent stories only with darker tones. People are starving for true Heroics in their stories again.

Wonder Woman's success was not a fluke, but a sign of what's coming. The unbridled love for My Hero Academia is a sign of what's coming. The interest in Pulp literature from the early 20th century is a sign of what's coming. The renewed interest in classic superhero comics that look nothing like the spiteful mess modern comics are is a sign of what's coming. The quietly whispered question “whatever happened to Westerns?” is a sign of what's coming.

Mark my words:

The White Hat Heroes are coming back. 

Monday, December 04, 2017

Legends Never Die: Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu

The Lando Calrissian Adventures are a fascinating slice of Star Wars history. It was 1983 and Return of the Jedi had just hit theaters. Star Wars novelizations had taken a break after The Han Solo Adventures and the only consistent inter-movie tie-ins were the Marvel Comics ongoing series.

All of a sudden, a new trilogy of pre-movie adventures hits, centering around dashing gambler, future Baron-Administrator of Cloud City, and Colt 45 spokesman, Lando Calrissian.

Tasked with writing them was L. Neil Smith (the L stands for Lester). Smith was an early adopter of Libertarianism, joining the party in 1972 and becoming very active in it and running, unsuccessfully, for office several times. This includes an awkward run for President in the 2000 election where he was only on the ballot in Arizona thanks to a dispute with the leading national Libertarian candidate, Harry Browne.

Failed presidential bids aside, his first published sci-fi novel was The Probability Broach in 1979-1980, an alternate history story in his North American Confederacy series. After four of those, Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu was his fourth novel.

The book features a young, fresh-faced Lando as the new owner of a beat up transport named the Millennium Falcon. He doesn't really know how to fly. He doesn't even have his signature moustache yet. What he does have is exceptional skill at the game of sabacc. Lando wins a droid from an academic during one such game, but he has to travel to the Rafa system to claim it.

Once there, the droid turns out to be the chipper, helpful, oddly starfish-shaped Vuffi Raa. Lando also runs afoul of the local governor, Duttes Mer, who strongarms him into searching for a lost artifact, the Mindharp, which once belonged to the long-lost Sharu race that populated the system. Supervising Mer is the sinister robed figure of Rokur Gepta, the last Sorcerer of Tund, a Dark Side Force tradition that I can best describe as “flamboyant insane space wizard” and I love it.

After a few misadventures, run-ins, and a psychedelic trip through space and time inside an ancient pyramid, Lando finally finds the Mindharp and, naturally, its more than it seems.

A couple observations. The Libertarianism really shows. Lando is a freewheeling adventurer with no patience for the government or taxation. Lando also doesn't kill anybody, which contrasts him nicely with the Han Solo Adventures where Han & Chewie solved most problems guns blazing. Lando's a talker, Han's a fighter. While the Han Solo Adventures had their share of comedy, here, Lando is frequently the one cracking jokes, usually in sardonic response to something Vuffi Raa says.

Lando without his moustache is just...wrong

Not that there aren't action sequences. Even the sabacc game at the beginning is written as exciting as a made-up card game with constantly changing cards can be.

It also sets a precedent that would carry through with Lando throughout the Expanded Universe. Since Lando's more of a face than a brawler, he always seems to end up in weird situations where shooting his way out is impossible, or at least, not ideal.

Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu is an oddball story that doesn't have the pulpy action movie heritage of the Han Solo Adventures, but works as a slower burn of weirdness. I liked it, because a) I really like Lando, and b) its really funny, but I can see why not everyone would be into it. That said, I do recommend it as Expanded Universe reading material.