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Husband, Father, Programmer, former Ballroom Dancer. Huge Nerd.

Captain America: Civil War Poster and Trailer

We’re finally getting our first look at the first Marvel’s Phase 3 films: Captain America: Civil War.

First up, the newly released poster:

Captain America: Civil War

But as gorgeous as that poster is, the first trailer is even more amazing:

I was excited for this movie before, but now I can hardly wait.  And what about that soundtrack?  It sounds absolutely fantastic.

This film comes on the heels of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man but follows a very important story to Captain America himself, his old friend Bucky. We weren’t sure what the motivation for the division between heroes was going to be in the MCU but this trailer gives us a much better idea. We also get a better look at the sides, even though that information was released a little while back. How about Bucky and Cap just beating down Tony? Seems like a pretty intense scene. I wonder if Tony is holding back.

What do you think of the the poster and trailer? Let us know in the comments!

Captain America: Civil War Poster and Trailer

Jessica Jones

jessicaAfter a seemingly endless wait, Jessica Jones is finally available on Netflix, and I couldn’t be happier.

Arguably the area in which the Daredevil excels the most is showing off the sometimes gruesome physical violence of street-level superheroics.  The fight scenes are beautifully choreographed and executed, and generally does a good job of showing the physical toll and consequences that come with Matt Murdock’s nocturnal activities.

Jessica Jones is a completely different animal, and I think is much better for it.  Granted that as I write this I’m only in the second episode of the series, but it’s already incredibly clear that Jessica Jones has in spades something that Daredevil lacked: visceral personal stakes.

With Daredevil, Matt Murdock is almost the stereotypical do-gooder: his motives are generally of the ‘save the city/innocent people’ variety.  He wants to help people.  Stop criminals.  Dismantle the criminal empire that is hurting people.  But all of those motivations are external to him.  There isn’t much in the way of personal reasons for him to do what he does, other than the concept of “doing the right thing”.

But in Jessica Jones, the stakes are nothing but personal.  Where Daredevil focused on the physical violence and costs of superheroics, Jessica Jones focuses more on the mental and emotional toll that comes with the superhero territory.

Luke Cage - Mike ColterThat’s not to say there aren’t any excellent fight scenes.  There’s a bar fight scene in episode 2, between Luke Cage (played by the amazing Mike Colter), Jessica Jones, and some unruly patrons.  I watched the fight several times to just soak in the awesomeness of it.  I absolutely love how totally and completely casual Luke Cage is during the fight.  It’s fantastic.

But the heart and core of the show is Jessica Jones battling her own inner demons, and ultimately the source of those demons.  The source of those demons, in this case, is a character known as Kilgrave.  For the first couple of episodes he appears as little more than a phantom, a hallucination of Jessica’s PTSD-laden mind.  And David Tennant, as Kilgrave, is at his absolute creepy and sinister best here.

The gradual unfolding of what was done to Jessica, what finally led her to break free from Kilgrave’s control, and her struggle to cope with all of it is an incredibly well crafted story.

I can’t wait to finish watching this season.  From what I’ve seen so far, it’s going to be an amazing ride.  My only complaint is that Netflix isn’t making these shows fast enough.

Jessica Jones

Netflix Original – Daredevil

Here we are, less than a week away from the debut of Jessica Jones, the second of Marvel’s Netflix Original Series.  I thought it would be a good idea to do a quick review of the first of Netflix’s Marvel series: Daredevil.

To be honest, when I first heard that about this endeavor, and that Daredevil would be the first of the series to be released, I was worried.  Why would I be worried?  It’s not like there’s ever been a Daredevil movie that was awful.

Daredevil the movie

And I in no way hold a grudge against Ben Affleck for that terrible movie.  And I OF COURSE hold no negative opinion regarding Mr. Affleck’s upcoming performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman.

But I digress.

Daredevil debuted on April 10, 2015, and in typical Netflix fashion the entire season was available for viewing all at once.  I love Netflix.

Our hero is Matt Murdock/Daredevil (Charlie Cox).  In the opening scene of the first episode, we see the aftermath of a terrible accident, where young Matt was exposed to some chemicals that left him blind, but left his other sense supernaturally enhanced.  It takes a few episodes before we get information on exactly why he’s such a good fighter, but from the beginning we get some background on Matt’s father: he was an old school boxer that didn’t win very often, but he could take a hit.  His son inherited that legacy and then some.

What Daredevil Does Well

The first thing that I love about this show (and I assume the other upcoming Netflix Marvel series) is the casual way they still connect into the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe.  A heavy part of the storyline for the show involves a company, Union Allied, benefiting from the efforts to rebuild the areas of New York City that were destroyed as a result of the Avengers’ battle against the Chitauri in The Avengers.

The fight scenes are amazing.  And I mean absolutely, completely amazing.  It’s not that they’re grittier or more gruesome than the fights we’ve seen so far in the MCU.  The fights involving Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America all involve people that are in some way superhuman.  They’re stronger and more durable than normal people.  But physically at least, Matt Murdock is a normal human being.  Granted he’s highly trained, but he’s very much human as far as his physical capabilities go.

That is evidenced by how the fight scenes are choreographed, which is done beautifully.  Not that I can speak from experience here, but I have it from multiple sources that being in a fist fight is very physically exhausting.  These fights actually allow the characters to display that exhaustion, taking a few seconds to catch their breath, to recover a bit of strength, before moving back into the fight.

The extended fight scene in the second episode is practically perfect as far as a cinematic fight scene goes, especially since it’s all one extended, uncut sequence.  You should watch it.  It’s amazing, especially when you think about the fact that everything that happens during that sequence, had to be done in one long continuous take.

Daredevil’s original Black Costume

Up until the end of the season Matt wears a very DIY costume that is incredibly basic, and works really well for the character.  It’s simple and affordable, which makes sense for a brand new attorney striking out on his own.  The hood (balaclava?) that covers most of his face and head works great for the character as well, emphasizing that the character doesn’t rely on typical sight in order to deal with his opponents.

The Daredevil costume

Sadly we only really get one episode in which to see the actual Daredevil costume in action.  It’s an OK costume, and does fairly well at trying to be representative of the Daredevil costume from the comic books.  But to be honest, I prefer the black Ninja-style costume he spent most of the season wearing.  I would almost prefer to see a more armored version of that costume instead of the red ‘devil’ motif of the new costume.  But that’s a relatively small complaint.

Overall the writing is great, the characters are fun, and the show gets down to the business of superhero action pretty darn quickly.  After the extremely slow burn that was employed with the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., that was a HUGE and welcome change.

Where Daredevil Could Improve

It’s 45 minutes into the first episodes of the season before we even hear the primary villain’s voice.  But that character, The Kingpin Wilson Fisk, doesn’t actually appear in the episode at all.  We are introduced to the Kingpin’s primary henchman and the various criminal ‘masterminds’ that the Kingpin is in business with.  But the ultimate villain himself is completely absent from that first episode, and doesn’t actually appear until the second episode.  Granted it’s only one episode, but holding back on the reveal of Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk doesn’t accomplish anything.

Wilson Fisk, The Kingpin

Wilson Fisk, The Kingpin

That problem is made worse by the fact that this interpretation of Wilson Fisk is unreliable.  While Daredevil saves lives and tries to make a difference where he can during the course of that first season, he accomplishes very little as far as dismantling the Kingpin’s criminal empire.  At multiple points throughout the season I found myself thinking, “You know, Matt could just take a vacation at this point, and the bad guys will all just kill each other off.”  Because, SPOILERS, that’s basically what happens.  Matt does take down the Kingpin in the end.  But Wilson Fisk did most of the damage to his own criminal empire as he eliminated each of his own partners for reasons that aren’t ever explained, other than the fact that he is mentally unhinged.

As much as I wanted to root for Matt Murdock to triumph over the Kingpin, it was really hard to do so because it didn’t feel necessary.  Fisk was likely always going to self destruct, and like a black hole, he would destroy everything around him as he did.  Granted the cost of that explosion would likely be enormous, but none of Daredevil’s actions throughout the season felt particularly necessary in brining Kingpin down.

That’s one of the reasons I’m so excited for Jessica Jones, because this time the villain and our heroine already have a pre-existing history, and it’s intensely personal.  Whatever else Jessica (Krysten Ritter) does as she attempts to save other people and the city around her, it’s all going to be layered on top of the fact that she’s fighting a war to save her own soul.  And that’s going to be fascinating to watch.

Daredevil Verdict

If you haven’t watched this show already, and have even a cursory interest in comic book superheroes coming to the big and small screens, you should watch this show.  Even with its flaws, it’s incredibly fun to watch, and I’m excited to see what Netflix has in store, both for the other three shows they have in the pipeline as well as for Season 2 of Daredevil.

Netflix Original – Daredevil

Star Wars – Expectations and Disappointment

I was born in 1977, the year that the first Star Wars movie was released in theaters.  I (half) jokingly like to say that I was born with Star Wars in my blood.  Some of my fondest and earliest memories revolve around Star Wars.

I remember endlessly watching The Empire Strikes Back on VHS tape.  (For those of you that aren’t dinosaurs, that’s how we used to watch movies before they could be streamed over the Internet.  No, before DVDs, too.  Yes, I’m old.)  In fact, I think I might have worn out VHS copy that we had, to the point that my mother had to make sure to re-record it the next time it aired on TV.

star wars 1I have vague recollections of going to see Return of the Jedi in the movie theater, and reenacting, with my best friend, the lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader for weeks on end.

So during my Junior year in High School, the announcement that George Lucas would be returning to “a galaxy far, far away” to show us the origin of Anakin Skywalker and how he would eventually evolve into Darth Vader made me giddy beyond belief.  One of my courses was a yearbook/journalism course, with a semi-regular assignment to bring in a newspaper article (good grief, I’m old) that was in some way ‘controversial’.

I brought in the first article I could find about the announcement the Lucas was working on a new Star Wars trilogy.  There was nothing controversial about the article at all.  I was just so excited that I completely forgot that aspect of the assignment.

Saying that I’m a fan might be understating things a little bit, which, as one might expect and like many other Star Wars fans out there, means that I had certain expectations about the prequel trilogy, expectations that were essentially shattered upon meeting the cold hard reality that is the prequel trilogy and the seemingly constant re-editing of the original trilogy.

Now I (only half) jokingly say that George Lucas both created and destroyed my childhood.

star wars 2Ten years after the release of Revenge of the Sith, I find myself in the same position again.  A part of me is almost excited beyond words at having a new trilogy of Star Wars movies in my future.  But I still have certain bare minimum expectations for what that new trilogy should be like, and I remember how badly I was burned before. So let’s talk about that for a minute.

Why don’t I just relax and forget about my expectations?

Well, first off, that’s just not who I am.  I’ve got a really good memory for a lot of things, including my favorite books, television shows, movies, etc.  I used to try and play a game with my mom where we would try to have entire conversations using only movie quotes to see who could keep it going the longest.

More importantly, the film industry doesn’t work like that.  In fact, they’re banking on your, and my, expectations.  Look at the movies that are produced these days, especially the ones that are blockbusters or expected to be.  The vast majority of them are adaptations, reimaginings, reboots, or sequels to existing properties.  They’re relying on your familiarity (aka expectations) of an existing property to entice you into paying the price of admission to the theater to see the next big thing.

What happened the last time we were here?

The offenses of which the prequel trilogy is guilty are terrifyingly numerous, and it’s not particularly difficult to find lists of those offenses.  For me, the most important parts of a really good movie is the strength of the characters and the integrity (the structural kind) of the story.  This is where things started to break down for me.  Since I imagine it’s possible for me to ramble on for quite a while about these various transgressions, I’ll stick with just describing my top two:

Motherhood and Memories

leia_truthIn Return of the Jedi, Luke asks Leia if she remembers her mother.  The conversation goes like this:

Leia: Luke, what’s wrong?

Luke: Leia, do you remember your mother? Your real mother?

Leia: Just a little bit. She died when I was very young.

Luke: What do you remember?

Leia: Just… images really. Feelings.

Luke: Tell me.

Leia: She was… very beautiful. Kind, but sad. Why are you asking me this?

Luke: I have no memory of my mother. I never knew her.

Yet, when they were born in Revenge of the Sith, there is literally no chance that Leia develops any kind of memory of her real mother that Luke somehow would not have.  Because she dies shortly after they are born.  What’s supposed to be one of the most powerful and emotional moments of the movie, and maybe even the trilogy, where Luke reveals to Leia her true heritage and what she may be called upon to face if he fails, is supposed to be a powerful moment.  But all the power of that moment seems to ebb away, for me at least, because what Leia says and what we witness as an audience do not connect together in any kind of reasonable way.

star wars 3Quick digression: I’m sure there will be people that suggest perhaps Leia was raised by Bail Organa’s first wife, and that she passed away when Leia was young, and that’s who Leia is referring to.  To this I respond that, first, that’s not the emotional intent of the conversation and, second, even if that’s true this is where we hit the limitations of movies.  And this is one of the big points of this post.  For movies, the audience can only follow along with what is presented ON SCREEN.  If it doesn’t happen on screen, at best with the audience actually seeing it happen or at worst with a character telling us what happened off camera, then it might as well not have happened at all. 

For two decades I expected that Leia did indeed know her real mother before she ultimately passed away.  Pulling the rug out from under that particular expectation was really bad for me, but nowhere near as bad as…

Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker, and his family

I came out of the theater after seeing Attack of the Clones feeling rather dejected.  It hadn’t been a great movie, and I feared for what might come as part of the third movie in the prequel trilogy.  I imagined that the odds were high that the majority of the movie would continue to be disappointing, but I thought as long as they got one particular thing right to finish the trilogy, I’d be happy with it.

star wars 4That one particular thing was establishing why Vader would finally turn on the Emperor in order to save Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi.  In my mind it needed to play out like this: despite all of the evil that Anakin had perpetrated over the course of two decades, his love for his family needed to remain untarnished by the Dark Side.  That would give it the weight and power needed to finally urge Anakin to act, instead of Vader, for the salvation of his son. 

I wasn’t a huge fan of Anakin’s slaughtering of the Sand People in Attack of the Clones, but I was willing to accept it.  It was violent and angry, but it was an act meant to avenge the death of his mother.  So it fit what I hoped would be established.  How hard could it be for the trilogy to end with Anakin falling to the Dark Side without harming Padme?

Finally, Revenge of the Sith was released and I was once again disappointed.  Anakin uses the Force to Choke his pregnant wife.  He’s been haunted by ‘visions’ of her death the entire movie, and now he’s attacking her.

anakin-choking-padmeFor me, that destroyed any ability to believe that Darth Vader would turn against the Emperor to save Luke.  Anakin doesn’t know Luke, didn’t raise him, was never there to care for him or teach him, or do any of the things that would make him a father.  Padme, however, was his wife.  The woman he swore to love and cherish and protect above all else.  If he was willing to attack his own wife that way, I just didn’t believe that he’d sacrifice himself to save a son he barely even knew.

How am I going to be disappointed this time?

For the upcoming The Force Awakens and its sequels, the original trilogy will obviously serve as the base upon which the films are built, with 30 years of history and changes separating them.  This is the first thing that worries me.  Remember what I said before about how things need to happen ON SCREEN or they might as well not have happened at all?  There’s a LOT of room for things to go wrong here. 

So here are the things I’m already worried about, given the limited information about the upcoming movie.

Han Solo and Leia Organa not-Solo

The last time we saw these two crazy kids, what were they doing?  Snuggling by the Ewok bonfire, warm in the glow of their newly professed love for each other.  With that as the last thing we see of those characters, where do you imagine than_and_leiahey end up 30 years later?  Happily married with kids is where I think is the most reasonable place to go from there, and the Star Wars Expanded Universe (I’m sorry, Star Wars Legends) novels took the relationship in that direction to great effect.  It’s one of the things I liked most about those novels, despite how annoying the children turned out to be.  But from what little information we’ve seen so far, it doesn’t look like Han and Leia manage to maintain a relationship following the Battle of Endor.  From the information available so far, they’ve gone completely separate ways.

Luke Skywalker

In the EU novels, within a few years of the Battle of Endor, Luke has begun training other Force Sensitive individuals he has encountered to become a new generation of Jedi Knights to protect the New Republic.  For the new trilogy, that appears to distinctly not be the case from the extreme lack of any lightsabers shown so far outside of Kylo Ren and Finn.  Some articles I’ve read seem to suggest that Luke is mostly in hiding, as he fears even his own power.  I can’t find any confirmation of that particular line of thinking right now, but I desperately hope it is not true.  

Names are Important, but I’m not telling what they are

reyFinn and Rey are two of the new characters being introduced in The Force Awakens.  But unlike nearly all of the other characters being introduced in this movie, they only have first names.  According to J.J. Abrams, “It is completely intentional that their last names aren’t public record.” 

Remember, before Star Trek Into Darkness was released, how Abrams said that John Harrison is DEFINITELY NOT KHAN…except he totally turned out to be Khan?  Thifinns feels like that.  At least this time he’s not lying to our faces.  I can’t help but feel that the deliberate withholding of that kind of information is an incredibly cheap method of suspense for a story.  It’s a cheap trick to try and keep the audience guessing (not in a good way) and be confused.  And if those are the tactics you have to resort to, it makes me worry that the rest of the story you’re telling isn’t going to stand up very well on its own.

Now we wait…

Thankfully, the bar has been set really low with the prequel trilogy.  I’m cautiously optimistic, despite my reservations and seemingly already dashed expectations, because whatever The Force Awakens does, it just needs to be better than Episodes I – III.  How hard can that be?  Right?

Do you think Star Wars: The Force Awakens is going to crash and burn? Or do you think it’s going to be incredible? Do you agree about the prequels? Let us know in the comments.

Star Wars – Expectations and Disappointment

Q&A with Jim Butcher

A few weeks ago, I contacted Jim Butcher’s assistant in the hopes of getting to interview Jim ahead of the release of his latest book, The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass.  Much to my surprise, his assistant got back to me and we scheduled the interview.  He’s one of my favorite authors, so I was incredibly excited to have a chance to interview him.

Sadly, the day before the interview was scheduled to happen Jim’s dog, Frostbite Doomreaver McBane Butcher, passed away after a long battle with cancer.  As you might expect, the interview was canceled.

But since I live one town over from where Jim lives, it’s a pretty safe bet that whenever he has a new book coming out that there will be some kind of book signing event somewhere in the area.  Sure enough there was.  And for an hour ahead of actually signing the books, Jim answered all kinds of questions that we in the audience threw at him.

Here is my transcript of the Q&A session from that event:


Jim ButcherLet’s get a few things out of the way first.  Yes, I am working on the next Dresden book.  It’s due to be turned in this Christmas and should be out somewhere around next spring.

Q: When you are writing books, do you keep character bibles for yourself or for the publisher?

A: I do keep them for myself every time I’m making up new characters and so on.  I make up a little dossier entry on the character, of who they are,  Sometimes I draw a picture of them, but because I can’t draw…they don’t look like that.  I’m not sure where the Dresden Files one is right now.  Probably in a box somewhere.  Mostly I use the Dresden File wikipedia these days, because the fans, you guys, are so much more on the ball than I am with this stuff.  Now, bear in mind that I’ve seen so many slightly different versions of the Dresden Files over the course of writing the books, whereas you’ve only seen the final version.  So it’s much easier for you to remember, “Oh yeah, that character had purple eyes”, even though in my head they had been yellow.  I’ll look at the book and think, “Oh, I must have changed the eye color and didn’t really think about that.  Well, it was 4:30 in the morning when I was doing those edits.”

So now mostly I just go to the fan wiki.  Fans are so much better at keeping track of that than I am, and the fans are the ones that want to say, “Look, you missed this detail, you got it wrong.”  I guess you’re right, I did.   But now people like that build wikis, so “No I didn’t, because I cheated.”

Skin Game, by Jim Butcher

Skin Game, Book 15 in The Dresden Files

Q: Harry Dresden started out as a really humdrum, normal, not big danger character, and now he’s a much bigger threat.  Is he going to continue to progress on to confronting bigger entities?

A: My intention with Harry Dresden was never to make him the big fish in the small pond.  He was always the medium sized fish that had to be smart and fast if he wanted to come out on top.  So everything that I’ve given him that makes him cooler, only serves that purpose.  Because he’s going to be continually going up against things that he has no business going up against.  Storm Front Harry Dresden would never have survived Skin Game.  I mean, he just wouldn’t come out of it in one pieces.

I’m kind of reminded about at the end of Changes, when I killed him…ahem spoilers…and my publisher called and was freaking out on me, going, “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, you killed him, you killed him!”  And I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, I know!  Now we get to do the cool stuff!!”  So look for the series to go increasingly off the rails in terms of how bombastic some of the bad guys are going to be.  We’re going to have a lot of fun from here on out.  Especially since my special effects budget has gone up a lot.  Which is cool because it doesn’t cost me anything to do that.  It costs me just as much to burn down Chicago as it does to not burn down Chicago.

Q: Why Chicago?

A: Because my writing teacher wouldn’t let me set it in Kansas City, which is where it was originally set.  She said, “You’re walking close enough to Laurel Hamilton’s toes that you can’t set your books in the same state.  Just pick a different city.  Not Kansas City.”  And…ok, Chicago.

Q: You swore to never to two series at the same time again.  Why are you doing it again?

A: The answer is alimony.

Q: Is there ever going to be a Dresden movie or a (no offense) better TV series than the last one?

A: What I’m hoping for is that we get a Netflix series.  It is being shopped around in Hollywood, so we’ll have to see what winds up happening.  It’s Hollywood.  Hollywood is all talk, man.  Nothing is real until the check has cleared.  Just to give you the check, that’s not reality yet.  Once the check clears, now it’s real.  So we’ll see if anything happens.

Q: When are we going to see Ramirez again?  And will he ever get his own short story?

A: In the Shadowed Souls anthology that I just got done editing.  I’ve been an editor this year.  Which was a really interesting experience.  I’ve never edited anything before.  At one point I read a story and fired off a critique to the author, and then I stopped and realized, “I just told Nora Roberts to cut 10 pages from her short story…She’s like the pro-est pro that ever pro’d a pro and I just said ‘drop 10 pages’.”

In that anthology there’s a short story called Cold Case.  It’s Molly’s first job as the Winter Lady, and Mab sends her off on her first mission, and you get to see what her job is.  And Ramirez teams up with her against a Cult of the Sleeper in a town in Alaska.  There’s a town called Unalaska, Alaska.  Really.  There’s really a town called Unalaska, Alaska.  It’s where Deadliest Catch is based out of.  So they go find a bunch of Deadliest Catch fisherman who have started worshipping Cthulu basically.  But that’s a fun story, and that’s where you’ll next see Ramirez pop up again, and he’ll show up in Peace Talks.

Peace Talks, I really should have subtitled that one ‘Blue on Blue’ or something like that, because basically I’ve set up a situation where I can do all these theoretical fights.  “Who would win if these two went at each other?  Let’s see!”  We’ll see what happens.

Q: One of the forum posts I really enjoyed on your website was the one where you answered a question about The Archive and said “I’m going to tell you this because it’s never going to show up in the books.  How much of that kinds of material do you have, and are you interested, or would you be interested in maybe putting together some kind of Legendarium for the world of Harry Dresden?

A: There is a TON of that material.  There is so much of it.  Because I’m constantly thinking of stories that could happen in the Dresden Files universe.  “Oh yeah, that could happen.  This is totally happening…how am I ever going to connect Harry Dresden to that.  There’s no way in hell he’s ever going to be in the Grand Canyon doing something.”  So as far as a Legendarium goes, I don’t think I will, because I want to have the option to do spinoffs.  And if there’s no mystery, there’s no spinoffs, for when I’m done with Harry’s story.  I’ve got a couple of different characters that it would be really cool to do spinoffs of.  I don’t want to end my options on that.

Q: Question about Lord Raith.  In Blood Rites, Lara bests him in the fight, but in the White Knight he’s still up, walking and talking, with her controlling him.  How does that work?  Is he a ventriloquist dummy?

A: He appears to be in charge, but he isn’t, because Lara can do terrible things to him if he doesn’t play along, and that’s his option now.  So he has to play along with Lara and wear the target on his chest while she runs things from behind the scenes.  Everyone else in the White Court, it doesn’t take them very long to figure out this is what’s going on.  But that’s the play that they have going on, everyone has to pretend that Lord Raith is the one in charge even though they know better.  Until it comes time to unseat Lara, and they’ll have to take Raith out of his position in order to get Lara out of hers.  Lara, at the same time, she’s got to ferociously protect his position.  It gets very byzantine in the White Court.  They’ve basically got a figurehead emperor, and a pile of ministers with the real power.  Lara happens to be on top of that pile of ministers at the moment.

Q: At a Con you attended recently, you mentioned that the reason Mab owes favors to some unsavory characters is due to debts she accrued when the Winter Fey first assumed the duty of manning the Wall.  Can you tell us who was manning the Wall before?

A: I can.  And I won’t.

Regarding that favor, it was a situation where Mab needed to be in two places at once and couldn’t.  So Anduriel loaned her Nicodemus to step into one of the places she couldn’t be.  Man has since learned better than that and now she has somebody that will step in for her when she needs to be in two places at once.  Which is why the Leanansidhe has got so much power and generally shows up whenever Mab isn’t there.  If you’ll notice in the books, the Leanansidhe and Mab very rarely show up in the same place at the same time.  That’s because Leanansidhe is covering things that Mab should be doing, while Mab is wasting her time on Harry Dresden.  And vice versa.

Q: At the beginning of the series, there’s only a very vague, amorphous big bad.  As the series has progressed it’s gotten more complicated and more convoluted.  How much of this were you planning all the way back when you started writing?

A: All of it.  I kind of had a good idea of what the big bad was, and what it looked like, and where it all lined up.  We’ve still go the really excited things in front of us.  We’ve got giants and apocalii (which I judge to be the plural of apocalypse).  Kaiju and gods.  Plus we’re going to have a dragon vs. wizard fight.  Because…you knew that was coming.

Q: The Gate seems like something that, if it didn’t start with a consciousness, would develop it over time.  Is that the case?

A: It probably is, but the consciousness of an inanimate object like that is mostly like that of a mountain.  “I AM HERE.”  And it’s just increasingly aware of its here-ness.  The Gate actually exists very differently than what Harry saw, but that’s how Harry has to interpret it because it’s far out in the Nevernever.  Your mind has to put things into terms it can understand or you go squirrely.  Harry’s got a very good mind for reducing things to simple ideas.  Which most of the Senior Council would say with a roll of their eyes.

Q: Even though you write all these characters, have you ever had one that refused to do what you wanted it to?

A: No, because those people work for me.  There are times when the characters don’t seem to be going as easily in a direction I want them to go.  Often I will have to stop and take a look at what I’m doing since maybe the story has squirreled off in the wrong direction.  Which is sometimes the case and I’ll have to rewrite.  Often what I will do is I’ll go back and I’ll play Time Lord and go back and retool the character’s past to give them a good motivation to do what I want them to do.

Murphy was continually too much in the way in Fool Moon, for example.  She kept trying to participate in what was going on and not in the adversarial way I needed her to, because she was essentially a minor villain in Fool Moon.  It was not working out at all until I went back and tinkered with her backstory and Murphy has a paralyzing fear of big dogs.  That was changing her opinions and put enough brakes on her that I could get her to slow down enough to let other people get killed instead of her.

But it also means that she wasn’t too sure about Mouse the first time she met him.  She’s OK with him later on, because he’s a big dog that she doesn’t have to be afraid of, she trusts him despite that fear.  But that’s all under-the-table stuff that I can’t write about because Murphy is not going to go up to Dresden and say, “I’m terrified of big dogs.”  Because Dresden would make fun of her for being short and it’s not going to happen.

Q: Who is your favorite character in The Last Airbender series?

A: I think Zuko was the most convincing in showing a character turn 180 degrees.  The personal redemption arc for Zuko was pretty cool.  When he got to the point that he realized, “oh wait a minute, I’ve been struggling all along for my honor.  I thought that having my father’s respect would give it to me, but no, I need to have my respect for it to work.  And that means I need to do the right thing and I’m going to turn against my father, the most powerful man in the world, and help the Avatar fight him.”  And that was kind of the turn of the tide of the series in many ways.  So Zuko was kind of my favorite.

Although my favorite characters are almost always villains.  So Azula was really my favorite character of the entire thing.  Because Azula was just crazy.  She was such a good example of a psychopathic villain that was still human.  You could tell there was something broken about her, right from the very beginning.  And yet she kind of carried on and you almost feel for her, every once in a while.  At some point she’s standing there saying, “My mother called me a monster…he was right of course.  But it still hurt to hear her say it.”

There was some really brilliant writing in Avatar.

Sokka was a lot of fun, and at the end of the day, Sokka took out Sparky-Sparky Boom-Man, who was one of the scariest guys in the series to show up.  Which I thought was just awesome.  I am a fan of Avatar, I like Avatar a bit.

Next time I have a dog, I’m going to have a little white dog and name him Appa.  I’m going to train him with hand signals so whenever I want him to do something I’ll say, “Appa, yip yip.”  And whatever the hand signal is will be what he does, but all I’ll ever say is “Appa, yip yip”.  And then I could do a cosplay where I could be grown up Aang, and shave all of the hair off of the dog’s head except for a big arrow on the little dog’s head.  And dye that blue.  Cause that would be awesome.

I’m a nerd.

Q: You’ve written ancient Rome and urban fantasy.  What was the motivation for the Cinder Spires?

A: I was sounding out several different ideas.  I wrote out the first 20%-25% of four different novels and showed them to my beta readers and said, “which one strikes you?”  And as I showed them to them one at a time it was pretty clear that the steampunk idea was really hitting bells with the readers.  So I thought, ok, I’m gonna work with the steampunk.  It really all started as an exercise in trying to figure out why they needed to wear goggles.  Someone was always like, “just write a steampunk story,” and I’m like, “I can’t, because there has to be a real reason to wear goggles all the time.”  So, ok, stop and figure out why they need to wear goggles.

By the time I was done answering that question, I had a universe.

So I know why they have to wear goggles all the time, but they don’t necessarily know all the reasons it’s necessary.  They know the consequences if they don’t, but they don’t understand why those consequences exist yet.  And it’s all coming, later in the series.

Q: Will you ever visit Alera again?

A: I don’t have any definite plans to go back yet because I have so many stories that I want to tell, and I’m going to have to live to 128 to get them all written.  And I keep coming up with new ones, which doesn’t help.  So come on, all you bio-med people out there, biological immortality, get working on it.

I could at some point, there are a couple of places I could go back to if I wanted to.  But nothing on the drawing board right now.

Q: Did I create the spiritual daughter as a companion to Bob, and Is Dresden going to have to have a father-with-a-shotgun talk with Bob?

A: That’s a fair question.  The answer to that is no, I wanted to show what Bob was like when he got started before he had generations and generations to figure out how things work.  But yeah, the shotgun talk is inevitable at some point.  Dresden is definitely keeping Bonnie away from Bob, because he fears Bob will be a terrible influence.  And he’s right.

Q: Will Dresden be featured in any of the spinoff stories?

A: Very possibly.  I like the character a lot.  Although I think he will be very different in the spinoff stories, because when you’re not seated inside his point of view you don’t see how scary he is to everyone around him.  He is creepy.  For one thing, he’s huge and dark and scarred, and never makes eye contact with anybody.  He doesn’t talk a lot, but when he does he usually says something that is reasonably incisive or makes fun of someone.  It would be a little eerie hanging around him if you weren’t close enough to see behind the mask that he wears.  He would be a totally different person showing up in a place like that.  Although it would be fun to do a series of short stories showing people seeing Dresden from the outside.  Maybe I’ll do that in the future sometime.

Q: What are your steampunk influences?

A: Probably Rudyard Kipling and Jules Verne.  League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Horatio Hornblower.  I don’t really think this book is steampunk at all.  I think it is Steam Opera.  But my editor says I’m not allowed to create a new genre whenever I want.  So, ok, it’s steampunk…*sigh*…but I think it’s Steam Opera myself.  Because it has that kind of Space Opera scale to it in many ways.

Q: Will we get more history of Harry’s mom and grandfather?

A: Yes, in the next book.

Q: Why does Harry keep wearing a hat on the book covers, when in the text of the book Harry keeps talking about how he hates hats?

A: That didn’t really start until Book 8 or 9 or something like that, is when I started making that comment.  It was because on Book 7 the Art Department decided that the perfect way to say “Wizard P.I.” was to have the guy with a wizard staff and a P.I. fedora.  That it would be the perfect psychological shorthand for “Wizard P.I.”  So they directed Chris McGrath to “make it like this.”  And Chris, who is a professional artist said, “I will make it like that,” and did so, and fulfilled his commission.

And I didn’t like it.  So I got all passive aggressive about it, and started making fun of hats in the books.

So when the new book came out, the steampunk book, Grimm is one of those characters that would never be caught dead without his hat.  So of course they draw him with no hat.

Q: How many books have you planned for this new series?

A: I’ve planned 3 books to start it out with.  I planned a 9 book arc, with cutouts at 3 and 6 in case it didn’t sell.  If you guys don’t like it, you don’t buy it, that’s how it works.  Hopefully we’ll do 9, hopefully people will enjoy it enough that it’ll go to 9 books.  I want it to go that far.  Because it’ll take that long to do the whole story and explore the back history of this world and show you all these different things i have in mind for this place that came from “why do we wear goggles?”

It’s sometimes frustrating because, as a writer, you build all this stuff and you don’t get to use it all.  It’s so frustrating.  Which is why sometimes I blow a gasket and mention something on the forums about The Archive or something like that.  Or Murphy’s dog fear.

Q: Would you ever consider doing a collaborative effort with another author?

A: No.  Because I would not wish to inflict myself upon anyone that I respect as a professional.  I am high strung and way too controlling.  It works well for me when I’m sitting along in a room, because no one else has to put up with it.  But if I’m sitting there working with somebody else I’m pretty sure we’re going to start throwing our phones at each other.  I am doing a couple of things, I’m doing a short story in Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International anthology, because I want to know about the janitor at MHI.  If you’re the janitor at a company that professionally hunts down monsters that routinely chew up cities and stuff like that, I figure you’ve got a job.  So I wanted to write a story about that.

Other than that, if other authors wanted to do a Dresden Files thing, I could maybe do something like that at some point.

My stomach hurts just thinking about it.

Q: Will you ever do a crossover between your universes?

A: It would be kind of cool.  I’m not sure if it sounds cool or cheesy.  Harry’s the wizard, Tavi is the thief…I’m not sure if that would be cool or cheesy.  Though really that’s been my entire career.

Q: Are there limitations to how magic works in the Dresden Files?

A: Yes, there’s always limitations.  But the people in that world don’t necessarily know where those limitations are.  And as you get closer and closer to them, the likelihood of bad things happening gets worse and worse.  It’s why you don’t see a lot of wizards flying around on brooms, in the Harry Dresden universe.  If you’re experimenting with a flying broom, you get to make one mistake.  And then you don’t have a flying broom or a living wizard anymore, due to the high speed crash.  But you can get other things that are slightly safer than a flying broom.    A flying carpet does make a little bit more sense than a flying broom, because at least you don’t fall off it quite as easy.

There are always limits to things that can happen, but you have to find someone that’s willing to test those limits.  Without getting killed. You can always test the limits, it’s the ‘not get killed’ part that’s difficult.  You can ask Marie Curie about that one.

Q: Whenever Harry’s had a relationship it hasn’t worked out.  Is there something big coming?

A: When you say ‘something big’, do you mean that in a positive sense, or…?  Yeah there’s something big coming….poor Murphy…

Q: James Marsters does a wonderful job as the reader for the audiobooks for the Dresden Files.  Is he going to continue as the reader until the end of the series?

A: I do not want the publisher to change the reader from Marsters, because he is great.  The problem is that he is the highest paid actor in Hollywood.  Literally.  He makes more money than anyone else in Hollywood.  James has a very savvy business manager.  The point is, James is only doing the series out of a love for the series and his fans at this point.  Because we can’t possibly pay him what his time is worth.  So it’s up to him.

Q: As a very successful author, why do you still live in Independence, Missouri?

A: I asked the very same question of a martial arts instructor when I was a teenager.  This was the kind of guy that could catch arrows out of the air, the CIA had asked him to come train them and he told them to go fly a kite, just a world class martial artist.  I asked my teacher, who worked for him, “why does he live in Independence, of all places?”  The guy looked back at me and said, “because he wants to.”  And that’s kind of my answer as well.

Q: How much input do I have in the Harry Dresden RPG?

A: I gave them a series of notes on things they could not have known because they weren’t in the books, but are features of the story world.  Then I told them, “but you can’t reveal any of that, but you need to know it in order to build the world correctly.”

Then I went through and I nixed a bunch of things that they had put together, that they had effectively added up 2 and 2, and came up with 4, and I erased the 4 and said, “no no no, because this 4 is going to be a story later. So you can’t lay this out here for everybody.”  I believe very strongly in building a story world where you could predict what was coming next if you had 1 more fact.  And a lot of times people have made the intuitive leap and predicted what I’m going to be doing with something anyways.  Somebody who is a reader has come up and told me essentially everything that’s going to happen, every major event, that’s going to happen for the rest of the story.  It’s all scattered out amongst the collective, but the collective knows what’s going to happen.  I feel that’s a very good level to be at, as far as writing the story goes.  That people can look at this imaginary place, and the rules works well enough that you can say “Oh, this is coming!”  Which is really rewarding for me.    

Q: Do you get ideas that change your story?  When someone asks you a question or something like that?

A: Oh yeah, that’s happened.  Somebody else will come up and say, “Is this going to happen?”  And I’ll be like, “No, that’s not going to happen…but…that’s better than what I had…that’s a really cool idea.  Can I make that work?”  That’s happened a couple of times for smaller things on the side.

Q: Have you been approached to do anything more with comics or Marvel?

A: No, which is good.  Comics/Marvel doesn’t pay very much.  I don’t get a royalty, I get a flat fee and then I go away.  And everything has to be approved by a committee, and then if you want to change anything, it all has to be approved by a committee again.

I have been approached by others.  At one point Wizards of the Coast wanted me to do the Dragonlance reboot.  This was when 4E was just coming out.  And I thought this was a really cool idea.  So I re-read the first 3 books in Dragonlance, and came up with a plan for a story, of how the entire story universe would change if Flint had caught Hasselhoff trying to steal his dagger in the very first chapter.  Because then, Tanis gets wounded by an goblin so they’ve got to take an extra 45 minutes taking care of Tanis before they can go into town and help Goldmoon.  And that changes the entire story, everything, based on the fact that Flint goes, “Ah hah!  You weasel, you can’t take my knife!”

I took Raistline, and it was going to be Raistline as portrayed by Dr. House.  And it was going to start there, because really, that’s how Raistline should have been portrayed.  As Dr. House.

So I was very excited, and I had all the plans together, and then I went to Wizards of the Coast and I said, “Tracy and Margaret know about this and are cool about it, right?”  Wizards of the Coast started giving me these weasel answers  and I was like, “Oh, ok.  They don’t know, and you haven’t run this by them, and the only reason I’m a writer is because Margaret Weis came in to my high school and gave a talk about writing.  And that’s the only reason I thought “well maybe I should write a novel” when I was 19.  So I kind of went, no I don’t want to do this.

And then they had the disaster that was 4th Edition come crashing down on them and I think everyone behind the idea lost their jobs anyhow.  Really, 4th Edition was a disaster for those guys.  I’m sorry, it’s much nerdier than I really should be going on at this point.

Q: Of all of your published works, are there any that stand out to you as the best or worst?

A: To me, Storm Front is the one I wrote when I knew the least about how to tell a good story.  And really that’s just a fact.  Ghost Story was a book that I was trying to do something very different for Harry Dresden, because Harry is the guy who kicks down the door and saves the day.  When he can’t kick down the door and save the day, who is he?  That was sort of what Ghost Story was about, and I’m not sure I pulled it off as well as I wanted to.  But I knew it was going to be a very very difficult book to write, and it was.

As far as the best work I’ve done, was probably Changes, because everyone wanted to kill me.  And I’m happy with that.  And then Dead Beat, because undead T-Rex.  I don’t know how I’m going to top an undead T-Rex, maybe I should have saved that for later on.    

Q: How did you originally build Harry’s world?  Did you start with the magic system or the world around him?

A: I started with the premise that I needed to prove to my writing teacher that she was wrong about what she was trying to teach me.  That was where I started.  I decided to prove it to her by doing everything she told me to do, and put my characters together in this exaggerated way, and using story outlines and chapter outlines, and to do all these little worksheets that she had, and character sketches and profiles.  After I did all of that she was going to see exactly what horrible cookie-cutter pack of crap emerged from that artificial stilted process.

So I wrote Storm Front.

After that, I started with Harry.  I put him together as a frankenstein of Merlin and Sherlock Holmes and Spencer and Gandalf.  Just borrowing traits, basically ripping off their arms and sewing it onto another body.  And after that, well he’s a wizard, the next thing to figure out about the world was the magic.  Because that’s how he’s going to relate to the world.  So I went out and raided the local bookstore, it was a Border’s at the time, raided their metaphysics section.  It was all books about people that incorporate magic into their religious practices.  I took everything that I thought would have a good effect or would be fun to work with later and left a bunch of the rest of it behind.

So first it was Harry, then it was the magic, and then everything else.

The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut's Windlass, by Jim Butcher

The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass

Q: Your costumes were great at DragonCon.  How long did it take anyone to figure out who you as a group were cosplaying as?

A: Well, nobody could figure out who we were cosplaying at DragonCon because we were cosplaying people from Cinder Spires.  Which nobody had read.  It was the most hipster cosplay ever.  “I’m dressed as Captain Grimm from Cinder Spires.  You’ve probably never read it…”  Although, to be fair, I cheated on that costume, because I wrote Captain Grimm’s costume as a costume that I already owned.  It was in my closet.  I wanted to cosplay convincingly as somebody from one of my books, and I didn’t have anyone else that I could do that with.  So it was Grimm.

Q: What authors do you look forward to reading, when they release a new book?

A: Brandon Sanderson, he’s like the Terminator or something.  I don’t know what it is.  I’m going to get on a plane tomorrow, get to the airport, new Brandon Sanderson book.  Take off, land in Cincinnati, and there’s another book!  That’s what I feel like he does.

Brian McClellan is probably getting added to the list really soon, since I’m really enjoying is Powdermage books.

Larry Correia, John Ringo, I always pick up those guys.  David Weber.

Naomi Novik, I love the Temeraire novels.  Give me those, give them to me faster.  What do you mean this is the last one?

This completes the Q&A transcript with Jim Butcher. What did you think? Are you looking forward to the The Cinder Spiders: The Aeronautics’s Windlass? Comment below with your thoughts.

Q&A with Jim Butcher

Knowing the Future is Boring

Minority Report and Blindspot both debuted their pilot episodes recently, with both shows relying heavily on a mysterious in-world phenomena that lets the characters know aspects of the future before it happens.  Minority Report, set as a sequel to the Tom Cruise-starring 2002 film of the same name, features one of the trio of ‘precogs’ returning to the city and wanting to help prevent the murders that he sees, but the visions he receives on his own never allow him to get to the victim in time to do more than watch.  Blindspot introduces us to a ‘Jane Doe’ who has had her memory almost completely erased, but is covered head to toe in intricate tattoos.  The FBI team managing her case quickly discover that the tattoos provide information on where and when crimes will be committed that the FBI would be invested in solving.

Outside of the common framework of providing the central characters with pieces of the future to act on in the hopes of preventing something bad from happening, both shows share another feature: they’re set up as fairly standard crime procedurals.  There will be a crime every week that they’ll need to prevent, and for some reason standard law enforcement procedures will consistently prove inadequate to meeting that challenge.

Both shows also seem to have some kind of ongoing mystery that intend (supposedly) to slowly unravel over time.  For Minority Report, the closing scene of the pilot shows the other two ‘precogs’ discussing a vision one of them had, where the trio are once again taken by the government by force to serve some unknown end.  For Blindspot, the origin of Jane Doe’s tattoos, as well as the character’s own origin ,since she appears to have been a highly trained special forces operator, will provide the same essential mystery.

After one episode each, I’m nearly bored to tears at the idea of knowing scraps of the future.

For starters, neither show is doing anything particularly new or interesting here.  As I’ve already stated, Minority Report is set in the same world as the film, so there isn’t really any new ground to tread there.  Substitute Jane Doe’s tattoos and apparently high level of training for ‘expert knowledge of everything’ and Blindspot becomes the 2002 series John Doe, which only lasted for a single season.

On top of that, we have an abundance of crime procedurals on television these days.  Some have been running for more than a decade.  NCIS started back in 2003, as a spinoff from JAG, which started in 1996.  Law and Order, or some show with those words in the title, seem to have been on television since the beginning of time.  And then there are the various CSI: Random Location series.  We have an abundance of this kind of show and none of them really interest me.  Usually this is because the crime-of-the-week is the priority over telling any kind of ongoing story about the characters we see every week.

This is one of the reasons that Person of Interest is one of my favorite shows on TV right now.  It started out very much the same way, being set up as a crime procedural with tidbits of information about the future.  But as the show has progressed, we’re at the point now where while there is still generally a crime of the week to be solved, the last two seasons (and hopefully the upcoming fifth season) have focused much more heavily on the story of The Machine that provides the information to prevent those crimes.  The story of an Artificial Intelligence that watches everyone, all the time, and correctly predicts not only potential terrorist threats before they take action, but also normal premeditated crimes, opens up a lot of questions for a writer beyond “how do we solve the next crime?”  And to the credit of the show runners, Person of Interest is now taking the time to address those kinds of questions head on.  Because that story is significantly more interesting than saving yet another random person/famous guest star week after week.

That’s what worries me about both Minority Report and Blindspot.  The criminal case of the week, for both shows, was rather uninspired.  And since both shows are dealing sources of information outside of the ordinary, neither show will feel much of a need to depict any kind of real police work.  Meanwhile, the story I actually care about, that is interesting, will (at best) be doled out in tiny doses here and there.

As bad as it is to say, I don’t care about the crimes being committed each week in these shows.  I care (or at least, the show hopes that I care) about the characters we’re going to see every week.  That’s the people investigating the crimes, not the victims.

For Blindspot, I care about Jane.  So I want to know where the tattoos came from, why her memory was erased, who trained her.  There appears to be an entire conspiracy behind what happened to her.

For Minority Report, I care about Dash, the naive precog that just wants to help save people, and how there appears to be a looming threat to once again abuse him and his siblings for their abilities.  But watching Dash clumsily make his way from crime to crime, with a cop in tow, trying to stop the next murder before it happens, sounds repetitive and boring.

For either of these shows to keep me coming back, they need to change gears fairly quickly, and ditch the crime-of-the-week format.  I don’t care about it.  At all.  Tell me the story about the mystery that’s been set up in the first episode.

This is the point where I ironically point out that I’m going to predict the future, in a blog post that talks about how knowing the future is boring.

blindspotheaderIn all honesty, I don’t see either of these shows lasting long.  As I mentioned, Blindspot seems like someone wanted to take a second stab at John Doe, which only got a single season. Jaime Alexander does amazing work as Jane Doe and I’m tempted to keep coming back just to see her portrayal of this incredibly damaged yet mysteriously competent character.  But I don’t want to have to slog through weeks of ‘our next case’ to see anything more develop from it.

CLwj7qVXAAAir5HMinority Report is airing on Fox, which has a reputation for killing even beloved science fiction shows (Dollhouse, Terminator:The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and of course Firefly), because (one assumes) that the executives just don’t know what to do with the show once they have it.  And so far Minority Report is not as good as any of those shows were.  I like the concept more than Blindspot‘s, since there’s infinitely more information that a psychic can ultimately provide than a tattoo’d body can, but the cast, writing, and execution of the show are a lot weaker than Blindspot.

So tell a coherent story this season.  Focus on unraveling the mystery that’s been set up, and give it a satisfying conclusion.  If you get a second season, that’s great, I’m sure you can find ways to tell a new story with the same characters next year.  But don’t try to drag out this mystery for as long as possible.  Do you know what happens when you do that?  The show gets cancelled and I, as a member of your target audience, am left without ever sense of resolution.  And I hate that.

Knowing the Future is Boring

Person of Interest – Looking Back at Four Seasons

One of the best science fiction themed shows on television right now is Person of Interest.  The show has a fascinating premise based on very real modern day concerns, and it is executed beautifully.  In case you’re not familiar with this show, episodes in the first season start with this voiceover:

“You are being watched. The government has a secret system: a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know, because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything. Violent crimes involving ordinary people; people like you. Crimes the government considered ‘irrelevant’. They wouldn’t act, so I decided I would. But I needed a partner, someone with the skills to intervene. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You’ll never find us, but victim or perpetrator, if your number’s up… we’ll find you”.

When the show started, it felt like it was going to be yet another CBS crime procedural, but with a bit of a science fiction twist applied.  I loved the use of an artificial intelligence as part of the world building for this show, and the concept felt very timely in our post 9/11 world, but I honestly didn’t expect the show to become more than that.  Here are a few reasons why I feel that way.

 

Person of Interest: The Cast

Person of Interest - John ReeseFirst of all, this show has an amazing cast.

Jim Caviezel, as former CIA operative John Reese, is amazing.  As you gradually learn more about Mr. Reese, the decisions he’s made, and the things that he has lost over the years while attempting to serve his country, you can’t help but admire Jim Caviezel.  The character is generally played very calm and controlled, almost to the point that you think the character is just flat.  Which usually means boring.  But then you get a Reese-centric episode where you get a small glimpse at who he used to be, and why he is willing to put his life on the line for a complete stranger every week.  And it’s amazing.

Person of Interest - Joss CarterBefore all of the mainstream attention that Taraji P. Henson began gathering for her role on Empire, she played Detective Joss Carter.  Oh how I wish she had received all that critical and media attention for this role instead of her role on Empire, because I loved her on this show.  She is absolutely amazing as a straight-laced, by the rules cop that gradually gets pulled into situations that are way beyond her pay-grade.  And she never flinches or backs down.  Right up until the end.

Amy Acker plays Samantha Groves, but prefers to be called by the alias ‘Root’.  Root initially appears on the show as an antagonist to our heroes. and operates essentially as a digital hired gun.  Then she discovers The Machine, which Root consistently refers to as a ‘she’ Person of Interest - Samantha Groves, aka Rootand reveres as something approaching a deity.  I’m a long-time Joss Whedon fan, so the first role I ever saw Amy Acker in was in Angel.  She took one of the most lovable characters on the show, and broke my heart when she died, and then blew my mind when she convincingly pulled off the transformation from the nerdy-girl Fred to ancient demon queen Illyria.  So whenever Amy shows up on TV, I pay attention, because she’s awesome.

Sameen Shaw, played by Sarah Shahi, used to be a government assassin.  The Machine was programed to provide ‘relevant’ data, meaning potential terrorist threats to the country, to the government, Person of Interest - Sameen Shawwhile our cast of heroes makes use of the ‘irrelevant’ data to try and prevent bad things from happening on a more individual level.  Sameen used to be one of the people that would take care of the terrorist threats.  But like Reese, she was eventually betrayed and other agents were ordered to kill her for knowing too much.

There’s an additional police detective that works with our heroes, Lionel Fusco, played by Kevin Chapman.  I’ve never seen him in other roles before, so don’t have as much to say about him.  Lionel is a formerly dirty cop that Reese essentially blackmails into helping him whenever he needs it.  He ‘affectionately’ refers to Reese as ‘wonder boy’ and Shaw as “cuckoo’s nest”.

Person of Interest - Harold FinchThe creator of The Machine, a man known to the rest of the cast as Harold Finch, is portrayed by Michael Emerson.  ‘Harold Finch’ is apparently one of many aliases the character has used over the years.  Anyone who says they weren’t constantly creeped out by Benjamin Linus on Lost has no soul.  Michael Emerson was constantly, amazingly creepy, yet it was somehow always an excellent performance.  Having him portray a good guy seemed really strange to me at first, but it only took one episodes for me to stop thinking of him as Ben Linus.  He’s just that good.

 

Person of Interest: The Flashbacks

Flashback

Speaking of Lost, back in the day it blew my mind with how it used flashbacks to gradually illuminate the motivations behind the various plane crash survivors.  At the time, it felt almost revolutionary.  So the fact that Person of Interest also uses flashbacks for a very similar purpose isn’t particularly novel anymore.  But how they are implemented is fascinating.

With Lost, the flashbacks were just the past (I’m intentionally ignoring the ‘future’ and ‘afterlife’ flashes from the last two seasons).  The entire purpose behind them was to show the audience how a particular character became who and what they are in the present.  They weren’t really memories, because the flashbacks contained information that the characters were unaware of.  They existed in the show strictly for our viewing pleasure.

In Person of Interest, the flashbacks are provided directly by The Machine as it accesses archival footage of the character in question.  So not only are we learning more about what has led a character to be where he or she is now, but so is The Machine.  We’re watching it learn and make connections about these characters in order to figure out what it means to be human for these particular people.

Person of Interest: The Story (Spoilers!)

The first two seasons of the show feel almost like a standard crime procedural that’s standard for CBS.  We gradually get more information about the characters through flashbacks, and slowly learn more about the origin of The Machine and why it operates the way it does.  And it executes those tasks really well.

But there’s a pretty big shift in the third season of the show, as we witness the emergence of a second artificial intelligence that competes with The Machine.  To quote Root as the situation is developing: “Do you really want to see what it looks like when two gods go to war?”

Season 3 culminates in this new A.I., named Samaritan, going online and taking over the task of provided ‘relevant’ data to the government, but it is run and controlled by a private corporation called Decima Technologies, which has its own agenda.  The Machine is still active and providing the ‘irrelevant’ data to our heroes, but Season 4 has a distinctly different tone than the preceding 3 seasons.  Before, our heroes were working off the grid and tried to avoid interacting with law enforcement at all unless Detective Carter or Fusco could be involved.  Now they’re practically scrambling for their lives every episode because if Samaritan finds even one of them, they could all end up dead.

Person of Interest: The Future

The first three seasons of Person of Interest just recently became available for streaming on Netflix, with the fourth season slated to become available at the end of the month.  So now is a great time to catch up on the show if you haven’t seen it before.

The unhappy news is that the commissioned fifth season will only be 13 episodes long, and will debut as a mid-season replacement.  The producers of the show have said that they’re approaching the fifth seasons as if it will be the final season of the show.

On the one hand this makes me incredibly sad, because I want this show to keep going for a while longer.  It’s fun to watch, touches on difficult but relevant ideas and questions, and the cast is incredible.  (Yes, I’m having a hard time not raving about the cast.)

But if the show has to end, I’m glad it will get a deliberate conclusion to the series.  Very few things bother me more these days than a TV show, especially a science fiction TV show, canceled before being able to conclude the story it was telling.

So if you’re for any reason looking for something new to watch, you should definitely check out Person of Interest.

Have you seen the series? What are your thoughts? Are you hoping for anything specific in its 5th and possibly final season? Comment below!

Person of Interest – Looking Back at Four Seasons

Starcraft II – Legacy of the Void

It’s been over five years since Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty was released, where we followed Jim Raynor through a series of events that led to finally freeing Sarah Kerrigan from the Zerg.

It’s been two-and-a-half years since Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm showed us Sarah returning to the Zerg, but retaining control over herself in order to seek justice against the forces that had manipulated her.

Now we have a release date for the final installment of the saga, Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void.  The game will release on November 10, 2015.

And based on the cinematic trailer that accompanied the announcement of the release date, at least part of the story for the game will revolve around the Protoss attempting to retake their homeworld, Aiur, from the Zerg.  I can’t wait.

Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void Trailer

What are your thoughts on the latest Starcraft

Starcraft II – Legacy of the Void

Jessica Jones has a Trailer and Release Date

It’s time to start getting excited people.  The second of Netflix’s Marvel TV series, Jessica Jones, finally has a trailer and a release date:

Sadly the trailer doesn’t tell us much about the show or the character.  But it sure is gorgeous and the music is amazing.  If they put as much care into the show as they did in this trailer, I suspect it will be amazing.    November 20th can’t come fast enough.

And I’m so happy it’s on Netflix, so I’ll be able to binge watch the show at my own pace.  It’s going to be awesome.

What do you think of the trailer? Are you as excited for this as Daredevil? More so? Comment below!

Jessica Jones has a Trailer and Release Date

What I love and hate about Star Trek

Derreck’s recent article about the Star Trek: Pacific 201 Kickstarter campaign got me thinking about Star Trek again.  It’s a topic I generally avoid because I am fairly passionate about it, and really disappointed with how the property has been handled in recent years.  But now that I’m thinking about it again, I feel the need to write it out so I can (hopefully) move on fairly quickly.

In case you have to ask, there will be spoilers aplenty here.

I know people that dislike the JJ Abrams Trek movies purely because of the use of the alternate timeline in order to ‘reset’ things.  I’m not a huge fan of using that particular storytelling device as permanent change to the storyline, but alternate timelines have a very long tradition in Star Trek.  My problem with these movies is that they just don’t feel like Star Trek to me.  They’d be perfectly adequate generic science fiction movies.  But trying to copy/paste names, ship designs, and world details into these movies…well…more often than not, it infuriates me.

I think the easiest way I can express why I feel this way is by comparing arguably the best Star Trek movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, against (in my opinion at least) the worst Star Trek movie, Star Trek Into Darkness.

Somehow, I managed to win a pair of tickets to see Into Darkness a couple of days before the general release of the film.  I never win anything, so this was rather surprising.  So I and a friend went to see the movie, and about halfway through it I couldn’t enjoy the movie anymore.

What I Hate About Star Trek

Star Trek Into Darkness poster

Kirk and Spock spend pretty much the entire movie sniping at each other, despite seeming to come to some sort of understanding at the conclusion of the previous film.  From a certain point of view, Spock directly stabs Kirk in the back towards the beginning of the film.

Towards the beginning of the movie, an admiral says to a room full of Starfleet officers “You are the captains and first officers of all of the ships that could get here (to Earth) quickly.”  Yet at the end of the movie when two ships (one definitely belonging to Starfleet, and the other bearing a similar design but probably not in any Starfleet database) begin shooting huge chunks out of each other…where are those other ships?  The admiral said they were close by.  The Enterprise made it to the Klingon homeworld and back, while also being stranded for a while with engine problems.  Why were none of the other ships here, or able to arrive at some point?  When those two same ships start crashing into the Earth’s atmosphere,why are there no defensive systems present to prevent one of those ships from colliding into the capital city of the Federation?  Especially since the villain of the movie, the previously mentioned admiral, had explicitly stated his intention to start a war with the Klingons.  So…his plan was to start a war with a very warlike race, when Earth itself was almost literally undefended.  That sounds like a GREAT plan.

The absolute worst part was Khan.  Benedict Cumberbatch is a tremendous actor, and I don’t blame him for it.  The problem is the script.  The writers really want Khan to be the bad guy here, because he was the villain in Wrath of Khan.  The problem is that so much of what he does in this movie seems quite reasonable, given what the admiral was doing and the threats the admiral had made against Khan.

At one point I had a glimmer of hope that Khan would help defeat the admiral, but then quickly kick Kirk and Scotty back over to the Enterprise (via transporter), and basically say, “I used to think that I needed to rule the human race.  Now I find myself in a galaxy full of aliens, and I know some of them at least want to see the human race destroyed.  And you’re too principled to respond appropriately before it’s too late.  So I’m going to take care of that problem for you.  Until next we meet…”  It would have been a fresh take on Khan, allowing the character to exhibit some growth and change as a result of the altered timeline.  Which, hello, is one of the big points of using an alternate timeline to begin with!

Instead we’re treated to Kirk being overly suspicious of Khan for pretty much no reason.  Kirk shoots Khan in the back when, to my memory at least, Khan hadn’t done anything yet to draw serious suspicion.

Then there’s the whole role-swapped death scene between Kirk and Spock, which didn’t feel earned at all.  Because the two of them spent so much of the movie explicitly NOT being friends.  Followed by McCoy discovering a cure for DEATH by using Khan’s blood.  But for reasons that are never explained, it has to be Khan’s blood they use (so they can’t kill him), instead of any of the other 40+ genetically modified humans that they have safely in suspended animation.

What I Love About Star Trek

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan poster

Right after I left the movie theater, feeling extremely dissatisfied, I wandered over the Best Buy.  I had a gift card with nearly $20 on it, and I felt the need to watch something that I didn’t already have at home.  The feeling was like needing to wash the taste out of my mouth.

As fate would have it, Best Buy had a Star Trek-specific display set up, and The Wrath of Khan was on sale.  With tax, it cost just under $20.  Worked out perfectly.

Do you know what I forgot about this movie?  The first half of the movie goes out of its way to remind you that, above all else, Kirk and Spock are friends.  Spock is supposed to be the captain of the Enterprise, but a mission comes up that Kirk has some personal involvement in (i.e. an old girlfriend).  So they fight (verbally) about who should be the captain.  In the JJ-verse, they’d be fighting for their own side.

But here, they understand what is at stake for each other.  Kirk says Spock should remain the captain, because it is his assignment.  Spock counters that Kirk is more heavily invested, and tells Kirk not to be worried about insulting his pride.  Vulcan and Human, Starfleet officers, Captain and officer, above ALL of that, Kirk and Spock are friends.

That’s why Spock’s death at the end of the movie has meaning to it.  Firstly, because it wasn’t reversed in the same movie 10 minutes after it happened.  And second, because the entire movie had been crafted in a way to make sure you, as a member of the audience, understood and believed what close friends they were.  I have yet to believe that the Chris Pine & Zachary Quinto versions of those characters are friends on any level.  So far all I’ve seen is for them to, at best, barely tolerate each other.

Star Trek’s Missed Opportunities

I’m going to step away from the movie comparison now, to provide a rough outline of the Star Trek stories that I wish were being told now.  A lot of it is based on where the Federation was left at the conclusion of the previous TV series.

In the final TNG-era movie, Nemesis, the Romulan government goes through not one, but two coups.  Shinzon (a clone of Picard) kills the Romulan leaders that won’t do what he wants them to do and assumes control.  Then he is killed towards the end of the movie.  I think it would be very easy from the Federation’s point of view to essentially say that the government with which they made a treaty to not explore cloaking technology no longer exists.

In the wake of DS9, the Bajoran wormhole is now a bridge to a completely new area of the galaxy.  For so many years, the Dominion had ruled that area of the galaxy.  With the Dominion defeated, there’s any entirely new area of the galaxy to explore, new dangers to be encountered, and new questions to be asked and answered. And the Cardassians are severely weakened as well.

Finally, with Voyager’s return to earth, we get some of the biggest changes.  Because Voyager not only returns home from the other side of the galaxy, but does so with starship weapon and defensive technology from 30 years in the future.  The holographic doctor has become fully autonomous, thanks to the mobile emitter (also from the future), while the rest of the Federation happily makes use of holographic beings as something akin to a slave labor force.

Now, put all that together.  Several of the biggest threats to the Federation are severely weakened.  The Romulans and Cardassians have gotten it really bad, and the last time we saw the Klingons they looked more like allies than anything else.  There’s an entirely new region of the galaxy to explore, with advanced technology to help accomplish that in, hopefully, a safer way.

In more general terms: the Federation is facing drastic changes in multiple levels of society: diplomatic relations with foreign powers (Romulans, Cardassian, Dominion, and even Klingons), technological and economic (tech from the future, new resources or opportunities beyond the wormhole), and perhaps most importantly social (holograms as a slave work force).

The kind of stories that could be told in that environment, where on the surface the Federation appears to be approaching a golden age but in reality is starting to split apart at the seams due to all of these converging pressures, fascinates me.

Those are the kinds of stories I always thought Star Trek was best at.  The ones that took the science fiction premise and used it to comment on political, social, or economic issues, often that were somehow paralleled to issues we face today.

Those are the stories that I miss.  We have a plethora of action-y science fiction movies and television shows.  We have Star Wars movies coming up, for multiple years, that are going to fill my need for science fiction action quite nicely.  Turning Star Trek into action movies as well, which is what it feels like we’ve arrived at with the JJ-verse, does a disservice to the kinds of stories Star Trek usually excels at telling.

What I love and hate about Star Trek

Marvel Studios Reshuffled

According to an article in The Hollywood Reporter, Marvel Studios, the film branch of the company headed by Kevin Feige, has been restructured so as to report directly to the Disney studio chief Alan Horn instead of the Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter.

On one hand this seems like a good idea.  Kevin Feige has been heavily involved in every Marvel-created movie since the first Iron Man, and it’s easy to see that those decision have paid off.  The Marvel movies are, generally speaking, runaway successes.  Some, like Ant-Man, haven’t performed as well as might have been hoped.  While others, Guardians of the Galaxy for example, far exceeded expectations.  I think a lot of credit has to go to Kevin for the direction he’s taken the company.

With that said there is one piece of the article that gave me a moment of worry.  Marvel’s TV division, headed by Jeph Loeb, is not included in this restructuring.  Up until now one of my favorite things about Marvel, though admittedly less important in the grand scheme of things, is that their film and television endeavors were explicitly connected.  The world on display every week on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the same world that is being saved in Captain America: Civil War.

Marvel Cinematic Universe

It’s one of my biggest gripes about the DC/Warner Bros. film efforts: despite the success of Arrow and Flash on television, they are determined to build their films that are completely separate from the television properties, to the point that they’ll have a TV Flash and a movie Flash played by completely different actors, and supposedly the film branch began interfering in the TV plans for certain characters because they had been earmarked for use in films already.

So that’s my biggest fear at this point.  I have loved that the Marvel films and television shows were tightly coupled together.  Now I worry about what might happen since, from a corporate standpoint, the two endeavors report to completely different people.  Hopefully nothing changes in regards to how they work together, but the potential is there so I can’t help but worry about it a little.

What do you think of this restructuring? Does it cause any concern for future MCU films? Comment below!

Marvel Studios Reshuffled

Time Salvager, by Wesley Chu – Review

Shortly after the Hugo Awards every year, I look over the list of winners (and other nominees) to get an idea of what I should read in the near future.  One of the big awards given out at WorldCon is the Campbell Award, which is NOT a Hugo Award, but it is awarded as part of the Hugo Awards ceremony.  From the Wikipedia article on the subject, the Campbell Award is “given annually to the best new writer whose first professional work of science fiction or fantasy was published within the two previous calendar years”.

This year, the winner of the Campbell Award is Wesley Chu.  To be honest, I had never heard of him before.  But walking through Barnes & Noble the other day, I stumbled upon his latest book, Time Salvager.  Since I now recognized his name as the winner of the Campbell Award, I went ahead and picked it up.  I’m almost always looking for something new and fun to read, and the book looked like it had an interesting premise:  (No spoilers beyond what you could read on the book jacket.)

 

The bulk of the story is set in the 26th century, by which humanity has spread out through most of the solar system.  But due to the variety of wars and disasters that have occurred over the centuries resources are scarce and a great deal of scientific knowledge has been lost.  And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the Earth is nearly uninhabitable.

James is a Chronman, a time traveler, from this era.  His job, as supervised by ChronCom, is to travel into the past when valuable items (usually power generators) were lost, usually because they were destroyed, and retrieve them prior to their destruction.  That way very few “temporal ripples” are created since the end result is generally the same for the people in that particular place and time.

There are a set of Time Laws that govern the appropriate use of time travel, the first and most important of which is that you should NEVER bring a living being from the past into the present.

James breaks that rule when he brings a scientist from the past, Elise Kim, into the present.  Which makes both James and Kim fugitives in an incredibly hostile environment.

I was hooked pretty strongly through most of the book.  It’s incredibly well written, and the very rarely slows down.

Time Salvager

I have two complaints about how Time Salvager progresses, however.  First, James begins to suffer physical and mental side-effects due to his frequent time travel while on the run without having access to proper medical care.  But those complications seem to be largely unnecessary.  They don’t seem to progress much beyond the state of “he has them”.  They don’t get particularly worse or better as the story progresses, and only once do they seem to directly interfere with an objective that James is trying to accomplish.

Second, and much more importantly for me, is that it feels like the book is meant to be the first in a series, but doesn’t do enough to provide a sense of closure or accomplishment within the scope of itself.  A variety of discoveries and revelations are made throughout the course of the book, but ultimately it feels like all the characters manage to accomplish is a brief reprieve until the next book.  None of the big ‘problems’ that are introduced are resolved, and we’re treated to a brief scene at the end where we get a peak that things are about to get much worse for the protagonists.

Given the scope of the problems that are introduced as the story progresses, and believe me they are pretty big, I understand that I’m probably asking a lot to have a better sense of resolution in this one book.  Because those problems are huge.  It just doesn’t change the fact that I felt more than a little frustrated and a little let down once I finished reading the final page.

All in all, I would highly recommend picking up Time Salvager.  It’s a rather inventive and new (for me at least) application for how to use time travel in a story.  The characters are very well fleshed out and realized characters, and the writing is great.  I just wish that those characters had managed to accomplish a bit more than they managed to in this one novel.

Time Salvager, by Wesley Chu – Review