Game of Thrones: Thoughts on Thoros of Myr

Game of Thrones: Thoughts on Thoros of Myr
Game of Thrones Warning – if you haven’t seen the first episode of season seven, look away now…
 
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“You’re not fooling anyone with that topknot.”
 
The relationship between Sandor Clegane and Thoros of Myr is interesting, to say the least. I’ve just encountered some criticism online that the Hound’s vision in the flames doesn’t feel like Game of Thrones.
 
But… but… the exact same situation occurred a few seasons ago with Stannis and Melisandre. She used her magic, or acted as a conduit for the Lord of Light, maybe, to show him a vision in the flames. It was a major part of the tragedy that was Stannis’ character arc.
 
The Red Priests do this thing where they latch onto someone they see as critical to the future and guide them. Kinvara is doing a similar thing, albeit more at an arm’s length, with Daenerys, by preaching about her across Essos. Of course, it was Melisandre’s guidance that led Stannis to his death, but she was trying it again with Jon Snow until Davos called her out for murdering Shireen. It’ll be interesting to see where she shows up next in the series – perhaps at Dragonstone to adopt Daenerys, or maybe at King’s Landing to adopt Queen Firestarter herself, who’s already made mortal enemies of anyone who follows the Seven?
 
Thoros is doing this ‘trusted advisor’ thing with the Hound, and has also been doing it with Beric Dondarrion as well. He may not be as cold and ruthless about it as Melisandre, and he may have developed a far more humane outlook on life since he wound up with the Brotherhood Without Banners, but he’s still a devout Red Priest of the Lord of Light and he’s still working towards the same goal as Melisandre – the eventual defeat of the ‘darkness’ (presumably The Night King).
 
Game of Thrones is well onto the closing arc of its story, and narrative tropes that seemed to be consistently averted in earlier seasons (if you judge each season as a standalone piece, rather than as chapters in a larger book) are coming back into play.
 
Narratively, Sandor Clegane/The Hound still has an important role in the story. No one has more narrative right to kill Gregor Clegane/The Mountain than he does, not least for Gregor being the one who held his little brother’s face into a fire. Sandor’s pyrophobia has been a constant part of the character (remember what prompted his desertion at Blackwater?), and was flagged up again during the scene in which he has his vision. To close that arc, he’ll have to kill Gregor.
 
And how will anyone (Jaime, for example) kill Cersei without the Mountain being out of the way?
 
Cersei needs removing before the Seven Kingdoms can defend themselves against the Night King, because she’s threatening war against the North, which is where the battle with the White Walkers is going to happen. Thus, it serves the Lord of Light for her to be defeated. (And if Melisandre gets another karmic comeuppance for siding with the wrong monarch and helping bring them to their doom by isolating them from any allies they might have, all the better.)

Fantasy Worldbuilding: Why Khorne Should Die

Fantasy Worldbuilding: Why Khorne Should Die

I’ve been thinking recently about the way that gods of war turn up in miniature wargaming settings, and why that’s often a pretty bad idea. (This article is geared towards the needs of a miniature wargame setting, but may provide food for thought for aspiring fantasy authors and roleplayers as well.)

Most fantasy worlds are polytheistic, usually with actual literal deities involved. Why? Because polytheism’s different from our own traditionally monotheistic culture, and so it’s exotic and interesting. Add in the needs of a wargame and you’ve got another layer: variety.

Religion is a great way of a) theming an army of little plastic or metal soldiers, and b) a great excuse to pit against another army of little plastic or metal soldiers. It’s simpler than coming up with complex socio-economic or political reasons why Faction A is fighting against Faction B. This is particularly the case with bad guys. Fantasy loves its evil gods as a motivation for why a particular faction consistently does horrible things. “Yes, I shall ravage your cities and put all your people to the sword because we’d quite like a bit more land on which to graze our cattle, muwahahahahaaaa!” isn’t exactly the most villainous proclamation ever.

Going back to the title, Why Khorne Should Die, the four Chaos Powers of the Warhammer settings are essentially avatars of humanity’s dark primal instincts. In the case of Khorne, it’s war, anger, rage and assorted other reasons to hit someone with an axe. As such, the followers of Khorne are generally warriors. So far, so good.

However, Tzeentch, the Chaos god of change, magic, mutation, and the entropic impermanence of everything also exists, and (because this is a wargame) has to have its own armies.

Likewise, Nurgle, who specialises in disease, decay and mortality, and Slaanesh, who deals in sex, drugs and rock and roll, both reflect aspects related to stuff other than straight-up hack-and-slash bloodshed, and yet (because this is a wargame) have to have their own armies.

In a roleplaying setting (which exists in the currently out-of-print Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and the five Warhammer 40,000 RPG lines), this varied approach to evil can be reflected in very different ways: Nurgle cultists poison wells or break plague quarantines, Tzeentchian sorcerers summon daemons or cause babies to be born with mutations, and servants of Slaanesh tempt the devout into sin and debauchery.

On the battlefield though, it essentially boils down to killing stuff. You can add flavours to it, through the use of themed magic spells or Nurgle biological weapons or special rules or signature units for each god, but ultimately each Chaos Power looks pretty similar on the field.

A certain logical flaw with all this came to mind when I was painting my fallen dwarf army for Dragon Rampant recently. The general gist of the army is that this dwarven clan had started praying to certain ‘Deep Gods’ who were remarkably similar to the Warhammer Chaos Powers, and were a nasty, corrupt society as a result. Every now and then, I’ve painted a mark of Chaos onto a model’s armour, shield or as a tattoo. However, this was almost always the Mark of Khorne. The only exceptions are for the army sorcerers, who bear the Mark of Tzeentch. Nurgle and Slaanesh didn’t get a look in, because there were no appropriate models for it. Why not?

Because they’re soldiers. These models are soldiers who are on campaign. They live in a polytheistic society and so the primary subject of their devotion at the moment is to the god that helps them kill stuff. Maybe when the soldier goes home, takes off his helmet, and decides to start a family, he’ll pray to Slaanesh that he’ll be good at it, to Tzeentch that he can create new life, and to Nurgle that the child is healthy, but for now, he just wants to not die on the battlefield.

Even if you argue that many or most Chaos worshippers are full-time devotees of a particular god, that counts against armies of Slaanesh, Tzeentch and Nurgle being a thing. Chaos tends to fight among itself as much as against other factions, and Khorne, specialising in warfare, would stamp out any uppity followers of the other powers because that’s just the kind of people they are. Dedicated warriors of Khorne don’t sit down and read books or experiment with heroin or deliberately infect themselves with plague as part of their religious devotions; they slaughter people. As such, they’re better at it. If you wanted to fight for the rest of your life as a warrior of Chaos, you’d devote yourself to Khorne, because that deity more represents the kind of monster that you are.

As a result, Khorne is the one with the best armies. But they’re really, really, boring armies. Nurgle gets biological weapons, Tzeentch gets its sorcerers and Slaanesh gets (in Warhammer 40,000 at least) heavy metal sonic weaponry. Khorne gets axes. That’s it. The bigger the warrior, the bigger the axe. Maybe a mace if his name’s ‘Skullcrush Hammerblow’. Khorne is boring.

So, if Khorne’s armies are both boring and dominant among the Chaos Powers, what happens if we remove Khorne from the equation, and the four Chaos Powers instead become three?

Chaos-infected society is still as violent as ever, because these are horrible, selfish individuals who hate and are hated by sane society. However, without a dedicated war god, religiously-inclined soldiers no longer have a better offer than the three Chaos Powers. The Unholy Trinity finally have Chaos warriors who aren’t just the also-rans who weren’t good enough for the proper Chaos armies, but are actual badasses. Also, those warriors who enjoy fighting? We’ve just found a selling point for Slaanesh that isn’t about desperately avoiding the implied problems Slaanesh worshippers have with consent. So, Slaanesh is now a new Khorne? No, because Slaanesh is far wider than just killing everything that annoys you.

(I actually have another article lined up about how I perceive Slaanesh, based on some comments I made on Tumblr. I’ll get to it at some point.)

This argument’s specifically about the Chaos Powers of the Warhammer settings, but the same general rule applies to any fantasy wargame setting. War gods might be cool (if you didn’t think that, you’d probably not be writing a fantasy wargame), but try leaving them out of your next setting.

An army of warriors is easy, but an army dedicated to the god of craftsmanship, or the god of trees, or herdsmen, or trade, or storms, or mining?

 

Writing: Formatting Dialogue

Writing: Formatting Dialogue

Someone on Quora asked ‘What are the most common dialogue mistakes writers make that ruin a story?‘, so I generously shared the wisdom of an unpublished wannabe author:

One mistake that I keep encountering among aspiring writers isn’t so much the content of what characters are saying, but how it’s written on the page. It’s a failure to understand the formatting of dialogue, particularly in terms of speech tags.

Single or Double Quotes?

In other words, ‘this’ as opposed to “this”.

There probably is a rule somewhere, written several centuries ago, but in the modern day, it varies from publisher to publisher. Personally, I prefer writing single quotes for dialogue, as it looks nicer on the page. However, since this article has both quoted text and examples of dialogue, I’m going to use double quotes for dialogue here.

The Basics

The key thing to remember is that this is, in a way, a single sentence:

“Everything I say is rubbish. It’s absolutely awful, just like a Dan Brown novel,” said Max.

Sure, there are several sentences within the speech, but that’s irrelevant. As far as the formatting goes, it’s all one sentence. The entire content of the speech, even if it’s John Galt’s 100-page monologue from Atlas Shrugged, can be compressed down to:

“[whatever Max says],” said Max.

In other words, there’s never a full stop/period at the end of ‘[whatever Max says]’, as it’s the same sentence as the speech tag (‘said Max’). Instead, it’s a comma, as the sentence is continuing outside the speech tags.

Remember that basic foundation, and all the extra variations will fall into place.

Oh yes, and the ending punctuation belongs inside the speech marks, not outside.

Shouting and questions

Question marks and exclamations are the most obvious variation (although it’s a good idea to minimise the presence of exclamation marks/points, saving them for when they really, really matter). When there’s a speech tag present, use these instead of the comma, but pretend it’s a comma.

Don’t stress over this bit; your word processing package knows that it’s not really a new sentence when you put a ? or a ! at the end of speech. How can you tell? Because it doesn’t auto-capitalise the first letter of ‘said Max’ and the grammar checker won’t put a wiggly green line under it.

Also, don’t combine the two ‘?!’ except in the most extreme of circumstances. If you’re shouting a question, use a question mark. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” makes clear that it’s an exclamation. “Do you want fries with that?” is rarely shouted, except at the height of the lunchtime rush (okay, so bad example, but the reader will generally assume).

‘Max said’, or ‘said Max’?

As an aside, is it ‘said Max’ or ‘Max said’? Either works, although the unnamed equivalent ‘said he’ or ‘said she’ sound archaic, and so should be avoided, even when writing something set in the past. Of course, if a 15th Century character is saying, ‘said he’ in conversation, then that’s allowed.

‘He said’, ‘she said’

You don’t always need to use character names in speech tags. So long as it’s clear who is being referenced, use another pronoun in place of the name. Usually, this is ‘he’ or ‘she’, but others are available.

This doesn’t just apply to speech tags, but in general narrative as well, but ‘it’ is for a talking door knocker, artificial intelligence or an animal or supernatural creature whose sex or gender isn’t obvious. As a note, using ‘it’ tends to be extremely offensive when used about humans (it’s dehumanising, basically, and is hate speech when used for trans people), and can feel jarring when used about creatures that are virtually human. (I once wrote a novel where about half the character were angels, and used ‘it’ as their pronoun. Bad idea.)

‘They’ usually works as a gender neutral singular pronoun in English, even if its ‘correct’ form is to refer to a group of people. Apparently, Chaucer used ‘they’ for the singular, so there’s that as well.

If it still doesn’t feel right to use ‘they’, think of it this way: someone walks out of the desert, wrapped in mask, goggles and heavy robes, before sitting down at your protagonist’s campfire. The newcomer speaks with a voice muffled by their mask. Your protagonist has no idea if that person is male or female, and thus nor does your reader. You could assume masculinity and use ‘he’ to refer to this figure, but that says more about your protagonist’s prejudices (or, less charitably, yours) than it does about the character. You could use this to surprise the protagonist when the newcomer removes her mask, but that’s tough to pull off without it seeming a bit cliche. That said, it can be done; Brienne of Tarth removing her helmet for the first time in Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire might have been a minor surprise for the reader, but the reveal that she was female was an outrageous breach of propriety for the majority of the witnesses at the tournament. (See Samus is a Girl for examples of this trope in action.)

As an alternative to using names or pronouns, in either speech tags or narrative, you can also describe the person in question. If you have Ned Stark arguing with Robert Baratheon, both parties are male so pronouns have the potential of getting confusing, while ‘Ned’ and ‘Robert’ will get annoying if overused. Instead, refer to Robert as ‘the king’ or similar. If it’s parent and child, use ‘her daughter’ or ‘his mother’.

Pronouns get easier in first person narrative, of course, as ‘I’ cannot be mistaken for any other character. The same applies to the second person ‘you’, although you rarely see that except in Choose Your Own Adventure-style stories or the novelisation of the Space Truckers film. (Although, if I recall, that shifted perspective between chapters, while still keeping a ‘story in a trucker bar’ feel to the narrative by using ‘you’. Quite bold, for a tie-in of a film scoring 5.2 on IMDB.)

Paragraphs and Speech

Every new speaker in a conversation starts a new paragraph. This is entirely non-negotiable. Every single time, without fail. Even if you break every other rule of writing (and writing often involves breaking the rules to achieve a desired effect), this is one that shouldn’t be disregarded. Well, okay, you can disregard it, but make sure you’ve got a damn good reason to confuse your reader and annoy your agent/publisher.

Said, said, said, said, said, said…

Firstly, ‘Said’ is, 90% of the time, invisible to the reader. Don’t worry if it seems to be there too much.

Don’t go through the thesaurus and have a conversation in which characters ‘interject’, ‘argue’, ‘exclaim’, ‘blurt’, ‘sigh’ or even ‘ejaculate’. Sure, sometimes a different speech tag (particularly ‘asked’) is more illustrative of how something is being said, but the reader doesn’t usually notice. As per breaking rules, one of Harry Harrison’s Bill The Galactic Hero novels manages to do a conversation that lasts for several pages, consisting only of dialogue and a different and more absurd speech tag for every utterance. This was, of course, for comedy effect, ridiculing the thesaurus approach.

Helping with avoiding ‘said’ repetition, don’t overuse speech tags. Go without.

Speech tags are only needed when it’s not clear to the reader who is speaking. Ideally, strong characterisation and context should make that clear.

Max raised a hand.

Jordan paused. “Go on.”

“You mean I should just let my dialogue fly naked?”

“Something like that, though I would never phrase it that way myself.”

You should be able to tell who is speaking in that exchange. There was a slight cheat in that the first utterance was in a paragraph about what Jordan was doing (in this case, pausing), but it sets the context up so that the only other speaker is Max, and the only person able to reply is .

This is, of course, harder when there are more than two people involved in the conversation. If Jules was also in the scene, and added, “I often fly naked. I’ve been banned from El Al, but Qantas still takes me,” I’d likely name-check them and then make sure it was clear who was speaking later in the conversation before I decided to drop speech tags again.

Putting Speech Tags in the Middle of an Utterance

Jules’ comment above is pretty long. You could start it with a speech tag (see below for the rules on that), but I’m quite fond of breaking up long dialogue with speech tags instead.

“I often fly naked,” Jules said. “I’ve been banned from El Al, but Qantas still takes me.”

In that version, the speech tag ends the first sentence of the dialogue, and so adopts its full stop/period. The trick is to insert the speech tag early enough that it serves its purpose of telling the reader who is speaking and how – after the first phrase is usually the best spot.

Jordan’s comment earlier could have had a speech tag inserted as well:

“Something like that,” Jordan said, cautiously, “though I would never phrase it that way myself.”

In this example, the speech tag is interjected into the middle of a sentence of dialogue, so it has a comma at the end before the speech resumes.

Putting a Speech Tag at the Start of an Utterance

Going back to that weird grammar lesson example above, if Jules hadn’t paused to give context, but instead there was a speech tag, it gets complicated. There’s two schools of thought on this. The first is that ‘Jules said’ should be followed by a colon (one of these: : ) because the speech is what’s being presented by the speech tag.

Jules said: “Go on.”

The second is that the speech tag is just a part of the sentence and so it should be treated like any other speech tag:

Jules said, “Go on.”

One way or another is probably correct in some grammar book or other, but I’ve seen both used in professionally published works.

I’ve seen it argued that colons should be used for longer utterances, and commas for shorter ones, so the first example wouldn’t be favoured by that camp, but ultimately it doesn’t seem to matter.

Language changes, so this kind of oddity arises.

The Best Advice Anyone Will Ever Give to an Aspiring Author

Read a novel.

Not a self- or vanity-published one (no guarantee of quality control) and not a literary novel (more likely to break the rules for effect), but something published for the mass market by a reputable publishing house.

Take a look at how that author uses dialogue. The words said, the speech tags, the accompanying descriptions, the presence or lack of fillers like ‘uh’ or ‘well’. The best way to becoming a good writer, slightly ahead in my mind to actually writing stuff, is to read stuff.

Wargaming: Xenos Rampant

Wargaming: Xenos Rampant

Hey, wait, what, you can insert documents into basic WordPress blogs?

Awesome. In that case, here’s Xenos Rampant – futuristic wargaming in Dragon Rampant v1 (opens as .pdf).

Xenos Rampant is an unofficial supplement to Daniel Mersey’s Dragon Rampant, published by Osprey Games. It is designed to allow platoon-level skirmishes in a more advanced historical setting than the official Rampant games. You could probably also play historical 20th-century games (the World Wars, for example) using these rules, or even in the present day, although they are intended for battles waged in a science fiction setting.

It should also be noted that the existence or involvement of aliens is not a required component in such a game; Xenos Rampant is just the coolest title I could think of, and certainly more evocative than my working title of Future Rampant. Also, Lasers Rampant was already taken…

As this is a supplement, rather than as a standalone game, assume that all rules in the Dragon Rampant rulebook apply to games of Xenos Rampant, except for where specifically tweaked in this document.

As a further note, like Dragon RampantXenos Rampant is setting-neutral. You can use models from any manufacturer or setting, in any scale. Personally, I’ve messed around with models from Warhammer 40,000, Warpath, Afterlife, Necromunda, Gorkamorka and various game-neutral ranges.

Obviously, as an unofficial fan supplement, this is a completely non-profit project. Furthermore, any feedback from players is more than welcome, and will be incorporated into the next version.

 

(The header image is a bunch of science fiction cultists – probably Light Infantry or Militia Rabble in Xenos Rampant – painted by myself. The models are Frostgrave soldier bodies, Frostgrave cultist heads and arms and guns from Victoria Miniatures.)

Film Review: Wonder Woman

Film Review: Wonder Woman

My partner and I went to see Wonder Woman last night. Short review: I thought it was great and I look forward to seeing more of Diana.

As with my previous ‘review’ of Rogue One, this’ll be presented more as a bullet-pointed list of thoughts than a coherent essay or article about the film.

This list will contain spoilers, but I’ve tried to keep them mild.

 

The Setting

  • A superhero popcorn movie in something as emotive as World War One is always going to be a tough sell. World War Two has been simplified into straightforward good versus evil of Allies & Axis, which had to be fought and was a resounding victory for the good guys. (And our favourite Uncle Joe Stalin, but we’ll gloss over that…) This bowdlerisation is such that Captain America and the Red Skull can exchange punches without it feeling… off. The First World War though is characterised in the popular consciousness as being a morally-neutral disaster – see the concerns over the video game Battlefield 1 being set in 1914-18, when dozens of first-person shooters, including Battlefield, but also the Call of Duty and Medal of Honor (remember them?) have done 1939-45 without more than a mumble of discontent. However, Wonder Woman pulls it off; it gets close, because she spends the entire film blaming Ares for corrupting the Germans into starting the war (the ‘Hitler Was A Vampire’ trope), but the reveal that actually, humans are just fond of killing each other keeps the blame for the war pinned firmly on real world politics. That the film is set during the dying days of the war, when both sides are trying to negotiate the Armistice, probably helps. Wonder Woman’s not going to be leading the Americans into Berlin here
  • Misogyny. Lots of casual misogyny, particularly in the London sequence. However, Diana being Diana, she just looks confused and carries on doing whatever it was she was doing. Also, no one gets protective or dismissive of Diana by the end of the film. Being an actual demi-goddess helps, I suppose. The horrendously sexist attitudes of, for example, the British commanders and politicians, although appearing ridiculously overdone, weren’t that implausible for the era. A female police constable appears in a crowd scene in the film, stood beside her male colleague/bodyguard. Thousands of women served as volunteer constables during the war, to allow male officers to fight at the front, but a Metropolitan Police official was asked in 1916 if he ever saw women being taken on permanently. His reply was: “No, not even if the war lasts fifty years.”
  • There was a recent episode of Doctor Who in which Bill (who is black) was cautious about leaving the TARDIS in 1814 London (“Slavery is totally still a thing,”) and is pleasantly surprised when she does look around the streets: “Regency England, a bit more black than they show in the movies.” The Doctor’s reply is, “So was Jesus. History is a whitewash.” Aside from several non-white civilians, the London crowd scenes in Wonder Woman make a point of showing the ethnic diversity of the war effort. We see non-white troops from multiple nations. I’m not hot enough on the uniforms to identify the nations, but I presume one of the groups of Asian soldiers were the Indian Army, some others appeared to be from a Sikh regiment, and there was a black soldier at the docks that looked to be wearing British Army uniform (black British soldiers served alongside white comrades in the First World War, although non-whites were barred from becoming officers – there were several exceptions though). Of course, he may have been from the Caribbean or African colonies, but he appeared to be on his own rather than a part of a group.
  • The ethnic diversity continues into Steve’s team, who are all (or mostly anyway) existing characters from the Wonder Woman comic canon. Sameer is Moroccan (and makes a point of highlighting his skin colour as a reason why his acting career has never taken off), Chief is a native American (who mentions to Diana that it was Steve’s people who took everything from his during their last war), and, well, okay, you don’t get much whiter than the Scottish Ewen Bremner.
  • Visually, the film portrays its era very well. A historian might pick holes in some bits and pieces, but it feels right.
  • The action scenes don’t fetishise automatic weapons in a way that some First World War portrayals I’ve seen have done. Even World War Two films and games fall prey to that urge, when rifles were still the most common armament for infantry soldiers. Dakka might look and sound good on screen, but it detracts from the feel of the era.
  • Interestingly, the two German tanks seen towards the end of the film are not historically inaccurate. Yes, they’re clearly British tanks painted up in German colours (possibly the same props seen in British colours in earlier scenes), but the Germans actually fielded more captured British tanks than they built of their own. (For comparison, the Germans fielded fifty tanks during the war, only twenty of which were of German design, while Britain and France fielded literally thousands of tanks between them.)
  • Finally, how often do you get a superhero film set in Belgium?

 

Diana / Wonder Woman

  • Wonder Woman doesn’t get referred to as such during this film. I haven’t seen Batman v Superman: Dawn of Unnecessary Subtitles, but apparently it was the media in that film that gave Diana that name.
  • Gal Gadot is excellently cast. She looks the part and plays it well too. I’m not sure what more I can say about her than that I definitely want to see more Wonder Woman.
  • Born Sexy Yesterday is a trope (explained in more detail behind the link) in which a science fiction character, almost always female, is portrayed in a sexualised way, despite being either naive to the ways of the world (a mermaid come ashore, for example) or literally being born yesterday (Leeloo in The Fifth Element comes to mind, but it’s also the central conceit of Weird Science and its sub-genre of nerdy wish-fulfilment movies). Diana brushes against that trope, in that she’s an outsider to the world beyond Themyscira, but her naivety is emphasised as idealism, rather than foolish cluelessness. There are also a few moments where that same naivety is used to highlight the hypocrisy or prudishness of the mortal world, such as her continuous criticisms of women’s dress in 1918. It helps that the scene in Selfridges was also very funny.
  • However, my partner was rubbed up the wrong way by an early conversation between Steve and Diana, prompted by Steve’s awkwardness over their sleeping arrangements on the small boat they take from Themyscira. Diana appears ignorant of the idea of marriage and relationships, yet in the comics she’s mentioned having relationships on Themyscira. (A quote from the comics: ‘So, let me get this straight, you’re from a paradise island of science fiction lesbians, with a side of bondage?’) The conversation is explicitly about marriage before sleeping with someone in the literal, as well as euphemistic, sense, and that marriage was part of the natural sequence of then having children, growing old together and being happy with one other person forever. As Steve readily admits, it doesn’t always work out like that. At the time, I read the conversation as saying that Themyscira simply didn’t have the same rigid family structures as the mortal world; they were more communal, egalitarian or whatever, but there’s also the reading that the film was saying same-sex couplings can’t have proper relationships or families. It was explicitly stated earlier in the film that Diana was the only child on the island, moulded from clay by her mother and given life by Zeus, so that’d suggest family and relationships are treated very differently there than in our world (or at least, our world in 1918). I think I’d have to watch this scene again, but since I’ll probably pick up Wonder Woman on Blu-Ray when it comes out, no problem with that.
  • Oh yeah, the bondage comment above? The creator of Wonder Woman was bigly into that sort of thing. Why do you think Diana’s lasso makes people tell the truth? It was also a common feature of the early comics that Diana would end up getting tied up and taunted by villains. The film avoids all that, but I do think that a moment in the climactic fight scene was a nod towards the character’s history: Ares pins Diana to the ground with a length of telekinetically-hurled tank track and villain-monologues at her. However, the scene is not played for eroticism, but as an obstacle for Diana to overcome.
  • Speaking of the lasso, and of the Wonder Woman get-up itself, the bright colours worked marvellously in the otherwise muted and muddy scenes in Belgium, particularly during the incredible moment where she climbs that ladder into No Man’s Land. (As a side note, they weren’t explicit with it, but when characters described it as ‘No Man’s Land’, the audience knew full well what was going to happen next.)
  • The No Man’s Land scene is what happened next. You know those bits in superhero films where the film manages to sell precisely who or what the hero is? When Spiderman loses his mask during the train sequence and the New Yorkers just give it him back, promise not to tell anyone what they saw, and then try and protect him from Doc Ock? Or when Superman lands a crashing plane safely onto a baseball pitch and the crowd go wild, and then he mentions to the passengers that flying is still statistically the safest way to travel? No Man’s Land was that scene for Wonder Woman (and Patti Jenkins had to fight to keep it in the film!). It’s the scene where she ceases to just be a naive idealist with a few nifty superpowers, and becomes a goddess who inspires all who witness her. From the moment she sets foot on that ladder, the air in the cinema got very dusty. The aftermath sequence in the liberated village was a wonderful respite from the war and showed the human side of the conflict.
  • And what happens later is just cruel, but a necessary part of Diana’s journey to discovering that not everything evil in the world is the fault of Ares.

 

Steve Trevor

  • Chris Pine put in a solid performance of what, in any other film, would have been a two-fisted pulp hero. Wonder Woman manages to still give him time in the spotlight to do his dashing spy stuff, without detracting from Diana’s own plot and character arc. In fact, strip out the superhero stuff on both the good guys’ and the bad guys’ sides, and you’re left with a perfectly serviceable pulp spy/action movie about Steve Trevor and his buddies shooting and punching their way across Belgium.
  • He even manages to be the love interest who inspires the protagonist. Holy gender-flip, Batman!
  • Hell, since this film is set in 1918, if it weren’t for the fact that this film forms an end-point for his character arc, you could probably get some mileage out of a Steve Trevor spin-off. Think of it as Biggles for an American audience.
  • Oh, wait, that godawful idea already exists, thanks to the 1980’s.

 

Erich Ludendorff

  • Using a real-world historical figure as the main villain was another bit that could have turned out badly. For a start, Danny Huston looks absolutely nothing like Ludendorff. Furthermore, the historical Ludendorff (alongside Hindenberg) pushed the Kaiser to seek peace, unlike the version presented in the film, who was convinced that Germany could still win in late 1918. Again though, the film made it work.
  • It helps that Ludendorff is one of history’s bad guys anyway – he was a leading proponent of the ‘stabbed in the back’ myth about Germany’s 1918 defeat and took part in the Munich Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. Film-Ludendorff believed that war was the foundation of human civilisation (thus placing him firmly into worship of Ares, even if he didn’t realise it). Interestingly, this aligns fairly closely with real-Ludendorff’s beliefs. He was a social Darwinist who venerated war as a driver of societal advancement. Ironically, he did allegedly convert to the worship a pagan god, specifically the Norse Odin/Wotan, after the war. He also believed that Jews had conspired to undermine the German war effort by seeking profit ahead of patriotism, and condemned Christians as weak. So, yeah, he was pretty much a perfect fit for the Nazi party.
  • When I see Danny Huston though, I will always see him as the jazz musician/axe murderer from American Horror Story: Coven. Maybe the film-makers tried giving him real-Ludendorff’s little kaiser-moustache, but decided it didn’t suit him.
  • Ludendorff turns on his own government, to the extent of murdering the rest of High Command when they try to negotiate the German surrender on behalf of the Kaiser. Sure, it’s a way of making clear that the film isn’t trying to tar the entire other side with the crimes of its supervillain, but the Red Skull also turned on the Third Reich in Captain America: The First Avenger. At least there it set up Hydra as being a separate organisation that could succeed the Third Reich, but it just didn’t feel necessary in Wonder Woman.
  • The jovial way in which he and Dr Poison laughed as they killed his colleagues also felt a bit out of character – at no other point during the film did Ludendorff express any positive emotions.
  • Hang on, fridge logic kicking in… It can’t possibly have escaped anyone’s notice that a dozen senior German officers had died in a horrible poison gas attack, and yet dozens of equally senior German officers bring their wives along to Ludendorff’s gala later in the film. Really? Even if Ludendorff had covered up his murders as a freak accident, surely they’d have been a bit more circumspect in accepting his invitation.
  • Ludendorff shoots one of his junior officers dead fairly early in the film as punishment for not preventing Steve Trevor from stealing Dr Poison’s notebook and blowing up her lab. As noted, Ludendorff is a rogue element within the Imperial German Army, but at this stage he was still overtly loyal to the government. The German Army executed very few soldiers during the First World War (150 death sentences, of which only 48 were carried out) and although summary executions on the battlefield probably occurred and aren’t properly counted, this was in Turkey, at the heart of friendly territory. Sure, executing underlings for failure has a long tradition in arch-villainy, but it felt unnecessary here. Sure, it could be said to set up his willingness to murder more senior German officers later in the film, but his motives were very different: here it was anger and stock villainy, but there it was patriotism and lust for war.
  • It’s not really a spoiler to reveal that Ludendorff wasn’t Ares, despite Diana believing he had to be. It’s obvious from the outset that Diana’s simplistic view of The War To End All Wars is a mistake. Still, he made for a very good decoy antagonist, particularly with his ahistorical(!) use of weird blue gas ampoules to give himself super powers.
  • Okay, I did not realise that. Danny Huston also played Theo’s cousin Nigel, the government art collector, in Children of Men. That’s two things I’ve seen him in before Wonder Woman.

 

Dr Isabel Maru / Dr Poison

  • A somewhat underused character, to be honest, but also an example of the ‘Scarred Villain’ trope. Come on… in such an otherwise wonderfully progressive film, the disabled character is a villain.
  • That said, it was nice to see the period-accurate mask she wore over the hole in her face. Trench warfare led to a lot of facial wounds, and survivors often wore masks like that to get by in daily life. (Also, in the UK, there were special park benches, painted blue if I recall, reserved for disfigured war veterans, partly to give them privacy from people staring, but partly perhaps to avoid the social awkwardness of realising you’ve just sat down next to a gentleman with only half a face.)
  • During her first appearance, Steve describes her as a ‘psychopath’. He must be really into his study of psychology to be using a word like that in 1918. I guess Diana just understood the Greek translation of ‘suffering mind’ and figured, ‘Yeah, evil weapons designer, makes sense’.

 

Etta Candy

  • Good grief, that’s what her surname was? Comic books have a lot to answer for.
  • I’ve managed to go through all the trailers and articles about Wonder Woman without ever once placing Lucy Davis. Derp. She’s Dawn, the receptionist from The Office. Also, it’s 16 years next month since the first episode of that particular show was broadcast. I feel old.
  • Etta was awesome, and (like Dr Poison) felt slightly underused. Of course, this being 1918, and with most of the rest of the film being set in or beyond No Man’s Land, there’s not much scope for her to be directly involved. She certainly made the most of the London scenes though.

 

Ares SPOILER WARNING SPOILER WARNING SPOILER WARNING

  • As effective as it was for Ludendorff to turn out not to be Ares, I think the film would have worked better if Ares had been played by Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Movie. I suppose killing Ares in the origin film gives her the breathing space to do sod all for the next hundred years before she turns up in Batman Versus Superman. I do hope though that we get to see Diana in other eras in her standalone films, possibly still tying in Ares’ influence after his death, rather than how the Captain America films started in World War Two and then became modern day Avengers films.
  • I liked the bit earlier on where Ludendorff dismisses the idea of armistice with the (allegedly) Thucydides quote, “Peace is only an armistice in an endless war.” Diana takes that as proof positive that he is Ares, but it also fits in with Ludendorff’s socially Darwinist warrior mindset and, on a meta-level, is a clue for the audience.
  • Also, the presence of Ares in the film also slightly dilutes the film’s message that war is a human failing, not one by the gods. That said, there is something to be said for Ares’ argument that all he was doing was guiding humans towards an extinction that they’re determined to inflict on themselves anyway (complete with a meta-comment about how the Treaty of Versailles was a major cause of the even-more devastating Second World War).
  • That flashback sequence definitely included some Rogue One-style CG face-transplants. (CG faceplants?) There’s no way [censored] is that buff.

 

Other Thoughts

  • So… Steve flies a plane from the Ottoman Empire to crash it on Themyscira. This is presumably somewhere in the Mediterranean, assuming it works by normal geography. A light bomber plane of that era couldn’t get much further than that. He and Diana sail away from Themyscira, apparently spend one night asleep on the boat, and by the time Diana wakes up they’re being pulled up the Thames by a tugboat? Themiscyra can’t operate using normal physics, clearly.
  • After all, the fastest route from the eastern Mediterranean to London is to land on the south coast of friendly Italy, take the train through Italy and France, up to the English Channel at Calais, get a boat across to Dover and then another train up to London. You don’t sail all the way around the Iberian peninsula.
  • What happened to the Germans who landed in Themyscira? The Amazons only took one prisoner from the battle, and that was Steve, and then only because Diana protected him. There were several dozen of them in the landing party pursuing Steve, as well as a fairly hefty warship. Now, we saw the warship run aground when it unexpectedly found itself on an island where previously there’d been only sea, but is it seriously plausible that not a single man aboard survived that? Also, as badass as the Amazons are, a lot of the casualties they caused on the Germans during the beach battle were from arrows. Did not one of those soldiers survive those single puncture wounds? Maybe the Amazons are old-fashioned and they all developed sepsis and died.
  • Or maybe the Amazons murdered every last wounded or half-drowned man who wasn’t directly protected by Diana. Well, I guess they do model their society around the classical era, where that sort of thing was allowed. (Or am I overthinking this?)
  • The German mooks (and other soldiers, actually) were cast well as extras. They looked like just ordinary blokes conscripted to fight a war that was far bigger than they were. (This makes the apparent off-screen mass executions on Themyscira feel a bit more off.) Their innocence and youth are explicitly emphasised after Ares dies and his influence fades.
  • Frankly, I think that scene needed a bit of explanation, since everyone stopping fighting because Ares was dead shifted the film back towards the ‘Hitler is a Vampire’ trope, rather than the war being a thing started by humans. Sure, the classic ‘Britisher, the war is over, we are now friends,’ as seen in everything from Biggles: Pioneer Air Fighter and Sebastian Faulkes’ Birdsong, is a World War One trope, but they didn’t even do that. I dunno, maybe Ares’ death led to brief feelings of pacifism, rather than a universal rejection of conflict, and that was reflected by the Armistice being signed shortly afterwards.
  • As great as the No Man’s Land scene was, were there really that many Belgian villages left near the front line that still had people living in them in 1918? I guess this was post-Spring Offensive, so possibly these guys had been living behind German lines for four years after being largely ignored by the German occupiers.
  • I don’t know if the modern-day book-ends to the film were really necessary. It was nice to see that photo (the one they’re posing for in the header image) on a glass plate, but the Wayne Industries logo plastered everywhere, plus the final ‘somewhere a crime is happening’ moment just screamed of DC waving its arms and shouting, “Hey, remember that we’ve got a shared superhero universe franchise as well!”
  • You have Themyscira, and then you have the world of men. Not humans, or humanity, but men. The terminology was specific throughout the film. Partly, I guess that’s because ‘humans’ is a very science fiction term, and this is a fantasy film, but it also emphasises the contrast between the island and the rest of the world.
  • Speaking of Themyscira, it was lovely. The architecture, the landscapes, the sea, the Amazons themselves, all perfectly designed.
  • The Amazons had an interesting mix of ages as well, despite being a whole bunch of immortals.
  • As has been noted elsewhere, Robin Wright has gone the Leia route and grown up from being Princess Buttercup to becoming General Antiope. Meta.
  • David Thewlis is always worth watching.

Fiction – Sausage Fingers

Fiction – Sausage Fingers

In late 2015, The Guardian and Hodder & Stoughton held a horror fiction competition judged by Stephen King. I didn’t win, but here’s my entry, Sausage Fingers.

 


 

 

‘Hey, don’t hang up on me, bitch.’

‘John?’ she says, staring at the cellphone and wondering how he’d managed to get her new number so quickly.

‘Uh…’

‘Detective Cole, is that you?’ She’s not sure now. John Cole doesn’t normally sound so… agitated. It’s one of the things she respects about him. That calm, unflappable manner.

‘I’m sorry, I think I mistyped the number,’ the stranger says. She relaxes. ‘Look, I’m really sorry. I thought I was ringing, well, it doesn’t matter who I was ringing, but, yeah, I just, sort of…’

‘Got a digit wrong?’ she suggests.

He laughs. ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s it. I’m really, really sorry. I hope I didn’t come across as, you know, a bit of a, well…’

‘Jerk?’

‘I was going to say something harsher, but thanks for being charitable. Look, I’m really sorry.’

‘So you’ve said.’ She smiles and wanders back over to the hob to check how the saucepan is doing. Not bad. ‘It was a woman you were arguing with, am I right?’

‘How… yeah, yeah it was. My ex-wife. You won’t believe the stuff she’s been doing with child access, you know?’

‘Oh, that’s awful,’ she says, stirring the broth. ‘You aren’t getting on then?’

‘Ha, no. She’s had her lawyer pull it back to just one afternoon a month. And she’s the one citing unreasonable behaviour. Can you believe that?’

She laughs, not unsympathetically. She has her own issues with the legal system.

‘Uh, while I’m on,’ he adds, ‘sorry about calling you a bitch earlier.’

She’d forgotten about it, actually. ‘No, that’s fine.’

He laughs nervously. ‘Well, this is awkward.’

It is, somewhat. She doesn’t talk to people much. Particularly not men. Not for long anyway. Conversation never seems to last as long as she’d like it to. She blames her shyness. ‘No, it’s not awkward,’ she says, mentally apologising to the memory of her parents for lying. ‘It’s funny,’ she insists. ‘It’s like something out of a sitcom.’

‘Yeah, yeah, I guess it is. I’m not catching you in the middle of anything, am I?’

‘No, nothing major,’ she says. ‘I’m just boiling up some stock.’

‘Oh, so you’re a whizz in the kitchen?’

She blushes. ‘Well, I try.’

‘Good enough to feed the family, right?’

She catches the expression of the man sat at the kitchen table. He seems to be glaring at her. She turns away. ‘I actually live alone,’ she says.

‘Oh, I’m sorry. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I mean, I’ve been by myself for nearly a year now.’

‘She got all the kids then?’

‘Both of them, yeah. Jack and Albie.’ He says the names mournfully, as if that’s all he feels he has left of them.

‘Jack and Albie,’ she repeats. ‘Boys, then?’

‘Oh yes, and…’ He pauses and laughs again. ‘Here’s me, rattling off my life story to some complete stranger I dialled with my sausage fingers. Hell, it’s not like I’m even likely to meet you in the flesh, is it? You’re a cellphone. You could be anywhere in the States.’

She grins. ‘Actually, you’re ringing from an Ellington County number, am I right? I’m just over the river in Burton.’

‘No kidding? Burton, Massachussetts?’

‘Yes.’

‘Oh my god! Talk about a coincidence! I’m in Bradford, and I ring a cellphone and I get talking to a gal just down the street.’

‘Bradford’s a nice little town. I’ve visited a few times. I was there last Christmas, in fact.’

‘Yeah? You go on that ice rink they set up in the square?’

‘That’s the place.’

‘Me too. I was with the boys. And her.’ There’s a pause. ‘Oh god, you weren’t there Christmas Eve were you? You know, when they found that guy…’ He coughs and tails off.

‘In the tree? No,’ she says. ‘I was there the night before, on a date.’

‘Ah,’ the man at the other end of the line says. ‘Good date?’

‘To begin with, but it didn’t last.’

‘I’m sorry.’

She giggles. ‘I’ve been chatting with you for, like, ages, and I still don’t know your name.’

‘No. No, you don’t. It’s Calvin.’

‘Kelvin? Like the temperature?’

‘No, Calvin, with a ‘c’.’

‘Ah,’ she says. ‘Like the church.’

‘Hmm? Oh, yes. I get you. Most people say ‘like the pants’.’

She giggles again.

‘What’s your name?’ Calvin asks.

She purses her lips. Should she tell him the truth? She does. ‘Abigail.’ No need to apologise to her parents this time.

‘Abigail,’ he repeats, as if trying it on his tongue. ‘I like it.’

‘Thank you,’ she says. ‘We should…’ She can’t say it.

‘Meet up?’ he guesses.

She can feel her face turning pink and fans herself. She tries to say ‘yes’, but has to settle for a positive-sounding murmur.

‘I’d like that,’ he says. ‘You sound really nice, Abigail.’

‘So do you, Calvin.’ She can’t stop herself smiling. She puts a palm to her cheek and is amazed at how warm it is.

‘When are you free?’ he asks. ‘I know a great restaurant in Burton. Enrique’s, just off Harmon Street, under the colonial museum. Latin place. Fantastic food, but somehow you can always get a table.’

‘Sounds good.’ She looks at the man in her kitchen. He’s still glaring at her. ‘How about tonight?’ she says, defiantly holding his gaze. The man’s expression seems to convey his disgust in her.

‘Tonight? Wow. Uh, yeah. I’ll give them a call, just to be sure, but yes, I can meet you there. Is seven good for you?’

She glances at the kitchen clock, and then at the hob. She could leave those bones simmering while she’s out. ‘That would be marvellous.’

‘Okay, right, well… how will I recognise you?’

‘I’m the petite blonde with the red jacket.’ The man at the table seems to scowl. She covers the phone mouthpiece and hisses at him: ‘I am petite!’

‘Fantastic,’ Calvin says. ‘I mean… Yes, well, I’ll see you this evening.’

‘And I’ll see you.’

‘So, uh, bye then, Abigail.’

‘Bye, Calvin.’

There’s a pause, and then his handset clicks down.

She sits down at the kitchen table and breathes out. Her hands are shaking, she’s that excited. ‘I know it’s soon,’ she says to the man opposite.

He doesn’t say anything. That’s typical of him though. It was the lack of conversation that made it not work out between them.

‘Calvin sounds nice. I think this might be The One.’ She’s still grinning and feels embarrassed at such a display of emotion in front of the man from last night. He stares back at her. ‘Well,’ she adds, ‘there is the whole divorce, I guess. But, you know, it can happen a second time, right? You know, L-O-V-E?’ She scowls at his surliness. ‘I believe in love, even if you don’t.’

After a few minutes of crazed silence, she decides she has to talk to someone about all of this. Someone who will actually listen and engage with her. She goes through to the utility room and removes another pre-paid cellphone from the bag behind the dryer.

She knows the number by heart. No chance of misdialling.

‘Hello, Detective Cole, it’s me again. You won’t believe what just happened.’

Poem – The Privilege of Fools

Poem – The Privilege of Fools

I don’t often write poetry; I just don’t have a poetic mind. This, however, is basically a story with regular rhyme and meter. Like most of my shorter-than-novel-length work, it’s from a prompt. A friend gave me ‘Winter is coming’, expecting a rude joke about Game of Thrones. Instead, this (somewhat foul-mouthed) cautionary tale emerged.

If I wanted to make this poem meaningful, I could say it’s about the importance of a free press in a functioning society.

This poem is about the importance of a free press in a functioning society. Ahem.

—–

“Winter is coming,” so the proud lord spoke,

Upon the frost-bitten heath of his realm.

Around him, pyres and columns of smoke,

A field of rent shields and cleft helms.

 

“Winter is coming,” he announced once more.

Upon his lips clung the taste of blood red;

His throat still ached from his victory roar,

Most of the men he had battled were dead.

 

“Of course winter’s coming, you utter twat,”

Muttered the fool, ever stood at his flank.

“It’s December. I’m certain you know that,”

He said, “So why do you spurt out such wank?”

 

“I’m being portentous,” the king did say,

“Tis a necessary part of my role.”

The jester scoffed in an obnoxious way,

“More like pretentious, you pompous arsehole.”

 

“Hang on,” cried the king, “you speak to the crown,

“Curb thy foul tongue or I’ll have it cut out!”

“My lord,” laughed the fool, “Are my trousers brown?”

“No. You ignore what a jester’s about.”

 

“The gods have decreed that you be the king,

“But that I am also blessed with this gob.

“For when my lord says ridiculous things,

“So will this jester’s lips brand thee a knob.”

 

The boil of the king’s pomposity lanced,

The jester took his leave of the field.

Returned to the camp, the little man danced:

His master’s humility was healed.

 

The king considered the dark clouds above,

It was time to leave another clown dead.

Though the fool had acted only from love,

Much too far: “Winter is coming,” he said.

—–

 

The header image is Knight and Jester, by Charles M. Russell, 1896.