There was another prompt night last week, with the theme of Summer. My prompt was a quote from Roman Payne’s Rooftop Soliloquy:
“Life, now, was unfolding before me, constantly and visibly, like the flowers of summer that drop fanlike petals on eternal soil.”
I decided to do a poem. As per my last few attempts at poetry, it got dark. In a similar vein to last November’s Winter Keen, it’s a cautionary tale from a fantasy world where people really don’t like their kids. I may do ones for Spring and Autumn at some point, if I can think of another way of terrorising children.
Down forgotten paths of the deepest wood,
Lies a garden watered in crimson blood
Of slaughtered spring lamb, or sometimes a child,
Offered, by shepherds, to gods of the wild.
Forever renewed, this eternal earth,
Unfolds constant life, compelling the birth
Of saplings of flesh, skin leaves, heartwood bones;
Their pulsing red sap drawn straight from the loam.
The trees’ blossom eyes grow wider with fear,
When the garden’s guardian draws too near.
Imprisoned in bark, they dream of old life,
Their sap has memory, dread of his knife.
The wild gods’ gardener tends to these trees,
Lovingly watching for signs of disease.
His eyes are precise, judgement not fickle,
His old hands are as one with the sickle.
No foulness will he allow in his glade,
If a tree sickens, he sharpens his blade.
Spring damp, autumn rot or cold winter’s bite,
He trims off deadheads afflicted with blight.
Wood screams for mercy, but none is allowed.
Blood-spattered, the garden-butcher is proud
Of his service in his sacred mission;
He never thinks to seek recognition.
His endless labour is frequently hard
But he’s happy; work is its own reward.
From the deadheads, he extracts new seed-teeth
And plants them anew, to grow from beneath.
You seek an excuse, my young shepherd son,
For sleeping on watch; well, you will find none.
Guard the flock to evade gods of the wild;
If wolves take our lambs, we have but one child.
The header image is of branches cut from a bloodwood tree, which is exactly as gruesome as it sounds.
It’s Valentine’s Day(ish), so that can only mean a romance-themed Writers’ Soc prompt night. Last year, I wrote a superhero story about a monster destroying a city, so there’s some flexibility.
The prompt was a quote from Lao Tzu: “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
Tristyn and Adeline
Sir Tristyn, atop his steed draped in mail,
Rode boldly into the depths of the vale
Where his love, Adeline, the Maiden Blade,
Had fallen, lost when her band was betrayed.
He found her amongst the wounded and dead,
Her arm in a sling, a rag ‘round her head.
‘Fair Adeline,’ said he, ‘I feared you be slain,
‘Though now I will see the dawn’s light again.’
‘My lover,’ she said, ‘The dawn is yet stilled,
‘For my warriors were tricked, ambushed and killed.
‘Our guide was a ghoul, disguised in man’s skin.
‘I swear, on our love, he’ll pay for his sin.’
Head bowed low, Tristyn agreed to the quest,
‘Til the traitor was slain, ne’er would they rest.
Their quarry sent forth vile servants in swarms;
Together, the lovers weathered such storms.
The storm broke and they reached the ghoul king’s throne,
A cannibal wretch on a seat of bones.
‘You have slaughtered my kin,’ the foul ghoul said,
‘But you are both wounded, soon to be dead.’
The ghoul leapt, fuelled by hunger eternal
Its eyes burned bright with fire infernal.
Adeline and Tristyn did hold their ground,
In love for the other, victory was found.
Love gives you courage, a reason to die;
To be loved grants strength to hold up the sky.
As one, the lovers could not be withstood;
Their swords stained black with their enemy’s blood.
Heroes are known for cutting off their kin,
For barring their hearts from those they’d let in.
To spare their loved ones mortality’s dread,
They walk alone, with none mourning them dead.
But Tristyn and Adeline held no fear;
For them, their loved one was always stood near.
They knew if one fell, then so would their love,
To meet again in those fields above.
Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
This wasn’t the best Star Wars film, but it certainly wasn’t the worst. (That would be The Phantom Menace, largely because it was so close to being a good film, but failed abysmally at almost every stage.)
The film’s biggest weakness was its poor pacing. This film was 2.5 hours long, but with the rejigging of a couple of plot points, could have been dropped to 2 hours; a film-length chase scene isn’t exciting unless it’s got the intensity of Mad Max: Fury Road. The entire final battle scene (which was, in itself, very good, and contained some lovely call-backs to the Battle of Hoth) should have been brought forward thirty minutes.
Finn and Rose’s mission to Space Monaco was a bit of a missed opportunity. While it served to expand on the First Order/Resistance era of the Star Wars setting, some parts of it just felt a bit… well… prequel trilogy. I guess that that’s what Rian Johnson was going for at times, with the child slaves and the racing and all that, but there’s no reason to bring the bad bits along. But at least slavery was actually portrayed as a bad thing in The Last Jedi, rather than just an obstacle in Qui-Gon Jin’s discovery of Jesus Skywalker.
The other big let-down with The Last Jedi is that it was saddled with the same characters as The Force Awakens. Don’t get me wrong – they were great characters, but they were created for Episode 7, not Episode 8. The main plot of the film explored Rey’s personal journey, and Kylo Ren’s parallel degeneration. However, the subplots felt like the writers were scrabbling around for something for Finn and Poe to do (other than each other, which didn’t actually happen – sorry, Tumblr).
There were loads of opportunities to mention midi-chlorians, but they never did. I wonder if this was because Luke wasn’t taught properly and so understanding of midi-chlorians never really made it through into the modern setting’s understanding of the Force, after the Emperor killed off virtually every other Force-user during the age of the Empire. Or maybe Johnson just tacitly acknowledged that midi-chlorians are bantha-balls.
The characterisation of Rey, Kylo Ren and General Hux were high points, along with the 30-year check-in on how Luke’s character has been developing. Kylo Ren and Hux were both particularly good, with both of them being deeply flawed individuals, neither of whom are actually well-suited for their roles. I look forward to seeing how they cope with working together in the next film; the First Order military have demonstrated they don’t respect Ren and Hux has shown that he’s willing but incapable of breaking away from domination by Ren.
Visually, the film was marvellous. The ‘bloody’ footprints on the salt flat made for some extremely stark colour contrasts when the red under-layer was exposed as the white crust was disturbed. (This phenomenon also provides a clue to a major plot event towards the climax of the film, as well as looking rather gruesome a few seconds later when a character gets targeted by heavy blaster fire.) Vice-Admiral Holdo’s crowning moment of awesome was beautiful, its visuals enhanced by the complete lack of sound at the key moment. The final shot with the kid with the broom, although possibly a bit cheesy, was also very nicely done.
Overall, despite not being the best Star Wars film, it’s still better than anything in the prequel trilogy, and does contain some incredible moments that more than make up for its weaker elements.
It’s been a while since I posted anything up here, and I finished reading Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury earlier tonight, so here are my thoughts.
Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (Michael Wolff)
I try not to get too political on this blog, for the simple reason that it’s (hopefully) eventually going to become my public-facing web presence in the event I make it as a published author. However, like most of the rest of the world over the past year, I’ve been watching, aghast, as a whole mob of badly-written movie villains have taken over the United States of America.
I pre-ordered Fire and Fury and, thanks to the White House’s futile attempt to cease and desist, got it several days earlier than expected when the publishers decided to tell Trump what it thought of his attack lawyers.
While I’ve been reading the book, I’ve also been reading/watching the parallel news articles and criticism of it and its author. A lot of the criticism makes very valid points. Although the story feels too in-sync with the news and gossip that’s been coming out of the White House over the past year for it to be, as the administration has claimed, a work of fiction, even the author admits that some of the events described are composites of reports from different sources, i.e. they’re probably not exactly what happened, but an interpretation of several versions of events.
Most of my issues with the book’s reliability are challenged in this video from Stephen Colbert, who, frankly, doesn’t seem overly convinced by Wolff’s claims of authenticity – note that he signs off the interview with a comment about looking forward to listening to the tapes of Wolff’s interviews, despite the author earlier saying he had no intention of releasing those:
The problem with Fire and Fury is also its biggest strength: it feels exactly right. Even if you were to assume it was a complete work of fiction, the characterisation of the real people in it feels so spot on that it’s hard to tell the difference. Events described tally up really neatly with actual historical events that have occurred. If this book’s fiction, it’s one of the best alt-history books out there. If this book’s 100% true, it’s terrifying.
My thoughts are that it’s somewhere in the middle. I’m not suggesting that Wolff deliberately made up events, but his sources (which he generally fails to cite) are, by his telling, generally unreliable narrators anyway, in competition with one another and either delusional or with a strong interest in portraying themselves as righteous and their rivals as imbecilic or ideologically flawed.
(Oh, and if even 10% of the events in the book are accurate, then the US is in deep, deep trouble…)
It’s been suggested that Wolff has delved into some pretty unethical journalistic practices to get his material – at least one of the various dinner parties mentioned in the book actually took place at Wolff’s house, and I’ve seen some suggestion that he ‘burned his sources’ by quoting them on the record when they didn’t wish to be identified.
Even if that wasn’t the case, it’s pretty clear who his main sources in the book were. Steve Bannon, for example, is almost a protagonist in this story, with extensive direct quotations that appear to have been spoken to the author rather than another character. Some critics have accused Wolff of describing him overly favourably – I don’t see that. Bannon’s characterisation is as a self-delusional egomaniac who’s downfall comes because he believed he could control an even greater self-delusional egomaniac. Jared Kushner, or someone close to him, appears to have been a major contributor as well, which makes sense, considering most of the book’s action revolves around the infighting between the Bannonite and Javanka factions.
Wolff says, in the Colbert interview above, that the book’s accuracy can be measured by how much it ties in with what we already know. Yeah, that’s called confirmation bias and is typically something best avoided. Just because the characterisation is so spot on to what we think we already know about the Trump administration doesn’t mean that it’s true.
That said, events since the book’s publication appear to be something of a continuation of its own narrative. Bannon’s career as an alt-right prophet has continued its dramatic decline, with him even losing Breitbart, and Trump’s vengeful attacks on him match the very style of casual cruelty and denial of history that the book ascribes to the president. But then, you only need to read @RealDonaldTrump to recognise how consistent both his recent tweets and his portrayal in Fire and Fury are to his previous recorded actions and statements.
I suspect there’s a lot more fact in Fire and Fury than (even inadvertent) fiction, but sadly its very writing process makes it difficult to identify which is which. All we can do is, as with Bannon’s dramatic fall, watch the ongoing events Wolff describes gradually come to their natural conclusions (or not, as the case may be). It will be very interesting to see, in decades to come, how much of this book reappears in actual scholarly texts about Trump’s term of office.
Ultimately though, the most damning revelation Fire and Fury brings is its very existence. I can’t imagine Obama, Clinton or either Bush allowing a single journalist such unrestricted access that he could even write such a book and have it appear plausible; nor would the vast majority of staffers and aides in those administrations be stupid enough to say the things that they allegedly said to Wolff.
The header image is a promo image from ‘Olympus Has Fallen’, a film which has the alternate title ‘Gerard Butler Shoots Lots Of Koreans, And His Best Friend, In The Head’.
Every now and then, the discussion comes up on the Dragon Rampant Facebook group about how to combine the Rampant games. The thrust of the discussion seemed to move towards the idea of not just porting units wholesale into Dragon Rampant, particularly from The Pikeman’s Lament, because of the different thematic and era-appropriate principles behind the writing of each set of rules (Dragon being effectively a rewriting of Lion Rampant’s medieval ruleset).
I figured I’d have a go. Here’s Enhanced Rampant, which adds Dragonised pike and shot units to Dragon Rampant, along with veterancy options inspired by those in Pikeman: