Archive for August 22, 2017

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

Joss Whedon’s former marriage blew up again with the ex-wife’s essay calling him out as a fake feminist in a recent essay. I have no knowledge of the events preceding the hand grenade toss (posting). I did not and do not run in the director’s social circles and if I know anyone who could put me in a room with him for a meeting, they aren’t saying and won’t say until well after the mess dies down. Why? As is common, certain elements of the blogosphere/Facebook-land immediately blew up in what seems like fake outrage that if taken to its illogical extreme will affect the average audience member’s ability to derive pleasure from Joss Whedon’s past, present or future work. It just won’t do to support a serial philanderer who claims to be a feminist, but who it is now revealed emotionally beat the shit out of his wife for twenty years or so! 

Again, I don’t know what happened. I read Ms. Cole’s essay. But, it is still just one side of the story. I have no way to parse out how much of the seemingly nasty behavior she speaks about in generalities was the objective truth, the truth that feels true to the person living it, or things made up to win an argument. And as someone never invited to either half of this now fractured social circle with no direct observation to work from and zero desire to read any tell-all books on the subject, I don’t have to parse anything. In my corner of the Multiverse, Joss Whedon’s work simply is. However, I have come to believe in the legal tradition of two separate witnesses telling the same story before I accept it as truth. It guards against bias of all kinds.

This means given the many rumors circulating about which actors came away from one of Mr. Whedon’s various projects hating him versus the many actors that will stand by him to this day that there are more shoes to drop. Rumor and ongoing discussion asserts that Sarah Michelle Gellar came away from TV Buffy (it took me years after the fact to watch the TV show due to how stupid the movie was) with an intensely felt antipathy, such that she had three or four chances to reprise her role on Angel and supposedly said some variation of “Fuck off!”

The obvious question here: was Sarah Michelle Gellar (a very young woman at the time who was either not legal or 18 playing 16) one the “needy and aggressive actresses” making Mr. Whedon’s fidelity a sometime thing? To my knowledge, Ms. Gellar has not said that part in any of her statements. Neither have any of the other possible female suspects, the majority of whom still find nice things to say about Mr. Whedon in public. And it’s still not my job to parse out whether these unnamed women A) still care about a former partner, B) needed to shut up to preserve a career, C) weren’t involved in the behavior under discussion, or D) simply don’t want the past blowing up the present.

But this essay isn’t really about what happened; it’s about what the blogosphere and Blue Facebook thinks happened in order to drive the need to feel superior by announcing in their posts and comments that they would never do such things and fuck that cheating bastard who lied to us about his feminism! So far the comments in my personal version of Blue Facebook (that my Facebook feed should be slightly more Purple is the subject of a another essay for a different time) have split fairly evenly between “private behavior for which we have heard only one side and that I find it silly that we’re now dragging all of his previous work before the ideological purity court to see if Buffy is really a feminist show” and “fuck his fake feminism!”

First off, Mr. Whedon caused much of this himself by claiming a feminist mantle in a variety of public speeches and statements in the first place. The easy copout reason says of course, he’s a Dude trying to buy into a movement for ladies to stick up for themselves after centuries of Male Oppression, possibly his chosen strategy to get laid. We name this a copout because feminists are usually grateful when a guy tries to walk back his guilt about the times he has rested his thoughts and actions in the Way Things Have Always Been and wants to march. Perhaps this hypothetical man has a sister that had to deal with a handsy boss at the office and because of the close family relationship he is able to see that not all women lie to get ahead at work? But, there is no feminist subgroup, except for the very worst, that wouldn’t accept a male ally to help get through the next six weeks of marches and actions.

However, the real reason Mr. Whedon just shouldn’t have talked this big about feminism roots in the very nature of the word. Feminism has become one of many Isms, belief systems that in my practical definition require acceptance of an ideal that is total and absolute in order for you to claim the word. Nazism expects a purity of thought that a world without Jews and other non-whites is always better than the world that tolerates such inferior scum. Fascism (to extent that Nazism doesn’t already cover the description) assumes that you must believe that republics with democratic aspirations are founded on false principles because people suck, especially the brown ones, and must be controlled by force.

Similarly, even generally more benign belief systems like Christianity or Moderate Islam have a few points where if you can’t recite them with conviction you will be told “these are core to what we are and, except for welcoming you to the holiday pageant, we have to question why you’re here.” For Christians, it’s the Nicean Creed. For Muslims it’s the ability to recite – “There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.” – several times in Arabic with a straight face.

So feminism has a natural tendency to trend towards an ideal platform where women always get the support they need getting through life in a world that hasn’t always been nice. The expectation is that every case of a man who talks big about supporting women while cheating on his wife will be denounced. He is a bad lying man who must never get our entertainment dollars ever again.

Mister Whedon failed to leave himself an out by saying “I generally support much of what women who identify with feminism say they need from the rest of society, but my beliefs, like I suspect many men like me, are too shifting and contradictory on the surface for me to ever use that word to describe myself.” And now he’ll get a Facebook keelhauling for a short while until Blue Facebook finds something else about which to express outrage. We hate people who use direct statements when they lie.

The really curious part of this kerfuffle is the part where all of the previous shows are now called to the dock in the Blue Facebook version of the Old Bailey. Is TV Buffy feminist? – seems to be the question before the social media grand jury. Is a show that features an automatically dismissed female character (former cheerleader, teenager, blonde, not terribly good at school, physically petite etc.) standing up for all of humanity against the vampires and demons that go bump in the night a feminist character? Or is she just a product of fake feminism that has been coopted by evil men to provide TV eye candy to feed a curious male fantasy about the scantily clad, hot she-warrior?

Does Joss Whedon get some credit because he drew some interesting other women for the Buffy-verse shows? Does Willow, the lesbian, witch, best friend who is good at school do enough to counteract Buffy’s flaws that jump off the screen?

Does the fact that Slayer mythology is centered around one slayer at a time who is controlled by a committee of men trying to save the world without letting the special woman gain too much power count as anti-feminism in sheep’s clothing? Does the fact that Buffy performs the magic at the end of the show to free up all the potential slayers count as a feminist statement in opposition to the question above? In a related note, how do we parse out Wonder Woman, a franchise Mr. Whedon almost got to direct? Feminist heroine because she’s Wonder Woman, the special woman that leaves the world better than she found it? Or anti-feminist because she does all of the above looking like a supermodel wearing a patriotic one-piece bathing suit and shaves her pits?

Does Mr. Whedon’s subsequent show Dollhouse represent a gross male bondage fantasy about locking a woman up, erasing her mind and then programming her with what she needs for the next episode something that just shouldn’t be allowed? Or is it the story of Echo the special woman who agreed to that life and then over the course of the incomplete and truncated show transcends beyond the confines of that poor existence disguised as life? One brand of feminism harkens to the first question and the other doesn’t care about the anti-feminist setup as long as she wins in the end. And it takes more wisdom than Solomon to cut this particular baby other than to punt to Brian’s best theological statement in Life of Brian – “You are all individuals! You have to work it out for yourselves!”

The many contradictions in Mr. Whedon’s work mirror those in my work and that of everyone else I read. I don’t claim to be a feminist or even an ally, a word that in the nasty Realpolitik of our world is intended to be a temporary thing. I do sometimes create female protagonists doing the best I can with what I knew at the time that I typed, edited and re-typed those words. If that female character becomes a touchstone that helps a woman who hasn’t pissed me off get through her day, great, God love you. If the alt-right tries to do her dirty with the Pepe the Frog treatment, I’m going to sue, but only because I have my own animus towards Nazis and that particular aggression just won’t stand…Man!

So where does the forgiveness presented in the title come in? Pretty much, it’s a prerequisite for the enjoyment of any art, entertainment and conversation in our shared headspace. I have to be able to forgive that the art that pissed me off come from a human being with fears, expectations and biases that are hard to see in ourselves. Thought and communication are all about the shifting except in this case, not the monolithic list of pure statements that define the words we use to describe our social groups. The except in this case tends to create furious anger when in the same room with the doctrinaire who must adhere to the straight and narrow to get through the day.

Not forgiving Mr. Whedon for his presumed infidelities, by giving each show its fair due and refraining from caring about whether the mind behind the show is fully living up to his stated ideals, is a poor way to live. I suddenly have to turn off his show (of which only a few really spoke to me. I’m not a blind raving Whedon fan) because the work isn’t appropriately feminist, anti-racist or whatever enough. This represents a lot of wasted energy. While I don’t want to parse out the truth about Mr. Whedon being a douche to his wife, I do prefer choosing which of his shows I like.

To do that requires that I forgive the man for his failings…even if it is sometimes rooted in the cruel truth that people who cheat on their wives and lie about it while loudly claiming the mantle of an ideology that doesn’t tolerate imperfections among its adherents are quite frankly good for business. For instance, should I ever be hired to write a soap opera, which requires many different flavors of human pathology presented as engaging characters, I now get to mine Mr. Whedon’s revealed personal life for my own benefit. Luckily, I don’t really like soap operas so any forgiveness gets to be unconditional in this case.

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

Now that I occasionally style myself an unemployed script doctor, let’s go whole hog and go after George Lucas. No, better scribblers than I have pored over Episodes 1-3 and walked away scratching their heads. I don’t really want to pile on when everybody and his dog enjoys beating the crap out of any movies featuring Jar Jar Binks and probably the two most mismatched romantic leads in cinema history (honorable mention to 50 Shades of Grey). I can’t fix these movies without making some kind of Faustian deal. And I’m already flagellating myself redoing Return of the Jedi as a writing sample (more later). No, I’m going after good Star Wars, specifically, Empire Strikes Back

To be fair, I couldn’t then and can’t now find very much wrong with the movie. The Empire chases the heroes around the galaxy. Luke ducks out for Jedi School. Han and Leia fall deeply in love and even deeper into the sheep dip. Luke takes a beating from his father and the heroes just barely get out with skinned knuckles. But, what didn’t come off well sticks out like a sore thumb.

How long does it take for the Millennium Falcon to fly to Bespin after eluding the Star Destroyer? There, a plot hole worthy of my time.

When Han yanks the docking clamp and floats away with the other garbage, the Falcon is completely sub-light and can’t fix with the parts on hand. With Boba Fett tracking the Falcon’s every move, the Empire has Han, Chewie, Leia and the droids under complete observation at all times. On the surface, a good way to keep setting up a hero team for more trouble according to dramatic theory (see Save the Cat, etc.). But, the crew dropped the ball with minute details mostly fixable with dialogue that potentially muddied up the whole middle of the movie.

When choosing a course for Bespin, Han says – “it’s pretty far but I think we can make it.” Okay, point one for someone thinking Dude, what do you want, calendars? They acknowledged the issue!

Now, what does I think we can make it mean? Food, mostly. Star Wars physics seems to make a big deal that no point in the galaxy is more than 30-40 hours in hyperspace from any other point. I certainly play from the assumption that New Hope starts about six hours after Rogue One, a reasonable amount of time to allow the Empire to analyze the records from Scarif.

True, Han’s assertion could also mean a run out of gas problem because we’ve never really asked anybody about energy usage on starships. Does the Falcon on its way to Bespin burn her engines the whole time? Does Han spool up to the highest sub-light speed possible that wouldn’t create relativistic time-dilation (70-percent C give or take) and then drift into Bespin?

A constant burn approach uses fuel at prodigious rates that requires an answer from Mister Lucas ruling about fuel efficiency and fuel availability before entering variables into the “cold equations” of fuel management. We would need to know if starship fuel uses thimbles of matter in each reaction allowing ships to fly vast distances on a single tank. Or we would need to know if fuel were nearly freely available in the form of interstellar hydrogen waiting to be ingested with a Bussard scoop.

Assuming Mister Lucas ruled for either possibility, the reason for constant burn is comfort. Most ships run supporting machinery off the engines which also drains fuel. In the Falcon’s case, this includes the kitchen appliances and the heater/AC that regulates cabin temperature during the months in space. Most importantly, the magic floor device called Artificial Gravity/Inertial Dampener (the best scientific opinion says both are the same machine) also runs off the engine.

Filmmakers embraced the AG machine as a way to save money to avoid depicting zero gravity with either wires or putting the set into the back of jets designed to make unwary space travelers puke. But, the magic floor also serves an in-story reason for it being turned on. Long term space flight without gravity inputs has a tendency to cause osteoporosis in astronauts and cosmonauts that stay too long.

Given that Leia walked off the Falcon suspicious of Lando’s smooth operator ways, we can assume that fuel consumption was not a problem. We can all surmise that constantly burning the engines provided a thrust based artificial gravity towards the back wall or more likely kept regular artificial gravity down towards the floor. So we circle back to Food.

The US Navy reports that nuclear vessels return to port when they reach the intersection of low food, low medicine and spouses ashore threatening divorce. They don’t run out of nuclear fuel and can get all other supplies delivered. It follows that food determines how long one can stay out at sea or space.

So Han dips into the stored food in the freezer to feed Leia, a Wookiee who thinks with his stomach and himself for months on end. Okay, I’ll go with that because the sub-light trip really serves the purpose of giving Luke enough time to train on Dagobah with Yoda. Without being clear on how long Luke has to train, we Star Wars geeks have endlessly argued all over the map – “so he had, like, a week of training before running off to fight Vader.” – or “it had to have been a year.”

And now we get to where George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett could’ve dropped in dialogue (none of these thoughts affect the deeper story structure) to make things more clear. If Leia has been stuck on the Falcon with Han for months at a time eating frozen stew and those Insta-bread packs we saw in Force Awakens, she’s going to be grumpy about food arriving on Bespin. When Lando turns on the charm kissing Leia’s knuckles, she has an opportunity to at least tease Han that she’s ready to fuck Lando for BBQ bantha steak and a real salad. Such thoughts might’ve allowed Carrie Fisher to hold the moment longer milking Lando’s suave demeanor; a good scene as is, but a better scene playing up any sort of jealousy on Han’s part. A missed opportunity.

The dialogue that really serves to murk up how long Han and Leia were stuck sub-light on the Falcon comes at the reveal of Lando’s treachery – “they arrived just before (italics mine) you, I’m sorry, but I got my own problems.” Okay, if the Empire arrived the previous day we have another timeline problem.

The Empire is probably like many other fascist government entities valuing efficiency and competence. This means that arriving the day before the bucketheads are going to run around saying a lot of – “hide!” – as they get ready to spring their trap. Or would the Empire prefer to roll up to Bespin several weeks or months in advance ready to spring a better trap with no rushing about? They have Boba Fett’s constantly updated position data following in Slave One, how long does it take to figure out he’s going to Bespin? Especially since Boba Fett, legendary bounty hunter, has Jabba the Hutt’s file on Han likely to include Known Associates. He’s going to Bespin because he thinks he can trust Lando Calrissian.

The Empire arriving on Bespin earlier than stated gives Lando more motivation without changing much dialogue. “This deal’s getting worse and worse all the time.” If Darth Vader shows up with the boys three months earlier to wait, the temptation for the bad guys would be to interfere with a profitable gas mine.

Lando’s dialogue could also refer to the bribes paid to various Imperial officers just below Darth Vader to stay out of his business. How much would Admiral Piett demand to schedule fewer safety inspections designed to regulate the gas mine into oblivion? I think 20,000 Imperial Credits to start. Another moment missed.

Meanwhile on Dagobah, Luke has several months to train with Yoda. Luke cuts his own head off confronting Vader in the swamp cave. He has Force visions of Han and Leia’s torture – “it is the future you see.” Okay, Luke has the visions while the Falcon is still in transit, so call this one a point for the what more did you need camp.

Similarly, Luke has learned “so much since then” when he can no longer avoid confronting Darth Vader. This generally suggests the passage of enough time since the swamp cave for Luke’s body to be strong and limber enough to survive the demands placed on it by the Force. Point in favor of the movie doesn’t need fixing camp.

Luke needs the time to train with the Force because he knows a few tricks married to a body that is exercise adapted to be a fighter pilot. Fighter pilot Luke can pull Gs through turns. Jedi Luke needs a different set of muscles ready for saber fights.

A real world example, black belts; it takes a lifetime to get Tenth Dan Black Belt in any art, but about three years to get a First Dan black belt. The body needs to catch up to the mind. Similarly, without extensive training, Luke loses more than his hand because his girly-man body won’t cooperate.

Here we are at the end of a rant about a movie that was generally brilliant but has a bit of a fuzzy timeline concerning an important thread, Luke’s training time. I would’ve preferred clarity so I don’t spend the intervening 37 years asking this question. I’ll move on now…

Except to answer how long do I think Han and Leia spent together on the Falcon? Eight months, an arbitrary amount that balances getting the narrative over quicker with giving Luke enough training time to be believable as a Jedi. I’ve written such into my Return of the Jedi script, but you shouldn’t use Jedi to fix the one thing off about Empire Strikes Back. Though if Leia is stuck with Han for eight months how is she not already pregnant with Kylo Ren? A question for another day.

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

I suppose one of many reasons the Dungeoneer’s Diary has remained so dormant this long has been the lack of recent source material, aka finding a game can be a bit tricky. Actually, I suppose I should say finding a geographically accessible game on a night not taken up with another activity intended to feed my other obsession with writing can be tricky. Deep down my other reason for leaving a blog devoted to tabletop RPGs and associated geekdom this thunderously silent was an underlying love/hate with players bragging up past characters and their glories. Yes, the subject of this post (on a go with it and it will over soon basis). 

Going back to the early days of the D&D Basic Set gifted to me by a cousin, we have many in my rogues gallery…that I feel absolutely no shame or scruples inflicting on you now. Enjoy!

Alpo: Practically my first character from the Basic Set. A fighter as I recall, but considering the interesting set of occurrences that led to him being named after a popular dog food, the canned kind you hope wasn’t packed on a secondary line at the canned chili factory, his PC class was absolutely irrelevant.

You see, I took the rules about rolling exactly three dice per statistic a little too seriously. Alpo resulted in a Three, a Five and a Six in attributes that most people think are vital: Strength, Constitution and Dexterity. And the other three stats didn’t peek above Ten, a veritable victim in waiting…I played him once. But, I did learn a few things.

First off, perhaps the universe is listening…intently. I had already put Alpo down on the lined sheet ripped from a school notebook. I had intended to go for Apollo, named after the Greek god of light and the Richard Hatch character from 1.0 Battlestar Galactica. So my brain-freeze getting the name wrong could, in the mind of a nine-year-old, cause a descent into Strange-O Land where a crap name begets crap statistics. Yes, give it a few years and nine-year-olds grow up to, at least intuitively, understand the difference between random and evenly distributed; random allows for long stretches of coin tosses coming up Tails.

Alpo, my Victim in Chief barely fit to be processed into a can of his namesake, also taught me some basics about practical tabletop RPG gameplay. Namely more often than not, the Dungeon Master doesn’t care to look over your shoulder while you’re building your cool character. So keep rolling dice until you get something that might survive the first session.

It was likely the memory of Alpo that caused me to wholeheartedly embrace certain optional rules from 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. You know, the ones that let you roll four dice per statistic or 24 in total with an intent to bump the curve by dropping the six least favorable dice. Rules that have survived all the way into 5th Edition. I roll 24, drop out six and then proceed onto the concept phase of character creation.

Valuable lessons taught by Puny Meek Alpo. But, when you consider that tabletop RPGs serve to help us vicariously channel our inner Roman spectators at the Games, chess players at Hogwarts or Republican senators perhaps I should’ve played him a few more sessions? Just to see how far the blood splash flies before landing on the wall. Certainly, the lethal character generation rules in Traveller would’ve culled this poor fellow, but I digress.

My teen years mostly become a blur as too many of the characters I played were mentally erased simply by virtue of other more fascinating characters playing next to me. This tended to cross gaming systems of which I may have played most of them by the time I graduated high school. I don’t usually mind being overshadowed.

I can’t even remember the names of the Navigators and Helmsmen I played in FASA’s old Star Trek system. Invariably, I shared a beam down with Dr. Beau Smith, a homicidal doctor that almost never set phasers to stun, and Baba O’Reilly, the Caitian (a six-foot sentient cat) security officer famous for carrying a Louisville Slugger. Besides, I crashed the boat once…nuff said!

This period of games among my circle of friends lasting between one and three sessions due to the intrusiveness of homework, school and life did give me plenty of ideas for my current career as a Four-Genre Writer…in some cases if I want to egregiously steal from my friends. We played a session of Ancient Greek D&D where the highborn fighter takes a trip of personal diplomacy to other city states, exactly patterned after Telemachus leaving Ithaca to search for word of Odysseus and make friends with luminaries like Menelaus. Adventure awaits.

I brought a wizard named Balthazar. Another friend brought a loud-mouthed priest of Apollo. But, the star of the show was Telodios Son of Odios – “I am Telodios, son of Odios” – “I knew your father well, what has become of him?” – “Great Lord, he has paid the Boatman, these past five years.” – “Odios has died! ‘Tis odious!” So when this friend hears I’ve looted Telodios for a series that emulates Fritz Leiber’s work Fahfrd & Grey Mouser, I might have some tap dancing to do.

Brendon Dole: Or should I say Prisoner 9711? When you make six-foot-tall assassins for the 1.0 Top Secret system that split the difference between James Bond and your own look (assuming rigid adherence to the workout plan for assassins and high school football players), you’re really not expecting at least three separate occurrences of – “freeze asshole!” – followed by putting up his hands.

Of course, the nameless spy agency he worked for wasn’t going to roll over and use influence they don’t officially have for an assassin that keeps getting caught. Mister Dole became our local joke much like the sillier representations of the Joker who needs to bust out from Arkham Asylum before doing his villainy upon Gotham. To think that I wrote rhyming poetry about this guy for Middle School English…fictional cyanide pills anyone?

And so that covers the highlights of the roleplaying game sessions undertaken between first unpacking D&D and the end of high school. Yes, there were a few other really memorable games, but I was either the Gamemaster or an important non-player character. Oh wait, that’s actually a good story…

Vassili Ivanovich Petrov: I may have actually gotten the name wrong, because memory occasionally gets tricky after a decade. But, here’s the setup, a buddy wants to play Top Secret with four other guys. However, he wants to run a double-blind game where the KGB villain is acting independently of the true NPCs in the game.

Because I’m the smarty pants kid that already read lots of spy novels that backhandedly teach the book version of espionage tradecraft (trust me I’m not hanging my ass out in Baghdad or Prague IRL without going to spy school), I get the call. My parameters: a guy who’s Level Four in Everything (Assassin, Investigator and Confiscator). He has a base and twenty-five to fifty minions in Hong Kong. I’m going to run agents and junior officers through normal espionage (dead drops and brush passes mostly). The other players brought variations of the highly educated American intelligence officer trying to thwart the Commie Menace.

Okay, here’s the brag. The game starts off simple, an asset from Silicon Valley or something has been sent by his San Francisco based handler to drop off microfilm into my care. Obedient servants of the Workers’ Paradise don’t question orders from Moscow Central. They just set up the brush pass.

So what do I do? The American scientist gets off the plane at an airport and hails a cab. I wear enough latex to pass as a Hong Kong cabbie (I was specifically described as coming from the not-so-white parts of Russia) able to fade into the crowd. We make the pass when he pays the fare…simple tradecraft that defies observation.

What happened next was mostly not fully reported to me because my GM friend wanted to highlight the Fog of War. There was a gunfight (bad tradecraft, but an expectation of spy fiction). I lost some guys and requested more cannon fodder from Moscow Central. One of those dudes shows up with bruises on his face.

Bruise-face passed the language check contest between my native Russian and his probably highly competent school Russian. But, getting into the swing of paranoia expected from people who actually read spy novels, I’m not buying this guy at all.

I send word back to Center for a double check. I tell my other guys to keep Bruise-face isolated while we activate our plan to set up in another warehouse. Meanwhile, my other minions have latched onto the other three Americanskis and followed them back to their base of operations, an office building. I use a laser mic that reads vibrations off glass to find the specific office; pretty much I tell my guys on the laser to look for rooms with the hum of a white noise generator because game recognizes game.

Assuming I haven’t put you to sleep with bragging up my RPG prowess (you can stop laughing now), you might be asking what happened next? I don’t actually know, like so many games and campaigns before and since this awesomely brilliant usage of double-blind play went blooey after this exact point in the narrative. I wasn’t going to kill anyone that I knew. Espionage Fiction and some fact asserts a gentleman’s agreement where direct employees of the other government are protected. I want to believe that I would’ve sleep gassed Bruise-face and left him in a trunk near his office with my Mama’s recipe for borscht. We’ll never know.

So as I come to the end, I’ll have to split this into two posts to cover my college characters, the long layoff and my recent dipped toes with some bad pun characters. Until next time…