The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Movie Review)

Title: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Director: Peter Jackson
Studio: New Line Cinema
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage
Excellence: 2 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: A bloated, overlong adaptation of Tolkein's beloved novel that could have been fantastic if they'd just allowed a film editor at it

My wife and I went to see The Hobbit on opening night. Let me preface my review by reiterating that I am one those (few?) ardent fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy of novels who also enjoyed the films so this is not a continued Peter Jackson hate-on.

In fact, there was a lot that I enjoyed and thought was very well done in this film. Martin Feeman was perfect as Bilbo Baggins, and Ian McKellan was always a good Gandalf. The casting I thought, overall, was stronger than the L.O.T.R. films (which I personally thought was fine). Even Richard Armitage, who I'd had reservations about, was an excellent Thorin Oakenshield. Howard Shore's score was good as always, ESPECIALLY the tune he put to the dwarves' "Misty Mountains". It may have been worth the admission to the cinema just for the scene where the dwarves sing it:

Much of the expanded backstory of the dwarves that is introduced to the story was interesting and I did like seeing more of the dwarves who I always liked. Costumes, sets, etc. are all good as with the L.O.T.R. films. In many respects, I thought that it was better done than the former. To make a long story short, in my view, it had all the elements that could have made it a masterpiece ... had they left 1.5-2 of the 3.5 hours on the cutting room floor and made one Hobbit film rather than three.

The film was way too long. It felt like self indulgence on the part of Peter Jackson, self-indulgence that he was allowed to get away with due to his success with the original trilogy. My "feeling" may well be correct since in his interview with Rolling Stone magazine he quite arrogantly said that "I make movies for myself". This film really proves that film editors truly are the unsung heroes of movie-making. I love fantasy, I love Tolkein -- I appreciate the extended edition of L.O.T.R. and actually wouldn't have minded there being a bit more in there -- but I was actually getting bored about 2/3 through this and near the end, thinking based on Lego sets I'd seen that the first film might encompass the adventures in Mirkwood, was thinking "please, no more". Perhaps it is not simply length, but the cramming-in of too much stuff that doesn't progress the plot. The sort of stuff that writers must painfully excise from their work. That's why I give The Hobbit 2 stars despite a whole lot that I did like.


On the Train ...

So I actually have a FEW minutes to write. It's been a trying month with illness that I've never quite been able to shake -- it reoccurred badly this weekend. But, lest I allow life to get boring, mow that I'm sufficiently recovered that I don't need to sleep when I'm not at work, we bought a new house conditional on the sale of our current residence. So the posts will continue to be few and far between fir a bit yet. A few thoughts that have coalesced recently ...

  • Sophia's Favourite reminded me of his serious dislike of Christopher Nolan's Batman films last week. I'm not a Batman geek, although I've read more than my share of comics, many of which included Batman, over the years. Maybe if I were a true purist I'd share his views but I continue to hold that all three are very good films. My only complaints are minor and unrelated to his complaints (although to address one of those, I should note that I checked The Dark Knight and the Joker doesn't laugh the same way twice in that film). One is the casting of Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes in the second film. I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but she is not attractive at all to me, and it just makes it unbelievable to me having Harvey Dent  and Bruce Wayne so madly in love with her. 
  • Speaking of Sophia's favourite, he has some good arguments against academic feminism in his latest post. Gives some good historical precedents on things I've harped on (like women engaging in combat with men and sex roles). 
  • Please no ... Having annihilated his legacy of the original Alien, I saw an article today suggesting that Ridley Scott is planning Blade Runner 2. Even worse, some interpret a little "Easter Egg" hidden in the Prometheus Blu-Ray to portent a tie-in between the two films (see here: http://screencrush.com/prometheus-blade-runner/?utm_source=zergnet.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=zergnet_32813). Please let the Mayan calendar be right ...

This post was written on my iPad which is not as easy as it looks, so I apologise for any typos.


If Jackson-Haters Could Have Made LOTR ...

Personally, I'm much more forgiving of Peter Jackson's adaptation of the Lord of the Rings novels to the screen. I know that a lot of my friends are death on the films. I think the reason I am forgiving of Jackson's "take" is that I was not introduced to L.O.T.R. until very late in life, and actually only started reading the novels after seeing Fellowship of the Ring in the cinema (which I thought was the best film I'd ever seen at the time -- I've grown less enthusiastic, but still like it). On the other hand, having grown up with John Carter and loving the books as a young adult, I will probably be a much harsher critic of Stanton's film. 

I mention Stanton, because I asked my "Facebook Readers" who they would have chosen to adapt the L.O.T.R. books to the silver screen. Mr. A. Tardiff, a fellow apsiring writer, puts Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) and Andrew Stanton (Wall-E, Finding Nemo, Toy Story, and John Carter)  on his short list. I know he's a huge fan of Pixar films, so I'm not surprised. Those films are all pretty decent, enough so that I'm willing to let my children watch them, but I'm not as huge a fan as Mr. T. is. The thing that puts me off the most about such films are their hapless, bumbling male leads.
If I were to choose between the two, I think I'd take Santon over Bird since the latter's work on WALL-E makes me think he'd "nail" the economic themes. 

I jokingly held out Mel Gibson (pre-apostacy) for an R-Rated, but integrally Catholic, version of the films.  But seriously, his style, while I thought very good and effective for The Passion and Apocalypto, is not fitting for a tale like L.O.T.R. He'd be more suited for something historical I think.
I really liked Christopher Nolan's work on the Dark Knight trilogy as well as Inception. I think he could have done a great job. He does very well with strong male hero-types, and I think that those who thought Jackson's Aragorn was too wimpy/indecisive would be mollified by what Mr. Nolan could do. I am also partial to Joss Whedon as well, especially given his good work on The Avengers and my suspicions of his "anonymous Catholicism" given some themes in Serenity. He's a bit more hit-and-miss, though, so I think if it were up to me, Christopher Nolan would top my short list.

I'd love to hear what readers of the blog version of Swords and Space think.



Bits and Pieces 6

Another week still struggling to fully shake-off the lung infection or whatever it was that I've had for most of the month of November. Still very busy at work as well, so just a few bits and pieces for today:

  1. Teachers in the province I live in are threatening to walk off the job to express their outrage over a two-year salary freeze. I guess averaging $80,000 and getting two months off in the summer isn't just remuneration for their efforts, in their view. They really ought to keep their mouths shut and count their blessings. No one else with their level of education gets that kind of money, and absolutely no one else gets TWO MONTHS OFF EVERY SUMMER. I'm inclined to think that the Ontario government should break the union if the teachers strike. I would close up my law practice and go into teaching if they waived the requirement for a B.Ed. and took on other well-educated people for the positions. They could even freeze my pay for 5 years (forget the two they are bellyaching about) because considering how every other Canadian's salary is frozen in the 1980s that will still be good money.
  2. Didn't mention this here (but did on Facebook); last week I bought advance tickets for my wife and I to go see The Hobbit on opening night. First time ever going to a film on opening night. This was thanks to grandparents being in town and available to baby-sit.
  3. Speaking of films, Dredd has received quite positive reviews. Now I wish I'd made the effort to go see it in the cinema, but it's top of my list for iTunes rentals in January. On the other hand, I've received reports that the Total Recall remake which I said back in March looked surprisingly decent (based on the trailer), wasn't.
  4. I really need a good book to read. I've been reading a fair bit of non-fiction and a few Henty books, but need something more fantastic or science fiction-ish. Please give me some suggestions in the comments box.


Some Recent Painting

Too mentally exhausted in the evenings to do much writing, but as always, painting my toy soldiers proves relaxing and even cathartic, in a way. So here is what I accomplished this week, below. The model is of Nicodemus Doloroso, Grant Master of my new space marine army, the Angels Sorrowful:

Why does he have wings, you ask? And why the "Angels Sorrowful"? Well, without delving TOO deeply into Warhammer 40,000 lore, the Angels Sorrowful are successors of the "Blood Angels" whose progenitor was Sanguinius, a winged angel-like being who sacrificed his life in combat against the arch-traitor Horus who attempted to overthrow the Emperor of Man circa 30,000. Sanguinius' noble death was so violent at the hands of the satanic rebel, that it has sent psychic shockwaves through the millennia that impacts his descendents. Most of them manifest this by being bloodthirsty and angry, but another strain tends towards sorrow over their primarch's death. That's my guys. In very brief.


"Reprehensible" Stories

"Much like fairy tales, there are two facets of horror. One is pro-institution, which is the most reprehensible type of fairy tale: Don't wander into the woods, and always obey your parents. The other type of fairy tale is completely anarchic and antiestablishment."
Cruz, Gilbert. "10 Questions: Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro on the politics of horror movies, living in self-imposed exile and owning a man cave". Time magazine. September 5, 2011. page 80
Well, to quote my platoon 2IC from way back in my army reserves days, "that not the most f---ed up thing I've ever heard". But I still think it's pretty darn foolish (I'm trying my best to be charitable here, Sophia's Favourite would probably not mince words so nicely) and especially coming from a man who's experienced, personally, a taste of what anarchy is like (again, those banditos who kidnapped his father were not exactly docile pro-establishment drones).

It's also rather odd coming from a man who, like myself, is a big fan of science fiction and fantasy (similarities between myself an Mr. del Toro end there) -- which tends to be almost exclusively "reprehensible" in his view because it is "pro-institution". Certainly all the best of these genres is heavily pro-institution and, as I mentioned, the grandfather of them all, The Lord of the Rings series is not only pro-institution through-and-through, but practically a catechism of that institution that Mr. del Toro hates the most, Catholicism.

The theme common to fantasy fiction especially, that makes almost all of it "reprehensible" and "pro-institution", features a sort of "conservative" past social order that has been corrupted and is restored (or sought to be restored) by the heroes. This is certainly true of Lord of the Rings where there is much talk of the glories of the past, the decadence of modern Gondor and Rohan, the emergence of the evil power, and at the end a sort of "Counter Reformation" that restores the old order. Even Star Wars follows this arc, despite superficial appearances to the contrary, with the Rebellion seeking to re-establish the Old Republic and a resurgence of the Jedi Knights who had a long tradition (another "conservative/establishment" thing) of guarding peace and justice. This has lead hacks gentlemen like Michael Moorcock to whine that fantasy is inherently politically conservative.

The inherent "conservativism" (I mislike the word, but continue to use it here for convenience) of fantasy and sci-fi is a reason why children, the most inherently conservative people in the world, tend to enjoy these stories. I say children are inherently conservative because they thrive on order, routine, and stability. It is chaos and anarchy that they find fearful and why the whole "Dr. Spock" liberal methods have been disastrous (but that debate is for another column).

Perhaps Mr. del Toro misinterprets "libertarian" and "back-to-the-land" trends in works like Lord of the Rings (or maybe he despises LOTR and agreed to help write the screenplay for The Hobbit out of a malicious desire to twist it into his own image? I'll give the benefit of a doubt and assume he likes it) as "anti-establishment". Well, it may be anti- the current liberal, French Revolution inspired institutions that people of Mr. del Toro's persuasion centuries ago foisted upon the world through torrents of blood. But that doesn't make it "anti-establishment", it makes it "reactionary" or "counter-revolutionary" which is ultimately the epitome of "pro-institution" since it supports the ancient institutions. I think that this is why I often am able to get along so well with really liberal-types, like a lawyer colleague of mine who has run for the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada; we agree that there are problems with the current system but we disagree strongly on the solution usually because such people (though well intentioned) are ignorant of history and what stuff like communism really stands for.

So it's just plain odd to be a big fantasy fan, but claim to hate it's inherent nature. As to why it is so wrong-headed to consider "pro-establishment" fiction "reprehensible" ... that could be the subject of a multipage rant. But let's just look quickly at Mr. del Toro's quote above, wherein he says that a story that teaches children "always obey your parents" is "reprehinsible" is plain lunacy. Certainly, as a parent himself, he does not believe his children should not listen to him. It's just so plainly obvious that parents know more than children and the very purpose of parents is to teach and protect their children. So he's saying a story that reinforces the duty of parents is evil? The great irony is, that it is liberals ( Mr. del Toro acknowledges that he is one) who are the most "pro-establishment" because they tend to be statists who think "the establishment" should control nearly every aspect of our lives and "protect" us from ourselves with myriad regulations and Big Brotherly watchers. The "evil regime" of Generalissimo Francisco Franco that Mr. del Toro hates so much didn't have Child and Family Services who abduct peoples' children for drawing a picture of a gun! To be blunt, it's not just irony, but rather hypocrisy and liberal endeavours are ripe with it.


The Hobbit Less Than a Month Away

So, the blatant and cynical money-grab that is the three-part adaptation of  The Hobbit is but a little over three weeks away.  I can't say I'm not looking forward to it -- I am one of those Lord of the Rings fans who liked the films, notwithstanding their shortfalls. I'll likely even make the effort to see it on opening weekend.

But contemplating three films just makes me sigh and roll my eyes. Peter Jackson seems to have more than a little George Lucas in him, and unfortunately he'll probably be richly rewarded for it as Lucas has been (and I recognize I'm part of that problem). Still and all, at least they've kept the same look and most of the actors. I don't recall Galdriel appearing in the book, so I'm a bit unhappy to see Cate Blanchett plastered all over the train station I'm currently sitting in.

I should not get too nostalgic for a golden age of cinema, I think it's always been about the money. Yet it seems that in the 80s one had to make a good film to do it. Yet there were certainly cynical money grab sequels aplenty then, too.

Potentially much worse than any cynicism is the involvement of Guillermo del Toro in the scriptwriting process. Judging by the man's previous works and commentary about fairy tales show him to be an enemy of everything J.R.R. Tolkein stood for. Del Toro is an anarchist for one thing (cf. his comments that "pro-institution" fairy tales are "reprehensible" and anarchic ones are good), which seems a bit ironic coming from a man who's father was kidnapped. Mr. Del Toro -- kidnappers are not good law abiding citizens! And not too many kidnappings occur in horrible countries like Canada where the rule if law is generally respected. And the Tolkein stories are rather "pro-institution" if one carefully reads them. Also, combining this with del Toro's calumnies against General Franco in films like Pan's Labrynth, his rebellious attitude extends to the Catholic Church and Tolkien was a devout Catholic.  Actually, he's stated (ironically) "I'm an atheist, thank God." If only guys like him could leave our cultural patrimony alone, but alas, atheists tend to not actually be atheists but haters of God and especially His Church.

Upside:  it's a great stiry and simple enough superficially that hopefully the Catholic messages were lost on Jackson and del Toro such that they didn't FUBAR it.


Having Been Consumed by the Busy Monster ...

... not to mention sick as a dog all last week with a lung infection (possibly a touch of Bronchitis), there's an explanation for the recent dearth of posts. When you're self employed you only eat what you kill, so thresholds for taking sick days change, and most days I was too exhausted after work to do anything other than sleep once parental duties were accomplished.

As such, I managed to completely miss the ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY of Swords and Space. I think the first year was modestly successful; I was able to keep up fairly regular posting at least until these past two weeks. Not as much comics and short fiction has gone up as I'd like but I am fairly well pleased with what did make it to the page. Some of the highlights (in my mind) of the past year include:

  • Lefebvrians, my first full-colour comic drawing.
  • Brightest Africa, my first foray into steampunk and an alternate history world I hope to return to.
  • Orwellian Affair, a four-part comic exploring the possible repercussions of my son's imagination in light of recent bizarre legal events locally.
  • All the Gods of the Gentiles, a short story about a young soldier sent as part of an escort for colonists to a world thought abandoned, only to discover that the original colonists are still present but behaving very strangely.
  • Felix Baumgartner's jump, the last comic to date, commemorating the only space first of significance that I can remember in my lifetime.
I think I had some good rants, too. Glad to see that my (entirely justified) evisceration of Prometheus, one of the worst films ever, has made it onto the sidebar as one of my most read posts. I hope my warnings about the Game of Thrones television series is taken under advisement, too. My thoughts on how CGI killed science fiction seem to be popular, as well.

Biggest failure of the year has been in the area of revisions to Call to Arms. There's been progress, but it should be done at this point, not still in progress.

To round-off these anniversary thoughts, I've renewed my oft-repeated (and often fallen away from) commitment to limit my time wasted on the internet by holding myself to checking email but thrice per day, and only doing other internet "stuff" (besides writing this blog) once per week. It's worked wonders in the past and I think will get my output of actual work (rather than rants and musings) closer to where I'd like it to be. Thanks for reading, and hope you stick around for many more years.


Bits and Pieces 5

The Missus cut her hand retreiving a toy from an air vent and got an infection something fierce, so I've been doing double duty of late, hence the dearth of posts. There've been a few interesting odds and ends worth pointing out this week, though ...

  1. Please let the Mayan calendar be correct and the world end in December ... according to an article in Forbes Magazine (LINK), Disney has purchased Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion and, already, "[a] new film is already in the works and slated for 2015 with plans to release a new Star Wars film every two to three years." A new trilogy. So much for Lucas' protestations that the six films would be it. This could either be really, really, bad, or surprisingly good. My comic book geek friends all say they did a good job on the Marvel adaptations. I've only seen a few and they were decent, but I never was that big into the superhero scene. I'm thinking that best case scenario, too much of a good thing is too much, and they'll ruin the franchise. Unless maybe they hire Timothy Zahn to do the screenplays ...

  2. Some more mainstream love for Warhammer 40,000, via the Family Circus comic (not a parody, this was the real clip run in papers across North America today):

    It also highlights one of the risks of Warhammer going into computer games ... now people think that it is a computer game, and that guys "into" WH40K are gamers. NO! Warhammer was a boardgame way before it went mainstream and we're geeks, thank you very much. Have to say that Dawn of War II is a pretty solid game though.
  3. Eric Anderson, of a company called "Space Adventures" has "absolutely no doubt ...that there will be a space hotel within the next ten years, in orbit around the Earth." Seems rather overly optimistic to me. Sure, I believe him when he says studies show 40% of people would like to visit space in their lifetime. I sure would. But I just don't see the resources being there and anyone other than the richest of the rich being able to afford it. After no meaningful advances in manned space flight in 50 years, great leaps allowing affordable space tourism in 10 seems a stretch.



Awesomesauce: adjective 1.Something or someone truly amazing. Usually: more awesome than the word "awesome" can describe.

A good friend of mine who also sports a handlebar moustache (well, actually, I'm clean-shaven at the moment but this is really inspiring me to re-grow it) and in other respects shares my impeccable taste in clothing, tobacco, etc. sent me the following video. It is so mind-blowingly excellent that it must speak for itself:

Apparently this chap does this for a living, going by the stage name "Mr. B. the Gentleman Rhymer". It's almost enough to convince me to attend a concert. My faith in humanity has been buoyed in any event. His website: http://gentlemanrhymer.com/

Now if only I had $10,000 in disposable money, I could upgrade my wardrobe to meet this man's standards which are, as he rightfully admits in the video without false modesty, "entirely beyond reproach". But a father of four must make do with what he can find off the rack (I assume this gent had all his clothes custom tailored)


Shrek and Making Evil Good and Good Evil

A reader asked me for my opinion on the "Shrek" films. I only ever saw the first two, and can't say I'm a fan of the franchise. To be sure, they are a source for a fair number of cheap laughs and I enjoy Mike Meyers. Superficially, they're actually pretty enjoyable.

But I don't like the underlying themes, the primary and most blatant being that evil is portrayed as good, good as evil, ugliness as beauty, and beauty as ugliness. Now, I suppose one could argue that the whole princess's true self being a troll is good for young girls in an age when girls as young as 6 are objectifying themselves as sex objects and "want to be sexy", but I still don't like it. I think Shrek takes it too far in its quest to ridicule everything that is good and decent from basic hygiene to chivalry. Also, to any child who actually still has some innocence, this film will serve to help destroy it.

It also is a film that attempts to thoroughly demolish the sense of wonder and the marvelous in children with its cynical attacks on even basic manners and, casting the hideous evil creatures such as ogres and dragons in the role of heroes and casting normal humans and especially knights in the role of villains. It's also pretty cliché, by now, since for at least 50 years it's been in vogue to turn "conventions" on their head thus. It's to the point that, as I believe I said to Sophia's Favourite in his comments box, it would be downright EDGY to write a story these days that features a knight or even (horrors!) a prince in the protagonist role (and not as an anti-hero). Or having a princess who DOESN'T pummel everyone, for that matter, since Shrek's princess is, of course, a Xena Warrior Princess type.

The first Shrek film especially, also has a lot of "adult" humour inserted into it. I suppose the logic is that children will be too young to understand the double entendres and innuendos, but I do not like exposing them to that sort of crass humour. For example, the evil "prince" is a Lord Farquuad, which is a very thinly disguised fark-wad, which is again a very thin disguise for the vile f---wad insult heard in gutter speak today. Or when "Robin Hood" is singing a song he is interrupted by his Merry Men at a strategic point so that he is saying he gets "lots of -- head". There's a lot better stuff out there for children. I personally quite liked the Narnia adaptations and, when they're older, I am one of those rarities who likes both the Lord of the Rings novels AND Peter Jackson's film adaptations (more on that anon).

Further reading: Nourishing an Appetite for the Marvelous by Dr. Marian T. Horvath


Your Bi-Weekly Update #13

Actually posting this two weeks after the last update, so I'm reverting back to the original nomenclature since this actually is bi-weekly this time. Unfortunately, not a whole lot of progress to report; I spent most of my free time the last two weeks reading to prepare for the latest episode of Restoration Radio (which was purely Churchey stuff this time, being about the Second Vatican Council). BUT ...

1. Didn't do a ton of writing, but did get a solid 500-word effort done last night on an as-yet untitled work featuring a troubled young space miner addicted to a pleasure robot that gets thrown into a political upheaval in his colony. It's one of two stories I am manfully struggling to get done before the month's end. The other is a collision of sci-fi and fantasy featuring the trials of a group of astronauts who return to their homeworld 10,000 years after departure finding a completely changed place, complete with a dragon that interrupts their landing causing them to crash-land.

2. On the other hand, I haven't even touched anything Warhammer-related over the last two weeks. But, my "reward" for finishing-off the stories in item #1 will be a new purchase or two and investing my free time in building and painting.


Iron Sky (Movie Review)

Title: Iron Sky
Director: Timo Vuorensola
Studio: Energia Productions
Starring: Julia Dietze, Christopher Kirby, Götz Otto, Udo Kier
Excellence: 2 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: A thoroughly mediocre, and thus rather disappointing, attempt at bringing the classic "Space Nazis" trope to the silver screen

From the previews, the first five minutes released on Youtube, and the various internet propaganda, this film looked like it was going to be "awesomesauce".  The final product, alas, was altogether "weak sauce". All the good stuff was jammed into the theatrical trailer, and there wasn't a whole heck of a lot put in-between to fill the remaining 90 or so minutes. It was altogether bland, and silly, but regrettable NOT in a "so bad it's good" as I was hoping. It seemed like they tried to make it a bit serious and this ruined everything. There was plenty of over-the-top stuff, but they should have gone MORE in that direction.

Iron Sky was yet another example of expectations not delivered upon (apparently a recurring theme in movies of 2012). Here's the summary that's been plastered everywhere in relation to the film:

In the last moments of World War II, a secret Nazi space program evaded destruction by fleeing to the Dark Side of the Moon. During 70 years of utter secrecy, the Nazis construct a gigantic space fortress with a massive armada of flying saucers.

Yet one gets to see altogether too little of the Space Nazis themselves. You actually see MORE of them (aside from Götz Otto and Julia Dietze who, easy on the eyes as she may be, is NOT a mondsoldat). Perhaps even more depressingly, the Moon Nazis vs. Earth space battle is almost completely captured in the preview. It is that short. The "armada of flying saucers" appears, and then is gone.  Budget problems, I suppose, and I'll grant that what they included looked good, but it all made it feel very rushed and underwhelming.

The medical transformation of the African-American astronaut into a white man (which the Nazis think is a big favour to him) was a pleasantly surprising bit of politically-incorrect humour, but it rather falls flat on its face and they tired (nay, exhausted) storyline of having Julia Dietze's character discover that she'd been fooled and Nazism really isn't that great, etc. was, well, yawn-worthy. I expected something a bit more original and something that didn't fall into the well-worn trap of feelingit necessary to make a point of demonizing Nazis to the point of the ridiculous (but not in a funny way). I was expecting goofier, "bad guy" Nazis akin to those in the Indiana Jones films, rather than what we got in Iron Sky.

It wasn't the mind-blowingly horrific disaster that was Prometheus, but I was glad I only invested 90 minutes of my life in watching Iron Sky, all the same. All-in-all, worth giving a miss, unfortunately. It had such potential.


In Honour of Felix Baumgartner

It's been several months since I drew anything, but inspired by the Red Bull Stratos jump, I put the picture below together. I got the idea from Joe Kittinger's words of encouragement to Felix Baumgartner as the last gathered up the courage to jump: "Our guardian angel will take care of you."

Also thought I'd throw in as a bonus a couple pictures drawn by my 6-year-old son inspired by the occasion:


Felix Baumgartner's Historic Jump

On Sunday a little bit of history was made as Felix Baumgartner successfully completed a sky-dive from over 128,000 feet. One reader said in the comments box last week that his understanding was that Joe Kittinger had broken the sound barrier during his 1960 dive (which held most of the records broken by Baumgartner) but everywhere I look online consistently says he didn't and Baumgartner was the first one to do it yesterday. According to Wikipedia (not the most reliable, but it cites as a source "Fact Sheets : Excelsior Gondola". National Museum of the USAF.), Kittinger acheived 614 miles per hour, whereas the speed of sound is 761 miles per hour. Baumgartner maxed-out at 834 mph according to Red Bull.

I watched with my family most of his ascent live, but had to leave with the two oldest children for church about 15 minutes before the fateful jump so only my wife got to watch this momentous occasion. Some may think I'm making a mountain out of a molehill, but having been born in 1980, I haven't been able to "experience" a first in regards to space travel/exploration ever (the first Space Shuttle launch in 1981 doesn't count since I was too young to be aware of it). So I can't help but be excited to see that maybe, just maybe, there is a new age of space exploration on the horizon. 

I continue to be fascinated by this next wave of space exploits seems to be at the behest of corporations. Not that exploration by such is without historical precedent: much of my homeland was explored by the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company, two fur trading companies (although HBC has moved on to other things). But the thing that makes the Red Bull Stratos programme different is that it was funded by the company purely for the purpose of advertising, rather than profit from the actual exploration (such as acquiring beaver pelts). All in all, the sci fi trope of companies running space may not be so far-fetched since nowadays they literally have more money than governments (is there a government that isn't insanely in debt these days?).

Final thought: I salute Felix Baumgartner's courage. I said last week I didn't know if he was brave or crazy, but he was clearly having second thoughts when he opened up his capsule 40+ km up and still made the jump. One can't help but admire the masculine courage involved there. Here's the video of his jump:


The U.S.S. Cygnus and The Black Hole

I mentioned the U.S.S. Cygnus in my post "5 Most Ridiculous Spacecraft in Film" and feel it deserves a special post of its own, along with some ruminations about the film Black Hole, in which it appears. Having acknowledged that it is, from a hard science fiction point of view, an absurd vessel, I reiterate my comment that the Cygnus is a darkly gorgeous, truly awesome spectacle of a star ship and one of my favourite space vessels ever in film.

It has a certain gothic feel to it, almost like a cathedral flying in space, yet with a touch of Victorian/Steampunk with all the glass and lights (in my view) . What makes it silly from a hard sci-fi point of view is what makes it so magnificent: it is not merely functional, but a work of art. Here area  few more pictures:

Considerations of taste aside, it's an impressive example of how much more real a model ship can look than the CGI contraptions modern audiences must endure. Although, it must be admitted, that reading about all the work involved in building/filming/maintaining the thing helps one understand why the CGI "easy way out" is invariably taken these days. From the Starship Modeler site:
Volume 9 No.3 of "Cinefantastique" magazine published when "The Black Hole" was released contains the best sources of information and pictures I have yet seen on the original models. There were two full models of the Cygnus built at a little over twelve feet long, with other sectional models built to a much larger scale for certain close up shots. The twelve foot miniatures weighed 170 pounds each and were constructed primarily of brass and completely made from scratch, with EMA tubes and domes used for detailing. Under this brass exoskeleton were sections of translucent plastic built in sections which housed about a hundred and fifty automotive light bulbs. The two models cost $100,000 and took a crew of 12 to 15 people approximately a year to build. One of the two models were completely destroyed filming the story's ending sequences. The other model went to the Museum of Modern Art in New York for a time after filming. It's fate since then remains a mystery.

"According to an ex-Disney employee, the model was stored in a crate in the 'Boneyard', where old props and such are stored on the Disney lot. It was rained on a great deal, and, one day, smashed to pieces by a poorly-driven forklift which accidentally backed into the crate. Pieces of the model were taken by various folks as souveniers."
Here's a shot of what the model looked like next to film crew:

 Without writing a full review of The Black Hole, it's worth mentioning that the film has generally been much maligned by critics and viewers over the years. I personally really enjoy it as a sort of sci-fi "spooky castle" film heavy with atmosphere. The big problem with it is that it attempts to be, at the same time, a kid's film with some comic elements which clash with the sense of foreboding that is steadily built up during the film and the darker aspects of the film (such as the horrible revelation that the entire crew was lobotomized and made into zombie slaves to Dr. Reinhardt). Still and all, a worthy film -- and certainly a very unique one.


Felix Baumgartner Prepping for his Jump from Space

Great picture. Not sure whether Felix Baumgartner is brave or crazy, but I salute him.

I mentioned the Red Bull's plan to have a guy jump out of a capsule hanging from a 55-storey-tall balloon from from 120,000 feet in December HERE. It was finally to come to fruition yesterday, but bad weather delayed it until today and now until Sunday. I might have to get up at 6 am to watch it.


Music to Write By

In an email exchange with a fellow writer, the use of "background noise" was brought up. My friend and colleague mentioned that he always writes with either a movie or music playing in the background. A different colleague on my writing group said she would find it to distracting.

I personally fall into the group of those writers who almost "needs" some background music while I write. I find it really helps me "get into" my writing with mood-appropriate music. As such, I listened to a LOT of Star Wars soundrack while working on Call to Arms (which, incidentally, I've received new inspiration for the rewrite of which I forgot to mention in yesterday's post).

Lacking time for any more substantive posts, I thought I'd share with you some of my favourite writing music -- maybe if you're a writer you can make use of it too:


General - Snow White and the Hunstman, Gladiator, Game of Thrones soundtracks
More upbeat/heroic - Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez; Fantasía para un Gentilhombre
Epic - anything Wagner, but especially the selections found in Excalibur's soundtrack

Science Fiction

Space Opera - Star Wars soundtracks, Holst's Planets
Darker/"Cyberpunk" - Blade Runner soundtrack

Obviously not exhaustive, but it's what I have loaded into iTune or which comes to mind. Looking at the list, I realise I've got more fantasy stuff going on, yet in recent years it's all been about sci fi. This is due to my days with Dargonzine when I wrote a fair bit of fantasy. Probably should make more of an effort to get back into that genre some more. No idea why I've drifted away.


Semi-regular Update #12

Another secular "holy day" (well, a Protestant one, I guess) here in Canada today, being Canadian Thanksgiving, so I'm at work getting caught-up. But since it's dead here but for me, I'm able to get a lot done and still have time for a little update.

No point in calling these things "bi-weekly" any more, since the so infrequently are. But at least things are starting to settle down sufficiently that I can write something -- although circumstances conspired against me last night such that I didn't get my planned writing done. I'd say tonight would be the night but I must get back to my exercise routine since I find letting my body fall apart makes things way worse.

  1. As you'd guess from my post a few days ago, I've been rather fried when I've actually had some free time, so I haven't done much writing at all. I've done a fair bit of reading, though, and this has given me inspiration for carrying-forward on several projects. Of special inspirational value was The Chessmen of Mars, the best of the Burroughs' Mars books after A Princess of Mars, in my view.

  2. If not reading, I resort to painting my Warhammer 40K stuff since it makes for a great relaxing hobby. I can just "zone out" and paint. Since I last posted some pics about a month ago, I've put some paint on the tanks, though they still need the stowage and crew painted, as well as battle damage plus dirt/mud/dust:

    Next up, some more Inquisitorial Storm troopers:

    And finally some conversion work, giving more of my rough riders melta guns (a sort of short-range anti-tank weapon) in place of their explosive-tipped hunting lances:

    Not a whole heck of a lot for a month's worth of work, but I must remind myself that it is proper that I spend most of my time at work and my family. So I guess in the context of a wife and four children, this is actually pretty decent progress.

  3.  Finally got to see Iron Sky. It was pretty solidly mediocre and a bit of a letdown. Full review to follow this weekend, hopefully.


Checking in ...

Yes, I'm still alive, although it feels like I'm barely keeping my head above water at the moment. Hence the total lack of posts on this blog, and a lack of any real writing or artistic endeavors. Moved my law practice to a new office two great colleagues and that has really taken the wind out of my sails, not to mention some big cases that have come my way that are keeping me hopping.

At this time I can't give any sort of E.T.A. on when I'll be back up and running. Things are very crazy right now, to the point that from the first time in my life I'm suffering from insomnia, either being unable to fall asleep or waking up at 4 a.m. with my mind too intense to shut off again (like today). Please don't abandon me, dear readers -- I encourage you to subscribe by email (by typing your address into the box just above the labels in the left sidebar) so that you'll know when something new is posted. Thanks to all of you that have taken the time to read thus far in my writing/blogging adventure.

Finally, a bit of humour, by way of a picture that illustrates the dangers of advertising your film in a public restroom ... especially with a movie name like "Looper"...


The Nine Worthies: Alexander the Great

He believed the gods of Homer and ancient Egypt were with him, and we know as Christians that the One True God must have been with him; For by his march across the world, Alexander the Great prepared the way for its conversion.

Dr. Warren Carrol, lecture on Alexander the Great

By N.D.C. Wansbutter, Esq.

The Nine Worthies (les neuf preux) are nine historical, scriptural, mythological or semi-legendary figures who, in the Middle Ages, were adopted in a gallery of heroes that were paragons of chivalry in their respective traditions. As will all things medieval, they are divided into three groups of three in honour of the Trinity: the Jews, the Pagans, and the Christian. They were:

Jewish: Joshua, David, and Judas Maccabeus
Pagan: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Hector
Christian: King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon

I've studied several of these men over the years, and intend to look at the rest of them before long. History is a great source of inspiration for my writing, and the Nine Worthies especially so.

Alexander the Great

Living from 20/21 July 356 – 10/11 June 323 BC, Alexander was the greatest general of all time. He never lost a battle. To quote Dr. Warren Carrol, “he might have conquered the world, but died before he was forty, with his armies at the border of China. He was a meteor and transformer of history, who created the Hellenistic world through which the Gospel of Jesus Christ spread three hundred years later.”.

He was the son of King Philip II of Macedon, a great warrior and conqueror in his own right, had put all of Greece under his rule. He was assassinated and Alexander King at the age of 20.

Philip desired that Alexander receive a Greek education, and as such, Alexander's teacher was "the supreme Greek intellect", the philosopher Aristotle. Alexander always considered himself Greek first, and considered himself the guardian and champion of Hellenic culture. He combined the skill at arms and political sagacity of his father, blazing passion of his mystic mother Olympias, and the discipline and expansion of mind of his tutor, Aristotle

Having nourished himself on ancient epics, modelled himself after great heroes and deliberately aspired to conquer the entire civilized world. And, returning to the theme of the quote above from Dr. Carroll, herein lies his great contribution to humanity, and the reason that he is worthy of honour on a Catholic blog.

Creating the "Hellenistic world" was, simply, the spread of Greek culture throughout what was then the civilized world. This included the spread of the Greek language which was important to spreading the gospels, but other aspects of Greek culture such as its literature, learning and reason, and arts, thus putting for the first time Jew and Greek in the same cultural orbit and founding the basis for Christendom or "Christian Civilization". For, without first the Hellenisation of the Ancient World, it would not have been possible for the Romans to enjoy their success and thus serve their own purpose as the vessel of the one true Church.

We thus may see in Alexander the Great yet another example of the Lord "writing straight with crooked lines".

How Alexander the Great created the Hellenistic World was through his impressive wars of conquest which will be recounted but very briefly: after putting down rebellions on the Balkan Peninsula, he set out to conquer Greece's ancient enemy, the Persian Empire. In the spring 334 BC his army of 32,000 (less than half Macedonians), including the 1800 companion cavalry which he always led himself, crossed to Asia. He offered sacrifice on the hill of Troy (Iliad) and garlanded the tomb of Achilles, from which took the epic hero's shield for himself. Having identified himself with Homer’s epic, met Persian army head-on at the Battle of the Granicus (near Zelea); his life saved in that battle by his trusted bodyguard Cleitus the Black who he, years later, killed in a drunken rage. Alexander killed or sold into slavery the Greek mercenaries with the Persian army as traitors, but offered the Persians to join him.

His navy was weaker than the Persians so he set about capturing all the ports, thus neutralising that advantage the enemy had. He worked his way through Asia minor and down through the Holy Land. He conquered the hitherto unvanquished city of Tyre by extending the land out to the island city and storming it.

On 1 October 331 B.C. he met the entire Persian army at Al Gaugamela, and, outnumered 2:1 delivered another crushing blow to the Persians. Never hesitating, never making a mistake, he won victory after victory against such odds. By January 330 B.C., his army was at the persian gates (guarding the only road to Persepolis). It presented a narrow valley guarded by thousands; but for Alexander every physical obstacle was but a new challenge and he took half his army over the snowy mountains and struck the Persians in the rear, scattering them. He then took Perseopilis and burnt Xerxes' palace to the ground. From here he continued through modern-day Iran and across more mountains taking Samarkand and establishing there Alexandria the Furthest. From thence he plunged into India where his army finally refused to carry on.

Returning home, he led his men across the Godrosian desert in Iran -- no other army has ever done this. He died soon after, perhaps from Typhoid Fever, perhaps in part from his many injuries he received including an arrow through the lungs while fighting alone inside a fortress in India. After his death, his successors could not maintain such a massive realm and it was split into four.

The prophet Daniel fortold Alexander the Great (Book of Daniel, Chapter VIII), with Fr. Leo Hayrdock comments in parentheses:

"... and behold a he goat (Greece) came from the west on the face of the whole earth, and he touched not the ground, and the he goat had a notable horn between his eyes (Alexander the Great). And he went up to the ram (Persia) that had the horns, which I had seen standing before the gate, and he ran towards him in the force of his strength. And when he was come near the ram, he was enraged against him, and struck the ram: and broke his two horns, and the ram could not withstand him: and when he had cast him down on the ground, he stamped upon him, and none could deliver the ram out of his hand. And the he goat became exceeding great: and when he was grown, the great horn was broken, and there came up four horns (the four kingdoms of Alexander's generals) under it towards the four winds of heaven. And out of one of them came forth a little horn (Antiochus Epiphanes): and it became great against the south, and against the east, and against the strength (Jerusalem and the people of God)."


A Knight of the White Cross (Book Review)

Title: A Knight of the White Cross : A tale of the siege of Rhodes
Author: G.A. Henty
Publisher: Lost Classic Books
My Rating: 3.5 stars our of 5
Summary in a Sentence: An excellent book for young boys which follows the exploits of Gervaise Tresham, a fine role-model and young knight of the Order of St. John at the time of the First Siege of Rhodes (1480); available for free in Amazon Kindle

G.A. Henty wrote a whole slew of books for young boys starting in 1868. I read this book (a) because the Kindle version is free, (b) because my grandfather, a man of good character, grew up with these books, and (c) they are part of Angelicum Academy's Good Books programme which I intend to "indoctrinate" my children with. I found it, on the whole, to be a very good adventure book for young boys (Angelicum has it in the Grade 4 curriculum).

It tells the tale of Gervaise Tresham, son of an honourable knight on the losing side of the War of the Roses. Gervaise's father had promised the Lord God that if he had a son he would pledge him to the Order of St. John, and when his father is beheaded after the Battle of Tewskbury, Gervaise follows his father's wishes and joins the Knights and travels to Rhodes (as an aside, Sir Thomas Tresham was a real historical figure, but his son Gervaise is fictional -- Sir Thomas' real son was John and he did not join the Hospitallers). Once at Rhodes, in true Henty fashion, Gervaise embarks on a series of fantastic adventures, all of which he weathers with courage, humility, and grace.

The best part about this and the other Henty books I've read, is the most excellent example set by the main protagonist. One might argue that the protagonists are too perfect, and too similar (indeed, Gervaise Tresham is basically the same character as Rupert Holiday from The Cornet of Horse) -- but, I think for young boys' fiction this is a good thing. And Gervaise is possessed of, in good measure, all the major virtues: fortitude, temperence, chastity, prudence, justice (and his adventures give him opportunity to rely on these virtues in equal measure). The adventures Gervaise takes part in are fast-paced, varied, and sure to capture the imagination of young readers. I recommend this work almost without reservation to parents with sons.

I say almost without reservation, because some of Henty's Protestantism does show through. Although he's no anti-Catholic bigot like Sir Walter Scott, some conversations during the book between the knights about their vow of chastity belies a complete lack of understanding of the virtue of continence or of such vows. In the end, Sir Gervaise is released from his vows by the pope so that he may marry a wealthy heiress. But it is not egregious and a little bit of discussion will easily nullify this shortcoming of the work.


Bits and Pieces 4

R.I.P. Neil Armstrong

Busy with family in from out of town, so I only have time for some brief thoughts jumbled together rather than a full-blow article, pointing out and musing on a few things I've been thinking about lately.
  • I'd initially heard that Peter Jackson's take on The Hobbit was going to be a two-parter. I thought that was a bit much, but okay, I like The Hobbit and I thought that the L.O.T.R. series was pretty good so I was willing to give the benefit of a doubt. But my father sent me an article that said: The Hobbit is an upcoming film series consisting of three epic fantasy-adventure films directed, co-written and produced by Peter Jackson and based on J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy novel of the same name. The films are, by subtitle, An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Desolation of Smaug (2013) and There and Back Again (2014). Three films. Now that's just a blatant money-grab. Unfortunately this probably won't stop me from
  •  It's been a few weeks already since the death of Neil Armstrong. The Guardian had a pretty good article about how his legacy has been wasted, pretty much echoing some of the things I've written here at Swords and Space -- namely, that the future of space exploration may be with the private sector. I know some readers are not keen at all about the idea, and I agree to an extent. But I think it may be inevitable at this point. Governments surely haven't been getting the job done over the last 50 years.
  • It's a bit of a sad thing for me that given the lack of even a hint of returning to the moon since the early 70s, when my son asked me yesterday if he might fly a space ship one day I had to say I can't make any promises. I know that my parents, who were children in 1969, had good reason to tell me that they thought there might be lots of space exploration by the time I was an adult. But having seen no significant progress in my time, I'm not so sure.
  • Which means my dream of living on Mars will probably never happen. Which is really too bad because I think the cool, dry climate would rather suit me. The Martian day is about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day, which isn't a huge difference but I could definitely handle an extra forty minutes per day. Might actually get some writing done!


The Renaissance and the End of the Middle Ages

 I've been focusing a lot on science and science fiction stuff, without enough talk about the past (the "swords" of "Swords and Space") so I thought it high time to do a post with the history tag. In discussing the HBO rendition of A Song of Rape and Murder, the Renaissance came up in the comments box and I think the point is worth emphasizing a bit more.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of people conflate the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, especially when it comes to negatives. The Middle Ages therefore gets tarred with the crimes of Renaissance, and somehow the Renaissance tends to get a free pass. For example, the favourite slander that Medieval people had poor hygiene actually comes during the Renaissance and the so-called "Enlightenment". There are many more crimes that belong solely to the Renaissance and have nothing to do with the Middle Ages, but I won't be able to get into all of those today. The important thing to keep in mind is that the Middle Ages was the culmination of centuries of the Catholic faith being integrated into society, and the Renaissance was a conscious return to paganism (they may not have started publicly worshiping Jupiter, but they did return to pagan principles).

So G.R.R. Martin apparently used material on The War of the Roses as his "inspiration" for the civil war in his books. Worth noting is that the War of the Roses began in 1455. Without getting into how his depiction of such a war is outrageously ridiculous even in the Renaissance, I note that we're well into that pagan period at 1455. Many historians give the fall of Constantinople as the end of the Middle ages in 1453. I myself prefer the reasoning of Atila Sinke Guimarães, who puts the end of the Middle Ages (or, at the very least, the beginning of the end) was 8 September 1303 a.D.

That day, in the town of Anagni, about forty miles south of Rome, William of Nogaret, councillor and keeper of the seal to King Philip IV of France abducted Pope Boniface VIII. Nogaret had been sent to Italy with the task of kidnapping the Pope and bringing him to France for a show trial to be followed by deposition. Nogaret gathered together a band of some 1,600 rogues and political enemies of the Gaetani family (Boniface VIII's family) and suddenly attacked the town, looted the castle, and took the pope captive. After two days of humiliation and threats, the people of Anagni rose up and expelled Nogaret and his men. The pope died in Rome a month later, however.

This event is significant because it was a terrible blow against supremacy of the Papacy over the temporal monarchs, which was one of the great characteristics of the Middle Ages. That supremacy was important for many reasons, but thinking back again to the discussion of A Game of Thrones, in the real world when nobles behaved even half as badly as Martin's nobles, they would be excommunicated (if they didn't meet another bad end). The role of the Church in the Middle Ages did a great deal to rein-in those few lords who might abuse their powers -- contrasted with the Renaissance where the Church was less powerful (especially after the Protestant Revolt).


Your Bi-Weekly Update #11

Secular "holy" day here in Canada (and the U.S.) today. Planned on going to the office just on principle, but my brother-in-law who I haven't seen in four years is passing through today so, I'm not at work, but only have time for a brief update. As I write these things, it always seems that two weeks has passed in the blink of an eye and I haven't accoplished much since the last one (a constantly humbling experience).

1. Got a couple of the thanks from last week's painting/modelling blog post primed. I was going to do the first base paint (dark grey) but decided I should do some writing instead ...

2. Through force of will I got a solid 600 or so words done on a new short story. I tend to slow myself down by overthinking things and second-guessing what I'm writing. But I am trying to just trust my inspiration and write what the Muse is giving me on the first draft, and hope that in the revision process any errant themes can be picked out. I learned while writing Call to Arms that writing is more about momentum/inertia than anything else so that's why I opted to force myself to write last night.


The Dark Knight Rises (Movie Review)

Title: The Dark Knight Rises
Director: Christopher Nolan
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Starring: Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Excellence: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: An excellent conclusion to the Christopher Nolan trilogy featuring the well-known comic book hero, featuring some surprisingly counterrevolutionary themes

I went to see this film a few weeks ago with my father and was rather surprised at how good it was. Not because I expected it to be bad -- I thought that the other films in the trilogy were also very well done -- but because it exceeded any reasonable expectations I could have for a mainstream film.

The film takes place eight years after The Dark Knight (2008); "a new terrorist leader, Bane, overwhelms Gotham's finest, and the Dark Knight resurfaces to protect a city that has branded him an enemy" (per IMDB). As with the previous Christopher Nolan installments, the film has a dark ambience, but not a bleak one. There is plenty of hope that good will triumph over the evil that threatens to overwhelm everything. The acting is excellent and the plot has plenty of twists and turns. It boils down to a very well-done good versus evil plot.

But what really surprised and interested me, was the heavy use of French Revolution tactics and rhetoric on the part of Bane in his terrorism of Gotham. The storming of Blackgate Penitentiary and release of the criminals therein was a clear reference to the storming of the Bastille, complete with Bane spouting rhetoric worthy of the Tennis Court Oath: "We take Gotham from the corrupt! The rich! The oppressors of generations who have kept you down with myths of opportunity, and we give it back to you... the people. Gotham is yours. None shall interfere. Do as you please. Start by storming Blackgate, and freeing the oppressed!"

The thing that makes it interesting, too, is that it's not totally black-and-white, and takes into account some of the complexities of reality, such that Blackgate, while housing heinous criminals, does so thanks to legislation that violates basic civil liberties. The film does an excellent job of showing the gross excesses of a French Revolution approach to things while acknowledging that the status quo frequently has problems as well. There is more that could be said as the anti-revolutionary tone of the film fascinates me no end.

It's definitely worth seeing, even if you're not specifically a Batman/comic fan as it's simply a good film.


Modelling/Painting Work of Late

Haven't done an update on my progress with my "toy soldiers" in a while, so I thought I'd post some pictures since I don't have any other new artwork or prose to put up. I'm also going to be posting these pictures to a Warhammer 40,000 message board a frequent. I hope that as I give occasional updates, this will help me keep track of my progress, and inspire me to keep the momentum up to actually get this army done. I've been working on it for far too long -- but it seems it is much harder to find the time as a self-employed professional and father of four than it was back in university when I was able to crank out an army from assembly to fully painted in a few months.

So, first off, here is some of what I HAVE (mostly) completed so far, namely the first of two platoons of light infantry. I haven't done the bases yet, because I want to do a bunch of them at once to get a consistent look, plus I am waiting for low-humidity conditions to seal them and then add some static grass.

A closeup of the Rough Riders' Sergeant:

Inquisitor Ambro and some henchmen:

What I've decided to focus on for the moment is vehicles. Pictured below are all seven of the vehicles that will be featured in the list I hope to bring to the next tournament hereabouts, if I can actually get it done (famous last words, considering I was hoping to have most of this stuff completed back in June).

So we have four Chimerae, one to carry the headquarters unit, one to carry first platoon's command squad, and then two more for my outflanking platoon. Then we've got three battle tanks to provide the heavy support. Over the past few weeks I assembled them, and this week I added all the bits of stowage, gear, and camouflage netting. The camo netting is just some medical gauze from the first aid kit. The stowage is some 1:35 WWII stuff I got off eBay for cheap from Verlinden Productions. I got the idea to put a lot of stowage on the vehicles from looking at real-world war pictures. I really noticed in those how much "junk" tanks carry around on them.

Closer view of the tanks:

And a closeup of the headquarters chimera, which is done up Inquisition-style since my army is led by an Inquisitor of the Ordo Hereticus. I used Forgeworld Inquisition Rhino bitz to differentiate it from the regular Chimerae in the army. This also features my first-ever attempt with plasticard modelling in order to make the front armour fit:

... And lastly, another shot of the outflanking platoon's chimerae:

Next step: undercoating. It will almost certainly be several weeks before I post any pictures of these vehicles painted, but I hope to get the undercoating done this weekend as long as the humidity stays down (likely a vain hope in this climate).


Game of Thrones According to H.B.O.

A very good friend of mine suggested that I should watch the first season of H.B.O.'s adaptation of A Song of Rape and Murder A Song of Fire and Ice after we'd had a fair bit of discussion on the books. An episode of Restoration Radio on the work had been bandied about so I decided to give it a whirl. Wow, what a mistake that was.

After watching three episodes, I cannot stomach it any more. For one thing, it's incredibly sexually graphic. I mean full-on pornography graphic. Stuff that still isn't allowed in the cinema except maybe in the most R of R-rated films. For that reason alone I can't watch anymore because (a) it's toxic waste for the soul and intellect, and (b) once one sees such scenes they are seared into your mind -- you can't unwatch that stuff. I guess H.B.O.'s always had a reputation for being a bit risqué, but I naively hadn't imagined things were this bad on the television these days (I don't own one, so it's always a shock to me when once every few years I am exposed to what passes for entertainment on such machines). Of course, we also have gay porn (of the soft variety, versus the full-on heterosexual scenes) and glorification of said lifestyle which, if it was in the novels at all, was only very subtly hinted at.

Even assuming one overlooks this (and perhaps some of my readers are more forgiving than I), the television series is, if possible even more bleak, darker, more despairing, and more perverse than the books. Perhaps the later books of the series were on par with the TV series ... friend who recommended tells me that "George RR Martin is a huge fan and co-executive producer of the show so it seems like he is okay with this interpretation." No doubt! Considering the progression of the novels, I suppose this was his intent all along, perhaps he didn't think he could pull it off in 1996? Some have complained his writing wasn't as good in the earlier novels, so maybe he had difficulty in communicating his vision to the text. Pity he "improved" because as my rather conflicted review of the books reveals, I found the first two novels palatable.

I'm working myself up into a full froth here, because the more I think about and examine the Song of Fire and Ice series, the more I come to dislike it. Here's a spot-on quote from Sophia's Favourite:

... no work—unless authored on a typewriter with a doppelsigrune key—is more blatantly bigot-propaganda than the Song of Ice and Fire books ...

How so? Firstly, the books are downright misogynistic. Even setting aside the blatant rape fantasizing going on in many a scene, the treatment and portrayal of women is absolutely abominable throughout the work. The army of "happy, content" prostitutes featured throughout being one example. I admit, in someways he gets fallen human nature alright, but the women are a bit far in their vindictiveness. I suppose the feminists cheer him on and don't tar and feather him because they think this is an accurate portrayal of how they believe men view women.

Which brings me to the second aspect of bigotry: the overwhelming anti-medieval and therefore anti-Catholic bigotry that is part-and-parcel of portraying a medieval society as such a vile thing. And especially religion. One doesn't see much of religion or clergy in the first two novels, beyond a few hypocritical references from certain characters. But, I asked Sophia's Favourite if I'd missed anything; allow me to quote you his fulsome response:

Those two themes are plenty, but what about the David Brin-style Socialist Realism? I mean how Martin's portrayal of non-"democratic" systems is the sort of vilifying propaganda generally associated with totalitarian regimes. I didn't find it that surprising—liberal ideology is still an ideology, and all ideologues will pull the same tricks given half an excuse—but I was a little surprised that an allegedly literate public let him get away with it.

Just for example, Martin's nobles are, each individually, and with only a few (doomed) exceptions, worse than Giles de Rais or Elizabeth Bathory, whose bad behavior certainly seems to have excited comment in their societies—but in Martin's? No, that's just how all nobles are. Of course, all the historical aristocrats Martin could claim as a basis for his portrayal were excommunicated and/or jailed and/or executed; the only person who got away with asmany personal or hired killings as the typical noble of his setting, is someone Martin shares at least 75% of his political opinions with—Che "personally shot more than 300 farm-boys" Guevara.

I think I missed that theme as I enumerated the examples of Martin's bigotry because I just take this one for granted. I expect to see this sort of stuff in any modern fantasy work after Tolkien, although it must be said that Martin takes it up several notches. I can't add anything to what the my ever-eloquent colleague wrote above (hence why I quoted him in full).

About the only good thing I can say about the television series is that it's got a great soundtrack.

And, yes, I need to get more of my own writing done and be part of the solution rather than just complaining all the time. Fear not -- I have three short stories on the go right now that I think I can realistically get done within the fortnight. Only problem is I think I might put all three into the anthology rather than post them here.
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