Uncle Josh Sorts out Captain Marvel

Let’s get some of the early stuff out of the way: I was looking forward to this movie on the basis that Marvel movies tend to be fun. I was looking forward to seeing how Marvel handled their first leading woman. I was looking forward to more Goose.

What I wasn’t bringing into this movie: Brie Larson is ruining Marvel because, oh, I don’t know, boobs or something something. Nobody wants to see a woman superhero in a skin-tight body suit. My enjoyment of the movie depends entirely on if I pop a boner or not.

Obviously, this post is going to be full of spoilers. You have been warned. (Although, judging by the box office reports and my WordPress stats, that shouldn’t be an issue.)

With all that aside, I am not as happy with Captain Marvel as I wanted to be. I didn’t cheer nearly as much as my wife and sister-in-law with whom I watched the movie did. I spent too much time in the opening half hour trying to sort out what I knew from the comics and the MCU to get this story in my head.

The Kree

We know the Kree as the enemy from the Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D TV show, and we didn’t see any pink-skinned Kree in that series, so having them in this movie was a bit odd. I was able to connect Ronan the Accuser in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 with the Kree from Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D, but this group of Kree felt different. I suspect when someone in the cinematic universe side remembers they still have one television show, they’ll whip out some “renegade Kree” bullshit to continue the tradition of ignoring the television shows in the movies.

The Skrulls

I know the Skrulls from the comics as an invading force. Chris from Comic Tropes offers a great (and timely) summary of the Kree-Skull War that was some of the basis of this movie, although it’s easy to see where they change things up here.

The Supreme Intelligence

I appreciated how they changed this up for the movie, allowing a great actor like Annette Bening to play this strange creation that we usually see as a giant head with tentacles for hair, usually floating in a tank. This does introduce a potential plot hole: If the Supreme Intelligence appears to Vers as Mar-Vell, wouldn’t the Supreme Intelligence recognize the renegade Kree scientist? My no-prize submission: The Supreme Intelligence is lying about everything anyway. The Supreme Intelligence already knows where she is from and that Mar-Vell is dead. Even if the Supreme Intelligence knows Mar-Vell’s final words, it’s probably managing Vers in such a way to find out what Mar-Vell was up to.

Nick Fury

I didn’t notice the CGI youthing-up they gave him. Coulson’s was uncanny valley obvious, so it’s good they didn’t give him too big a role. Either Jackson’s darker skin made this trick easier to get away with, or they didn’t try to reshape his face to his younger look. (I am also willing to accept that, as a white guy, I notices the distortions to the white actor more than the black actor.) Steph Cozza, in her non-spoiler review, claimed that Fury was having too much fun. I’ll return to this.

Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel

What I knew about the character from the comics going in: She was an Air Force pilot, was handed down powers a-la the original Green Lantern, was de-powered, put through an abusive relationship that Chris Claremont had to retcon, re-powered, de-powered again to Rogue, re-powered again, and is now one of the heaviest cosmic hitters in the Marvel Comic Books Universe. (In other words, not a whole lot, considering.)

So that same backstory in my head made the first scenes hard to figure out. I know the character is supposed to be from Earth. I know from the previews she claimed to be a Kree and was proud of that fact. The memory loss is an easy way to make this work.

So I’m guilty of trying to figure out the story they were trying to tell me and not letting the filmmakers just tell me the story. That’s going to happen with any movie based on other source material: Someone’s going to spend the first act screaming “that’s not what this is supposed to be!” and hopefully not ruining it for the rest of the audience.

The Stories Men and Women Tell Themselves

This is an attempt to summarize a bunch of narrative theory that still needs more sorting out: Women don’t get the hero’s journey (as defined by Campbell/Lucas/Snyder) because they don’t get the luxury of refusing the call. Instead of mentors pushing them forward, they have to overcome their mentors’ efforts to hold them back and control them. They are not granted some boon (either power or knowledge) in their journey, but instead realize that who (or what) they are is enough. Their self-actualization is a clearer vision of who they have always been, and they lose the constraints others put on them.

Captain Marvel has to regain her memories to find herself: A woman who has never let others define who she is. Even when she lost her memory, the core of her (stand up when you fall) is in full display. She is defined as the person who will do good. The Kree weaponize her by lying to her, and letting her natural instincts work to their favor, even though she fights them on the grounds that they are trying to control her and she will not be controlled.

The one time I did cheer for her was at the end, when Yon-Rogg tried to goad her into fighting without her powers, that she couldn’t be a hero unless she could beat him in an unpowered match, which is insanely biased because as a Kree he is stronger than she is (or most other humans). She blasted him into a rock and he deserved it. No one other than Carol Danvers defines who Carol Danvers is.

Character Arcs and Growth

Another complaint I’ve seed bandied about is that Carol doesn’t “grow” as a character. Sam Spade didn’t “grow” in The Maltese Falcon. Steve Rogers doesn’t “grow” during Captain America: The First Avenger. Some people may have wanted to view that journey, but this isn’t an origin story so it doesn’t make sense to judge it by that standard.

There is an external challenge she must overcome and that changes mid-way through the film. The internal challenge is to dump the blinders everyone else has put on her. She is tested time and time again and she remains true to herself. No growth needed. No arc necessary.

Would the movie be improved by adding a scene near the end when she is tired, or about to admit defeat? No, because the only way to do that is to kill one of the two people she genuinely cares about: Maria or Monica. That would be cruel and even if they had done so, I doubt Carol would have folded. She’d have kicked ass. No, we need the powerhouse leaving this movie in the greater scheme of the MCU.

I will admit that at no time did I feel like Carol was vulnerable. I’m not sure I felt that way about Steve in the first Captain America movie. If it didn’t bother me with Steve Rogers but it does with Carol Danvers, then I have found some unconscious sexism in my own head and I can find a way to erase it.

Is Captain Marvel To Powerful For The MCU?

I know some complaints have to do with, well, I think it still comes down to boobs we don’t get to see, but the closer rational complaints are that she is too powerful compared to other characters, and she’s clearly being brought in at this time to beat Thanos.

Only, from what I know from the comics, Thanos can’t be beaten by brute force. Thanos loses because of his own hubris. I predict that Captain Marvel will give him a proper beat down in Act One of Endgame and we’ll all cheer that Thanos is getting whipped, then he will crush her and we’ll spend Act Two in a state of shock.

Compared to the other heros, she’s overpowered.

The Actors Have WAY Too Much Fun

The working relationship between Captain Marvel and Fury seems to go from agent-suspect to buddy-buddy pretty fast. To be fair, Fury and Rambeau also jump into a buddy-buddy pretty fast, so maybe that’s just the way Fury was as a young agent who didn’t like authority and that was his easiest way of flouting it. It explains his relationship to the cat as well. He’s serious when he needs to be serious, but otherwise fun.

It also speaks to Carol Danvers herself. We can see in the memories that she knew how to have fun, and frequently did. It is easy to see Carol instinctively trusting Fury as a good guy.

And, as Lindsay Ellis pointed out in her comparison between Independence Day and the Scientologist’s take on War of the Worlds, the 90s were a completely different time. The Pre-9/11 world is hard to remember but it really was that kind of fun silliness. Any movie with federal agents would have been similar.

Let’s face it, after Infinity War we needed a couple of lighthearted movies. Ant Man and the Wasp was one, this is another.

Comparing Captain Marvel to Wonder Woman

As a Marvel fan, I hate to say that Wonder Woman is the better movie. Gal Godot expressed a full range of emotions and Wonder Woman had the heroic traits of lifting up those around her. Brie Larson played this a bit cooler, a little less empathetic, less “that’s terrible” and more “let’s right this wrong right now.” Wonder Woman had a definitive goal through the whole of that movie. Captain Marvel had to shift to new goals as the story unfolded.

Plot Holes

Steph Cozza’s spoiler review is a diatribe against the movie for plot holes against the MCU. One thing we fans forget is the powers that be do not give a shit about continuity to the same level, and neither does the majority of the movie-going audience. Butts were in seats. That’s all that really matters.

They are telling a big story with lots of episodes and all they want is eyeballs and a promise to come back for the next movie. This isn’t a great big vision like Lucas claimed to have, so we’re not going to see these movies being changed and updated.

Besides, Comic Books are really good at ignoring continuity, retconning, and bluffing, so the following No-Prize submissions are fatuous:

Nick Fury’s Eye

Apparently in Winter Soldier Nick Fury states “the last time I trusted somebody I lost an eye”. Now we know he lost his eye to a Flirken scratch. Could be he was referring to Carol during that speech, she’s the only person he trusts, and Kevin Fiege disabled the “why didn’t Fury use the pager” complaint with “how do we know he didn’t?” which means if he did, then Carol ignored it, or showed up too late, or (more likely) spoke to Fury in the background. It also enforces the idea that Fury doesn’t trust anyone in the chronologically later movies.

Apparently there’s also a photograph of Nick Fury being sworn in as Director of SHIELD with a healthy left eye. I’m sure they’ll pull a Lucas and edit the photo when the movie is streamed on Disney +, if they even go so far as to care.

“Nobody calls me Nick”

Well, apparently other people do later in the timeline. This is easy. As an up-and-coming agent trying to make a name for himself, this line is part of the presented persona and forces a sly kind of respect in people who interact with him. Later in the timeline, when things have gone to shit (you figure between 1995 and 2008 he’s recruited two people: Natasha and Clint, and they aren’t even super powered), he doesn’t need to pull this persona BS because he has the respect from his history. He no longer needs to micromanage or even care about that part of his persona.

“SHIELD” as a name

Yeah, in the first Iron Man they were “working on it” because the full name was complicated. A) Coulson could have lied about “we’re working on it”, and B) I’m pretty sure the name appeared in Agent Carter (not that the movie side cares about the TV side, but at least Agent Carter derived directly from a movie).

Some Song/Movie/Book didn’t come out early enough to be in this movie

Yeah. The only people who would be disturbed by a videocassette case of First Knight or a song by Garbage (a band I hadn’theard of until reading the IMDB trivia and goofs pages) are hardcore fans of those things. Let me tell you a story.

When I was a burgeoning curmudgeon (ages 6 to 16, when I stopped burgeoning), I was a Beatles uber-geek. I knew every song, every album, running times, which songs were original and which were covers. You know what I didn’t bother with? Release dates of the albums or singles. I’m not saying there aren’t people out there who don’t have these dates connected to significant events. I can imagine there is at least one couple who went to First Knight on a First Date and have that date firmly memorized. And I’m willing to bet that even if they noticed the calendar on the wall with the month and year they didn’t freak out and think the Captain Marvel movie was ruined.

And with any other minor real world timeline goof, you know this is all an alternate universe, right? Timelines could shift. Software could be shipped on time. Movies could be made a year earlier. To complain about LEDs on a plane in a movie where a woman glows; flies into space; and manhandles oversized planet-killer nuclear missiles, is to focus on the wrong levels of verisimilitude.

In Conclusion

I liked Captain Marvel. It was a fine entry into the series and there’s only so much fangeeking I can manage to put into it right now.

It was fun, sure. Like a few others, I may not have been impressed with the final fights (except blasting Yon-Rogg) but in the context of the MCU, I’ve seen more impressive SFX-driven fights. Hell, Thanos threw a MOON a couple of movies back.

I’ll probably see it again in the theater, and will probably buy the movie, and I’ve already subscribed to the new Captain Marvel series from Marvel Comics, so Marvel has won the battle anyway.

Uncle Josh Deals with Outrage Society

Outrage Society is my shorthand term for what I view as the extreme form of the Cult of the Individual, which may itself be an extreme form of the Cult of Ignorance, which may or may not be the fault of Capitalism. I’m still trying to sort out all these capitalized ideas.

Note: Outrage Society is not the same as Political Correctness, which is an agnostic attempt to express “treat people with respect” as a good rule of getting along in society. (Disclosure: I agree with this position 99% of the time.)

One: The Outraged (a participant of Outrage Society) assumes that others will see the world as they do. This is ridiculous but it doesn’t stop them. No two people see the world the same way. Even identical twins don’t always see the world the same way. It declares the Nature vs. Nurture debate over with Nature the winner, and then assumes everyone has the same Nature. Or at least everyone should have the same Nature. The assumption of the Outraged boils down to this: Your experiences don’t matter and if you are not outraged about this particular thing that outrages me then you are fundamentally and morally flawed.

Fuck that.

Two: The Outraged declare that people should not make assumptions about other people. This may be more about the Cult of the Individual (I’m still looking for those representative tweets).  If I meet a person presenting as a woman I am not allowed to make the assumption that they have always presented as a woman, or grew up through girlhood. I can’t make assumptions about people’s pasts, or their current situations.

Humans are pretty damn good at pattern matching, and when meeting a new person the human brain starts to categorize: Age, gender, style, and yes, various physical features (skin tone, hair, eyes) and affectations (clothes, body movement) all start the free-association from our experiences and assumptions and attach themselves to the new person. Does this pattern-matching and categorization make us see things that aren’t there? Sometimes. But they also allow us to see things that are there.

In this model, bigotry is a philosophical condition of having too few boxes to handle the real world. The Outraged demand the use of too many boxes to be practical or helpful.

And not making assumptions about people in the Outrage Society model leads to all sorts of awkward starting conversations about personal pronouns and trigger warnings. I’d rather listen to an old modem try to connect to the local bulletin board system when the lines are busy that manage these conversations. It’s easier to treat people as people instead of a bundle of exceptions to some “heteronormative constraint model”.

Three: It seeks to shape the language in awkward and unhelpful ways. My joke definition of the outraged is the person storming into a city council meeting about a sidewalk repair project that needs to be done demanding they don’t use the term “sidewalk” because it’s “ableist” and implies people in wheelchairs or walkers aren’t welcome in public. This is the absurd extension of what’s happening.

Orwell’s 1984 contains the argument that our language shapes our thoughts. D.T. Suzuki argues in his introduction to Zen Buddhism that westerners can’t understand  Zen because our language doesn’t fully support the ideas that lead to it. The Politically Correct movement also tried to shape the way we think by introducing words that didn’t come with the baggage that words like “retard” or “cripple” came with. “Special needs” or “differently abled” or “something impaired” tried to stop the dehumanization of disabled people. It may have been successful in reducing dehumanization, but it didn’t humanize them much, either.

Outrage Society tells us that our language in insufficient, and will never be sufficient. It’s hard not resist the easy lure of fatalism when you can’t, by definition, succeed.

I guess the underlying issue with the Outraged is they are judging everyone else all the time and all others are found wanting. It’s a strange form of narcissism. Maybe the Outraged are so desperate to feel heroic and find themselves so unheroic that they have to turn every other person into a villain. Why do they do this? Do they have an idea of a hero that is an impossible standard to live up to? Is this just an outlet for managing a need most people have to be a victim? (Okay, that’s kind of hard to believe because I suspect most Outraged would consider themselves on the political Left and most Victims are on the political Right. But I digress.)

I can see why I don’t like the Outraged: I don’t like being judged harshly and constantly. I don’t know why I should give them my attention except that I experience an intense negative reaction to them. My small steps into stoicism tell me I am ultimately in control of my reactions; but this is one of those reactions that I don’t seem to be able to control. In the very first part of the Enchiridion challenged me in this claim and I have visceral reactions that seem out of my control. I suppose my stoic journey is finding some way to control these reactions. I need to examine them and source them to manage them. The true source of my reaction against the Outraged is a reaction against being judged.

Now, what is a judgement against me? What is the judgement of a stranger? This points me towards a conflict I still feel between stoicism and my Christianity. My religion tells me I need to listen to others, to see Jesus in them, and Jesus is somewhere in the Outraged (although I suspect their inability to follow the Golden Rule is a cause of His distress). I suspect stoicism would eject the concerns of a stranger, especially if the point of the interaction is solely to injure me or to raise others’ self esteem. Neither Christianity nor stoicism would require me to suffer and injury. I should be able to listen to what’s being said underneath the tone and the negativity. I should be able to hear any real criticism of my character.

And that is the struggle. Maybe this whole thing is what Epictetus meant in the Enchiridion:

Seek at once, therefore, to be able to say to every unpleasing semblance, “You are but a semblance and by no means the real thing.” 

Epictetus, The Enchiridion, Chapter I.

How would the Outraged react to that, I wonder: to be told their Outrage is just a semblance and by no means the real thing? Their whole affect is trying to either a) make me a better person, or b) make me deny my core being to be replaced (presumably) by theirs in a Cult of Personality. In either case, it falls apart when faced with a placid-faced “your sail has no wind” reaction.

Not reacting to their anger, whether it is genuine or not, is the best way of dealing with them. With that as my armor, they can’t really hurt me, and that’s all I ever really wanted in this process to begin with.

Uncle Josh Read Something in January

My Goodreads challenge feels like it’s going slowly. I’ve read 8 books so far in 2019, and one of them that made it onto Goodreads was the Original Sin graphic novel. I’m a little hesitant to add the graphic novels in my count. I’ve read several so far this calendar year, including (I am kind of embarrassed to say) a couple of Batman stories.

Even stranger for my habits is four of them were non-fiction:

  • The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll
  • How to Create Cultures by Amy Laurens
  • Building Your Resiliency by Brett McKay
  • If I had Lunch with C.S. Lewis by Alister McGrath

I have been working on getting my shit together, and the Bullet Journal seems to be helping me get organized. The most important thing about the BuJo method is regular reflections on how the day/week/month went and examining where I am in various things, including tracking my reading habits but even some of that I don’t want to do by hand.

For example, my goal to read more short fiction. I would like to actually be able to participate in the reader polls and Hugos but I don’t because I don’t feel like I have a good enough sense of what’s out there. The short fiction reading also feels like it’s digging into the book reading time and energy. I read 1 novella, 11 short stories, and 1 flash piece that I can actually track. That’s not a lot compared to the massive amount of short stories that got released in the genre magazines in January.

And February is already a week gone. I’ve read 1 story so far.

The fiction highlight was Myke Cole’s The Armored Saint which I finally got around to reading. It seems like I’ve seen advertisements all over the web for it for so long I lost track of it. It became a thing I wouldn’t read because it was so damn popular (that didn’t stop me from reading Martha Well’s Murderbot books) or it became a thing I wouldn’t read because I could never get caught up, even though it’s the first book of a series, wasn’t published that long ago (50 weeks or so), and there are only three books in the series so far.

This is why I need a one-stop source of information, as much as possible, anyway. I’m too disorganized.

Uncle Josh Tries to Solve for X: Watching the second X-Men trilogy in a single day

Boxing day. I don’t know what it’s supposed to be about but in our house it usually means a movie marathon. We have a dearth of superhero movies in the theaters right now, and no Star Wars, and we are saving Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse for New Year’s Eve.

So I decided to get caught up with the X-Men franchise which kept cranking out movies over the years and I kept thinking *yawn* each time except for Logan which was incredible.

Did it help trying to recall everything I knew about the X-Men comics? Not really. That kind of knowledge gets in the way of watching the stories Bryan Singer wanted to tell in this trilogy..

Did it help trying to recall everything about the first three X-Men Movies? Not really. That kind of knowledge gets in the way of watching the stories Brian Singer wanted to tell in this trilogy.

At least this is normal for X-Men. Multiple intersectioning timelines and sometimes even multiple versions of the the same character at different ages fighting with each other or along side each other.

The original trilogy came out before Iron Man, so the idea of a cinematic universe was probably planned and hoped for. I don’t think the idea of anything more than the series came up in planning sessions.

With all of the stories the comics available, they chose a few.

When they tried a reboot I think they made a few stupid errors. Messing with the timeline and when we introduce characters seem way out of whack and having three movies set 10 years apart filmed two or three years apart means everyone ages really frickin’ slow. I think the Marvel standard is three real-world years pass in a comic-book year, but I may be wrong.

There were parts of the movies I liked, but the overall affect was meh. Maybe too much backstory in my head interfering with trying to understand what these stories were trying to do. I didn’t like Days of Future Past relegating Kitty to a small role with apparently different powers. I think the original comic had a version of Rachel Summers and the rebooted movies hadn’t introduced her parents at that point.

Apocalypse was a poor choice for a villain, too. He’s too damned powerful and they could only defeat him with the Phoenix Force which has its own complicated history.

I guess I watched them for something to watch. I didn’t want to think and there was too much thinking trying to sort these movies out.

Uncle Josh Ranks the Grinch

Not individual Grinches, but covers of the classic song “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch”.

#4 Straight No Chaser

This ranking is most likely because of my general distaste for SNC. It’s nothing to have the bass vocal growl through the very bottom of the range without a whole lot of personality.

#3 Moosebutter

It’s crazy. It’s wacky. It’s bizarre. It’s hard to sing along to because it’s not a cover predicated on a lot of patterns. But, it’s Mossebutter. It’s the typical for them.

#2 The Coats

They may have been The Trench Coats when they recorded this one. It’s a solid version that is fun to sing along with, which is really the whole point of a christmas song, right?

#1 Thurl Ravenscroft

You can’t beat the original.

Uncle Josh Run the Gauntlet (2/?)

I stayed home from work for a couple of days last week trying to not get my co-workers sick. While I worked from home I finished the Gauntlet: the latest Mystery Science Theater 3000 run.

These were just awful. I had to spend some time to recover from watching these. Stephanie, being the wiser partner in this marriage, decided not to finish the Gauntlet.

The second move, Atlantic Rim, is so awful it does nothing right as a film as far as I can tell. Nothing works. The characters don’t work. The plot doesn’t work. The effects certainly don’t work. The only thing this shitshow has going for it is the main character is a black man, which is unexpected.

I can only think the black guy is the hero because he’s the only one that gets a true heroic moment: Saving a kid from something,  I think a fire or collapsing building or something. It’s hard to tell because the effects are just so bad here. 

The movie doesn’t even present an anti-hero (the white guy who gets locked up) properly, because he’s completely unlikable and has no redeeming qualities at all. He even acts like he’s the hero of the story because he’s the white guy, I guess, and he “has” the girl. 

An anti-hero isn’t just a lead character with a bad reputation. They are morally ambiguous at best with a code of morals they define for themselves and they do not break their own honor code. Any story highlighting an anti-hero has to show that honor code in action. It could be anything, really, that shows they are capable of caring about anything other than themselves. Ebeneezer Scrooge, to pull a name out of the pre-Christmas zeitgeist, is not an anti-hero because he’s reprehensible and our sympathy for him is built up slowly and it pays off because we see the heartbreak that shaped him and when he turns around he’s a delightful scamp. I don’t even expect a good anti-hero to turn around like Joe Hallenbeck in The Last Boy Scout, because any character who does loses series potential. 

The sick, sad part of this is this stupid movie has a sequel, but only because the movie it’s mocking got one.

Now I’m depressed even just thinking about this one.

Uncle Josh Quantifies Cool

When I came into the office this morning two of my co-workers were bickering over which animal was cooler: the polar bear or the Siberian tiger. Apparently this is a Facebook thing run by a friend of theirs every week. (My local coworkers are all good friends and younger than my beard, so I don’t participate in their gang-related activities.) 

I really had no choice but to kibbitz and side with the polar bears, not because I really care, but anything that draws attention to their plight and dying ecosystem could be important. 

Cool, after all, is subjective. There is only thing that is cool in the objective universe and that is The Fonz.

This led me down a bit of the memory lane because I was one of those kids who had a “Fonzie for President” bumber sticker about 10 years before I could drive a car. The Fonz was important to me as a kid. I have never unpacked this piece of my childhood idol worship. 

I know at some point I stopped watching Happy Days, probably when Joanie and Chachi were the big story because Richie Cunningham had gone off to college or something. I don’t recall. But I do remember in the early 90s there was a retrospective on the series and they highlighted the finale, which I don’t remember watching (unlike the final episode of M*A*S*H which had me in tears I think). But the retrospective kicked something off in my head, too. It was probably the first time in my life I remembered feeling nostalgia, and it was not a good feeling.

At the time I was struggling in school (I had no business being in an art program) and struggling through a horrendous first marriage. Maybe all it was was realizing my life had been simpler as a child and I was just trying to process the crap that comes with being an adult in a generation where childhood never really ends and adulthood never really begins.

So why the Fonz? The leather jacket, for one. The only leather jackets in my life were the Fonz and some cousins who I thought were really cool (they are all at least ten years older than I am, so that’s just cool when you’re a kid). There was the popularity. Everyone liked the Fonz, it seemed, and very few people liked me. I made an effort to be unlikable. Not mean or cruel (although I unintentionally was) but I was determined to be myself and that was never going to win me popularity points. 

I also hated myself, which I think is a different story for a different  time, but maybe, just maybe, that’s what I liked about the Fonz. He liked himself. He liked other people, too, but he was happy with his life. Looking back on it I have to wonder why. He lived in a studio apartment over a garage. He owned a bike shop and I rarely meet a small business owner who is generally happy. Mr. Cunningham owned a hardware store, if I recall (so why did he wear a suit?) and I don’t remember it being a source of joy and happiness for him. The Fonz could fix a juke box with a thump and get girls on his arms with a snap of his fingers. He was most likely having an affair with his landlady.

The Fonz also pretended not to care about other people but he really did, and that fact slipped out often enough to keep me going. Was his disinterest a thing I admired? Probably. Part of being cool is not caring about things, about being dispassionate, which is probably stems from some strange idea we share that being passionate about things is either a) being influenced by other people or b) uncool. Damn. I think I hit a useless tautology here. I mean, the joke about hipsters is they don’t care about anything but justify it as “I was into that back when it was cool but it’s passe now”.

But being passionate about things is a hallmark of the geek. The geek loves things openly and proselytizes about them and in darker moments just can’t understand how other’s don’t get how frikkin’ cool this thing is that they love so much.

This is the trouble with reduced vocabulary. We ask too much of our words. 

I’m wandering around the point, but I think what I liked about the Fonz was that he lived his life on his own terms. Nobody told the Fonz what to do. Okay, most likely he paid his rent and I don’t remember any storylines about wild parties being thrown above the garage. One of the strongest episodes that stayed with me was the time the Fonz lost his sight in an accident and had to be coddled and he didn’t handle it well. It was a time when an idol lost his cool.

I paused writing this to review the Wikipedia page on The Fonz and I’m not entirely wrong in my memories, but that rabbit holed a bit. There was one line in the Wikipedia entry that stood out though. The Fonz considered Ralph and Potsie nerds because they were constantly trying to fit in, but Richie was okay with the Fonz because he kept to his principles. 

It’s like an entry level drug of communal respect. The Fonz can disagree with Richie but because Richie shows some backbone, the Fonz can respect him. The dark side of this is the extreme form were assholes decide they can’t respect anyone who isn’t an asshole. I don’t want to be that person.

Do I still want to be the Fonz? Not really. Do I want to live my life on my terms? Hell yes. Do I want to spend the effort to appear disinterested in things? Hell no. I’m a geek and my enthusiasm for things is really who I am. I dive deep and take things seriously. 

I evangelize for The Bobs and The Doubleclicks and the PDX Broadsides. I think everyone should read Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. 

I am a geek. I think what I want to be is more of a cool geek. A geek that doesn’t froth at the mouth when evangelizing. A geek that listens more and draws connections that really matter. A geek that doesn’t giggle in public. Or in private.

Uncle Josh watches The Maltese Falcon

It’s a sick day, which means I’m working at home and working is really about checking my email and handling emergencies and trying to think about solving problems that are much easier on three screens than the single laptop screen I have today.

This means I am finally watching the Netflix DVD of Casablanca, only it wasn’t Casablanca like I thought it was. It was The Maltese Falcon, which is fine because I it’s been ages since I’ve seen the movie (it’s also been ages since I got the DVD from Netflix. I wonder when they start worrying about these things).

When I write I tend toward the hard-boiled prototype, and Sam Spade is one of the big ones. I relied on The Continental Op and Philip Marlowe as my model more than Sam Spade. Spade is in a single book that has been turned into a few movies so there isn’t a lot of original material to pull from. This is still quite enough and now I’m wondering if I could create a Sam Spade style character.

My current stable of hard-boiled narrators include:

  • Murdock Collins (1 published story: Live Feed) who solves problems in a future Portland
  • John Tarakona who solves problems in the same future Portland
  • “Space Cowboy’ – a marshall on a space station who greases wheels with human-xenic relationships

None of them really go wild with stories and words like Spade does. Spade is making shit up left and right. He’s a talker and I’m not quite sure how much of that was Spade being in control of the situation or trying to take control of the situation. He’s thrust into a layered mystery where everyone lies. In the end it appears he did everything simply in an act of revenge, or at least to save face for his profession.

Could I write like this? Could I save Tarakona from the trunk by turning him into a babbler? I think I’ve only got one story even close to done with him and frankly I don’t remember what it was really about. Like most of my trunk it is just a hook and I’m not sure I had a plan with the story.

I think to build a story, like any mystery, there needs to be plans and lies built on top of them and that’s like a whole new level of plotting I haven’t dared.

Uncle Josh Tries to Find that Advent Spirit

Maybe it’s the head cold I’m fighting. 

Maybe it’s the seasonal depression.

Maybe it’s the damned world.

Maybe I’m just too tired.

Christmas isn’t happening for me. I’m being selfish and struggling to get out of my own head. I am turning to desperate measures to try to get me out of this rainy-day funk.

Tonight, for example, we watched part one of Hogfather.

This is one of those strange movies that doesn’t work, yet it does. It’s got so much fan service buried in it that people who have read not just Hogfather but most of the Discworld Books will chuckle at all the bits they catch, but if someone doesn’t keep that cyclopedia in their brain, it’s confusing. 

The timing of the movie is strange. It all takes place in one night but it also seems like days pass at the same time. Things seem to be out of order. Characters go from being strangers to being family. 

And yet I love the  mish mash of the whole thing. It’s a love letter to the fans, certainly, and I guess I can accept it as part of the love letter. I can forgive a lot of storytelling sins because the individual bits of it are so damned charming.

When I first watched it I didn’t like Marc Warren’s Teatime but it grew on me over the years. I wasn’t sure about Nicholas Tennant’s Nobby Nobbs but that also has worn me down. 

It’s charming, it’s fun, it’s our tradition, and this year it isn’t helping.

Uncle Josh Pokes 2018 with a Stick (3/3): Words, Words, Words

According to Goodreads I read 62 out of 50 books I had challenged myself with this year and that’s probably not-quite fair. There are several graphic novels that may or may not be counted as one for the series or not at all. For example, I finally finished collecting Akira and read the whole thing, so that’s 6 books but really one story (or 50-some-odd if you look at the original publications).

Immediate highlights from new-to-me authors were the Murderbot series (again, four novellas that are now bound as a single book but I got credit for 4) by Martha Wells. I loved the attitude and the fact that each bit was its own story in a larger story so none of the four were filler episodes (I’m looking at you, FB2). The Quantum Magician by Derek Künsken was a new and fun, serialized in Analog so I’m counting it.  Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer wowed the ever-living — out of me. The length was enough to make me think I’d miss my challenge completely. I have purchased the rest but not read them yet.

I also read a lot of Tor.com novellas and that kind of feels like cheating, but I also read the Great Gatsby, so what the hell. In some ways the reading challenge is kind of like NaNoWriMo. Whatever makes the number go up works, right?

I pushed myself to read a couple of westerns because a) I’ve only read one in my life and b) I heard somewhere the great cowboy heroes were in the same vein as the hardboiled detectives I love to read. I saw a little bit of stoicism that was worth reading, but not the great love of horses I’d expect and I was shocked to see “injun” used as a verb.

One of my struggles is understanding non-binary or transgender folk so I turned to fiction to try to get some answers and frankly what I read was: boys are awful; there’s nothing good about being a boy; men are manipulative and cannot be trusted. I read to try to understand, and got yelled at by the author. I’ll keep trying, though.

I had my literary comfort food of John Scalzi and Devon Monk (and there’s a new Monk out today: Spark. I’m looking forward to being under a comforter in the Kindle-glow of a fun read).  Actually, those 4 plus Alan Dean Foster’s Force Awakens novelization may be the only things in the comfort-read category this year.

There were too many books that I read and don’t remember reading. Frankly, even one is too many in the category, and that’s frustrating. I don’t like thinking something made so little of an impression on me.

I also learned that when I read books, I usually mean fiction. Yes, I read non-fiction but it doesn’t feel like reading to me. It’s research or learning or just absorbing ideas, but it’s not reading. Reading is adventure and excitement and drama. I know in the end it doesn’t matter, but it was strange to realize I wasn’t counting the non-fiction nor do I reach for non-fiction when I just need a bit of words to pass time. The exception is the bathroom book of blog posts, which suit that purpose just fine.

Looking ahead I think I’ll bump my challenge to 80 books next year with a couple of knows boulders in the way: Ada Palmer and a feeling I should do more to review each work that I read, not just the highlights of the year. I know in Amazon/Goodreads world, a simple 4 or 5-star and “great read” or “lotsa fun” may be enough, but for someone who aspires to write (and get paid for it) I need to put a little more thinking into the endeavor, but not so much that I forget to actually read for enjoyment and adventure and really wild things.