12.11.2019

Medieval Food


Reading Food and Drink in Medieval Poland (by Maria Dembińska) has given me some more grist for the mill of dispelling anti-medieval myths. "Popular" histories would have us believe that medieval peasants lived lives of unmitigated misery. The people of that time lived a hard life compared to ours, to be sure. But before getting into the foot, it's worth remembering that between a.D. 1000 and 1340, the population of Europe grew from 38.5 million to about 73.5 million people[i] -- something which would have been impossible if the average person were half-starved and worked into the ground by his aristocratic taskmaster.

Now, as for food, it's commonly believed that Medieval people scarcely had any access to meat and, again, it was their evil noble masters who were the only ones with such food on their table. Meat was relatively expensive -- it still is, especially if you're trying to maintain an all-organic diet like we do! -- but all the same, in medieval Polish society meat was considered essential to a healthy diet and to be consumed daily. Historian Andrzej Wyczanski calculated that manorial work hands (serfs) of the late 1500s consumed a little better than half a pound of meat daily -- and Ms Dembińska stresses that this is a "pauperized" state as compared to the High Middle Ages (I restrain myself from embarking on an anti-Renaissance rant at this juncture).[ii]

Further, according to Regine Pernoud, part of the reason it's been believed that Medieval peasants were constantly starving, is due to the fact that the word "famine" held a much different import in those days than it does now. "Famine" to them was not the total absence of food, as we consider it today, but the lack of wheat bread. Therefore, when the people of a certain area were instead eating rye bread, they would say that they suffered famine. Even then, such "famines" tended to be localized and of short duration.[iii]

P.S. If readers are wondering why my Middle Ages posts are all academic-style with footnotes and such, it's because I want to show that I'm telling the truth on this stuff since my "claims" in such posts go completely contrary to what prevailing wisdom holds.


[i]
 "History of Europe: Demographic and agricultural growth" Encyclopædia Britannica 2008 ed.
[ii]Dembińska, Maria. Food and Drink in Medieval Poland: Rediscovering a Cuisine of the Past. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999. p. 62
[iii]O'Reilly, Hugh. "Medieval Famines, Bread & Wine. Tradition in Actionhttp://www.traditioninaction.org/History/A_023_Famine.htm

12.04.2019

Book Review: Ivanhoe

Review by Godfrey Blackwell




Title: Ivanhoe 
Author: Sir Walter Scott
Publisher:  Tor Classics
Godfrey's Rating: 1 star
Summary in a Sentence: A supposed "classic" -- a classic example of anti-Medieval, anti-Catholic nonsense that started the tradition that spawned many foolish notions about that period in history.

Some years ago, having read very few of “the classics” in my youth, I decided to read the well-known Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. Being someone who fancies himself an aficionado of the Middle Ages, I thought that I really ought to read it. Then, just recently, while perusing the offerings of various homeschool programmes, I discovered that a popular traditionalist homeschool (which I won’t name here) includes Ivanhoe as required reading in their Twelfth Grade Literature course. I therefore felt it necessary to take a detour from my original plan for the series and “defend Christendom” by dispelling the myth that this novel gives an accurate portrayal of life in twelfth century England. I do not intend this article as an attack on the homeschooling programme as they do a wonderful service to Catholic families, but I am concerned by the fact that such a work is included as required reading in their programme.

Sir Walter Scott is considered the “grandfather of the historical novel”, even the pre-eminent master of the genre. I am left wondering how this can be so. He clearly did about as much historical research for Ivanhoe as Dan Brown did for The Da Vinci Code. To the person that's done any serious research into life in the Middle Ages, it becomes obvious within a few pages that most of Sir Walter's perceptions of that time are products of his own imagination rather than any scholarly investigation.

Interestingly (and likely not coincidentally given the novel’s popularity), most of the myths/misrepresentations present in Ivanhoe are the very same time-honoured fables held by the average western educator of today. There are many, but in this article I shall look at the myths perpetuated as regards equating serfdom with slavery, the corruption of the clergy, and persecution of the Jews.

Equating Serfdom with Slavery

The swineherd Gurth is said to be his master's property and even wears “a brass ring, resembling a dog’s collar, but with no opening, and soldered fast” to underscore this[i] -- which is a calumnious misrepresentation of the relative freedom serfs in Mediaeval England enjoyed. Discussing those freedoms in detail is for another article, but suffice it to say for now that, while they no doubt lived a hard life, mediaeval serfs were not considered mere property, bereft of all rights. Rather, they could own property and sustained themselves through the gains of their own labour, rather than relying entirely on their “owner”. The serf’s lord was obliged (by custom) to protect him from external threats. And while he could not leave the land he was tied to, nor could he be evicted from it.[ii] Above all, there is not a shred of evidence anywhere that serfs were made to wear dog collars.

Corrupt Clergy

Every Churchman in the work is portrayed as both incredibly wealthy and incredibly immoral. The Benedictine Prior Aymer is the most obvious example of this, portrayed wearing a massive gold signet ring and other rings of precious gems, a silk habit with embroidered cope, and a scarlet cap.[iii] While it’s true that there were problems of corruption among abbots and priors in this time period, to suggest that they would dress this outrageously in public is quite incredible. Prior Aymer’s love of feast and women is played-up constantly as well. His depravity is only superseded by the Templar Sir Brian de Bois Guilbert who also, contrary to his vow of poverty, displays vast wealth in an ostentatious manner. He is also said by the author to be “accustomed to act upon his own immediate impulses of his own wishes”[iv] which he proves by many vile actions including the kidnapping of the Jewish character Rebecca. The only cleric with a shred of decency (because he helps rescue the kidnapped maidens) is the Franciscan Friar Tuck who doesn't honour any of his vows, but rather hoards wealth, feasts rather than fasts, is an alcoholic, is subject to no religious superior, and is the most impious individual of the whole novel.

Beyond these specifically bad characters, Sir Walter tells his readers that the only reason anyone entered religious life in the Middle Ages was for wealth and, in the case of women, goes to far as to claim that “it was then common for matrons and maidens of noble families to assume the veil, and take shelter in convents, not as called thither by the vocation of God, but solely to preserve their honour from the unbridled wickedness of man”, because of the “licentiousness of those times”.[v]

There is not one positive portrayal of clergy in the work and the lay characters for the most part constrain their religious references to profanity. The message of the novel is thus clear: no one in the Middle Ages actually took the faith seriously, they just “went along” with it as part of their culture and something they were “expected” to do (we may suppose this was because the Inquisition would burn them if they didn’t; Scott doesn’t say so explicitly, but suggests this via the show trial of Rebecca for witchcraft in Chapter XXXVII[vi]).

To disprove this particular myth expressed in Ivanhoe, would take an entire book describing the popular practice of religion in the mediæval period. But we can use our common sense to realise that it is totally absurd to imagine a society where religious faith is unanimously hypocritical. It is equally absurd to imagine that such a society could produce the quantity and quality of saints that it did. But to give one small, yet pointed example of how much the average mediæval person was willing to conform to Church law, we can consider that in the Middle Ages, Advent and Lent were “prohibited times” during which marriages were forbidden and continence strongly recommended. Historical evidence shows that a significantly reduced number of conceptions occurred during these “prohibited times”, at least among city people (the prime targets of preachers and missionaries), indicating that these injunctions were indeed heeded and practiced by many every-day Catholic.[vii] If people were willing to conform such a private aspect of their life to a mere recommendation of the Church we can be sure that the faith was taken seriously by most.

Persecution of the Jews

Sir Walter goes on ad nauseum about how horribly downtrodden, abused, and persecuted the Jewish characters are. He has no qualms about intruding into the work as omniscient narrator and judging the mediaevals for their treatment of Jews. Despite the melodrama, there is the internal contradiction to the work that the Jewish characters are the wealthiest people in the book and essentially move about as they please while all the Saxon characters are slaves. Scott contradicts what he tells us by what he shows us.

Yet the point remains that he would have us believe that the Middle Ages were a time when Jews suffered more than in any other period before or since. As with the preceding two myths of this novel, there is a kernel of truth here. Certainly, as people belonging to a religion that rejects Our Lord Jesus Christ, living in a nearly unanimously Catholic society, they had reason to be unenthusiastic about their surroundings. Occasionally, piety and religious zeal would “go overboard” among the Catholics leading to violence against Jews.[viii] However, the papacy and the kings of Europe gave special protection to the Jews, and Jews were in fact serfs of the Crown directly in many countries.[ix] They were not prevented from getting an education or pursuing careers in areas other than money lending, either, and the ranks of lawyers, physicians, and scientists contained many Jews.[x]

Conclusion

Some may try to defend this novel by saying that it's not meant to be historically accurate, it's just a fun read. As usual, this is considered a “just excuse” when Catholics and the Church are the victims of a work's inaccuracies. Beyond this, however, for many people, Ivanhoe may be their only exposure to the Middle Ages and will have their opinions formed accordingly.

Ivanhoe is not completely void of merit, so I concede that my comparison to The Da Vinci Code are not really fair and more abuse than argument. This perhaps makes the myths it tells even more tragic. The characters tend to be complex and original (with a few exceptions like Prior Aymer who is nothing more than a platform to attack Catholicism) and from that point of view the book was enjoyable. Scott does a good job of describing the landscape and setting a tone, although this may make the work more insidious from a historical standpoint as it really draws the reader into the world. Moreover, the plot is quite good, and through it, Sir Walter does do a good job of paying homage to chivalry and self-sacrifice. There is certainly a theme that good things cannot be achieved without sacrifice apparent in the work, but in the end, if one wants historical fiction one can do a lot better.[xi]




[i] Scott, Sir Walter. Ivanhoe. London: Marcus Ward and Company, 1878. p. 20
[ii] “Serfs and Serfdom”. Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. Ed. Norman F. Cantor. London: Viking, 1999.
[iii] Scott, supra at note 2, p. 43
[iv] Ibid., p. 46
[v] Ibid., p. 202
[vi] Ibid., pp. 332 and following
[vii] Klapisch-Zuber, Christiane.“Women and Children”. The Middle Ages, Fifth Edition, Ed. Brian Tierney. New York: McGraw Hill, 1999. p. 186
[viii] And it should be noted that this was not always unprovoked or one-sided. For example, we can look to the ritual murder of St. Simon of Trent, a two year-old boy who was kidnapped and crucified upside-down by fundamentalist Ashkenazi Jews near Passover in 1475. Although the Vatican of today denies this event and forbids public devotion to St. Simon of Trent, recent scholarship by Dr. Toaff, a respected Jewish historian, indicates that it did happen because the confessions of the killers in the trial transcript contained details that the clergy and police could not have known. See: Horvat, Marian T. “Bloody Passovers Reported by a Jewish Scholar”. Tradition in Action. http://www.traditioninaction.org/History/A_010_BloodyPassovers.htm>
[ix] Hollister, C. Warren. Medieval Europe, Eighth Edition. Boston: McGraw Hill, 1998. p. 170
[x] Ibid., p. 172
[xi] The works of Sharon Kay Penman are quite good, but rather long. The Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters are not bad (with a warning about the seventh novel in the series, The Sanctuary Sparrow, wherein the title character condones fornication). Shakespeare is always to be recommended and his history is fairly good since he lived only a few generations after the Middle Ages. I highly recommend without reservation Crusader King by Susan Peek (published by TAN Books) although it is mean for a younger audience than grade twelve. The novels of P.C. Doherty should generally be avoided because of immoral content, although they are historically accurate.

11.20.2019

Book Review: The Gripping Hand

Review by Godfrey Blackwell


Title: The Gripping Hand  
Author: Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle  
Publisher: Pocket  
Godfrey's Rating: 2 stars
Summary in a Sentence: The substandard sequel to the masterful Mote in God's Eye where the next generation of the Empire attempts to finally solve the "Motie Problem" when a new Alderson point creates newfound access to the Empire from the Mote.

Nota bene: Since I do not recommend anyone waste their time with this sequel to the masterful Mote in God's Eye, I provide a number of spoilers without qualm in this review. Do not read this review if you intend to read The Mote in God's Eye until after you have read it ... I still recommend you read this review when you get a chance, however, as it sheds some further light on the first work and on contemporary Catholicism.

While last  I had much praise for the first book of this series, it feels as if different authors wrote The Gripping Hand - or perhaps they just rushed through in slipshod manner a manuscript that the publisher was clamoring for, given the success of the first. The result was a substandard book; one that they should not have written. It only tarnishes the legacy of the first.

After 25 years of blockading the Alderson Point to the Mote, the Empire must again face a real threat from the Moties as the formation of a protostar in the vicinity moves the existing Alderson point -- allowing the Moties to bypass the blockade (which was near to collapse anyway). A tiny force is cobbled together and sent to the new point, arriving moments before the first Moties arrive. The group consists of Horace Bury (one of the few people who appreciates the threat the Moties pose), the children of Lord and Lady Blaine, as well as a small customs ship. The rest of the novel is a convoluted tale of alliances, diplomacy, trade, and space combat between the many, many factions of Motie civilization.

The Empire of Man is far less interesting than it was in the first book, save for the comparisons that may be made between the changes in the real-world Catholic Church and those of this fictional empire over a 25-year period. More importantly, the novel lacks the suspense that The Mote in God's Eye had, and the characters are not nearly as loveable. The recurring characters from the first novel have lost the grittiness they had - rather than being real people, they now feel more like cutouts embodying liberal ideals. The new characters, most of them being spoilt rich teenagers, are "rebels without a cause". Far less interesting than the dutiful but scared sailors of the first novel.

Also, most of this book takes place among the Moties. The alienness of the Moties was interesting when we viewed them from the imperial cruiser MacArthur and through her crew. It makes for a less interesting novel to be living among these totally alien and totally amoral creatures. Finally, the book doesn't seem to flow the way The Mote in God's Eye did, and as a result it felt a chore to get through some sections.

Catholicism in the Sequel

Perhaps more than the first novel, The Gripping Hand gives us a lot of insight into how non-Catholics perceived the changes in the Catholic Church after Vatican II. This sequel was published in 1994 and was therefore written in the early '90s most likely. At this point in time the Timebombs of the Vatican II Council had all been deployed. The Novus Ordo Missae was thoroughly entrenched, Assisi I had been perpetrated, vocations were then a shadow of what they were in the late 60s, &c. Even to outsiders, the Church had clearly changed at this point in both appearance, approach to the world and worship, and even in teachings (perceived).

I don't think it is mere coincidence, then, that the Empire of Man that we see in this sequel novel that takes place 25 years after The Mote in God's Eye, is also greatly changed. Overall, it is much more touchy-feely, not the virile military machine that it was before. We also see that:
  • First and foremost, the big solution to the Moties' problems is contraception. The humans develop a method of helping them contracept in order to control their explosive population growth. There is no mention of contraceptives still being frowned upon, and in fact Rod Blaine and Lady Fowler (now Sallie Blaine) have only two children in 25 years of marriage (one is ~24, the other 18).
  • Sexual liberation: Glenda-Ruth Blaine, 18-year-old daughter of Captain Blaine and Lady Fowler, travels unsupervised with her boyfriend in his yaght. It is explicitly stated that they fornicate and she uses some futuristic version of the Pill to avoid pregnancy. They have some inane fight at one point in the novel about her not giving him sex or him not being very good in bed, I forget which ... in any event, it's a far cry from Rod Blaine's solicitousness for Lady Fowler's reputation in The Mote in God's Eye.
  • The Empire is now "flabby and bureaucratized", as one reviewer put it, not the strong monarchy that it was before. There are hints that the Emperor is more of a British-style figurehead now, rather than the sole ruler of before. They are unable to respond to the Motie threat as a result, whereas before they had a heavy battlecruiser and a cruiser heading into the Mote within weeks in the first book after a small probe arrives, they can barely muster a few small customs vessels in response to a potential full-scale invasion.
  • There is no mention of any clergy playing any role whatsoever, versus the clear influence that "the Church" held in the first novel.
  • There are hints that there is now religious freedom as we are introduced to a Mormon planet and it is mentioned that things are better for Levant (Bury's Moslem homeworld). In fact, if one read The Gripping Hand without having read The Mote In God's Eye, first, you would have no clue that there was a state religion.
Interestingly, one of the prominent complaints in the Amazon.com reviews, is how different (and inexplicably so) the Empire of Man is a mere 25 years after the first novel. I think people liked the old-style confessional stat.

It seems to me that "The Empire of Man" in the second novel is basically a Novus Ordo version of its former self. Most of the differences to be found in a comparison of Catholic states pre- and post-Vatican II can be found in the Empire between the two books. Maybe they had another pastoral council in the 31st century that The Gripping Hand doesn't mention? It probably wasn't mentioned because the non-Catholics Niven and Pournelle did not understand why the real-world Catholic Church underwent such cataclysmic changes ... or maybe they didn't consciously notice the changes but just subconsciously wrote them into their novel.

Overall, this just isn't that good of a book. It's okay, and better than a lot of what passes for "great" science fiction today, but still not worth the effort. Enjoy the original, skip the sequel.

11.13.2019

Hygiene in the Middle Ages



We do a lot of research here at Swords and Space for homeschooling and also seeking inspiration for stories. Although Dad is personally happy to have left his school days far behind, he does still find it fascinating and enjoyable to revisit the Middle Ages and other historical periods. We thought it worthwhile to share some of that research occasionally.

One myth that seems to persist about the Middle Ages is the claim that mediæval people did not bathe. On the contrary, they not only washed, but they placed a high value on hygiene, and bathing was quite common. The "once a year bath whether you need it or not" canard was foreign to mediæval sensibilities. If such an attitude ever existed, it did in a period I am not familiar with.

Pulling out my old notes, I must make reference to one of my favourite books from universty: The Ties that Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England by Barbara A. Hanawalt. The author is a liberal university professor, but an honest one at least, who did painstaking research to try to recreate certain aspects of mediæval peasant life. She researched her book by examining coroners' inquests in 14th and 15th century England. In total, she surveyed 3, 118 sudden death inquests.[i]

Of that sample, 35 (just over 1%) cases involved people whose baths ended in drowning. These ranged from bathing in a stream where the current was stronger than the bather believed, to where the unfortunate person slipped and hit their head.[ii] There was also clear evidence that bathing was common even in winter, including a case where an infant died when it was scalded after the tripod broke on a cauldron of bath water that was heating over the fire.[iii]

On top of all this, she found 12 cases where people died while washing laundry. Given that bathing and doing the laundry are hardly dangerous activities, one has no choice but to conclude that people bathed and washed their clothes frequently if this many people died due to fluke accidents while washing.

Beyond Dr. Hanawalt's specific work, there is abundant evidence that soap was very common in the Middle Ages. There are also numerous references in the literature of the time to bathing, wherein it is treated as something commonplace.[iv]

According to 13th century etiquette manuals, mediæval people were expected to always wash their hands before and after meals. Monastic rules included regulations ordaining regular bathing.[v] In the courts of the nobility, there were formal ceremonies that were scrupulously observed in this regard. Many people today don't wash their hands before and after meals. Perfume was also popular, and for the same reasons as today, not to mask bad hygiene as common "wisdom" would have us believe. [vi]

Finally, there is the related myth about Mediæval peoples' dental hygiene: that it was very bad and they had only blackened stumps for teeth. However, when one studies documents written during those horrible "Dark Ages", one finds that there were liquids to whiten teeth, compounds for filling cavities, dentures made of human teeth or cow bone, and even surgical techniques for oral cancer and the repair of fractured jaws.[vii] Scientists who have studied the exhumed remains of mediæval peasants found that they in fact had better teeth than modern people, probably because of better diet. In fact, at one site, not one body buried in the graveyard had tooth decay.[viii]

The true mediæval attitude towards bathing and cleanliness can perhaps be summed up by a common saying from France at the time: "Venari, ludere, lavari, bibere; Hoc est vivere!" (To hunt, to play, to wash, to drink, - This is to live!)[ix]





[i] Hanawalt, Barbara, The Ties that Bound : Peasant Families in Medieval England, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 13
[ii] Ibid., p. 61
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Horvat, Marian, "Refuting the Anti-Catholic Lies of the e-pamphlet 'Life in the 1500's'", Tradition in Actionhttp://www.traditioninaction.org/History/A_005_Myths1500s.shtml
[v] Ibid.
[vi] "Cosmetics and Beauty Aids" Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages, Ed. Norman F. Cantor, London: Viking, 1999.
[vii] Elliott, Jane, "Medieval Teeth 'Better than Baldrick's", BBC News Online, 8 October, 2004, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3722598.stm
[viii] "Medieval Peasants Had 'Better Teeth'", Ananova,
http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_1502422.html
[ix] Horvat, Supra at note 4

11.11.2019

ARTWORK: RED BULL STRATOS

By Godfrey Blackwell

Back in 2012 we were all very excited about the Red Bull Stratos jump. It was the first, "Space First" for any of our children, and the first one of moment for the parents too! At the time I drew this in honour of the project, with St. Joseph of Cupertino (patron saint of astronauts) and an angel watching over Felix Baumgartner.



11.06.2019

Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)


Title: Snow White and the Huntsman
Director: Rupert Sanders
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron
Godfrey's Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Rating: PG -- I would personally rate it more PG-13 or 14A myself, owing to some of the storyline surrounding the queen and adult themes there, but otherwise there's very little profanity, and the violence is not gruesome. There's a few parts I skipped to allow the whole Swords and Space crew to view.
Summary in a Sentence: A surprisingly good new take on the well-known "Snow White" fairy tale that features a good and pure Snow White, aided by the Hunstman, at war with the evil Queen Ravenna.


Yet further confirmation that if the critics dislike it, I will like it. I went into it this film when it was in the cinema with very low expectations after seeing the trailer. As one friend at the time pointed out, the trailer makes it appear to be yet another "grimdark" adult fantasy film with a large dose of Xena Warrior Princess. In my view, however, the trailer is in fact very misleading in how it portrays the film and it was nothing of the sort. First, a quick synopsis:

In a twist to the fairy tale, the Huntsman ordered to take Snow White into the woods to be killed winds up becoming her protector in a quest to vanquish the Evil Queen.

Now, first to the "darkness" -- I didn't find the film to be all that dark. I didn't find it really any darker than the Lord of the Rings films. Certainly, there are a lot of dark, occult, and black magic elements surrounding the evil queen Ravenna, but this is proper. A dark fantasy, like the ever popular "Game of Thrones",  lacks the good that opposes such evil. Snow White does have that good, not just in the person of Snow White, but we even see the realm of the opponents of the Queen which is not blackened and blighted as her realm is. There are faeries, and the Seven Dwarves (who I thought were great). There was a clear battle of good versus evil.

The film was refreshingly non-feminist, and even to the contrary had a good grasp on traditional "roles" and displayed them well. Contrary to what the trailer suggests, Snow White is not a warrior-woman, and only appears in armour at the end of the film for her own protection. She does not lead the men into battle, but is protected by them, serving as more of a Joan of Arc inspirational sort of role.


In a way, this film was like the "anti-Hunger Games":

  • Both films feature young ladies as the main protagonists. Katniss Everdine it is the adoption of male virtues and cynical, self-preserving gender-bending pugilism that wins the day. Whereas Snow White is victorious via her feminine virtues of kindness, gentleness, and empathy coupled with a strong spirit of self-sacrifice.
  • The Hunger Games features not only a post-Christian but a completely non-religious society where no character has a shred of Christian virtue. This is not the case at all in Snow White, where there is overt religion (Snow White's praying of the Our Father in one of the opening scenes, the presence of Gothic cathedrals and Caltholic-looking clergy) but more importantly a sense of a certain morality and honour beyond mere self-preservation. Although there were a lot of missed opportunities in this regard and there was no follow-through, the world presented was a much more realistic one.
  • Although Snow White is a young adult, in appearance and behaviour of a similar age to Katniss, there is no "adults = evil, youth = good" at play in this film; there is a good mix of adults on both sides.
  • Hope: although much of Snow White has an appropriate amount of tension and foreboding, in the end it has a happy ending and throughout the film there is that sense of hope that good can be restored. In the Hunger Games, there is no hope, just liberal despair. 

In terms of technical aspects, the film was certainly adequate to the task, although it was no masterpiece of filmmaking. The sets were good, the costumes credible. The acting was on the whole pretty decent. All was solidly "good" if not anything spectacular. The soundtrack was appropriate and did a good job of setting the tone.

So, on the whole, not a masterpiece or a classic, but a good, solid fantasy film that I rather enjoyed. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I like it

11.04.2019

10.30.2019

Star Wars Good for Young Girls?


GODFREY: I want to stress that I am not holding myself out as some sort of authority -- I'm just a Catholic father sharing my thoughts at the request of a reader. So here we go; first with some general comments that apply to all six of the films. They all feature what in my view is mild fantasy violence -- blood is minimal, and what constitutes violence is usually bits of coloured light flying around knocking people down, burning holes in walls, or blowing up spaceships. I may be more permissive than other parents when it comes to violence, but I have no concerns with my children seeing this sort of thing even at preschool age. As a point of comparison, the violence is much more mild than that found in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films.

The language in the films is clean, and the fact that it takes place in a fantasy world means there is no blasphemy of any kind. I can think of one instance where the word "hell" is used, and that's about as coarse as the language gets. There are no sex scenes; there is a bit of relatively tame kissing and in general (with exceptions noted below) the immodesty is no worse than one would observe in her day-to-day travels and is generally better.

The only real concerns may be over "New Age" themes with the Force. Again, perhaps I'm more permissible than others, but I am not overly concerned with this since it tends to be fairly mild, and in the prequel trilogy is made less mystical and more junk science. Also, in a fantasy world, I think children will be able to understand that it is fantastic and not real,  just as they can understand they can't be Gandalf when they grow up. So, in general, I think that Star Wars is safe for children but I would not recommend all the films.

My correspondent asked specifically about the appropriateness of Star Wars for a daughter, so as I look at the specific episodes I'll focus on how femininity is portrayed. It seems to me that, given how much female nature has been obscured and even perverted in modern society, we must be a little extra vigilant as regards our daughters in what may seem "small things".

Episode IV - A New Hope

On the whole, I consider A New Hope to be good, clean fun. Princess Leia is a feisty but still feminine character who relies on the heroes for protection and inspires them to good feats. Her costumes are also at their best in this film. The tale is a basic "good versus evil" plot with very little moral ambiguity. Recommended.

Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

Okay, Princess Leia wears pants for much of the film which I'm not crazy about, BUT she is still her regular self, a strong-willed princess. Also, when living in a warzone on a planet that's all ice, I think this is what anyone would wear, and when she has the opportunity (on Cloud City) she gets into something more becoming. She doesn't fight on the front lines and proper roles are maintained. Again, more basic good versus evil. I think this film is to be recommended as well.

Episode VI - Return of the Jedi

Return of the Jedi is probably the most problematic film of the whole series if for nothing else, the notorious Princess Leia "slave" costume. More problematic for boys, perhaps, but still not a good thing. Among the many issues I have with Return of the Jedi, I think that it the portrayal of Princess Leia is in some ways not true to her character in earlier films and more of a "warrior woman" which as everyone knows I'm not a fan of. I certainly don't think it's a good role model for young girls. I'd skip this episode or regard it with a lot of caution.


Episode I - The Phantom Menace

As mentioned previously, I don't hate Episode I the way most do. I think especially for children it's a fairly decent film. Queen Amidala's portrayal as a gentle, ladylike figure who is concerned for her people and takes a leadership role (as befits a queen) to free them from the invasion of the Trade Federation makes for a good feminine role model. Her wardrobe a little over-the-top but generally pretty good. She gets involved a bit in the fighting but doesn't give that "Xena Warrior Princess" vibe at all. I think this film is pretty safe for young girls.


Episode II - Attack of the Clones

I only saw this film once and honestly can't remember much about it, other than that Queen Amidala's wardrobe is atrocious (especially when it gets conveniently ripped Captain Kirk-style to expose her midriff). Aside from that, it is just not a great film. I remember that watching it felt a bit like watching someone else play a video game. Not particularly engrossing or worth watching. You can watch Episode I and skip to Episode III without being lost plot-wise at all.

 Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

Revenge of the Sith is probably the darkest of the Star Wars films, and this is mostly where I'd stress caution, plus also one scene where viewers are treated to sights of Hayden Christensen naked from the waist-up. I think the portrayal of female characters is okay, although we are starting to get into the Xena-style warrior Jedi-esses, which I believe was in Episode II as well.

Episode IX - The Force Awakens

There's a lot I could say about the first of the Disney Films, but focusing on its portrayal of femininity I have big problems with the film. Rey is a way over-the-top character who's better than everyone at everything, and picks up difficult skills like light sabre fighting instantly (the first time she touches one she decisively defeats Kylo Ren who supposedly single-handedly wiped-out all of Luke Skywalker's Jedi pupils). Just not good story-telling and it's Xena Warrior-Princess style feminism on steroids in my opinion.

Rogue One

Aside from the fact that this film is, in my opion, pretty much trash aside from the big battle near the end, once again we are treated to a female lead character who is good at everything. Jyn Erso isn't as bad of a "Mary Sue" as Rey as she actually has some character flaws and a few things she can't do. The main problem I have with this film is that all of the protagonists are "anti heroes" which is absolutely not what any child male or female should be looking up to.

Those are some very brief thoughts on this series of films which is one of my favourites.

10.16.2019

Book Review: Writing Horses

A Review by Godfrey Blackwell


Title: Writing Horses: The Fine Art of Getting It Right
Authors: Judith Tarr
Publisher: Book View Café
Godfrey's Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: A solid introductory reference work for the fantasy/historical fiction writer to help them "get it right", written in an accessible  by a "horse person"

As the title says, this ebook is written by a "horse person" to help us non-"horse people" to get the horses right in their fantasy or historical fiction (or maybe even space fantasy). I downloaded this affordably-priced ($4.99) ebook on the advice of my mother who is a "horse person" to help me with getting my horses right. I found it very helpful in that regard and give it 4 stars.

The book is actually a collection of blog entries, revised for the book. Chapters include "Form and Function", "Care, Feeding, and the Inevitable Need for a Horse Doctor", "The Fine Art of Horse Stowage", "Baaby Horses", "Horse Training", and "Mind and Magic" (on the psychology of the "furry aliens" that are horses). It answers such important questions as how far can a horse travel in a day? What does a horse eat? When is a brown horse really a sorrel (or a bay, or a dun)? What do tack and withers and canter mean?

Some chapters were more useful to me than others -- the first two are certainly the most important since they give the nuts-and-bolts that a writer of stories where horses are present (versus some actually writing about horses) needs with recommendations for further reading. This book is by no means meant to be an exhaustive study but more of a primer. This makes it a quick and easy read that gives a clear notion of what further study is required for the reader's particular work.

Writing Horses is written in a humourous, down-to-earth style. I found it enjoyable to read and being a "non-horse person" gave me an appreciation not just for the complex psychology of horses but of their modern devotees as well. I do think is that some of the things complained of as major faux pas on the part of writers are so esoteric that only horse people would be offended. For example, when writers have someone knee a horse's flank -- technically totally wrong, but in terms of general parlance I think most people consider the flank as, generically, the side. Yet "horse people" are not an insignificant group and they are vocal, so it seems worthwhile to listen to them. Simply from the aspect of professional pride I do think that writers should try to learn about everything the write of so that they sounds somewhat knowledgeable to those "in the know" and to that end I recommend this book.

On the whole, then, "Writing Horses" is well worth the $4.99 pricetag and is a valuable resource for any fantasy/historical fiction writer. I give it 4/5 stars accordingly.

10.09.2019

Why Science Fiction/Fantasy is the Best Genre

“All novels are fantasies. Some are more honest about it."

Gene Wolfe

After the better part of a year, I figured some justification should be offered for this site's very existence, since many look down on science fiction/fantasy as “low brow”, “childish”, or “disconnected from reality”. It is none of these things, or at least, no more so than any other form of fiction. And it has many advantages unique to it which is why (aside from being a nerd) I love the genre and have little interest in writing outside of it.

    I thought to try to define what I mean by science fiction/fantasy, but the definition is so elusive I decline the opportunity. Instead, let me quote author Mark C. Glassy, who compares the definition of science fiction to the definition of pornography: you don't know what it is, but you know it when you see it

    I should also point out that I can't say ALL science fiction/fantasy is great. That is absolutely NOT what I'm saying. On the contrary, the names of titles to be avoided are legion. A perusal of the annual anthology The Best of the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy might lead one to believe that perversity and blasphemy are the norm in contemporary science fiction. And this is true to a degree, which is why I generally prefer older works, and that which is published here on Swords and Space. But when science fiction and fantasy is good, it is the best, and, unlike other genres, it is more frequently "permitted" to be good (in my opinion)

Liberal/Modern Tripe Not Mandatory

    The ills of modern literature are not unknown to science fiction/fantasy. However, the genre’s marginalisation means that "mainstream" and "LitFic" authors don't write it, and the "respectable" critics don't read it. To a degree this is true of any genre fiction (since it's all looked-down on by the LitFic crowd) but I think it may be moreso with SF/F. It also seems to be slightly more acceptable to portray religion or introduce religious themes into such works (to my astonishment, Ad Astra featured astronauts praying to St. Christopher, for example).

    It is also possible to give a positive gloss on tradition, because the societies being portrayed are generally not Christendom or its remnants. This is also true in more mainstream works that deal with non-European cultures, but in science fiction/fantasy one can encounter civilizations more familiar and reminiscent of Christendom which would be verboten elsewhere. In science fiction and fantasy, the battle of “good versus evil” is not considered passé, but is rather a standard element.

The Mythic Sagas of Our Times


    The classical pagans’ epic myths and the mediæval chansons de geste, with their superhuman characters, extraordinary events, and supernatural intercessions would be classed as science fiction/fantasy if written today, in my opinion. While the great works of antiquity such as the Aeneid, the IlliadThe Song of Roland, &c., are mandatory reading for any man, something more contemporary can an easier read and -- dare I say -- more “relevant” to specific issues of our own times. And it is to good science fiction that one can look if he seeks the grandeur, the sense of wonder, and lessons on humanity, that is present in the classics.

    This is why, I believe, Lord of the Rings is the best selling novel of all time. It simply would not be possible to write such an epic work in any other genre.

Use of Analogy and Extrapolation


    Which brings me to the third benefit of the genre; the creation of completely foreign places (and, indeed, worlds) gives a different perspective to the reader, and allows for especially effective use of analogy and extrapolation. It is one thing to read about why totalitarian governments or the modern world are bad or headed in the wrong direction. It is another thing entirely (and a much more powerful thing) to experience those horrors via science fiction works like 1984 and Brave New World. While other genres can do this well, science fiction and fantasy can take it to new levels by examining things that haven’t happened yet (or could have, but didn’t).

10.04.2019

Wellis Carter Space Adventure, Part 1

By Anna Blackwell (August 2019, age 11)

My name is Wellis Carter, age 18 -- year 2534. Let me tell you a adventure i had one time that will blow your mind.

The air around me felt chilly as I walked further through the forest. I slung my hunting rifle over my shoulder. It was very close to freezing season -- a time when my kind sort of carbonfreezed ourselves -- so I decided to do some some hunting before then. My eye suddenly caught a deer ;it was grazing on a patch that had not been covered in frost. I got my gun and prepared to fire. Suddenly the deer looked up and bolted as if something had frightened it. I turned around; no one was there but me.Then I looked up a Kronos space Saucer!!

The Kronos were a group of aliens that attacked our planet for the precious gem mines in the mountains. But as I watched a 2 human frigates followed after it. An explosion was heard at the end of the forest. I raced over and once I reached the end of the forest I saw some more human ships deploying a squad of justice troopers and far away were a group of Kronos.

I hesitated -- what was I to do? Should I to go to the troopers and ask it I could help or would I be better off on my own? I looked at my hunting rifle; I knew It would never hold off that many Kronos for long.But before I could do any thing a gun clicked and a heavy bolter was placed next to head.

"Don’t move, sonny. “

I saw next to me was a heavily armoured battle trooper

"Don’t shoot” I said, "I’m a Tathlan.“

But he didn’t listen; he was already on his com link: “Sir, I seem to have caught some Tathlan snooping about ... what ... oh yes right away sir.“

He nudged his gun at me. “Hand over the gun, sonny, and don’t trying and run off because I never miss.“

I gave him my gun then I started to move. He took me to a place were the humans were planning their battle plan or that's what it seemed like, for there was a map on the table next to them. The trooper took me to a human who seemed to be a battle commandant.

"Sir here is the Tathlan I told you about.“

The commandant turned around. He looked at me he could tell I wasn’t a human because of my grey skin a and white hair.

"Tathlan hmm? Well, child you better listen to me -- we aren’t on any fun trip were here to deal with the Kronos we already went through it with you leader and since your kind can’t stand the freeze coming up we are going to battle the Kronos ourselves.“

This angered me. “We can fight our own battles human!”

The commandant smirked but just then the ground trembled violently and a trooper rushed over.

“Sir, they're firing artillery at us!“ I Suddenly saw a way to get away.

“Incoming!” someone shouted.

I jumped at the commandant and we fell into a nearby bush as a blast hit the ground. The commandant looked shocked at my act to save him.

"You --”

I cut him off: “Yeah, don’t mention it."

“I’m sorry for treating you like that,” he said .”Here, if you really want to help us, do you now a way into Sarc Palace?“

I hesitated. Sarc Palace was an abandoned building north of the attacking Kronos position. But I replied, “alright, I know secret way to get in. I’ll show you were it is."

The commandant nodded and, after shouting a few orders to his men, he indicated that I should follow him. As he ran across the open ground, I followed right behind him.

"Where are we heading, kid?“ he asked.

“Around here to the right,“ I replied.

Keeping low under the shelter of the trees we traveled about a mile, 'til we came to a ruin on top of a hill. Somewhere below, the Kronos were firing their artillery missiles.

“You did well, kid," said the commandant.

I smiled. “There is a secret turbo lift somewhere," I said. “I’ll go see if I can find it."

Once I ran behind a corner, the sound of artillery made me shake in fear. Telling myself to calm down, I distracted myself by looking for the secret turbo lift. When I was younger, me and my friends played games up here, so it didn’t take too long for me to find what I was looking for. Stripping the vines off ,I was happy to see the lift was still in working order. But suddenly I heard approaching footsteps and around the corner a Kronos fighting warrior appeared!

It hasn’t seen me yet, I thought as I backed up until I pressed hard on the lift .I reached in to open the door and backed in. But the sound of the door alerted the Kronos of my presence. It started to fire it's ray gun but it luckily bounced of the doors as they closed.The lift began to descend but stopped mysteriously. Its doors opened I got out and found myself in a long dark corridor that seemed to have no end. I ventured forth, careful to keep an eye out for security measures. I soon thought it had no end til I can to another set of turbo lifts. I checked to make sure they worked, and walked in.The doors shut again and before I knew it I began to be fly upwards.

Whats wrong with the rotten thing today? I thought, then once again the doors opened and I found myself standing in front of a tall man.

"You took your time," he said, shaking my hand and grinning.

"Who are you, were am I?” I asked in surprise. “How could you know I was coming?"

“I’m Basker Nek. Now, cut the questions in til we find a proper place to talk."

I eyed him suspiciously as he hustled me down the passageway away from the lifts.I had barely got what appeared to be his office when he launched a whole conversation:

"As i said my name is Basker Nek and I used to design security systems for both government and private enterprises. I have done it for years. Not just here, but in many other different places.”

"How did you know I was coming?" I asked again.

"I didn’t know it was you, specifically, but I had sensors all along that corridor that runs along that ruin and I tracked your arrival. Then I programmed the turbo lift to bring all persons using the lift to pass to this level,” he explained. "Now I want to know what you were doing up there -- you seem too young for a smuggler."

"Smuggler!!" I said bewildered. "Of course not -- I was just hunting when a Kronos ship scared my deer…"

He stopped mean mid-sentence. "Kronos? are you sure it was a Kronos ship?”

“Yeah, sure, I saw them with my own eyes once I got to the edge of the forest.”

"Sorry please continue," he said apologetically.

"Well that's kind of it when I got to the ruins. I saw them using a kind of artillery thing, that was until I stumped into that lift and got spat out into that corridor," I said, keeping out the part with the humans, because I had a feeling that I had no need to tell him that.

"Hmm ... Kronos, eh?" He murmured . "Well, I kind of heard …uh, rumours that they are going to use your planet's gems to power up a weapon they might be making ... that can kill all life on a planet."

"But that's INSANE," I said in horror. “No weapon can kill all life on a planet and not completely destroy it -- that's impossible"

"Oh, it's quite possible alright,” he said. "But not without your planet's gems and uh …I think you and I should have a word with…uh ..my associates in, er,um criminal classes."

I froze. How can I consult with criminals and bounty hunter and should I trust this guy? I thought. My first option was to decline but I knew that if I did, he might lock me in the turbo lift and leave me to die. So I decided to give it a chance. I followed him through a long secret tunnel that seemed to go forever but when we got to the end it lead to a room. It had a curtained doorway. When I ducked through my eyes met the strangest sighting ever -- creatures from all over the galaxy. Basker Nek guided me through the crowd and waved at a lizard looking creature.

"Now stay here, I shall be back in a few minutes and for your own sake don’t talk to any one “ he said.

I frowned "I thought I was coming with you. If it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t know the Kronos were here."

“Stay here; this place is dangerous," he said with some force and, pointing to my seat, he disappeared into the crowd. I went to my seat and sat down. There were so many species there I felt very obvious, especially since none of my kind were there. Just then a human at the next table looked at me and smiled, raising his cup. I smiled back distractedly and looked back at the surrounding mayhem. The man looked at me again and gestured for me to come over.

Who is this guy? I wondered. Is he gesturing for me to come over? I pointed to myself questioningly and he nodded and gestured me over.

"I noticed you siting there looking a bit out of place," he said. "I’m Sank by the way."

"You can say that again” I said. “ I’m Wellis Carter”.

Sank told me that he was a merchant trader. Soon we began talking like friends (despite the fact he was a human and I was a Tathlan) 'til Sank’s com bead beeped he talked to however it was in Jamaka (a type of alien language).

“That was my first mate," Sank said once he finished. "He does repairs on my ship, so I must join him. We had trouble getting parts on the Stellar Jewel -- that's my ship -- she’s a Class Jina 6."

"A Class Jina 6, that is one of the fastest ships ever !“ I said in excitement.

"You heard of it? “ he asked in surprise.

"Of course I have, my great grandfather had one.”

"Well I could take you to see her," he offered. "I can’t give you the whole tour though."

I knew I should wait for Kasker Nek, but I couldn’t stop myself. “Really? Of course!"

Then Sank and I slipped out of the bar door. The space port wasn’t very far and as soon as we entered, I saw the Stellar Jewel.

"She is beautiful !!” I exclaimed.

"She sure is," said Sank. “Come and have a look at the twin blasters but then I really have to go.”

Ducking under the wing he gestured for me to hurry up.

"I’m coming, I’m coming!" I said.

He showed me the newly installed cannon. “You can see the new position of the Solar Drive enhances its capabilities ‘’

I leaned closer to get a better look, but he suddenly grabbed me tightly and hustled me up the gangway.

"Hey Sank what are you doing?”I asked in confusion.

“You're coming with us," Sank said, tightening his grip and pulling me farther into the ship as the entry ramp closed.

“Go!” he yelled to his first mate who engaged the engines and we took off out of star port.

"W-what are you doing? Were are you taking me?’’I asked as Sank grabbed a pair of security cuffs and fastened one armlet to a bench and the other on my wrist.

"We’re going to RockBen," he said, grabbing another pair of cuffs securing my feet to the bottom of the bench. "I’m going to sell you to a mine owner I know.”

“What? your a slave trader!”

"Yes, I am “ Sank replied stuffing a gag into my mouth. "Now shut your trap you're giving me a headache."

When the Stellar Jewel landed in RockBen there was a unscrupulous mine owner waiting for me. Still gagged and cuffed, I was shoved into the back of a transport.

What am I going to do? I throught. If I try and signal for help,who’s going to believe I’ve been kidnapped, I’m sure that mine owner is able to tell numbers of lies to disprove my story. He probably had a lot of practice at it.

I felt the transport slow down and stop. We're here, wherever here is. I then heard voices.

“Do you have authorized papers?” it sounded like a security droid.

"Yes I do right here,” I heard the Mine owner say.

A security check point! Could I take this for a chance to escape? I decided any risk was worth it, I wasn’t going to become a slave, not in my life. With my hands still cuffed behind my back and the gag in my mouth, I slid across the floor of the transport.Trying to keep out of sight I hauled my body over the back of the transport. Unable to break my fall, a surge of pain hit me. Ignoring it, I continued to slug across the ground to a bunch of crates.I knew if the mine owner looked back, I was dead! So as silent as I could, I crawled behind the crates.I watched as the mine owner drove off with out even looking back.

I breathed a sigh of relief when suddenly a voice said, "well, well, well, what do we have here?”

I felt frozen stiff from my position. I couldn’t see who it was but I knew it wasn’t a security droid

“Don’t move," the voice said. "A security droid is coming."

The sound of footsteps came close “Are you Mar Iber?" a robotic voice asked.

"Thats me, have you finished ransacking my ship?” said the man who had accosted me.

“Yes you are clear to leave Bay number 2-13 “

“It better be in the same way I left it “ the man said. The security droid left.

"Easy “ Mar Iber said as he picked and unlocked the cuffs.

"Thanks," I said, removing the gag from my mouth.

"No problem. You got a lot of guts kid," he said. "You're lucky I was the only one who saw you." He grinned. “The name's Mar, as I guess you heard."’

He held out his hand and helped me to my feet.

"Well, I better be off,” Mar said. "Be careful and don’t get in trouble. "The Justice Legion probably don’t want trouble”

I watched as Mar left. The Justice Defenders were also? If they were I had to find them and ask for help.I started to walk about. The vast marketplace was crowded. Once I got to a railing to get some air, I saw a spectacular view of rocky mountains with skyscrapers perched on their sides forming a chain of cities.It was quite amazing, though it made me the want to go home back to Tarthlan.

I suddenly heard a low scream and I turned around I saw that a little girl had fallen down and if no one helped her. She was going to get trampled.

"Stop, look a little girl fell down, help her!” I shouted, but nobody listen so I through myself through the crowd I pushed forward.

"Watch it," yelled an alien as I ran past it. I was almost there when a large Ogler was in my way .There was no way past him so in frustration I grabbed a pin from my pocket and pinched him in the back. He howled and got out of the way just enough for me to get past and help the girl up but as I did so, the Ogler grabbed me.

"WAIIITTTT” I yelled and then the crowd went silent, even the little girl stopped crying. ”Please, I was just trying to help this girl before she got trampled to death, I didn’t mean to hurt you.” I said.

The Ogler grunted and let go. “Fine, but if I see you again you're dead.”

Just then a figure ran over. ”What's going on here?” he asked in a stern voice.

I looked around. It was a Justice Legionary! The ogler stepped back “ uh..nothin ... “

The Legionary looked at me. “Nothing sir, just a small mishap," I said.

He looked at the Ogler. “You may go but you --" he pointed at me -- "come with me.”

I followed him but I was in a hurry to tell him what happened. “Sir wait I have to tell you something.”

He turned back to me. "I didn’t ask you to speak."

This didn’t stop me. "No, sir, please, you have have to take me back to my home planet.”

"You didn’t have perm--”

I didn’t let him finish “ no sir please it’s under attack by the Kronos you have to take me back." This time he listened. After a short while of explanation he decided to take me back. After he sent a few messages to his people I found myself in his ship on my way to home…..

10.02.2019

Movie Review: Ad Astra (2019)



Title: Ad Astra
Director: James Gray
Producer: New Regency Pictures
Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga
Godfrey's Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
Rating: PG; I'd say this rating is appropriate and I'd have little difficulty showing it to the older children (13 and 11) as there not a lot of violence or profanity, and no nudity.
Summary in a Sentence: A thoughtful and stylistic film with great potential, but which falls short of the masterpiece it could have been, due to a lacklustre storyline with some very big plot holes and inconsistencies.

This is a film that I really wanted to be able to give a top rating, since it was full of many of the things I love in a science fiction film: strong thought-inducing themes, beautiful cinematography, relaxed pacing, and a reliance on story rather than big explosions. And while it was certainly worth my return to the cinema for the first time since Blade Runner 2027, I could not help but feel disappointed and cannot give the film more than a middling 3/5 star rating. The plot synopsis from the IMDB page:

Astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) travels to the outer edges of the solar system to find his missing father and unravel a mystery that threatens the survival of our planet. His journey will uncover secrets that challenge the nature of human existence and our place in the cosmos.

Ad Astra gets full marks for style -- I really liked the retro, 1960s space-race inspired flight and space suits. The "space ships" had a realistic feel to them and the film seemed to give at least decent effort to giving a realistic look and feel to all the sets. The military won major "rule of cool" points for wearing Fallschirmjäger-style splinter camouflage on earth, and orange-red Flecktarn on Mars. This is worth at least half a star bonus in my books.

The filmmaker seemed undecided on what sort of mood to strike. Is the film an optimistic space exploration film? Dystopian future? I'm not even sure ... it was a little bit of a lot of genres, a little bit of 2001/Interstellar, a helping of Moon's paranoia, a dash of Mad Max (moon land pirates), and a pinch of Gattaca (the constant psych evaluations throughout the film). I'm all in favour of mixing things up like this but I just don't know how well it was pulled off ... maybe I just couldn't wrap my mind around the dark aspects when guys are wearing space suits that look like what the Gemini astronauts wore. Having slept on it I think it actually worked better than I felt while watching it.

And while I love "long boring space movies" like 2001, I just couldn't get into this film in the same way. It had a slow pace, but I question the choice of what time was spent on. The viewer gets a few gorgeous space vistas but they are all too fleeting, rather we spend a lot of time inside Roy McBride's head as he sorts through his "daddy issues". The film did have some food for thought, but I think it was too wrapped up in McBride's neurosis and unresolved issues with his father abandoning the family to search for extraterrestrial life and then after all that buildup the final "confrontation" between father and sone was very anticlimactic, almost rushed (perhaps 15 minutes of the 2 hour film are spend actually aboard his father's ship), and very unsatisfying.

I found the acting to be very "low key", unemotional, and flat. This was perhaps intentional (cf. the Gattaca aspect),  but it also made it difficult to connect to the characters.

There were massive, massive plot holes, and inexplicable choices made by various parties. This is mildly spoilerific, but the whole plan to take down Clifford McBride made no sense at all and had zero chance of success until Roy intervened. And it was not clear why the authorities wanted him killed for intervening when he then goes on and carries out the mission. And why is that mission done by some random civilian science vessel that can apparently travel to Neptune in 72 days yet no one had been there since McBride Sr. went (and it took him something like 20 years to get there)? The moon pirates felt random and inconsistent with what's described as a war zone over disputed moon borders -- why do they just kill everyone and wreck the moon buggies instead of trying to steal and capture?

All in all this made for a dangerously close to mediocre film. I still hope that readers will go watch it for the good aspects, because even though this film isn't perfect, it's the type of film we need more of.


9.30.2019

FLAMES OF WAR: TIGER

By James Blackwell and Godfrey Blackwell




Tank body and weathering by James, tank commander by Godfrey.

9.27.2019

D.N.A. EPISODE 5

By BarbaraBlackwell (May-June 2019, age 9)

FOR PART ONE CLICK HERE
FOR PART TWO CLICK HERE
FOR PART THREE CLICK HERE
FOR PART FOUR CLICK HERE








9.25.2019

How C.G.I. Killed Sci Fi


... well, sci-fi movies, at any rate. I remember when C.G.I. was making its first appearances (I think around the time of Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park) I was rather excited, thinking that there would be a lot more science fiction movies produced because it would be cheaper/easier to do so, and that this would be great for fans like me. Well, I suppose I wasn't completely wrong, but when I look at all the dreck out there these days, I certainly wasn't right.

Even today, 20+ years after the first "photorealistic" C.G.I. creatures of Jurassic Park and Babylon 5's space station, C.G.I. still, largely, looks totally fake and stupid. My children have been watching Empire Strikes Back over and over and over lately, and the ships in that (1980) film, or how about the Aries 1B Earth-Moon Shuttle from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968!) look far more convincing than, say, the ship in Avatar (2009) that transports Sam Worthington to Pandora.



This also applies to scenery and human battlescenes -- consider the future war scene from Terminator 2 which unlike the T1000 was all models, Animatronics, and "practical effects" (they actually flip the truck, for example). By 2003 with Termintor 3 we got a whole platoon of risible cartoons walking stiffly down a hill. Or even the battlescenes in the Lord of the Rings films, which was probably some of the best C.G.I. I've seen -- it still looks fake because it is.



The battlescene in T3 starts at about 2:25 of the clip below:


And don't even get me started on puppets vs. C.G.I....


And the list goes on -- guys in rubber suits (Alien in '79/Aliens in '86) make for way scarier xenomorphs than the C.G.I. nonsense in Alien Versus Predator.

The thing is, if I had the wherewithal to make a film, all I'd have to do is wander down to the local gaming store and hire all my fellow Warhammer geeks to build and paint-up a whole mess of scenery and vehicles. With less than the cost of one scene of C.G.I., they could whip-up a whole galaxy worth of stuff. Now, maybe there are some union issues or something, but C.G.I. just strikes me as the lazy film-maker's way out and it has led to poorer filmmaking. In the old days they had to actually use their heads and get creative, now they just use computers.
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