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5 Things Life Would Be Better Without

This is me today.

This is me today.

Feel like complaining, but not to the level where I need to awaken Vrokthar. I’m having one of those days that isn’t bad, exactly, but it is annoying. So, after I stepped in dog poop and tripped getting onto the train and had autocorrect try very hard to make me look like a fool and so on, I’m going to tell you about 5 things the world does not need and would be better without. You may or may not agree – I don’t really care that much.

Pictured: me failing to get my touchscreen to do things.

Pictured: me failing to get my touchscreen to do things.

#5: Touchscreens

Let me start with an unpopular choice. Was there something wrong with buttons I was unaware of? Because I felt like buttons worked just fine. They reacted to your touch, they always depressed when you hit them, and they were pretty functional. But no, some jackhole had to go invent the buttonless objects that now pervade my daily existence.

Perhaps I’m a vampire, but touchscreens refuse to consistently acknowledge my touch. I find myself jabbing at a flat sheet of graphene (or whatever they’re made out of) over and over and nothing happens. At least with buttons, I could isolate the root of the problem fairly quickly – if the button was going in, the problem wasn’t with the button – but with touchscreens, who knows? Also, who knows if you’re hitting the right one? They make the damned icons so small that my enormous fingers are constantly doing the wrong thing. I legitimately have to pivot my fingers sideways so I can swipe with the narrow band of flesh alongside my fingernails to get things to work. That is assuming it agrees to acknowledge my existence, which it does not.

Additionally, there is no reason buttons couldn’t work! Put a control cross and two buttons and a scroll wheel or such on the bottom edge of a phone and bam–it would work fine! Keyboards could fold off the back, just like they did in days of old.

Either that, or somebody invent a goddamned touchscreen that reacts to my touch. Unlike now, where they just react to my screams.

#4: DVD Menu Intro Sequences



I don’t know about you, but when I put a DVD into a DVD player, I want the movie to begin. Like, right away. Sure, sure – I’m willing to tolerate the existence of previews and such (movie studios have to make their money somehow), but why in hell’s name do I have to watch a five minute sequence of Zazu flying across the damned Pridelands just to start the stupid movie? Is anybody under the illusion that this crap is entertaining? Yeah, sure, a menu ought to exist, but we shouldn’t have to see it unless we want to (by pushing the menu *button*). The idea that somebody, somewhere, spent a boatload of money and wasted hours and hours and hours of labor to create a video animation sequence that NO ONE WANTS TO SEE AT ALL makes me wonder for the sanity of the human race.

Of course, maybe all you hip folks out there haven’t watched a DVD in some years and don’t even know what I’m talking about anymore. Me? I’ve got kids who like to watch DVDs, and Disney is one of the worst offenders for this nonsense.

#3: Autocorrect

This is an old one – been around since we were afflicted by smartphones – but just to reiterate: COMPUTERS SUCK AT GUESSING WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY!

Generally I disapprove of all minion-themed memes. This is an exception.

Generally I disapprove of all minion-themed memes. This is an exception.

Look, I know how to spell, dammit. And, even if I don’t, I’d rather be occasionally bad at spelling than constantly not making sense. My phone’s autocorrect feature is constantly changing the weirdest things – like, not even nouns, but adjectives and articles and stuff. And WHY? Seriously, why? What, people can’t learn to spell anymore? And even if they can’t, it isn’t like autocorrect actively improves anybody’s spelling. C’mon, we’ve all got that one relative in our social media feed who is a living reminder of how spellcheck and autocorrect do NOTHING to help you if your grasp of English is tenuous!

I’m a writer. It drives me bonkers when I make a grammatical or spelling error. The only thing, though, that drives me even more bonkers is when some stupid machine dips into my own writing and makes the mistakes on its own and then passes off such mistakes as mine! Arrrggghhh!

If you gave me a time machine and told me I had to go back in time and kill one person, the person who invented spellcheck would be it.

#2: Movies on TV with “Hosts”

Again, showing my age here a bit, but I still watch things on actual television. Sometimes I’ll catch a movie I haven’t seen yet. And sometimes, for reasons that baffle the sane mind, those movies are “hosted” by people. People who waste time before and after commercials talking to me about nonsense.




Like, this never made sense. Not ever. Not even in the 1970s. The idea that TV networks are still doing this today, 40 years later, is absolutely mind-blowing. Who the hell tunes into Thor: The Dark World on FX and wants to see two smiling, vacuous twits banter artificially on a set somewhere? I just don’t get it. I don’t understand where they find these people. I don’t understand what these people think their job entails. I don’t understand how anybody justifies paying these people money to do this. IT’S A MOVIE! IT DOES NOT NEED A HOST!

You don’t need a concierge to make you appreciate the Godfather movies. You don’t need a spirit guide to take you through the complexities of Kung Fu Panda.

Or, what, maybe people do? Maybe there’s some old lady out there who would be completely lost in the twists and turns of Roadhouse were it not for that smiling couple trying to cook “Roadhouse Hash” while the movie is on? I mean, assuming this is true, here’s my first thought: maybe this person shouldn’t be allowed to watch television unsupervised. Maybe this is the kind of person who turns on Fox News, thinks it’s all true, and votes for Trump. Maybe – just maybe – the tiny demographic who craves or needs or enjoys hosted movies on television are the reason why life is awful and everything is terrible and we’re all going to die of global climate change.

You know, maybe.

It's probably bulletproof. You know, just because.

It’s probably bulletproof. You know, just because.

#1: Hard Plastic Packaging Material

So, Vrokthar has complained about this before, and he says it much more eloquently than I. That said, who the hell thought we wanted to purchase objects so irrevocably sealed into their little plastic containers that neither man nor beast could liberate them? Why do I need to break out a knife to open these things? Seriously – not even scissors is enough. I need a sharp knife, a vice, and time to get my flash drive free. Hell, just yesterday my wife got a package of birthday invitations that were sealed in two separate layers of thick plastic so durable, it would not tear. I needed to cut them out.

I can see the rationale to prevent theft here, I guess – expensive, small objects that can be easily ripped from packaging can get stolen. But is somebody willing to tear open a cardboard box in public like some kind of rabid racoon really going to have a hard time stuffing a slightly larger plastic package into their underwear?

And then how do you explain the packages inside other packages. Like, seriously, the flavoring packages in discount Macaroni and Cheese are build to withstand the strength of five men. Ever try to gracefully open the plastic bag inside a box of Cheerios? What the fuck, Corporate America? Is this some kind of elaborate prank? Is it just funny to you?

One of the most amusing things in movies is the speed with which somebody can purchase an item at an electronics store and then open it to use it. You see this especially often with pay-as-you-go cell phones. They buy one and bam – it’s in their hand. Meanwhile, actual people are asking their friends if they have a hacksaw in their garage because they’ve got to call their mom.

Anyway, I’ve complained enough. If you’d like to add to the list, feel free to comment. Enjoy your Monday.

Vrokthar Crushes Your Online Learning Tools!

Behold, wretched wetlanders, it is I, Vrokthar the Skull-feaster, Scourge of the Northern Wastes, once more compelled to visit my mighty displeasure upon thee and thy incontinent civilization. Oft in the past have I commanded this ensorcelled word-slate to convey my curses to your soft pink ears, but this time is different. Indeed, your fetid customs, while usually merely despicable and foolish in equal measure, have this time done Vrokthar true injury. Such injuries will be answered by your howls of pain. So have I decreed, and so shall it be. But before Vrokthar visits his meteoric wrath upon your flat, sweaty lands, let him first regale you with the story of the fatal errors that hath led thee to this bloody destiny.

As chieftain of a mighty tribe of marauders, it falls to Vrokthar to educate the youth in the art of violence and rapacity. These young ones flock to Vrokthar’s longhouse and squat by the side of his throne of skulls. By the firelight, I speak to them of mighty deeds and teach them the best way to flay a man whilst he lives. Woe betide the foolish boy who does not heed Vrokthar’s weighty musings, for it is he that we practice upon. The screams echo into the night, and we feast and sleep well.

Or so it once was. No more.



In our raids, very many of my tribe have wrested magical treasures from the twisted hands of thy wetlander countrymen. These “computors” and “celled phones” have proven their worth to my people many times. No more shall we be forced to wander endlessly the vast tundras of my land in search of prey. No, the oracle GOOGLE now betrays thy settlements to us, and we pillage at will. The many sacrifices we have burned in for the honor of the GOOGLE are great. Their clever logos also bring much amusement to my warriors.

But these gifts have cost my people more dearly than you know. Now my young charges wish to use the spirit world of the INTORNOT to aid in their learning. Indeed, there are surprisingly many learning packages for the young barbarian, purchasable for reasonable fees. We, of course, do not buy – we take – and many educational software companies have perished beneath Vrokthar’s heavy boots. I now command a flexible and versatile platform of interactive lessons meant to occupy my students, meant to free Vrokthar’s precious time for more butchery and razing of wetlander settlements.

But it is not so. Vrokthar is BETRAYED!

The learning software has failed to function. My foolish students cannot manage to log on. The structure of the program is as dense and mysterious as the Labyrinth of Gloom. Vrokthar has not saved himself time at all! Indeed, I am now forced to poke and prod at mine own word-slate to goad the sluggard programs to load. I am forced to prostrate myself before mine sworn enemies, Tech Support, and grovel for aid. Hours have become days, days have become weeks, and my students are as stupid now as when they began. Worst of all is this: the screams that echo into the night are my own, as I curse and flail impotently at the educational software’s inferior User Interface.

I now ask myself: what was ever amiss with my mighty axe and my booming voice? Where did I go wrong? I answer the question thusly: You fools have done this to me. This is thy vengeance – this is how you seek to destroy the mighty Vrokthar, by denying his heirs his weighty wisdom.

It shall not stand.

Beware, mewling wetlander scum! Vrokthar the Skull-feaster hath ferreted out thy cowardly plot, and now he shall unroot thee. He shall strike from the frigid north like a thunderbolt, dashing down your mirrored castles in thy sedate office parks. Then, when you have been dragged a hundred miles on your knees, eating nothing but the flesh of your fallen compatriots, THEN shall you grovel at the foot of Vrokthar for your very lives. And THEN Vrokthar will show mercy to any who can manage to log in to their wretched INTORNOT portal on the first try. Those who succeed shall become my slaves. Those who fail shall learn new ways to scream as they become an educational message for all their ilk, their entrails shipped to their competitors in small FedEx envelopes for months to come.

So sayeth Vrokthar. So it shall be.

Vrokthar Spits Upon Your Meek Wetlander Food!

Heed me, oh fat indolent swine of the decadent lands of so-called “civilization!” It is I, Vrokthar the Skull-Feaster, Scourge of the Northern Wastes, fresh returned from a bloody foray deep into the warm, fleshy folds of your worthless nations. Yes, many slaves and skulls hath Vrokthar claimed for the glory of the great god Mook’ta, He of Mindless Hatred. Chained be they still behind his battle-sledge, naked and shivering for fear of their imminent doom. Yes, a fine raid it was. Vrokthar is pleased.

He does, however, have some complaints about the food down there.

Observe how Vrokthar doth maintain his figure!

Observe how Vrokthar doth maintain his figure!

It has been Vrokthar’s assumption that, given the portly and purulent shape of you wetlander filth, that you at least understood how to eat things. How else could you have expanded your guts so that you must resort to clothing that stretches as you breathe? Try that with a belt made of a human spine – I dare you! Many times has Vrokthar resolved to forgo another mammoth feast so that he might not be compelled to slaughter his enemies pants-less. Not that I cannot, mind you – Vrokthar can slay any man, no matter what is flopping about.

But I digress.

My complaint is this: What fools prepare thy meats to be consumed? Vrokthar was in the midst of sacking a restaurant this last trip and the groveling fool of a cook offered to prepare for me any dish I chose in exchange for his life. I demanded a hamburger, rare, as befits a man of Vrokthar’s inimitable virility. So it was done as he commanded, and so it was brought before him. And what had happened?

The toppings were on the goddamned bottom of the burger. The bottom.

The lettuce, the onion, the tomato – all of it – was placed beneath the patty of meat and above the bun. What the flying fuck is with that?

To eat this abomination as it was presented to him, Vrokthar would be forced to place the tomato-blood and pungent yellow ichor atop the patty, thus creating a slick, slippery housing for the meat. Surely this will mean the meat will fall out of the bun, thereby rendering the entire enterprise worthless, for what fool would eat a mass of bread and vegetables and tomato-blood without the meat to make it palatable? Vrokthar, to his immesurable displeasure, was faced with two equally miserable options.

First it was suggested that Vrokthar merely put the condiments on the bottom and eat the burger upside down. The fool who suggested this was incontinently slain, and his finger bones even now grace Vrokthar’s charm bracelet. Upside down? NO! Vrokthar will not be forced to violate ancient and noble burger tradition because some ignorant, beardless chef thought it clever to put the lettuce on the wrong side. What, is Vrokthar to taste the sesame seeds first? Horrid and utter blasphemy!

Second some imbecile explained that Vrokthar himself might move the toppings from the bottom to the top. Even now the screams of this drooling ignoramus echo in Vrokthar’s ears as he was flogged and then dipped in the frialator for such an insulting statement. Do I, Vrokthar, slayer of thousands, look like a line chef to you? If it was my intention to make my own goddamned burger I would have killed the abhorrent cook in the first place and constructed my own. NO! Those who offer boons to Vrokthar in exchange for his mercy are responsible if Vrokthar is displeased.

Besides which, they are called TOPPINGS. Even Vrokthar – whose grasp of your wetlander tongue is deliberately vague, as he does not wish to clutter his keen mind with your mumbling, incoherent words – knows that TOPPINGS go on the TOP. Does Vrokthar need to break out a dictionary?

What fools decided this abomination was desirable? How has this been allowed to come to pass? Truly, your detestable society has sunk to even deeper lows that Vrokthar thought possible. It may be that there is no other option than to burn your cities to the ground, salt your earth, and despoil your livestock until violating the holy laws of burger-dom are no longer possible for you. Yes. It must be so. Vrokthar hath decreed thy doom! Hug your loved ones close, for thy time of judgement is nigh.

Just after Vrokthar hits up Five Guys. May the gods send this plague hath not spread this far.

The Fifth Element Should Be Boron

If you haven’t seen Luc Besson’s Lucy, you are using at least 10% of your brain. It looks like one of the stupidest movies of the year and, indeed, this review by Christopher Orr of the Atlantic seems to confirm my suspicions. If you like reading exhaustive pans of foolish movie ideas, by all means read it. Otherwise, just pretend Lucy never happened and go on with your life. It has all the hallmarks of an overly simplistic, music-video approach to a concept that is much better understood than the filmmakers seem to have considered and is, in fact, not really as interesting as they would have us believe. To borrow a phrase from my friend Whitaker, it’s a dumb person’s idea of a smart movie.

If that phrase and Luc Besson seem to belong together, there is a reason for that: he’s done this before. Indeed, I’ve found most of Besson’s work to be, at best, ‘shallow and watchable.’ It only goes downhill from there. His best movies barely manage to make sense and yet, for some reason, some of them are adored and held up as classics. Chief among these is The 5th Element. It has been described as a ‘tour de force’ and ‘wonderfully entertaining’ and, well, I have to disagree. The 5th Element is one of those movies that is good until you think about it at all, at which point it becomes terrible. Of course, as Roger Ebert said in his review:

We are watching “The Fifth Element” not to think, but to be delighted.

So, fine. The trouble is that the ‘delight’ offered by this film is of the most fleeting and shallow variety. Pacific Rim has more depth than this, and that is saying something, let me tell you.

This looks cool, granted

This looks cool, granted

What It Does Well

The 5th Element is a visual masterpiece – I won’t deny it that. The visual effects were stunning for their time and still hold up today, and the costume and set design is interesting and innovative. The most (and only) thing the movie can offer is a series of stunning visual displays. Seen for the first time, they do, in fact, stun. The problem with effects-as-story, though, is that they don’t last or make a deep emotional impression (which I discuss here in greater depth).

For all that, the effects make the film watchable, which is as high as it can really go. Yes, it is watchable. Yes, it is basically entertaining. However, it’s the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy – brightly colored, weightless, sweet, and wholly lacking in substance.

Now, let’s discuss its flaws, shall we?

The Plot Makes No Sense

So, basically what we have here is an ancient evil that shows up every 5000 years to ‘destroy life’. This evil is a big fiery/dark ball of (something) that floats (somewhere in space). The only way to stop it is four magic rocks and the Fifth Element – a girl who is the ‘perfect being’. Said girl is blown up on her way to Earth along with the Space Penguins who are bringing her there. Modern science rebuilds her, though. Then she escapes. She meets a cab driver. They go on a mission to a cruise ship to get the rocks from a singing squid-woman. Then, it’s back to Earth to stop the ultimate evil, which presumably would have been successful had no one had any matches or Leeloo refused to

This is my exact expression when considering the plot

This is my exact expression when considering the plot

make-out with Bruce Willis. The defeated evil becomes a new moon. So, what is wrong with this? Where to begin:

  1. If you’re the Space Penguins taking the World’s Only Hope back to where it needs to fight the Final Battle, wouldn’t you hire an escort of some kind? Maybe put a gun on your ship? *Something?*
  2. Why are people helping the thing that will Destroy All Life? Aren’t they alive? The Evil gives no sign it plans on leaving survivors, so, what the hell is Zorg’s excuse?
  3. Since the Mangalores blew up the Space Penguin ship so easily, why don’t they just blow up the cruise ship, too? Why bother with the whole hostage situation nonsense?
  4. So, if every time the evil is defeated it makes a new moon, how do they know it will come back in 5000 years since it only seems to have been here once. You need two times at least to establish a pattern. If it’s been here more than once before, where are all the other moons? How did life survive the first time through in order to tell the tale?
  5. If the great Evil is going to destroy all Life, why does it only go to Earth? Do all the other planets not count? Is it just going to kill planets one at a time? Seems inefficient. Seems like it could just dodge the 5th Element and kill all the *other* life in the universe first.
  6. Why does the government need to suborn a radio sweepstakes to get Dallas on the space cruise? Got to be an easier way.
  7. The Blue Diva can’t give the rocks over *before* the concert? What is so damned important about the concert, anyway?
  8. So the advanced Space Penguins still use Earth/Air/Fire/Water as some kind of elemental guideposts? How the hell did they end up with spaceships?

I could go on. And on. And on.

But Seriously, Nothing Makes Sense

It isn’t just the plot, though – it’s also every single solitary aspect of the world. Well, okay, with one or two notable examples: First, the multipass (makes sense) and, second, the fact that Rudy Rod is so damned annoying and does a radio show (also makes sense, considering the distances data needs to be transmitted and, generally speaking, how

No. Just no.

No. Just no.

annoying pop culture figures are in real life). That’s it. Everything else makes no sense. To enumerate:

  1. Flying cars are a bad idea and probably won’t ever happen unless everybody is on autopilot, and even not then.
  2. The cops seem content to blow up their whole city to pull over an errant taxi driver and, by the way, why do their cars have a million machine guns?
  3. Are there only five people in the world government?
  4. How the hell does the president know or care what this random priest thinks?
  5. That naval officer who fired his missiles when the president was expressing his doubts would be court martialed.
  6. Why do people ooze oil from their heads when talking with the Evil?
  7.  Where the hell is everything, anyway? Like, where is Earth in relation to the Evil in relation to the Diva’s cruise ship? It doesn’t seem to make any physical sense.
  8. So, when the Blue Diva said she’d bring the stones to Earth, what she really meant was “I’m going on this cruise, right, and you can meet me there at some point when I’m kinda-sorta near Earth, but not exactly.”
  9. Why the hell is there a dude on a blimp selling things outside a window? Isn’t he going to be hit by a bus?
  10. Where does all the crap in Dallas’s apartment go when it slides into the walls, seeing how it must maintain the same volume since Leeloo wasn’t crushed when she went up in the shower.
  11. Are you trying to tell me that a being that can pummel a dozen armed aliens into unconsciousness/death is going to be shocked and appalled at the existence of war? Holy hypocrisy, Batman!

The Characters are Flat

Yes, somehow, he is the most interesting character.

Yes, somehow, he is the most interesting character.

There is not a single interesting or nuanced character in this film. Not one. Everybody is a caricature of something. There is no character arc for anybody. Dallas is basically the same guy he was at the beginning of the movie, except now he has a girlfriend. Leeloo never learns to talk like an adult and never reconciles her horror for war with her own violent tendencies. The President never figures out what’s going on. Zorg is a jerk and then dies. The Priest is just the Priest and has no other definitive characteristics I can name. Ruby Rod is basically Shaggy from Scooby Doo, except with confidence and his own radio show. Zzzzzzzz….

I could go on, but I think you get my point. This movie does not deserve the hype it has received over the years. It is pretty and (kinda) fun, but ultimately pointless and nonsensical. As Luc Besson’s best movie, it goes to show the limitations the director labors under – he is a visual master, but his stories are the stuff of a fifteen-year-old’s chapbook. I should know – I’ve got stories like this in my fifteen-year-old chapbooks. They’re not good, guys. Come to think of it, they’re a lot like The 5th Element.

On Competition

Pictured: me playing Scrabble

Pictured: me playing Scrabble

Fair warning: if you play a game against me – a game I like and enjoy – I will come for your blood. I don’t mean it personally, but I like to compete and I particularly enjoy winning. I can get unreasonably interested in even very trivial competition. A ‘casual’ game of Trivial Pursuit is nothing of the kind to me. I will crush you. No offense.

Granted, age has taught me how to ratchet back my competitive response in certain situations. I’ve learned to do this habitually now, but I always have that moment where I need to pull back on the throttle, lower my blood pressure, and tell myself ‘it’s only a game – calm down.’ So, essentially if you play a game with me, you get two versions of myself: one who doesn’t seem that invested in the outcome, and one who is very, very invested in the outcome. No middle ground.

There is something to be said for competitiveness as a positive trait, though. It keeps me coming back for more even in the face of defeat (pretty crucial for a writer). It means I work well under pressure and that I thrive in competitive situations (which, let’s face it, are common). It means I tend to keep myself as my best self whenever I can. These are all good things. I wholly believe that competition and competitiveness is, on balance, good for everybody. It’s good for society, the economy, personal fulfillment, and so on. There’s no need to be a jerk about it (sore losers and sore winners are real louts), but testing your worth is an important part of life.

This brings me to this article by Lynn Shepherd on the Huffington Post, in which she appeals to J.K. Rowling, asking her to stop writing. Shepherd insists that Rowling “sucks the oxygen out of the room” in the publishing industry, making it hard for new novelists to get started. She adds:

By all means keep writing for kids, or for your personal pleasure – I would never deny anyone that – but when it comes to the adult market you’ve had your turn.

So, basically, ‘go away, Ms. Rowling, as your success is enough and you should be done now.’ To which let me now add my response:

The fuck is this?

Okay, let’s breeze past the part where she belittles an entire genre of literature because it’s for young adults and, therefore, somehow worthless: I’ve discussed this before, and I think the sentiments contained therein are as applicable here as there. What I really want to discuss is the supposition that, just because somebody is successful, they should stop doing what makes them successful so other people can have a chance. What a load of bullshit.

Look, I understand the frustration of being passed over or ignored in favor of more established authors or voices. I completely understand reading books and thinking to yourself “hey, I write way better than this! Why aren’t my books getting published and sucking up so much attention?” Believe me, I’ve been there. That, however, is no reason to demand (or even politely suggest) that an author should stop publishing just so you can get a chance.

First off, this seems to be a misunderstanding of how the publishing market works. Do you think quality has anything to do with which books sell? Like, if Rowling weren’t there, people would somehow magically gravitate to your book because they’ve heard how great it is rather than, oh, not reading anything at all! Seriously, do you know why people read The Casual Vacancy? Because JK Rowling wrote it, that’s why. It has nothing whatsoever to do with their inability to see other authors behind Rowling’s aura of popularity. It’s because the aura of popularity is the only damned thing they’re interested in. People didn’t read A Casual Vacancy because they thought it was a good book – hell no! – they read it so they could say that they read it. They wanted to be seen at the beach with it poking out of their bag. They wanted to have their nose stuck in it on the train so that other people could look at them and say to themselves “my, there goes a lady who’s got her finger on the pulse of publishing today! My, my, what a peach!” The millions of people who buy Rowling’s books are not waiting in the wings to buy other people’s books. They are waiting to buy what is cool, not what is good.

Yeah, sure, there are people who are just plain Rowling fans and read the book to support her, but a book doesn’t just sell that many copies based solely on literary merit. Perhaps it ought to be that way, but it obviously isn’t. Look at Dan Brown. Stephanie Meyer.

Dave Barry. ‘Nuff said, right?

My second point is this, and pardon me if I wax a little Klingon here: Are you a coward? What kind of meek, squeamish writer are you that you balk in the face of challenging the best sellers of the day? Do I need to dig Vrokthar out to give you a talking to? I don’t want the mega-selling authors of the day to quit their jobs just to make room for me – no fucking way. I want to beat them. I want to get my own hordes of howling fans by the merit of my own prose, not because of the absence of somebody else’s. Will I fail? Yeah, probably, but I’m going to take a swing at it anyway. I don’t want my success handed to me; I want to earn it. I want to claw it, tooth and nail, from the cold, hard clutches of the publishing industry. I want to hold it up in my blood-soaked hands and display it to the crowd – my victory, my trophy. I don’t want Rowling to go anywhere. I, rather, want to write books so unspeakably awesome that someday, when I’m at a conference somewhere on some panel or other, JK Rowling herself comes up, shakes my hand, and says “Mr. Habershaw, I’m a huge fan of your books.”

Boom. Victory.

And you know, if I fail, if I never pull it off, if JK Rowling never hears my name and no fans of any number ever congregate anywhere to discuss my work, it will still be worth it. I won’t cry about not winning; no, not me. Win or lose, though, I won’t stop trying until they nail my coffin shut. I will leave you, now, with one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite people of all time, the inimitable Bruce Lee:

Do not fear failure – not failure, but low aim is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.

Get out there. Fail gloriously.

And don’t you dare complain.

Vrokthar Sneers At Your Tropical Winters

Once more the mewling cries of fat, indulgent southlanders have disturbed mighty Vrokthar the Skull-feaster, Scourge of the Northern Wastes, and compelled him to respond. Even now, the iron rails of his battle-sledge are being oiled in the liquefied fat of his vanquished enemies by the trembling hands of his many slaves. When my team of great dire wolves is ready to venture forth, the howl of my displeasure will eclipse their own, and then you fools will understand fear.

Until then, I will explain my displeasure in mighty detail, so that you shall know your weakness before you vacate your pitiful, tiny bowels at the sound of my coming.

The magic box of light in my yurt has glowed these past months with the many and varied curses you fling upon the gentle snows and mild temperatures of your pathetic southron winters. It would appear as though the prospect of frozen water falling quietly from the sky is enough to make you quake in terror. Vrokthar would say he was surprised at this, but no – he is well aware of how weak and impotent you so-called civilized people have become. Barely a day may pass before Vrokthar must endure the wailing of some new milksop, no doubt fresh from his mother’s fleshy teat, moaning to his non-existent gods that he must dare walk an entire twenty yards in the cold air. Are you children? Have you not beards? If you lack beards, can you not weave scarves from the beards of those you have slain? What manner of delicate creatures are you? Vrokthar has known songbirds to endure better than you have. Even for weakling southlanders, surely you must be mocked for this fragility? Were I your co-worker, I would cleave your head from your body and leave it steaming in a snowbank if only to prove how long it takes for a mammal of your puffy, indolent proportions to cool.

Here is Vrokthar off on a picinic expedition in lovely June.

Here is Vrokthar off on a picinic expedition in lovely June.

Here, in the Northern Wastes, we have but four seasons: June, July, August, and Winter. In Winter, the cold is a gift. It tests our strength as a people and weakens our enemies. As the icy arctic winds scrape across our exposed skin, we delight in the ceaseless pain it causes us. Who needs ears, a full nose, and all of one’s fingers and toes? Surely no true tribesman of Vrokthar’s people has need of such indulgences! We are strong! Those who cannot survive winter’s embrace have no need of life. We use their bodies to feed our wolves and their skins to make our capes, as it right and just.

You fools have no conception of true winter. Have you seen men drown in snow so deep it has no bottom? Have you been forced to thaw your eyeballs by dipping them in boiling water? How often have you licked the bloody blade of your sword, only to have your tongue stick in place and then been forced to fight the remainder of the battle killing men with your sword-tongue? None! You skip from your heated homes to your heated cars or trains to your heated offices, bundled in so many offensively-colored fabrics that you appear to be a pack of overweight circus performers, and yet you moan. “I’m going stir crazy from being inside,” or “I can’t stand shoveling this snow.” Bah! How can you have survived so long? How have not the squirrels and the alley cats not culled your hapless population? Cannot go outside? Are you an infant? Are you the descendant of tropical canaries?

Yes, yes – weep over your so-called hardships. Vrokthar comes for your soon. He will stride across your salted, shoveled property with ease and drag your sniveling carcass into the hot winter sun of your land. He will laugh, shirtless, and he strips you of your many layers of ‘fleece’. You will know cold then – oh yes – but not from your ‘winter.’ It will instead be the icy chill of my cold displeasure, come at last to find you.

Frankenstein, the Monster, and Hollywood

Side question: Where do action heroes find all these precipices to stand on? Why do they climb them in the first place? Seems like a waste of time.

Side question: Where do action heroes find all these precipices to stand on? Why do they climb them in the first place? Seems like a waste of time.

If you haven’t already, you will probably see the trailer for the new movie I, Frankenstein very shortly. For this, I am profoundly sorry and wish there were some way I could spare you the experience but, alas, I cannot. Hollywood has too much money tied up in that abomination, and they have every intention of stuffing it down your throat.

Now, I haven’t seen the movie and I didn’t read the graphic novel, so I suppose I leave myself wide open to criticism when I say that this movie will probably be unutterably terrible. Unlike Pacific Rim (which also was not a good movie by any objective appraisal), I, Frankenstein doesn’t even look like it will be fun. It looks like a maudlin, overly CGI-ed monstrosity representing a music video director’s idea of ‘gothic.’ We get to watch Frankenstein’s monster fight with gargoyles or something, which is a scene I doubt anybody was secretly hankering for, and we are led to believe that the monster is humanity’s only hope, which is so cliché at this point as to be an open insult to the viewing audience’s intelligence. Aaron Eckhart, who I like a lot and is a fine actor, evidently has a few house payments to make and this is how he’s chosen to do it. Fine – more power to him.

However, this film bothers me on a level beyond its apparent lack of quality. Plenty of crappy sci fi/fantasy/horror movies are made every year and very few of them actively annoy me the way this one does. In this case, the thing that sets this film apart is the title: I, Frankenstein. First of all, the monster is not Frankenstein nor would the monster ever willingly take his creator’s name. Victor Frankenstein created the monster and the monster destroyed him by systematically murdering everyone who mattered to him in his life. Dr. Frankenstein visited nothing but horror and hatred on his creation, and the creation responded in kind. To have the monster identify himself as his most hated enemy is bonkers and demonstrates either an ignorance or indifference to the source material that I find rankling.

Why does it rankle? Well, the whole point of the novel Frankenstein is about man’s relationship with his creations or, more broadly, about the ethical dilemmas surrounding scientific and technological research. Conflating the monster and the creator into a single entity or, as this film seems to do, having the monster self-identify with the creator removes what is interesting about the story in the first place. Granted people have been calling the monster ‘Frankenstein’ since the early 20th century – it may sound snooty of me to quibble with what has become common parlance – but to me the difference is essential to the essence of what the monster is about. If the man is not in the story, what are we left with, exactly? A big, strong man with scars? So? He is alone, he is apart, and the denial he feels from his creator drives him to do terrible things. Remove that motivation and all you have left is a grouchy man.

Now, I suppose the film could deal with the monster’s feeling of isolation, which would be understandable to some degree, but one has to wonder what he’s been doing for the last two-hundred years if not figuring out where to fit in. Additionally, having a loner character act as savior to the people he hates has been done to death, most recently by Hellboy, which at least has a better comic book pedigree to draw on.

World-building in comtemporary/urban fantasy tales is a tricky thing. Rare are the stories in that genre that I feel do it well (Jim Butcher’s work comes to mind). Too often these stories are the fevered imaginings of the adolescent mind (and not in the good way), beginning with the phrase ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ and then trailing off into indulgent, scarcely sane explanations of a normal world containing people with incredible properties. The more egregiously the author violates the ‘normal’ world with the ‘special’ world, the harder suspension of disbelief becomes until, eventually, you get something like this film.  This nonsense is just slapped together to the point where you can see the seams in the work, much like Doctor Frankenstein’s stitching is still visible on his creation.

That, then, is the final irony. I, Frankenstein is, itself, a monster. It was made in a laboratory of a different sort – one featuring advertising executives and movie producers  instead of scientists. Using laptops and powerpoints instead of beakers and test tubes, they have given life to a creature they intend as beautiful – a blockbuster movie to entertain the masses and coax a river of money to flow into their pockets. Instead, though, they’ve created an ugly thing – something dug up from the grave and not fully understood, made to walk about against its will. Rather than cheer, we recoil in horror. We abandon it in its infancy, leaving it bitter and alone and forgotten in the lower recesses of Comcast’s On-Demand menu. It leaves behind it the corpses of those fools who sought to bring it to life and, as punishment, are relegated to directing Vin Diesel vehicles for the rest of eternity.

Or so we can hope.

Thoughts on the E-peen

I read a fair number of online geek forums, but none more frequently than 40Konline, where I am a regular poster and where I go to discuss Warhammer 40,000, which is a favorite hobby of mine. The reason I prefer this forum to the others dealing with the same topic, is that there the moderation staff insists upon civil discourse, keeps the threads tidy and on-topic, and generally do their best to make sure the stuff you read there and the discussions that you engage in are as free from the idiotic spam, trolling, and flaming that makes other forums so distasteful to me.

27310-Nerd-rage-gif-Kx5mThe problem, though, is that this moderation creates a degree of tension between the moderators and the community, who sometimes feel slighted or insulted if they get a note from a mod indicating they are violating the forum rules. This regularly flares up into various members huffing and puffing about how their ‘free speech’ is being taken away or how the mods are ‘Nazis’ who are driving forum members away with their overzealous adherence to the rules. This regularly pisses me off and, since I have a blog, I’m going to rant about it a bit.

The internet, you may have noticed, is an unpleasant place full of very unpleasant people. The phrase ‘don’t read the comments’ is almost a truism at this point. If you read an article about a woman who has done well in <insert field>, the comments will be filled with sexist vitriol. If you see a picture of two men kissing, homophobic diatribes won’t be far behind. If someone expresses an opinion on anything, the opposite opinion will be quickly offered (which is all fine and good) but accompanied with insulting language, aspersions cast upon the poster’s parentage, and a fair amount of profanity. You can see this on any forum, anywhere, anytime of day or night.

That this is childish and antisocial behavior goes without saying. Of course, if you confront such antisocial behavior, all this typically does is engender even more antisocial and rude responses. No amount of tongue-lashing on your part will keep the seething masses of douche-baggery from wailing and gnashing their teeth at your door. Indeed, if you delete, modify, ban, or otherwise punish people who behave in this manner, it is seen as some kind of affront to their sanctified self-image. You are decried for being a hater of freedom, a fascist pig, a fool, and an ideologue (not that most of them would know that word).

To this behavior and the purveyors thereof, I say this: Fuck you, you insufferable scabrous douchebags.

Forums are not governments. If they edit your speech, this is not transgressing upon your rights anymore than if a priest scolds you for blasphemy in a church. You’re in a church, there are social rules to be observed, and you can get in trouble if you violate them. The idea that you have ‘free speech’ on a privately-owned forum is ridiculous. The newspaper doesn’t have to publish every asinine letter to the editor it receives, and neither does an internet forum need to tolerate your pointless name-calling and profanity. If you act like an ass and are treated accordingly, this is called ‘justice’, not ‘oppression.’

Furthermore, and more importantly, the Internet is a social setting. As much as you feel like you’re alone, sitting in your desk chair and typing away, you are actually in interaction with lots of other people. Just as you wouldn’t run around being a jerk in public, you shouldn’t run around being a jerk to people online. Disagreement is fine, argument is fine, but when you spill over into verbal abuse, there should and needs to be somebody there to say “cut that shit out, ass.” Likewise with spam. If you’re having a conversation about sailing and somebody butts their way into the conversation and starts talking about waterskiing, this is considered rude. Likewise online, if somebody is talking about salad dressing and somebody butts their way in to pick a fight with vegetarians, this is also rude. The internet is not a soap-box, it’s a massive dinner party. Behave accordingly.

Finally, the fact that so many are affronted at being called out on their bullshit is, itself, a unique and odious form of bullshit. In the vast majority of cases, we are not posting anything of importance or value on the internet at all. The idea that we are so insulted when given a warning notice from moderator is ridiculous. So what? Those are their rules, now you know them, and continue on. You don’t have to post there anymore. If you do, obey the rules. That’s it. How is this the kind of thing that engenders pages and pages of self-righteous diatribe? How can your self-esteem be so caught up in your post count on an internet forum about toy soldiers that you feel the need to invoke the US Constitution and start whining about your ‘rights?’ Calm down, buddy – it’s just an internet forum. Get over it. Move on. Nobody really gave a crap about your opinion anyway; it won’t be missed, especially not given how rude you were being.

On the whole, I wish the entire internet had more moderators like they have over at 40Konline. I’m really tired of having to wade through post after post of eye-blistering jackassery just to see some interesting commentary on the latest Bioware video game. Keep it civil and keep it clear and we’ll all be able to get along better.


Late Addendum: Just came across this article in the Daily Beast. Read it. Very relevant to the above and distinctly enlightening.

The Toy Soldier Habit

Damned lies is what this is.

Damned lies is what this is.

I play Warhammer 40,000 (or ’40K’). I play Warhammer as often as I can, which is not nearly enough. If I had my way, I’d play a game a week and enter a tournament a month. As it stands, I play about a game a month and enter tournaments once or twice a year. I am always trying to get new people to play the game, because those friends of mine who do play are either few in number or difficult to pry into actually playing (or both). Typically, when I broach the subject of playing 40K with somebody who sounds potentially interested, I usually get the response “It’s so expensive, though!”

And that, my friends, is just soooo much bullshit. So, in the interest of procrastinating the mountain of work I’ve got sitting here to be graded, I’m going to rant a bit.

All right, Warhammer 40K is not super cheap. The sticker shock of buying an army outright seems overwhelming. The rulebook will cost you $75, the army specific rulebook (which you’ll need) will set you back another 50. Most full-size armies, if bought at the sticker price, will cost you several hundred dollars. Throw in another hundred-ish bucks for paint and brushes, and you can reasonably expect to drop ~$500 to start up (though there are a *lot* of ways to get discount stuff and come under this figure). When people go to the website and start adding things together, they start to freak out.

What they’re forgetting, though, is that nobody expects you to go out and buy everything all at once in the same sense that nobody expects you to go out and buy every single piece of a model train set all at the same time or expect you to buy and entire set of golf clubs and attire the first time you play. This, I feel, is part of the misunderstanding: people think Warhammer is a game. It isn’t. It’s a hobby.

Playing the actual game of Warhammer 40K is only about a third (or less) of what you spend your time doing. For the rest of the time you are buying models, building/painting/customizing those models, putting together army lists, modeling terrain, chatting tactics online, and so on. For every game I play of Warhammer 40K, I’ve probably put about 10 hours of prep time behind it over the course of however many weeks or months. I enjoy this process – it is part of the hobby. It’s fun and very satisfying to finish painting a really cool model to add to my collection.

People who think it’s a game are usually folks that approach the world from the perspective of the video gamer. You buy it, you sit down, you play it, and, 20-ish hours later, it’s over. Never mind that video gamers are paying the exact same amount of money (if not more) for their consoles + games as I do for my 40K armies. Nevermind that, unlike video games, an army that I build or a model that I paint I can use and will remain relevant forever. I am still fielding models I purchased almost ten years ago. Did that little plastic tank cost me $50? Yeah, it did. But when I laid out the money for that tank, you were laying out $50 for Halo 2. Tell me, are you still playing Halo 2? Hmmm?

Didn’t think so.

Furthermore, when you compare Warhammer 40K with other actual hobbies, it compares quite favorably. It’s cheaper than golf by a country mile, it’s less time consuming and less expensive than fishing. It costs a damn sight less than boating hobbies of any kind. Model Trains? Warhammer is both less expensive (overall) and takes up less space. Gardening? People spend more money on gardening than on any other hobby (in aggregate, granted). Sure, when you’re a teenager with a crap minimum wage job you only work part time, a Warhammer army is realistically out of your reach. If you’re a full grown person, though, with a salary and a car who pays your own rent and taxes and still has the money left over to occasionally take your significant other out to an expensive dinner, don’t sing me the ‘but it’s so expensive’ sob story. Bull shit, cheapskate–if you want to, you can afford it without even making a noticeable dent in your bank account. Hell, afforded it while working as a dog walker and then as an adjunct professor, and let me tell you: those jobs do NOT pay that well.

If you want to whine to me about how much 40K costs, what you should say to me is “I don’t like the idea of this hobby enough to invest the resources necessary”. I don’t have a problem with that. That is totally fine by me. There are a lot of hobbies I don’t like enough to invest in (like fishing, for instance). I do not prance around, though, using the ‘exorbitant’ cost of fishing rods as an excuse not to get involved. I just say ‘no thank you’ and move on. What drives me bonkers is the perception (A) that if I play this game I somehow have buckets of disposable income and (B) that I’m supposed to believe that you really want to play but are just too broke to start. Sure, some people are legitimately strapped for cash for a variety of reasons, but the majority of the people who say this to me are not among them. They’ve been making more money than this poor-ass writer for a long, long time. They just, for some reason quite beyond me, can’t simply admit to me that they don’t think the cost is justified considering the enjoyment derived. That doesn’t mean you can’t afford it; that just means you don’t want to. Stop pretending and just tell it to me straight.

Vrokthar Sneers At Your Pathetic Apocalypse!

This is Vrokthar's definition of a minor inconvenience.

This is Vrokthar’s definition of a minor inconvenience.

It has come to the attention of Vrokthar the Skull-Feaster, Scourge of the Northern Wastes and Bane of the Help Desk Cult, that you wetlanders have grown anxious about thy impending doom. This at first pleased the might ears of Vrokthar, for he thought that the miserable wretches of those weak peoples had, at last, realized the futility of their existence and resigned themselves to glorious slaughter at the swords of Vrokthar’s mighty ravaging hordes.

But lo, Vrokthar was wrong! The outrage! The insult!

You limp-wristed fools fear the ravages of a horde of zombies? Zombies? What nonsense is this? Why should you pathetic weaklings be more menacing when infected with diseases and parasites? Vrokthar is no master of logic, but he does have considerable experience with parasites and infections and, take it from me, they do not make you stronger. Packs of diseased wetlanders would be as dangerous as an average pack of poxy swine – easily slain and a wondrous source of fine bacon. If you have not sampled man-bacon, I assure you it is delicious, and you puffy overweight un-men are a wondrous source of both plentiful bacon and the lard in which to fry it.

So, aside from providing Vrotkthar and his multitudinous progeny with unending supplies of bacon, of what consequence is your pitiful zombie apocalypse? Do you honestly think that you, fat lazy hog lounging on your plush divans and speculating upon the pelvic gyrations of your vid-trollops, are a mere infection away from dangerous weapon? I would gladly remove your zombie spine and wear it as a belt to prove your inferiority, whether dead or alive, but the spines of your people are notoriously difficult to find.

I can hear now your sniveling protestations: “But Vrokthar,” you whimper, snot dribbling from your rosy little noses, “there will be hordes of us! We will be too many?”

Think you that your numbers are of account? Bah! My blade has hungered for such an opportunity to test its edge. Your pathetic sense, so dulled by whatever infection hath corrupted your reason, will fall easy prey to me. I shall hack and slash my way through your miserable masses to utmost victory. You will have no organization, no leaders, no weapons, and no sense – thy doom will be assured.

So, speak not to me of the menaces of your ‘zombie apocalypse’. Such a worthless event, were it to come to pass, would not be frightening enough to make Vrokthar pass gas. He would simply bide his time in the bitter vastness of the north and then, when your pathetic culture had finally managed to laze itself into near collapse, I would blow my mighty horn, gather the hordes, and descend upon thee like the judgment of angry gods.

And then, the man-bacon would flow.