The longer this shit goes on…

So I’ve officially been not working for 6 months now. (Day job, anyway.) And I know I’m not the only one starting to look back at the early days of quarantine with … is this nostalgia? Are you kidding me? But I’ve seen tweets that echo this feeling. The early days, when we all baked bread and watched Tiger King, yeah. (I didn’t bake any bread, but I definitely watched Tiger King because back in 2016 I met someone who had worked for Joe Exotic and told me all sorts of crazy shit about him, some of which was not in the show.)

I want to tell you that it is OK to feel nostalgic about early quarantine.

I’m not going to say that any of this shit was fun, because people are dying. But we had some good times, not because of the massive clusterfuck but despite the massive clusterfuck. We took isolation and unemployment and made … okay, not vacation or even staycation, but sabbatical. We fucking learned things and made things and pissed off that Caren White lady over the yeast.

That seems like twenty years ago now. The months drag on, and all the enthusiastic “I’m gonna get so much done!” posts have disappeared, and even the “Don’t feel pressured to achieve much during this” reminders have dwindled. We are moving through the end of the “Ah, fuck, I’ve accomplished nothing with this time!” phase and into what may be a truly dark time.

Last night I recalled Election Night four years ago, and how when it was over I stared into the fire and just went ahead and had a fucking breakdown. I really, truly hope not to repeat that. Especially in fucking isolation, with so little to show for the past six months of “time off.”

So, look: Don’t be hard on yourself. Don’t feel bad if you feel like March-April was actually a decent time to be alive even though it was a neverending tragedy. Don’t feel bad. You’re still here. You’re a survivor. Ignore survivor’s guilt. (Unless you’re one of the fucks still refusing to wear masks and forego public dining rooms, in that case stop reading anything I write ever and kindly fuck yourself with the nearest sharp object. To own the libs, naturally.) Do something with your time, even if it’s not productive, and most fucking definitely vote.

OK, that’s it.

Voidstrider Update

Voidstrider volume three is done!

I’m enjoying the fuck out of this celebratory glass of scotch and watching the kitten sleep in her basket. I haven’t had as much difficulty with a book since my first real novel. But the struggle is ended.

Revision is always an invigorating, fun process for me. It took longer than usual with this book, and I ended up cutting nearly 7% of the penultimate draft. It comes in at 79,000 words.

Pending cover art and some final formatting and, she’s ready to be released into the wild. The book, not the kitten. (Her name is Beans.)

I’m eager to get into book four, but I promised myself I’d take a break to work on Florida Man vs the Elder Gods. I’d also like to get in a couple short stories before the end of the year, maybe three or four. We shall see.

Abandoned AU

Plotting out Florida Man vs the Elder Gods, I decided to re-use a character/arc from a previous, unfinished project (Gods and Monsters). The character and his arc will both fit better with the current project than they did in the original. So what does that mean for Gods and Monsters? That project’s “trunk” status has probably just become permanent.

So, wanna hear about it?

Gods and Monsters was named after a line from Bride of Frankenstein (not the Ian McKellan film, which was a biopic of BoF and original Frankenstein director James Whale). One of the main characters was named for Whale and another director you may have heard about, Ed Wood, Jr.

The principals were Ed Whale, writer-director of low-budget films; his wife, Nora; her father Lester, a cranky former actor living in beachfront retirement; and Ed’s writing partner, a closeted homosexual Chicano.

The plot would have followed the four main characters slowly and independently of one another uncovering a pernicious cult (based on Scientology), eventually discovering the cult was started by evil aliens. The aliens would have no high-concept goals or ambitions. They were going to be the kind of pulpy alien monsters L. Ron Hubbard might have written, or the kind you’d see in a terrible 50s B-movie. They came to mate. There were going to be tentacles.

The setting was an alternate-history version of the early 2000s. (I never stated this directly, as I wanted readers to think it was set in the 1950s until they figured it out from in-universe historical context.)

In this parallel history, Russian spies managed to infiltrate the Manhattan Project and it was Stalin who deployed the first atomic bombs and ended WWII in the Pacific. Obviously this alters the post-war environment considerably. America doesn’t import Nazi scientists – the Soviets do. America doesn’t have a long and weird relationship with Japan – the Soviets do.

The entire Cold War goes a lot differently. By the story’s version of present day, the West is losing. Badly.

McCarthyism is the dominant political ideology of the United States. Blacklists and HUAC are still very much a thing. (The cult I mentioned earlier has been under a secret HUAC investigation, and during the story manages to infiltrate the committee.)

The seismic cultural shifts of the 1960s in America never happened.

This let me have a “modern” setting that looked, culturally and even to some extent technologically like the 1950s. Nora is trapped by marriage and social mores, and there was going to be this strong parallel between that and her mother (whom her father had committed to an insane asylum years earlier when he discovered her infidelity). There was going to be a serious yellow wallpaper component to the tale, which is one reason I quit working on it – I’m not the writer for that. (Another reason was Ed’s writing partner, whose homosexuality, if discovered, could land them both on the Hollywood blacklist. Also not my story to tell.)

Nora’s father. He was the biggest trip. Before becoming an actor, he’d been in the Army. During the Vietnam War (which lasted much longer in this AU) he’d been seconded to the CIA and worked on anti-Japanese propaganda. Remember, Japan is aligned with communism in this universe. It would eventually be revealed that his classified work there exposed him to the aliens first arrival.

In the present day, Lester is losing his fucking marbles. He starred in detective serials. When an old friend from the Hollywood days sends him an enigmatic letter, Lester goes to see him – and discovers he’s been murdered. As his grip on reality slides, Lester’s personality becomes increasingly eclipsed by the character he played in the serials. By the third act, he thinks he is that fictional detective and this is his biggest case yet.

I’d love to go back to this world someday. But I probably won’t.

Nothing in Particular

Voidstrider volume three is finished, essentially. I still have to do a final proof and edit run through, which I’ll get to in a week or two. In the meantime, I’ve been fleshing out the plot for Florida Man vs. the Elder Gods and hope to bang out a first draft over the next two or three months before getting on with the fourth Voidstrider book (which is about halfway plotted at this point).

There’s also some big stuff in the works that has no relation to my writing, and which I can’t talk about for at least another couple weeks, but it’s exciting.

I’m very busy, which is … well, it’s fucking weird because I’m also not working my day job and not going out and not traveling. So while I am legit very fucking busy, I’m also spending hours a day reading, binge-watching, and playing video games. I’m sitting on my ass a lot doing nothing, or more generously put I’m sitting here letting my mind wander and gather its harvest of thoughts, but either way it just seems so bizarre to reflect on how many things I’m actively working on at a time when I feel lazier than I ever have before.

A couple hours ago I spent some time hacking ten-foot polk salat plants with a machete, because I’m also undertaking a bit of a landscaping project involving a small area outside the back yard fence but still part of the property. It’s 91 degrees out (or about 33, for much of the world) and I’m hacking overgrown three meter weeds and I feel like a bum who does nothing. What a time to be alive, eh?

I’m tired. I’m so fucking tired. I’ve been trying to strictly cut off all outside stimuli after about 6 pm every day. I take the world in early in the day, over coffee. I’m on and off social media throughout the afternoon, a minute here or there, but I try to only consume news and commentary in the mornings. Along with checking my local health department’s daily update.

There’s a lot of absolutely horrific shit happening. Sometimes I feel like a background character in a David Lynch film.

It’s difficult most days to stave off depression. It has so many ways in these days.

Anyway, I have exciting projects to work on and to keep my mind occupied and I guess that’s something to be happy about. And my personal, individual circumstances are about as good as could be hoped in the weird, terrifying world of 2020.

At this point, I feel a pointless ramble coming on so I’ll be off. Take care of one another out there.

Another Reason Last Jedi Nailed It

Black Lives Matter. The following post has nothing to do with that, but I want it clear that I am not returning to normal. Systemic changes are necessary and we cannot lose sight of that. Nevertheless, multiple conversations may occur simultaneously. Black Lives Matter.

You know that part in The Last Jedi where Benicio del Toro introduces Finn to the Military Industrial Complex? The war profiteers who sell TIE fighters and X-wings and rake in the credits and therefore have a vested interest in continuing turmoil in the galaxy far, far away? Listen carefully: that is exactly what the sequel trilogy should have been about, it wasn’t too late, and if JJ had listened to Rian instead of the internet the Skywalker Saga could have had an amazing finale. Alas.

If you’re not familiar with President Eisenhower’s farewell address, you should read it. It’s really good. Delivered three days before John Kennedy took office in January 1961, among other things the speech addresses the fact that “…until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry,” and that “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

The original Star Wars trilogy, inasmuch as its plot relates to real world events, is steeped heavily in World War II. The dogfights in space are based on WWII footage. Defeating the Empire, which is clearly a fascist regime, equates to defeating the Nazis.

The prequel trilogy examines the rise of fascism in a crumbling Republic. It also spends an entire fucking movie on the creation of the Grand Army of the Republic. An entire movie dedicated to the Galactic Republic, which had no military, becoming a militarized state. Until the latest of our galactic conflicts, the Republic had no armaments industry.

Now, I get the urge to create the First Order for the sequel trilogy. Fascism is indeed resurgent in the world. But Star Wars at its best was entirely disconnected from current events. Lucas may have adjusted his prequel plans to crib inspiration from the second Bush administration, or that may be apocryphal nonsense, but everyone agrees the OT was better anyway and nothing of 1977-1983 intruded on that. The OT didn’t adapt the Cold War, it borrowed from WWII.

The Force Awakens didn’t make you fuckers happy. “It’s a retread,” “it’s just A New Hope with different characters,” “we want original storytelling.” You fucking liars. You fucking hypocrites.

The Last Jedi opened the doors to tell an original story. Yes, in a very real way, it dismantled what TFA had begun to construct. Empire did the same damn thing. Both films do so in ways that do not dismiss their predecessor. They don’t say “nevermind, that was bullshit, here’s this instead.” They are instead exercises in “Yes, And…”

Yes. The Empire blew up an entire planet and there’s a throwaway line about the Emperor cancelling representative democracy. Yes, the Empire is being run by a cabal of military governors and this badass evil space wizard. But did you also know the Emperor is himself an even more evil space wizard and the first evil space wizard would overthrow him given the chance because in the next movie we’ll demonstrate the more evil space wizard tricked the badass one into a life of evil he ultimately renounces?

So: Yes, the First Order is attempting to resurrect Imperial fascism. Yes, this evil space wizard has corrupted Han and Leia’s son. Yes, the First Order blew up a whole system. But did you also know that the wealthy elite are making bank off human suffering and conflict, and the same people who are selling arms to both New Republic and First Order are the same motherfuckers who sold arms to the Empire and Rebellion? And that in the next movie we could have shown how that industry is driving these successive conflicts and this needs to be addressed?

Would that third movie have been any good?

I mean, I doubt it honestly, but Rise of Skywalker is hot garbage too busy trying to actually dismantle and retcon its predecessor to ever go anywhere on its own so it just borrows a dead villain from the other two trilogies.

Given where TLJ left off, and ignoring the leaked Trevorrow script, one way it might have gone is this:

Kylo Ren is the new Supreme Leader. Hux is dead. Ren has purged the military command of any who are not completely loyal. The Knights of Ren are filling roles much like Governor Tarkin and Darth Vader combined. The First Order is engaged in consolidating the galaxy under Ren’s rule.

The Resistance is hiding, rebuilding. Rey, in communion with Luke as Force Ghost, completes her training and reveals her badass double bladed lightsaber. However, her journey is not complete until she faces her ultimate challenge – just as Luke’s training was complete in RoTJ but symbolically incomplete until he confronted Vader.

Kylo Ren finds he cannot simply do away with the wealthy elite who run the military industrial complex. Perhaps he tries a purge similar to Hux et al, but like a hydra the industry just sprouts new heads. Kylo Ren does not have the patience for the type of careful governance required to dismantle this system. He is petulant and prone to rage. His leadership is consequently terrible.

First Order and Resistance must still have their final battle, and Rey must confront Ren. But Rey has learned from Luke about the pre-Imperial Jedi and how they were misguided and ineffective. She has also learned how Anakin was failed by the Jedi just as much as he was groomed and cornered into a life of evil by Palpatine.

Through this understanding, both Rey and the audience can gain a deeper understanding of Kylo Ren. We can appreciate his tragedy and feel empathy without a ham-fisted redemption “arc.”

Rey’s true symbolic final conflict is not defeating Kylo Ren, nor is it redeeming him. It is finding a new path forward that is not the rigid dogma of the old school Jedi nor the selfish evil of the Sith. The “Gray Jedi/new meaning for the word Skywalker” a lot of fan theories mentioned.

She defeats Kylo Ren but does not kill him. She, with Luke’s help from the Force Afterlife, has learned how to cut someone off from the Force. Not herself, as Luke tried to do, but Kylo Ren. Let’s face it: you can’t put a Dark Jedi in prison. Won’t work. But by depowering him, she removes him from the board without killing him or being plot-constrained into participating in the shoddy redemption of her abuser.

Meanwhile, the Resistance manages to win their battle with the First Order. You can still have all those ships show up at the last.

As an ending, Rey announces that the real battle has not been won: that the military industrial complex needs to be dismantled to prevent future tensions and political arguments from inevitably spiralling into galaxy-wide war. She is founding the new Jedi order, except the Jedi sucked actually and she’s naming the new order for someone who didn’t: the Skywalkers. And the Skywalkers will dismantle the military industrial complex and finally live up to the first description of Jedi we ever heard:

“For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice…”

The film ends on this promise, that the newly founded Skywalker Order will be guardians of peace and justice throughout the galaxy, and that they will dismantle the old systems that encourage warfare, and that they will actively work to make a better future. Closing-circle-wipe, fanfare, credits.

Would that have been good? Eh, I dunno. It’d have been better, I think. But TFA really did start the trilogy off wrong, and mostly for the reasons the haters whined about at the time. TLJ works in the same way Empire did, and the finale could have been on par with RoTJ

But the whole thing could have been better if, right from the start, there was a plan – not even a detailed one, just a general understanding that the Prequels show the Rise of Fascism, the OT shows the defeat of Fascism, and the Sequels have to move forward and deal with something like the Cold War and the rising influence of the military industrial complex.

In a forthcoming post, and at the risk of going on and on and on like certain whiny babies, I’m going to describe my idea of what that totally different Sequel Trilogy might have looked like.