G.I. Joe: Right in the Childhood

No One Died in GI Joe

***WARNING – MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***

Last week, I laid my money down to see G.I. Joe: Retaliation. As a child of the 80′s, the Joe’s are near and dear to my heart. And while I didn’t actually own any G.I. Joe action figures (Masters of the Universe was more my thing), I did watch the cartoon, and the cartoon movie. Some of the kids would bring some of their figures and the smaller vehicles to play with at recess. Yeah, not only did we get recess, but we were allowed to bring things from home to play with. Different times to be sure. I don’t think they would allow you to bring the tiny plastic guns into a school anymore, even though they are only about 2 inches long. Anyway, when they would cut the grass, it would pile up at the edge of a small wooded area on the edge of the school property. We would use the dried clippings, twigs and leaves to make forts, and the hedge apples were our weapons of mass destruction.

Ahh, the memories.

No One Died in GI Joe

Duke, Scarlett, Roadblock, Snake Eyes and Flint – Notice how none of them are DEAD?!

When G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra came out in 2009, I was excited to see the “Real American Heroes” brought to life. I was willing to forgive that they weren’t using the most commonly known Joe characters (I don’t know anyone that had a “Ripcord” or “Breaker” figure), and the use of those suits was just plain silly. Joe’s were supposed to be the best of the best – they shouldn’t have needed suits to make them better. They fit it all into the plot, though. All in all, GIJ:ROC wasn’t a great movie, but it didn’t make me write off the franchise.

What I really didn’t like, though, was that Dr. Mindbender was practically an afterthought. I originally imagined that the “Doctor” character working with McCullen (Destro) was Mindbender, but when they showed him later in the film, I felt a little let down. I also didn’t like that the Baroness and Mindbender were basically written out of future stories when they are so integral to the Cobra organization.

Listen to me talk up G.I. Joe lore like I wrote it.

So let’s fast forward to 2013. The long-awaited sequel has arrived, and the previews really give the impression that Cobra has the upper hand. I’m prepared for a sequel along the lines of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan or Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. But that isn’t what I got. There was a tremendous opportunity here to create a sequel that not only surpassed the original, but set up a thrilling finale.

Instead of Wrath of Khan, we get The Motion Picture. Instead of Empire Strikes Back, we get Phantom Menace. What a waste.

Allow me to elaborate. The basic plot points of GIJ:ROC were as follows:

  • Highly trained soldiers are sent on a mission to protect a powerful weapon
  • Someone playing on both sides set them up to fail
  • All but a few members of the team are killed
  • The remaining members, with the help of a veteran officer, plan a mission to get back the weapon
  • The enemy uses the weapon to destroy an important site with the intent of striking fear into the hearts of the populace
  • A member of the enemy team discovers that their life has been manipulated and changes sides
  • That person is instrumental in bringing about the downfall of the enemy
  • The leader of the survivors is made the leader of the new team.

Now, allow me to sum up the plot of Retaliation:

  • Highly trained soldiers are sent on a mission to secure powerful weapons from an unstable government
  • Someone playing for both sides set them up to fail
  • All but a few members of the team are killed
  • The remaining soldiers, with the help of a veteran officer, plan a mission to avenge the fallen
  • The enemy uses a new weapon to destroy an entire city, with the intent of striking fear into the hearts of the public
  • A member of the enemy team discovers that their life has been manipulated and changes sides
  • That person is instrumental in bringing about the downfall of the enemy
  • The leader of the survivors is made the leader of the new team

Holy shit. It’s the same movie. The plots are nearly identical. Well, not literally identical, but the plots are close enough that they could be interchanged without affecting the flow of the story. I can forgive the minor inconsistencies – like Duke identifying himself as a Captain, but wearing a Major’s oak leaf insignia – but it’s hard to overlook those things that don’t really make sense.

So the main characters are Duke, Roadblock, Lady Jaye, Flint, Snake Eyes, Jinx and General Colton. Where the hell is everyone else? The only carry overs are Duke and Snake Eyes. Ripcord, Scarlett, Heavy Duty, Breaker and General Hawk are all MIA. They make is seem like the previously massive (and multi-national) G.I. Joe force is limited to a single strike team made up entirely of Americans. There are no references to the previous team despite it having been something less than 4 years since the previous movie (considering that Zartan took over as the President in the last film and is still in that role in the new film). When Zartan framed the Joe’s for stealing nuclear warheads from Pakistan – which in and of itself doesn’t jive since his entire command staff was in the room when he ordered the Joe’s in to secure the warheads – he says that the G.I. Joe’s were “terminated with extreme prejudice”. That’s jargon for “kill on sight” and furthers the implication that Duke was the only commander and that his team was the only team.

Here’s what should have happened:
Duke shouldn’t have died at the beginning. That’s too easy. It gives the team something to fight for that the audience can relate too. In the first movie, Duke was motivated by the destruction of his team, but from the audience perspective, it’s just not as powerful. Duke is beloved, the average Joe is not. No, it would have been far better to have Duke die near the end, secretly by the hand of Storm Shadow (who was siding with the Joe’s because he’d been manipulated by Zartan as a child – It would have made much for sense for the whole thing to be a set-up by Cobra Commander). That way, like in Wrath of Khan, even though it may look like the good guys win, the question will be “at what cost?” The movie should have ended with the Joe’s foiling Cobra’s plan to destroy the world, but with Zartan still intact as President and the Joe’s in hiding. Bad Guys win. That’s what I wanted to see. That would make me want to see a final installment where I know the Joe team will win. A final installment with Scarlet, Shipwreck and Gung Ho. The final scene should have been Baroness retrieving Destro from the cryo-prison – or what’s left of it – and with the knowledge that he, Cobra Commander and Zartan are still in play.

What we have now is: Cobra Commander on the run, Baroness out of play, Destro likely killed when the prison exploded, Zartan possibly dead (Storm Shadow killed him, but the nanomites had incredible healing properties and he could have survived) and Storm Shadow on his own. And the Joe’s, well, you can’t have any of them from the first movie since it was made clear that the only Joe survivors were Roadblock, Lady Jaye and Flint. And the Joe’s win. And it was WAY too easy. I mean the plan to put Zartan in place as President and set up the Zeus satellites had to take years to come to fruition. And The Joe’s took it down in hours. It just would have been a lot better of a movie if Cobra won.

And someone needs to remind the producers that in G.I. Joe… everyone gets a parachute.

That means no one is supposed to die.

The Baying of the Dickwolf

Cosplay is not Consent

At some point, and in the not-so-distant past, people lost their ever-loving minds. Collectively, we’ve gone a bit daft, at least as it relates to how we treat women. Being a bit behind in my news reading, I’ve just stumbled across the “Cosplay is Consent” story from PAX East (I read the piece written by Jill Pantozzi on The Mary SueI follow them, you should too). The first line of the article struck a chord with me, particularly the beginning: “Convention harassment is just an off-shoot of regular, old harassment but seeing it invade your ‘safe space’ can be tough to stomach.”

Cosplay is not Consent

So does the way these women dress give you the right to assault them?

 

It made me think about the recent events in Steubenville, Ohio, where two high school football players were recently convicted of sexually assaulting (read: RAPING) a fellow female student. At first glance, you might wonder how I could compare two wildly different events. After all, the ladies at PAX East were merely dressed as Lara Croft, not drunk and unconscious at a party. The cosplayers weren’t physically assaulted like the young lady in Steubenville either. But I believe the root cause is the same – the notion that the victims somehow invited their attacks.

I’ve been doing a lot of research on this trying to find the point in time when we decided, as a people, that women were responsible for how men act. We joke about it constantly – lots of comedians have made the “detachable penis” joke, and some even carry it into “my wife keeps my dick in her purse”. And to a certain extent, a man’s behavior is affected by the woman in his life, because men and women think differently, and he has to adjust his thinking to suit her needs. But that door swings both ways, and I think as a society, we ignore that. We place an inordinate amount of responsibility on women to act a certain way – with the idea that if they do, men will also act a certain way. When some men invariably fail, our society has been trained to find what happened; who was at fault, how did this seemingly moral person fall into deprivation  Those girls dressed as a sexy video game character, well they should know that dressing sexy makes men lustful and when men are lustful, the stop thinking with the heads up top, right?

That’s so offensive to me as a man, that I can’t accurately convey it.

Back to the research – as I was reading, I kept seeing the same themes over and over again: women as corruptors and men as mindless. The funny thing is, that even in societies where women were considered property, they were still revered and protected, and rarely reviled. One major root of our perception seems to be firmly planted in our Judeo-Christian foundations. In the Bible, God created Adam first, and then created Eve by removing one of Adam’s ribs. In Hebrew, the word “woman” is אישה or ishah literally means “from man” (the Hebrew for “man” is אִישׁ or ish). This concept is not universal, though. In most Indo-European languages, the words for Man and Woman are completely different (German: Mann and Frau; French: Homme and Femme; Greek: Anthropos and Gynaika; Hungarian: Férfi and – even the non-IE language shares the concept). Even in other Semitic languages, the words are different (Arabic: Rájul and Imrá’a). The Hebrews specifically looked at woman as being derived from man.

Now remember, Eve was tricked by the Serpent into eating the Fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (which is itself telling, since when they realized they were naked, they felt it was wrong…yeah…) and she in turn fed the fruit to Adam. When they were discovered, Adam didn’t say he was sorry, he said “She made me do it.” Similarly, in the Greco-Roman creation myth, man was created by Prometheus, but woman was created by the gods (sounds nice but  wait for it)… as a punishment for accepting fire from the Titan who created them. Her name was Pandora, and she was sent to men bearing a gift of a large jar (or box) which she later opened, releasing all the woes and ills into the world. In fact, Epimethius (her husband) and she had the first marital spat as a result. The Romans used the same story. SO as you can see, while they viewed women as a gift, they also saw them as the source for all the wickedness, strife and problems in the world.

So we are faced with two archaic concepts from our Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman background that are working in tandem against us: woman are derivative from men, and thus lesser, and women are the source of wickedness and hardship. Hardly seems fair.

So back to the case in point – this “journalist” at PAX. I use quotes because being a good writer doesn’t make you a journalist. With the exception of tabloid media outlets, generally there is an accepted decorum involved between journalists and their subjects. I think it would have been a little different if this guy had just written his opinions into his piece. Sure there would have been some backlash, as there should be, but he could at least hide behind his right to share his own opinions, as ill-formed as they may be. However, when you actually approach and speak to someone, with the intent of publishing that response, you need to have some respect for the individual. The best display of the dichotomy involved is that Meagan Marie, the individual who confronted the offending “journalist”, has opted not to give his name, or the name of the publication which he represented (both were asked to leave the convention). She knew that the online community would rally to the call, as would the “dickwolves” (to borrow from imagery from Penny Arcade), and the shitstorm would ensue. Even still, enough is getting said to unsettle me (and make me want to write this).

So if you’ve read about the incident, you’ll know that the offending individual continued making negative comments along the lines of “they were asking for it by dressing that way”, and that’s where the parallel lies with Steubenville. The Defense wanted to call into question the young lady’s past, probably to build off the idea that she somehow went into the party with the expectation of having sex. But really what they were saying was, “she asked for it” by acting or dressing a certain way. And that brings us back to the “Dickwolves”.

Men, this part is for you. You should be offended by the idea that you have no innate control over your sexual urges. You should be insulted at the notion that a woman has such control over you that seeing any amount of flesh turns you into a sex crazed lunatic. You should speak out against the concept that our base state is that of a rapist.

Women, this part is for you. Be who you are. If you want to dress like Wonder Girl, or Lara Croft, or anyone else, then by god, do it. And do it with the knowledge that while there are some seriously damaged people who will revile you for it, the rest of us love you, and sit in awe of your beauty and skill.

And if you see someone assaulting or being abusive to a cosplayer of either sex: step in, interrupt and ask them if they’d like an escort to an volunteer. And remember boys:

Cosplay is not Consent

I think the sign says it all.

Who Really Wants Armed Bears?

*** UPDATE – 9 April, 2013 ***

I’m not normally one for updating posts, but this issue is important. This morning, a student at Lone Star Community College in Cypress, TX, went on a stabbing spree (I’ve never heard the term, so I get credit for it), wounding at least 14 people, some of them seriously, before being subdued by authorities.

Why is this important? Because what we have is a mass murder attempt that was made without a gun. It deflates the argument that guns or access to guns, semi-automatic or otherwise, is the root cause of gun violence and mass murder. What we have here is evidence that someone like Adam Lanza or James Holmes can still inflict a large number of casualties even without a gun. People intent are harm will commit harm. It shows that despite a leaning in this country to ban guns and rifles, they aren’t the only weapons available. Anything can be a weapon when someone is properly motivated.

I’m inclined to wonder, though… would this attacker have been so bold if he thought that one of the people he was attacking might be armed with a gun? Lone Star College System doesn’t permit firearms on their grounds, except as allowed by law (read: only police and military). On the flip side, if one of them HAD been armed, it’s likely that the assailant would have been killed rather than placed in police custody. None of the people he’s attacked are dead as of this writing, but 2 of the 14 are in critical condition. The attacks seem to have been carried out with a box cutter or Xacto knife.

So what will we ban next? Pocket knives? Baseball bats and lacrosse sticks? Power tools?

-PD

******

Since the tragic events of December 14th, 2012, when Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and unloaded an array of semi-automatic weapons into the staff and children, there has been a great nation debate about firearms and the American People. I thought, since I hadn’t written in a while, I would toss in my thoughts.

Sandy Hook - Red Dawn - Gun Control

Who didn’t want to be a Wolverine?

I spent the evening discussing this on Facebook with a friend from high school, and in doing some research, I’m shocked at the irresponsible nature that this has been reported. There have been conflicting reports and apologies about what guns where found where, and what people are supposedly actors. I mean the Conspiracy Theorists have had a field day with all of this (some people actually think the whole thing was staged in order to disarm us). So, I spent some time last night looking into the facts and arguments and I felt like a few points needed to be clarified.

  • The guns on site were all semi-automatic, and widely available for purchase. Adam Lanza was actually denied when he attempted to purchase a rifle himself, which is probably why he killed his mother – to get her guns
  • “Assault Rifles” are long barreled automatic rifles designed for military use. “Assault Weapons”, as defined by US Law, are just about any weapons they decide to put into this category. Currently, depending on state, this category can include all semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and handguns… basically almost every gun on the market
  • The police are reporting it correctly – the media is getting it wrong
  • One of the guns was an AR-15 “Bushmaster”. This is the gun from which the M-16 was derived and was specifically designed for law enforcement use.
  • The Bushmaster was equipped with a 30-round magazine, which is a standard size for this weapon. Compared to the 60 and 100 round capacity magazines available for the AR-15, 30 rounds hardly seems “high capacity”

The amount of misinformation surrounding this event isn’t just astounding, it’s alarming. If we can’t rely on our news outlets to supply us with good information, how in the world are we supposed to know who and what to support. Not that we should be relying on them to tell us these things, but invariably we do. At least you would think they would try to take that responsibility to heart, but instead they just sensationalize things to make people want to watch. It’s not about the truth anymore, it’s about what hooks viewers. And while I’m not a Conspiracy Theorist, it isn’t hard to see how easy it would be for the government to use the media to manipulate the masses. I mean we accused the Soviets of doing it for decades, so we know it can be done. Why is it so far-fetched that we’d use it on ourselves? I mean 4 Americans die in the Embassy attack in Benghazi, and you barely hear about it, but some kid from Notre Dame makes up a girlfriend and it’s headline news for two weeks. Really?! Our priorities are a bit out of line, I think.

But that’s only part of the equation in this even, isn’t it? There are a multitude of cultural issues to deal with here, but we really seem preoccupied with the Second Amendment argument. Of course, when the Second Amendment was written, it was common practice for governments to forbid it’s citizenry from having weapons, or more commonly, for them to oppress the people because they were too poor to have weapons. In America, though, because of the frontier nature of the colony, guns were practically a necessity. It’s bred into us, this need for guns. Don’t you find it funny, though, that the only Amendments you ever hear about are the First and Second? Every now and then, when a white collar criminal is on trial, you’ll hear about the Fifth (or more specifically “pleading” it). We know about “illegal search and seizure”, but why is it illegal? Which Amendment was that? Do you know them? Probably not, but I would say, “why don’t you?” How can we be good stewards of our own destinies without knowing from where our freedoms derive. I mean most people go around quoting the Declaration of Independence, but that document doesn’t have legal ramifications – it was simply a very strongly worded (and signed) letter to King George III.

There seem to be two main sides to the Second Amendment argument: the NRA and its supporters (who seem to think that we need to worry about our own Army turning on us), and those who think guns should be outlawed altogether (which just isn’t realistic). Actually, there is a third side, which includes people like me, who understand that while it’s probably not necessary for someone to use an AR-15 to defend their home, the problem really isn’t the guns – it’s our culture. As a trained shooter (I was in the military) I know that a hand gun is far more effective for home defense, and that there should be a certain amount of training involved for anyone trying to own a gun. I mean we force people to train to drive cars, why wouldn’t we force them to train to own a gun. Cars are just as dangerous. Probably more so. I also often hear about using them to hunt, but then I remember that the earliest Americans hunted mammoth and mastodon with simple bows, spears and rocks. BOWS AND SPEARS PEOPLE! If you need an AR-15 to hunt deer, you’re doing it wrong. Period.

So, would things have been different if Adam Lanza wouldn’t have had access to those guns? We can’t answer that. What we can do is look at the data, and understand that if he wanted to hurt those kids, there are hundreds of other ways he could have done it that don’t involve guns. We could also say that things could have been different if his mother accepted his illness and dealt with it appropriately… and didn’t own guns herself. I’m not saying she shouldn’t have had the right, I’m saying that it was irresponsible of her to have them knowing her son was unstable and could have access to them. Of course, we’ll never know for sure because she’s gone too.

What I DO know is that countries that have banned guns have much higher instances of violent crime per capita than the US does. We may have more gun-related crimes and deaths (duh), but guns are equalizers, and criminals know that. They are less likely to attack someone they think MIGHT have a gun, than they would be knowing the person was unarmed. Home invasions in Australia and Great Britain are significantly higher than in the US because the criminals know that there’s very little chance they can be confronted inside the home with a weapon. You see criminals will use knives and bats and pipes and whatever else they can get their hands on. Victims, on the other hand, usually don’t fight back if confronted with an armed assailant. We would be trading one sort of violence for another because, let’s face it, we are a violent species.

The truth is that bad things happen, and it sucks and there’s nothing we can do about it. We always look for someone to blame, because we can’t believe that we ourselves can be at fault. I think it’s clear we are. We ignore the mentally ill. We favor guns over common sense as we cling to the fears of bygone days. I blame Red Dawn. It “proved” to us that one day, foreign (or domestic) invaders will give us a need to have these powerful military-grade weapons in our homes. It’s perpetuated by cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic concepts like the Revolution and Road Warrior. We’re taught that if we don’t have weapons, we become easy prey to those who would take advantage of that weakness. I mean every kid I knew either wanted to be a Goonie or one of the Wolverines.

Does this mean I get to blame Patrick Swayze?

The Problem with Paradoxes

I'm confused just looking at it...

First, I wanted to apologize for the delay in getting another post written. I was writing a post on education that kept dissolving into a bitter diatribe about everything that’s wrong with the education system in America today, and I didn’t want it to be about that. So I’ve shelved it for another time – possible when there isn’t so much political rhetoric floating around.

On a happier note, I went to see Looper; science fiction’s latest foray into a quagmire of another sort – time travel. I’m not sure if objectively-minded men really thought about the possibilities of traveling back or forward through time before H.G. Wells wrote his famous novella on the topic, but Lord knows that we do now. There’s hardly a franchise in science fiction that hasn’t at least skirted the subject of time travel. Some, like Doctor Who and Back to the Future have even built themselves around it. It’s so popular, in fact, that we’ve built real scientific theory around something that may not even be possible. Theories like the “causality loop”, better known as the “Predestination Paradox”.

I’m confused just looking at it…

Now some of you might not of heard of a causality loop before, but I guarantee most of you have seen one in action. It’s the idea that the act of going back in time is what created the possibility of going back in time. Terminator probably best illustrated this principal – John Connor, rebel leader of the future, sent the man into the past that would become his own father, and event that HAD to occur in order for him to be born in order to commit the act. This is why causality loops are called Predestination Paradoxes.  Sometimes, the writers are so good at telling the story we don’t see the paradox. In Back to the Future, for example, the primary theme is the Grandfather Paradox, the question about what would happen if you happened to alter your own family history (usually posed as “what would happen if you went back in time and killed your own grandfather – meaning you would cease to exist – which would then mean you couldn’t kill your grandfather). But in watching Back to the Future as many times as I have, you see the subtle causality loop. You see, because they combine the two concepts, you lose the idea that Doc Brown knew all along that Marty had to go back in time. The whole reason Marty and the Doc are friends is because Doc Brown knew this and had to foster Marty’s character into one that would fill the eventual need. So, everything he said prior to Marty traveling back in time was carefully orchestrated because he KNEW that it would work. It’s easy to overlook because we are focused on the fact that Marty changed reality for himself. And this is where Back to the Future was genius without doing it on purpose. The created the idea of a time traveler exists outside the paradox (unless the paradox affects them directly, and then there is time to correct it… or there wouldn’t be a story). Franchises like Doctor Who (which really took time travel to a whole new level), ignore the paradox concept entirely, mainly because, in the words of the immortal Doctor, “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly… timey-wimey… stuff.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I think my favorite representation of a causality loop was in Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the episode Time’s Arrow, a two-parter, presented a story in which the Enterprise is called back to Earth because a geologic team discovered what appeared to be Data’s head in a cavern with artifacts from Earth’s 19 century. The loop was created when they found the head, and completed when Data’s head was lost in the past and he was reconnected with that head in the future. It’s a great presentation of a causality loop, and it was a great story. Causality loops were a favorite story-telling tool of the franchise. A fact illustrated by the fact they used them in nearly every iteration of the franchise, including the MMO, Star Trek Online.

Back to Looper. I won’t go into any specifics about the because I don’t like spoilers any more than you do. But based on what we already know from the trailer and marketing pieces, we know that it involves hit men who kill people sent back into the past from the future, eventually leading to them killing their future selves, thereby “closing the loop”. I’ve always like the Terminator flavor of time travel – a one way affair that only goes into the past. Usually, when people are sent back to a time predating the invention of time travel, they either have the machine, or they can be retrieved by the people in the future (see the 1994 Jean Claude Van Damme Sci-Fi jaunt, Time Cop as an example).

Another great example of a causality loop was the 2002 interpretation of the aforementioned Time Machine. After the hero travels to the future, after failing hundreds of times to save his dead fiance in the past, he meets the Über-Morlock, who proceeds to explain the Predestination Paradox to him in stunning simplicity. He has to explain, to this seemingly brilliant man, that he couldn’t change the past because that’s why he traveled to the past. Get it? You see, the poor man finished the time machine so he could save his dear love. If he saved her, he never would have been driven to complete his project, and thus never had the chance to save her. Now the paradox is clear, isn’t it? And that’s what makes Time Travel so tricky, and why Doc Brown wanted to destroy his own time machine. In his own words, “I wish I’d never invented that infernal time machine. It’s caused nothing but disaster.”

Let’s hope we never figure this one out.

Where No Han Has Gone Before

Shit's about to get real.

One of the unwritten rules of geekdom is that you have to pick a universe to be your favorite, and that you will defend it tirelessly against the non-believers. Nowhere is this more evident than with Star Trek and Star Wars. Anyone who’s been following me for a while will know that this is a repost of sorts – I’m updating a piece I wrote for Geek Shui back in July of 2010. It’s a popular topic; and by popular, I mean it makes people want to hack off each other’s limbs with light sabers and set phasers to kill.

Shit’s about to get real.

OK before we continue, I wanted to go over a few Rules of Engagement (who knew I would find a use for the Law of Armed Conflict outside the military… and yes, there is such a thing… and yes, they enforce it… back on topic now):

  • First, there will be no “magic” or bending of the physical “laws” of the universe. No Jedi. No Sith. No Q – we’re pitting tech against tech, here, not mythology against mythology. Besides, the Q are all powerful and could simply will the force out of existence or, for that matter, will everyone into sponges
  • Second, while I might mention the Borg, they will not be a player, mainly because they don’t play nice with anyone and would likely just end up a third faction – besides, the Borg would likely win in a “Mary Sue-less” environment. Why? Because one cube would be all they need to adapt to the technology and more cubes would come. ‘Nuff said
  • Everything considered MUST be canonical. We’ll talk about that in a moment
  • Lastly, everyone has their own opinions on this – if you plan to comment, please try to back up your arguments with some sort of data. And for the Yoda’s sake, be respectful

Comparing Star Trek and Star Wars is a popular concept. The battle cries are many, and the banner has even been flown at the highest levels (I’m talking about the famous interview exchanges that went on between Bill Shatner and Carrie Fisher). There are a few sites that have already gone into great detail about how the Empire would trounce the Federation (and anyone else in the Trek universe), but I found that a lot of it is based more on guessing and fanaticism than an actual impartial view of the “science” involved. In doing research on the topic (both in the past and again as I write this), here’s what I discovered:

Taking the incredible lapse of time out of the equation (mostly because quite honestly the tech in the Star Wars universe has been mostly stagnate for at least 40,000 years), the science used in each of the Universes is very different. This is probably because Lucas was writing pulp science fiction based on old-time serials, and Roddenberry was creating an idyllic future for mankind. Those very different motives meant very different approaches to the “science”. Roddenberry was bound by what he knew our technology was in the 60′s, and where it could possibly reach in 300 years. Lucas was only bound by his own imagination.

What that means for the “science” is that while Star Trek is lousy with scientific theory and rhetoric, Star Wars has very little. For example, we hear all the time about Warp Drive and the principles of Space-Time. There are technical manuals and jargon and all sorts of explanations as to how things work. But we have no idea how FTL travel works in Star Wars, only that they call it “traveling through hyperspace”. We know they have red laser and green lasers, but no idea how light sabers contain the energy into blade form. Lucas, quite simply, didn’t care. It didn’t add to the story. It was a Space Opera, not Science Fiction.

That doesn’t mean the fans didn’t have at it, though. Both universes have spawned countless variations and tales, add-ons and continuations of the original stories. Star Trek had “The Animated Series“, Star Wars had “Droids“. This gets us into a discussion on what is canon and what isn’t. With Trek, canon is defined as anything that appears on film or television with the exception of The Animated Series, which is very specifically non-canon (despite their use of the original cast for voice-over work). Additionally, Paramount (who owns the property), has licensed the name and intellectual property for non-fiction reference books which are also tied to the canon (though not always canon themselves). Further complicating the matter is the fact that the Star Trek canon often contradicts itself, mainly because Gene Roddenberry had no idea his show would mean so much to people. He wasn’t worried about keeping the integrity of the timeline intact. One example would be in the episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, Spock mentions that “one of his ancestors” was human – later it was his mother (hardly an ancestor). Further, the character is smug and demeaning. Also, it mentions that they were traveling outside the galaxy, which was later changed because of the immensity of that prospect. So in trying to keep it simple, after Roddenberry left us, his legacy was managed so that we could make sense of it. So, in essence, if you didn’t WATCH it, and or it wasn’t live actors, it isn’t canon.

In Star Wars, it’s different. George Lucas is still alive and very much a part of defining what is in isn’t canon. In his mind, the only canonical items are those from the movies (i.e. the movies themselves, the radio play and the novelizations – and any work that comes from them specifically). Lucasfilms has said that with so much work out there, they do their best to reconcile everything and make it work. I think the best example of this is when George Lucas was asked where Anakin got his scar in Episode III. His reply:

“I don’t know. Ask Howard. That’s one of those things that happens in the novels between the movies. I just put it there. He has to explain how it got there. I think Anakin got it slipping in the bathtub, but of course, he’s not going to tell anybody that.”

I think that explains a lot.

So let’s look at the universes themselves. Star Wars tends to do things on a massive, epic scale (which is why I think people choose them as the favorites to win in a confrontation). But with that in mind, there seem to be come major inconsistencies as it relates to the power output of their ships, – which is what makes an “apples-to-apples” comparison so difficult. Star Wars measures its power output in watts (W), which is a concept with which most of us are familiar. It’s the unit that measures how much work it takes to move an object one meter in one second against a force of one newton (N). Ooooh, science-y. Star Trek on the other hand, measures the power output of its craft in dynes (dyn)(which actually makes more sense from a propulsion standpoint). A dyne is the unit which measures how much force it takes to accelerate a mass of one gram one centimeter per second per second. Brain hurt yet?

What we need to know, then is how watts compare to dynes. In relative terms, a newton is equal to 100,000 dynes. So that means it would only require a single watt to move an object one meter per second against the force of 100,000 dynes. You have some grey matter leaking from your ears – you should take care of that.

Now, let’s get to comparing ships. A single Imperial-I Class Star Destroyer (which is about 1600 meters long – a little more than twice the length of Enterprise-E) has a reactor that produces 7.75 x 1024 W of power. Just to provide a little perspective, the flux capacitor from Back to the Future only requires 1.21 x 109 W of power to TRAVEL THROUGH EFFING TIME. The Sun – the life giving orb of boundless energy at the center of our Solar System but out about 4 x 1026  W of power, a mere 100 times that of the ISD. I don’t think that the materials they used could contain that amount of energy, but what do I know. Meanwhile, a standard Federation ship, in this case the U.S.S. Voyager, can produce roughly 4 x 1015  dyn of power (so using the earlier equation, about 4 x 1010  W). The ships in Star Wars ARE more massive, on the order of 10 to 20 times more, but that hardly requires 100 TRILLION (1014) times more power.

Maybe the Emperor wasn’t confident in his manhood…

I’ve just illustrated the first problem in comparing these two universes. And really, I think it’s because Star Trek is fundamentally different than any other type of Science Fiction involving space craft. Star Wars is more typical of the genre as it related to space battles, with said battles being more along the lines of those we are familiar with (you know, with fighters and large ships with marines and landing forces, etc). But Star Trek battles play out more like gun duels or barroom brawls. It wasn’t until much later in the history that space battles started to take on a more familiar (and massive-scale) approach, with the inclusion of smaller craft and large group tactics. Even then, ship-to-ship combat seemed to be the order of the day. To make a more naval comparison, Star Trek battles play more like submarine battles (with their heavy use of torpedoes and ship-to-ship tactics), while Star Wars battles play more like surface ship battles (with air/space fight support, landing forces and battle formations).

So what we’re left with is this: Star Wars overestimates and uses impossible physics while Star Trek just makes up units and particles, like “isotons” and “rapid nadions”. Comparing these two is like comparing Barack Obama to Mitt Romney; they’re both full of crap, but different kinds of crap. The last time I did this, I presented a scenario, but I feel like that it’s too easy to assume I’m not being objective, so I’ll just offer some basic comparisons and give example scenarios.

OK, so let’s look at tactics first. The Imperials strategy is based off of their numerical superiority, even when facing enemies in their own space. Star Warsis presented as being more populous than Star Trek, but I honestly think their Galaxy is much smaller than ours. There are about the same number of worlds in both universes, but it takes longer to get around in Star Trek and they only occupy about 5% of the galaxy. By comparison, the populated area of the Star Wars galaxy is about 50-60% of the total space.

Most of the races in Star Trek are humanoid, and they haven’t mastered automatons, like in Star Wars. That said, computer technology in Star Trek seems more advanced, particularly in the tactical sense. While computers are used in Star Wars the amount of missing going on in the blaster arena seems to allude to the idea that they aren’t computer guided. They may provide tactical assistance, but it’s never really seen. Scanners, likewise, seem to be more advanced in Star Trek, with an ability to scan for even very small items, inconsistencies in hull composition, propulsion trails, etc.

The weapons themselves are also very different. The beam weapons in Star Trek produce a beam of high energy particles called “nadions”. In the Star Trek Universe, they have the unique ability to affect nuclear bonds, which is why they create heat. In Star Wars, the weapons are actually plasma-based, though it’s never really discussed in detail. I’m assuming that based on the fact that they need to refine tibana gas for the blasters to work, and they can run out of “ammo”. That also means that the blasters aren’t just direct energy weapon, meaning that the shields on the Trek vessels might not be as effective, since they are designed to dissipate high energy weapons, not plasma. This is evident in the fact that the Romulans use plasma torpedoes, and they are highly effective. Ironically, those shields would be highly effective against Ion cannons.

The torpedo and missile type weapons are also completely different. Proton Torpedoes are slower and more like traditional warheads than Photon or Quantum Torpedoes. The Star Wars heavy weapons were designed for a multitude of purposes, including planetary bombardment, but were typically slow moving. They are traditional warheads; explosive, but because of standard ordinance. Photons, on the other hands, were actually more destructive because they used the annihilation of matter/anti-matter as the catalyst. They also moved at near light speed – too fast to be targeted and shot down. A single photon torpedo could destroy an entire city, while a proton torpedo would be more like destroying a few city blocks. Even from a capital ship.

So at the end of the day, Imperial ships are more powerful, but are inefficient at targeting because it’s hard to miss such large ships. Federation, Klingon and Romulan ships are smaller and produce less power, but have better weapons and targeting on the whole. The personnel are more plentiful on the Imperial side, but it seems like the Federation is better trained, Klingons have more will, and ROmulans a stronger sense of survival than the Imperials do. The Imperials have fighters, but the Trek side doesn’t need them because their ships are far more agile and capable of FTL speeds over shorter distances.

This is a “to-scale” representation of smaller ships and landing craft.

This is a scale representation for the larger vessels. See, a Romulan Warbird is nearly as large as an ISD.

I imagine it like this: A Sector Group of Imperials (for reference, the fleet at the Battle of Endor was a Sector Group – about 2,400 ships, including fighters) against a combined battle fleet of Federation (about 100 ships), Romulan (about 30 ships) and Klingon (about 40 ships) forces. The size of the ships isn’t as big a deal as you might think, making the fighters much less effective. The Trek computers track them too easily and they can’t outrun the beam weapons that don’t fire bolts, but rather continuous streams. Wide dispersal blasts of photons and phasers make being in an unshielded fighter a bad thing. Smaller Trek ships are easy pickings for the larger Imperial ships, though, and a Super Star Destroyer would make short work of any ship that approached too closely. I can imagine a couple of NeghVar battleships ramming into it and taking it out, though.  All in all, I think the Imperials would win in a single engagement, but a prolonged war would end in a Star Trek victory, mainly because they are more adaptive and would find ways to creatively destroy even the largest Imperial ships. I’m interested to know what you think, but rtemember, be respectful and try to stick to canon.

That means Han shot first, and Khan was the biggest badass of them all.

One Ringy Dingy

For the first time, I’m going to recap a topic I’ve covered previously; the very first one I did, actually. When I started writingHow Science Fiction Failed Us two years ago, I tried to stay true to the title as much as possible. I was inspired to write it after seeing some git nearly wreck his car because he was texting while driving, which made me think about the origins of the cell phone and how the idea had been inspired by science fiction. I don’t look at it quite that way anymore, I suppose (not the texting while driving part – anyone who does that deserves to be forcibly removed from the gene pool – I mean the articles). These have become more “op-ed” pieces; a place for me to share my thoughts on a given subject in a way where I don’t have to worry about who I might offend. It’s been a long journey, and I hope it gets longer.

Anyway, back on point. When I look back at that first piece, it was rather short, and really only focused on the aspect of us really being too irresponsible to have that level of technology, which is still true. But I wanted to look a little more at the subject.

Gordon Gecko – Trendsetter. Who knew we’d all look this stupid in 20 years?

So the other night, I went to the remake of the Total Recall, which I’m not going to get into here, but there was some great technology “previews” that got me thinking about where we are today, and where it appears that we’re heading. I re-watched the original 1990 version, and while I know that our collective vision of the future adapts as we create new technology, the differences between the two were striking, considering 1990 wasn’t all that long ago. What am I saying? It was over 20 years ago. Anyway, one of the more striking differences was in communication.

As you know, cell phones revolutionized communications in the early 90′s. We all watched Wall Street in 1987 – I’m thinking of the iconic scene of Michael Douglas on the beach talking on his DynaTAC 8000 – and suddenly we wanted to unplug. Cordless phones were already common, but going completely wireless was still out of reach for many. Most of us had to go through that awkward “pager” phase, which if you had one, you know was something akin to being “all knees and elbows” in a wireless sense. It let you keep in contact, but you still needed change for a payphone, or you had to constantly ask, “Hey, do you mind if I use your phone.” When I was in the Air Force in the mid-90′s, pagers were near the end of their life-cycle. Lots of places still had payphones, but those that didn’t usually has signs along the lines of “No you can’t use our phone”. What was really funny was watching someone with a pager borrow someone’s cell phone.

Cell phones have come a long way since the days of the DynaTAC. Even my first cell phone, which was the Nokia 239, is extremely primitive by today’s standards (though it would probably still work – those Nokias were nigh indestructible). And it’s not just about the device itself, the entire system is better than it was. Many of the phone lines today are the same ones we used 30 or 40 years ago, though most telephone companies are upgrading to deal with the demand for high speed internet demand. Cell phones, though, while supporting older technologies, have been on a steady forward progression at a very rapid pace. Look at it this way; land line phones worked on the same equipment for decades, with the only noticeable difference on the customer end being the change from operator managed exchanges to automated switches. Cell phones have progressed to a new generation of technology about every 10 years. And you can bet your bottom dollar it’s being doled out to us – the technology moves much faster than that, but they don’t want to risk alienating customers who just laid down money for a “cutting edge” phone by bringing out new tech right away.

Back to Total Recall. So in the old movie, Quaid (played by the brilliantly vacant Arnold Schwarzenegger) was contacted by an operative using a payphone outside his building. Interestingly, the phones in the original version were all Video Phones (which was a Sci-Fi staple from the 60′s through the 90′s – mainly because it let you see the person who was on the other end, and it seemed a logical progression from the land line phones at the time). In 1990, they couldn’t have know how popular cellular phones would be. They were even rare among Hollywood types back then. It’s worth noting, though, that car phones (which were very popular in the 90′s – because that would never be a bad idea) were very prevalent in the film, and were so powerful that they could contact Mars without any delay in the signal, which is something that isn’t possible unless we learn how to send radio signals faster than the speed of light – at best it would take about 5 minutes for a radio signal to get to Mars from Earth.

The new film had possible the coolest interpretation of future phones that I’ve ever seen. Quaid (this time played by the equally vacant Colin Farrell), was called by his HAND. That’s right, his hand. It lit up, and he held it to his head, not like you would hold a phone, but as if you would rest your head in your hand. And when just talking wasn’t enough there was this interactive glass… well… everywhere, and he put his hand on it, and it activated UI on the glass that included video. Damned impressive. More impressive was that the phone seemed to be implanted in his hand, and they were able to trace his location by it. He removed it (which looked painful) and gave it to someone else, which seems a bit odd, but who am I to judge who people buy and sell in the future?

It paints an interesting picture, though, about how ingrained the cell phone has become in our daily lives. On one hand you can see that even in the 90′s they had some idea how important staying in touch would be. They just thought it would be with car phones. It’s amazing how delightfully inventive our science fiction can be, but at the same time, incredibly short sighted. It makes me wonder if in 20 years time, we’ll be watching the new version of Total Recall and saying, “Can you believe they thought we’d need glass? GLASS?! Really?!”

Road Warriors

Now, I’m not talking about the movie. I’m talking about us. Road Warriors each and every one of us. It’s been estimated that the average American will spend nearly an eighth of our lives in our cars. That’s an average of 8 to 9 years – that’s a lot of time. So that got me to thinking about the automobile and how it came to be so central in our lives. And that led to my disappointment with the current state of the automobile, at least compared to what we were supposed to have according to our Science Fiction.

They have three years come October 21st. Every real geek in the world is counting.

Probably the most recognizable of the future’s cars is the Delorean from Back to the Future. I remember watching it fly at the end of the movie, and all of the flying cars in the second movie and I totally suspended my sense of disbelief (not quite as much as I did for the hoverboard, but that’s neither here nor there). In 1985/89 it seemed completely reasonable that cars would be able to fly by 2015. But unless Detroit is hiding something up it’s sleeve that we don’t know about, it’s just not going to happen. There have a few forays into the “flying car” arena, but none of them is really viable, at least in the sense of them being readily available and usable by the general population. I want a car that can be flown like driving a car, just like I saw Doc Brown do.

In that vein is the flying cars in The Jetsons. I know it’s a cartoon, but damn it, it takes place in the 21st century, and it was in the imagination of the people in the 60′s that we would have flying cars. Flying cars that folded into briefcases. And while that would require instant miniaturization along the lines of what we saw in the original Transformers cartoon (remember how Megatron was huge as a robot, but when he transformed, he fit in Soundwave’s hand?), but I think we’re still entitled.

But the car I REALLY wanted was K.I.T.T from Knight Rider. A car that could drive itself AND talk, and it looked cool as shit to top it off. It’s really the gold standard for Sci-Fi cars, in my opinion. I mean the voice left a little to be desired – I would have given K.I.T.T a female voice I think – but who didn’t want to be Michael Knight? They even made attachments for your car to give it that pacing red “eye” to make your car look like it could talk too. How can you not want a car that has a Turbo Boost? Now they have cars that park themselves and my car’s bluetooth talks to me, and it’s cool, but it’s not the same. More modern Science Fiction remakes, like I, Robot and Minority Report, give us a seemingly plausible look at cars that move at high speed being controlled completely by computers. To the point that human control of the vehicles, while possible, is inadvisable. If Will Smith can’t control one, I know I can’t.

When we look at cars today, it seems to me that they are basically the same as they were 100 years ago. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve added a lot of gadgets to our cars – we’ve made improvements on the original designs, but I think Henry Ford could get into a car, drive it, and understand how it works with only minimal instruction. They use the same fuel, and operate on the same basic principals as the model T’s of so long ago. We’ve tried electric cars, but they don’t seem to have enough OOMPH for us (mainly because it take a lot of energy to propel a 2,000 pound vehicle at highway speeds – more energy than most batteries can produce). But I don’t think the means is what we like. I think it’s the motivation.

Listen, I’ve never been one to buy into conspiracy theories, but if there is one I could believe, it would be that the automakers and the oil producers are in bed together. The automakers have no reason not to explore developing REAL innovations in automobiles, like power by Hydrogen fuel. And yes, I know there are Hydrogen and Propane cars on the road, but they are far too few. And yes, I know Propane is still technically a fossil fuel, but it’s a byproduct of Natural Gas and Petroleum refinement and as a result, much cheaper. It’s also a much cleaner fuel than diesel and gasoline, but burns just as well, if not better. It is more volatile than the others, sure, but safety is the easy part. Granted it isn’t the perfect solution, because it still produces greenhouse gases, but it does it in far lower amounts, which would buy us time to perfect hydrogen fuel and fusion.

Why won’t we do it? Back on the conspiracy bit; I think we don’t have it because there’s not enough money in it. I normally don’t was political here, but there’s a lot at work here. There’s a ton of money to be made in oil, and very little in renewable and alternative fuels. That’s why these technologies are so expensive; they have to recoup the loss of futures. Let’s assume that automobile manufacturers are invested heavily in oil companies and visa-verse. It’s in the best interests of both to keep cars inefficient and dependent on oil. Yes, hybrid cars exist, but they are expensive, and they only became more affordable when gasoline prices rose past $3.00 a gallon. The American automobile industry was given an infusion by the government, and seems to be healthy enough now. Why were they unhealthy? Bad investments in part. But mainly, they were making expensive cars with poor gas mileage at a time when fuel prices were skyrocketing. Foreign cars were already getting better mileage and were better managed, so they suffered less. But they aren’t racing to make better cars either. Then again, it’s not like we stopped buying them.

So who wants to buy me a flying Delorean with a flashing red “eye”?

Tragedy in Aurora

This is dedicated to the people of Aurora, Colorado.

For those that don’t know me, I’m a night owl and a Redditor, so the news about Aurora got to me very quickly. I had almost attended a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises myself, but I ended up going this past Saturday. I happened to be browsing Reddit when the news broke and I was beside myself (which is saying something because I’m a pretty big guy). I’ve been around, but I still find a hard time wrapping my brain around an event like this. This is one of those incomprehensible acts that defies any attempts to rationalize or understand. As I watched the drama unfold (in a way previously unseen) I started thinking about how we react to this type of violence today, as opposed to how we have in the past.

A Fitting Tribute

I’m not going to go over the details, because I believe the devil is in the details and there’s a lot we still don’t know, most important being the “why”. This sort of thing has happened before, though not quite to this magnitude, but this time, something feels different this time. That’s not to say that if this had been a midnight screening of the latest Sex and the City, that we wouldn’t be talking about it the same way, but the way the geek community immediately responded on this makes it feel different to me – more connected, more concerned and more involved. I just think back to the somewhat recent shootings in Oakland and Seal Beach and I can’t find nearly the same amount of coverage on them. Is it the fact that it happened at a highly anticipated event? Is it the fact that geeks (who truly rule modern media) were closely watching the event? Or was it really more chilling and awful? It’s difficult to say. But just to give some perspective, here’s a link to a list of the Mass Shootings in the US since 1991 as provided by the L.A. Times (Deadliest U.S. Mass Shootings). I wonder how many you remember.

As I was saying, as I watched this unfold, I noticed something that really bothered me: political and ideological grandstanding. As with most shootings, the more liberal among us (read: Democrats if you’re in the US) immediately call to ban guns, or at least make them harder to get. Then the conservatives (read: Republicans in the US) go to the other extreme and say that if there were less controls and more people were armed, the effect would have been lessened, or the threat removed altogether. Of course the entire argument is ludicrous because it only happens when something like this occurs. We don’t have any meaningful dialogue about gun control because our nation is so polarized right now that we can’t heave meaningful dialogue about ANYTHING. But let’s face facts: Legally or illegally, if this man wanted to hurt people as badly as it seems clear that he did, getting the guns wouldn’t have been a problem. And even if he couldn’t get guns, he seems more than capable of using other means to kill lots of people. I mean hell, his apartment was not only rigged to blow up anyone who came in (and his stereo was set to play loudly at midnight, ensuring someone would try) but also burn down the whole building. If he’d have gone into that theater with pipe bombs, it would have been a lot worse.

The other thing that seems to be happening falls into ideological grandstanding. I’ve seen tweets and posts along these lines: “12 people died in Aurora, but 6000 children die every day because they don’t have clean water” or “hundreds of people die everyday because of poverty, where is the outrage there?!” Perhaps my own experience has jaded me, but I don’t see how those types of comparisons don’t trivialize the event. Yes it’s sad that 6,000 children a day because they lack clean water, but in my mind, that’s a predictable event and not tragic; at least not on the same level. To me it reduces the importance of an event like this one to compare it to other kinds of sadness. People aren’t suddenly going to go, “I lost my best friend to a maniac, but shit, that’s nothing compared to the suffering of the children in Syria.” It’s apples and oranges, pure and simple, and shame on people who trivialize the pain of the families involved by trying to guilt us (and them) into caring MORE about something else completely unrelated.

I don’t like that this happened, and I like less that we will blame everyone in the world except the man who pulled the trigger. We’ll blame the guns because they fired the bullets. We’ll blame the government for not banning the guns. We’ll blame the gun makers for… well… making the guns. We’ll blame the theater for not having metal detectors or more police. We’ll blame the shooters parents for raising a loon. We’ll blame everyone but him; the one man who planned and devised and schemed to kill as many people as he could for a yet unknown reason. I don’t get that. We turn victims into criminals and criminals into victims. The guy that shot all the people in Seal Beach pleaded not guilty. People SAW him do it. I’m sure his lawyers will paint him as a victim of some sudden mental illness. The guy that shot all those people at Ft. Hood; they didn’t blame him, they blamed his religion. Religion is just philosophy with some divinity added for flavor. It can’t make choices for you. We’ve become a culture where people don’t have to be responsible for themselves, they can blame their environment, or their parentage, or their movie choices.

Ah, that opens another can of worms doesn’t it. There are going to be people who blame this on the violence in movies, and to an extent, at least I can understand that. There have been crusades against comic book and cartoon violence since I was a small child, mainly for fear that it could adversely affect the impressionable mind of the children that were watching and reading. The target audiences for Warner Brothers and MGM cartoons were adults, but they played the old cartoons from the 40′s alongside newer ones from the 60′s, and even though I didn’t understand a lot of the references, I still laughed when Daffy had his face blown off. And there were stories of the children who killed other children trying to act those things out. But seriously, where was the supervision? How were they allowed to do those things without someone noticing?

As for comic books, the Comics Code doesn’t monitor acts of violence in and of themselves, it only prevents the actual show of the violence (so you could have a criminal commit a mass shooting and the aftermath, and you can show him shooting, but you can’t show victims being shot). And since the Aurora shooter identified himself as “The Joker” I’m sure they’ll find a way to blame comic books and the movies they inspire too. But really, Science Fiction hasn’t failed us here. There’s plenty of this kind of depravity in Science Fiction. Heath Ledger’s “Joker” rendition, the final portrayal of his career, was so spot-on, and the movie so senselessly violent, that people immediately assumed that it was connected to his untimely death. Movies like The Road Warrior and The Book of Eli portray acts of violence like this one as ultimately evil and they people who commit them always meet a justifiably horrific end.

If only that happened in real life.

To all those who lost their lives because they went to the movies – Requiescat in Pace.

How Science Fiction Failed Neil Armstrong

Today is July 20th. Four days ago, 43 years in the past, 3 men with cast iron balls a big as basketballs set off on a journey to make history. Those men: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, didn’t do it to become famous, and they didn’t do it just because they had to. They did it because they could. And after their 4-day journey through the near-emptiness between our planet and the closest body to it, they finally detached the lander, and set it down on the surface of the Moon. And as Neil Armstrong stepped off the lander and onto the dusty satellite, he uttered the most important phrase in modern history:

“It’s one small step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind…”

Buzz Aldrin as photographed by Neil Armstrong. You can see Neil and Eagle Lander reflected in his visor. I dare you to tell either one of them that they faked it.

One of the men named the “Father of Science Fiction”, Jules Verne, dreamt of a world in which traveling to the Moon was not plausible, but an achievable goal. In his 1865 work, De La Terre à la Lune (From the Earth to the Moon), he presented the idea of traveling to the Earth’s celestial neighbor propelled by a canon. Later, in 1901, H.G. Wells wrote his own version of a Moon landing story which he titled, The First Men in the Moon, which itself lent to the idea of the Moon being inhabited by extra-terrestrials. Granted, both stories were a little tongue-in-cheek, and they were clearly works of fiction not to be mistook for Science, but isn’t that how most great ideas start? I mean while the people paying for the Moon landing were clearly motivated by a need to humiliate the Soviets, the men planning and building it were inspired, at least in part, by this book. They weren’t the only ones, either. In 1902, the very first Science Fiction film, A Trip to the Moon, (which was itself based on both Verne’s and Well’s stories) was about this very topic. I think it speaks volumes that the first Sci-Fi movie was about a Moon landing.

There’s a bit of a sad undertone to this achievement, though; we haven’t duplicated or surpassed it in the 40 years since it took place. Just six times in three years did we put men on the Moon (Apollos 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17 – unless you buy into the recent Sci-Fi fakumentary Apollo 18). Randall Munroe, author of the webcomic XKCD (which is fantastic – if you haven’t bookmarked, it, go to the page and bookmark it right this second) put it much better than I ever could. While we have had some pretty neat achievements in the past 40 years, if the Earth were the size of a basketball, in that time, a human hasn’t been farther than a half-inch from the surface. And without the Soviets to drive us on, and no publicly funded space program for the foreseeable future, I’m not confident we will in my lifetime.

XKCD on the Moon Landing. The mouse-over text is written by Randall Munroe.

In Science Fiction, though, traveling to the Moon (and beyond) was a foregone conclusion. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Commander William Riker (played by Jonathan Frakes – as if I need to tell YOU that) was born on the Moon, and even comments in First Contact how different the Moon looked in the mid-21st century because no one was living on it. That paints an interesting picture. In Arthur C. Clark’s magnum opus, 2001: A Space Odyssey, they discovered the first Monolith on the moon because we had colonized it. Honestly, as a kid, people loving on the moon was a foregone conclusion in my mind, an idea probably put there by the Science Fiction I was reading (which included Jules Verne). It concerns me that in half that time, we’ve advanced computers exponentially, but we still haven’t found way to effectively travel in space. And we’ll need eventually, because there’s enough Deuterium and Tritium on the Moon to power a fusion on the Earth for thousands of years. We need to have a way to get there, extract it, and get it back… if we needed to get back at all (or there was a place to get back to – let’s be honest… it’s been getting really hot).

I know that something horrible happened early in the morning in Colorado, and I’m not going to discuss it here. Instead, I’m going to focus on the history of the day. There will be time to talk about what happened later. For now, let’s celebrate our ingenuity; celebrate our achievements; celebrate those men with balls of solid rock.

And above all, find a way to thank one of these fabulous men while we still have them.

When in Doubt, Reboot

With the recent release of the rebooted Spider-Man franchise (this time it’s “Amazing”… Marvel Pictures is taking a cue from the Comic division), and the impending end of the latest Batman reboot, I started to think about the current trend of rebooting and retconning and rebooting. I discussed this topic in the past (Tales of Future Past was written on 4/26/11), but it was more about creators changing their own work.

So many of you know what retconning and rebooting are, but just for the sake of being thorough, I’ll go over them quickly. The term “Retcon” is short for Retroactive Continuity; it’s the idea of a creator (or in far too many cases owner) of a story changing key plot or back-story elements in order to pursue a new idea. Generally retconning is what I would call “eye forward editing”, meaning that while they change plot elements from the past, it’s unusual to go back and redo previous works to include the retcon (unless you’re name is George Lucas). It’s more common to simply act as if the change was always the truth. Star Trek is lousy with retcons. Rebooting is when a franchise is taken back to the beginning and completely re-imagined. Major plot elements are may be left intact, presumably to keep the end product recognizable to fans, but there is no regard for previous work done, unless it’s tongue-in-cheek. A good example of this, honestly, would be the latest Spider-Man movie. Hollywood is very guilty of this, as are comic books and professional wrestling (I don’t know why I added wrestling, but it’s a true statement).

Retconning annoys me, but rebooting pisses me off, even if it’s awesome.

This is Tim Drake. He looks a lot like Robin to me, Mr. Lobdell.

Yes, I paid to see The Amazing Spider-Man and yes, it was appropriately amazing. But it still pisses me off. Comic book movies are a different breed, too, so it pisses me off even more. Why? Because comics have history, a history that the fans love (or they wouldn’t be fans). Changing that to relate to today’s readers, and ignoring decades of previous readers is irresponsible and arrogant. In the comic universe, they learned the hard way, and deal with the reboots by continuing old story lines later and creating “alternate” realities. In the Spider-Man example, the Sam Raimi movies actually were based on the character in Ultimate Spider-Man (technically Earth-1610; the traditional Spider-Man is an inhabitant of Earth-616 and we inhabit Earth-0000 or Earth Prime), which was started 2 years earlier at the request of publisher Bill Jemas. Joe Quesdada (Marvel’s then Editor-in-Chief) almost didn’t do it because previous attempts at re-imagining the Spider-Man origin were failures (which should tell them something).

Comic books companies have gotten away with retconning, because let’s face it, sometimes stories need to be updated because superheroes don’t age.  Back to the Spider-Man example; in Spidey’s origin, he used his new-found superpowers in a wrestling contest; the kind where they would dare people from the audience to come in and try to last three minutes with the champ).  In the 1960′s, no one but the wrestlers and promoters knew that wrestling was rigged. Most of the times, those types of challenges were themselves part of the event, with the person who comes in a worker too (anyone who remembers the debut of the old WWF wrestler “Earthquake” knows what I’m talking about here). But since Stan Lee didn’t know that, he wrote it into the Spidey origin. Seeing it applied in a modern setting in 2002′s Spider-Man I nearly laughed out loud. As much as I hated the idea of a Spider-Man reboot, I like the updated origin story a little better (I mean if you’re going to reboot, at least do it right). Comparing that to the Star Trek reboot; they didn’t just reinvent the wheel here, they gave some plausible (well in Star Trek terms – anything Spock says is plausible) reasons for the changes in look and feel. I’m actually looking forward to the retelling of the Khan story (even though, in my heart of hearts, Ricardo Montalban will ALWAYS be Khan). But at the same time, TNG and everything after proved that there are still stories to tell. Hell, even Star Trek Online (which continues the original universe after the destruction of Romulus and Spock’s disappearance) has a decent story.

The reason I decided to write this was that at the San Diego Comic-Con, Teen Titans writer Scott Lobdell revealed that Tim Drake (the third person to wear the mantle of Robin), was never actually Robin, essentially rewriting over two decades of stories. This is what happens when comics “relaunch”. The new writers think they have better ideas than the old writers and make changes. This was a totally unnecessary change. Seriously, why did they feel the need to change this? I have this image in my head of a writers meeting where they said “Dick Grayson and Jason Todd were the real spirit of “Robin”. You know what? Fuck Tim Drake; he was never Robin.” Forget that Tim was arguably the best Robin. Forget that an entire generation of readers think of HIM when they think of Robin. Nope. Wasn’t Robin. He was “Red Robin”.

Yeah.

On the reboot front, one of my favorite Sci-Fi flicks of all time, Total Recall, is getting a modern makeover this year. I suppose you could call it a “remake”, but the point is that it’s a vastly different story from the original (which is, itself, a re-imagining of the Philip K. Dick short story We Can Imagine It for You Wholesale). All right, I’ll say it. They took out Mars. I know, right? As much shit as I give them for the googly eyes, swollen tongues and alien machines that fill the atmosphere with oxygen in under a minute, Mars was almost it’s own character in the movie. Honestly, the only story with a more iconic image of the Red Planet was  Doom (the video game not the movie). And Ridley Scott entered the debate with Prometheus, the prequel that wasn’t a prequel. It’s been called a rebooting of the Alien universe, but really, it’s just a prequel that went too far into the past (a la Lucas’ Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace).

The reason these things bother me is because as creative as some of these retellings are (and I acknowledge that some of them are arguably better than the original), I’ve always felt it’s less creative to rewrite someone else’s work than to come up with something on your own. I mean any writer can find a thing, tweak it, and call it better; we’ve been doing it as long as we’ve been writing. Most of Shakespeare’s works were retellings of older tales (Romeo and Juliet comes to mind). But there are so many great franchises out there that have never resorted to “reboots” and “retcons” to tell their continuing stories. Doctor Who is probably the most well-known, but I don’t really count it in the “no retcon” camp because when you can travel through time and make changes along the way, retconning IS the story. However, they’ve been through 11 doctors now, and have not ever felt the need to retell the beginning of the story. In fact, NOT knowing the beginning of the story is one of the things that makes the franchise great. Another long running series that hasn’t felt the need to reboot (even though they called it a reboot, it was by no means an actual reboot), is James Bond. They avoid difficulties by simply avoiding making references to previous adventures in later movies. The only real exception to this is the latest rendition (played flawlessly by Daniel Craig), in which Quantum of Solace was in fact a direct continuation of the story from Casino Royale (which itself is a remake – the original was very campy, but lends to the idea that James Bond isn’t a name, but a persona adopted by many different agents).

I suppose my point is that there isn’t a real reason to retell the story from the beginning. Sure, people today would have a difficult time relating to the concept of Batman’s parents taking him to the movies and getting killed while being mugged… wait that can happen. People can’t relate to the difficulties of being a teenager thrust into an adult role after the death of a loved one… wait that can happen too. Oh yeah, people can’t relate to struggling with the loss of a mentor while dealing with the egos of the other people he’s mentored… shit. Seems to me like writers need to forget their own egos, leave the origins alone, and just keep telling the awesome stories. If they can’t think of new stories, and have to retell old ones, then they aren’t really writers, they’re parrots. It seems to me that they wouldn’t have to reboot entire universes if they just told good stories to begin with.

Now to find my copy of the Crisis on Infinite Earths compilation…