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© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Thieves lurk near parked cars, some of whom I haven’t even dreamed of for my die cast collection…yet. So after tapping Play to get back to the movie after updating my wishlist, I decide they must be thieves because they’re led by Giovanni Ribisi trying to look like car thief while also not looking like said car boost (at least to the folks in the movie). A quick tap on the cloned key fob or light just so touch on the slim-jim and the thief is already on your car seat imagining the wealth to own this ride. From here we have the title to tell us the car will be Gone in 60 Seconds.

How do you remake a classic car chase film, made so by being about 15 minutes of boring but instructive narrative and at least 60 minutes of just one car chase? Hire Nicholas Cage. Pay somebody to craft an actual script, even if it feels underwritten (see below). Hire other good actors to enjoy a few fun blastorama months doing a movie in Los Angeles featuring fast cars that they at least got to sit in. Sometimes this is all you need for all the movies likely to land between Star Wars 46 and Doctor Zhivago 2: The Escape to Lara.

Kip Raines (Giovanni Ribisi) steals a sweet pasta rocket and promptly gets distracted at a stoplight by the tomato in the shotgun seat next car over. Engines rev. The car thief puts the boyfriend at the wheel in his place. But, now the cops are on the hunt who follow Kip back to the hideout.

With the police bearing down, Kip and his guys skedaddle having chosen a location with easy escape routes. Approximately, twenty high end cars are left behind. One member of the crew splashes the shopping list painted on the wall with more of the blacklight paint. He obscures only part of the list leaving the listing for a particular car visible should another blacklight enter the warehouse. Another crew member smashes the blacklight on the way out, a plot point to keep the cops in the game. Everyone escapes. For now.

Atley Jackson (Will Patton) travels out of the city to find Randall “Memphis” Raines (Nicholas Cage) gainfully employed at his go-kart track somewhere in the warm interior of California. Atley explains to the former leader of the best car boost ring in California just what happened and how much trouble his younger brother, Kip, is in. Raymond Calitri (Christopher Eccleston) fronted $10,000 and didn’t get his cars. Calitri will kill Kip, if something isn’t done. And so, the dramatic proposition that carries over from the original movie unfolds: steal 50 high end cars on an impossible schedule, four days for prep and the thefts taking place in one 12-hour period at the end.

The police in the form of Detective Roland Castlebeck (Delroy Lindo) and Detective Drycoff (Timothy Olyphant) get a vote. As do a rival car theft ring (until easily disposed of at a diner hosting cops on their Code 7). The big bad Calitri gets his vote too, what with his promiscuous use of a car crusher to dispose of enemies and other deadbeats.

In strictest terms, I should be trashing this movie every which way. One, when’s there’s cars on the table, I grade on a generous curve. Two, even with the script concerns listed later the integrated whole is better than you’d think. Three, this movie is also proof that the right cast will elevate an underwritten script into something good enough to play endlessly on basic cable.

On the plus side, this movie trades on the creative team getting lucky in the character meetings well ahead of production. A guy, Sphinx (Vinne Jones), that doesn’t speak? Cool. Sway (Angelina Jolie), the union-mandated girl who exists to romantically frustrate the protagonist? Cool. Otto Halliwell (Robert Duvall), as the old-timey chop shop man who can identify a car from the roar of its engine. Extra cool, a substantially more interesting part.

Equally on the plus side, the great majority of these characters, even the ones not highlighted, get at least one scene that sort of acts as their “Now is the winter of our discontent” monologue that clues the audience into who they are and why they’re here in this movie. We get short snippets about bemoaning the lack of craftsmanship in auto theft while commenting on the death spiral between boosts and manufacturers over building an unstealable car. We get variations in motive, the thrill steal and Robin Hood. And with general uniformity, what this cast does with facial expressions and body language serving the bios fed at the meeting and not from the actual script saves the watchability of their respective characters and the movie.

We also get a decent older brother-younger brother abandonment conflict. Decent, as in some other writer would take five minutes to say more with the scenes between Mr. Cage and Mr. Ribisi. Could it have happened here? Maybe, but we’ll never know now.

Surprisingly, Angelina Jolie milks her turn as Sway for all the cookies. Described as the girl that Memphis wanted to take with him leaving town, but she wasn’t ready. And she went straight anyway because the fun factor boosting left the city with Memphis. Of everybody in this movie, Ms. Jolie and Sway do the most to make what must be functional and boring on paper spring to life on screen.

But, the things that are good about this movie are in different lighting (a blacklight pun, anyone?) the things that suck about this movie. The characters are set up pretty well with a web of longstanding interactions hinted at, but I can think of several of these threads that actually need to be on screen to have a legitimately good movie that doesn’t need my generous curve. Missed opportunities for other movies titled Gone in 60 Seconds.

What happens if the events of this movie put Memphis and Sway, however temporarily, on opposite sides? Don’t know, no one wrote this script. Even with a sex interrupted scene involving a gearshift and voyeurism upon the randy citizen and date who don’t know they’re about to lose the sweet pasta rocket parked out front, the paper version of this relationship needs the goose. On film, who cares? It works as is.

What happens if somebody staring at that horrifically blinking cursor realizes there exists loads of setup for a three-way generational conflict among the car thieves? We have the old guys, Otto and Atley aged out into supervising positions. Then in the middle Memphis comes back to town to put the old gang back together. And then we have Kip’s crew and the possibility of these clashing character styles and this doesn’t really go anywhere.

This also ties in with the fact that most of the characters on Kip’s younger crew really don’t belong in this movie. Tumbler (Scott Caan) gets in his moments. But, except for a certain character assigned to order pizza and collect laser cut keys from a dog given laxatives no one else on Kip’s crew stands out enough to avoid consolidation into two characters instead of four. A road less traveled for some other writers in the future.

All of the above is still covered by my blanket “Grading on a curve, a generous curve” opinion of this movie. The stunt driving and film techniques of the driving sequences are enough to hold most people’s interest. But, now we have the one thing where it’s harder to grade on my curve. The money chase named…Eleanor.

Eleanor, in all incarnations of Gone in 60 Seconds, is a 1967 Shelby 500 GT Mustang fastback. The protagonist steals this car last tripping the big chase either defines the whole movie (the original) or simply provides the climax. We remember the seemingly plotless original movie because Mondrian (original director H.B. Halicki) runs from every cop in Los Angeles and then switches out the broken but still magically drivable Eleanor 1.0 for the pristine Eleanor 2.0 at a car wash receiving line.

Taken as its own thing, this movie’s Eleanor chase is not bad, if also not particularly awe inspiring. It does what it does and sets up the fist and gunfight that buys Kip clear of the villain and Memphis clear of the cops. And I’ll take any kind of Evel Knievel jump on the Vincent Thomas Bridge. It just seems to me that the one place where the remake filmmakers really want to kiss the old fans’ asses is this chase. I suppose the short way to say this is that Eleanor looked too good with only minor damage to mirrors and cracked steaming radiator compared to the legendary damage of the original movie.

So there we have it, an underwritten but joyfully overacted movie on a day where these concepts cancel out (sometimes they don’t). A good reason to explain years of – “Gone in 60 Seconds is on.” – “Cool! Let’s watch!” – even after missing three commercial breaks. And what is my personal writing lesson? “Sorry, Eleanor, you want somebody a little gentler telling your story.”

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© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Dim torchlight flickers across the ancient clay bricks. The nearest manhole is somewhere over there across the open stream of sewage yet to be enclosed in concrete due the city sanitation department promising to get to it soon. The ordinary pungent smell assaults the nose, quite a bit of orange and wet banana peel tonight.

Surprisingly, few things move in this space except for the sewage outflows high on the walls. No rats. No cats. Nor even the alligators legend says must be around her somewhere. Silence and perhaps an air current spreads across the rippling surface of the effluvia.

The residential outflow gates pour more into the broth. And other things…Is that a toaster? Or the guts of an old VCR? The outflows move with the consistency of bacon grease congealed halfway back to solid. Globs of white fibrous objects join the grease floating on the surface. Slowly, the fat and wipes circle towards each other like objects hurled towards the event horizon of a black hole.

It rises like a kaiju shrugging aside the sludge on the surface attracting all like material to it. It grows with each glob of grease patched together with the nearly ubiquitous wipes. Eyes open revealing a preternatural hatred of all that is not it. Seemingly moving against the poo current, it sidles over to the broken electronics left out on the side of the sewer. ZZZT!

A quick hit from the open 220 volt socket accretes the new mass to the old mass with the reassurance the new will speak to the old. And now it realizes it’s time to find other sources of nourishment gnashing teeth. It slowly sinks under the water trusting the current towards the sewage treatment plant will…

It is the Fatberg.

When I finally care enough about the narrative uses of the globs of congealed bacon grease, wipes and lumps of solid – “holy shit you flushed that instead of putting it in a landfill!” – to write an actual book, the prose will get better (editing). For now, it admirably sets up my posit of a fat and poo monster sure to add to the nightmare of our modern sewage systems, some over a century old.

Where did I get the idea? Pictures surfaced two years ago of a serious fatberg that clogged up an older section of the London sewers. Described as having the mass of at least ten tons (Tons with a T, Ducky), the lump got lodged. The guys in the hard hats said – “we think we can unclog this drain in…oh, say three weeks.”

I promptly forgot all about it until a couple weeks ago, when I needed to feed the beast that is this blog. Do a screenshot of the news photo of the London obstruction, sweeten it with zombie eyes and mouth…pretty much a picture in search of a monster. I apologize for it taking two years to put the Fatberg into our collective nightmare space. Writers are supposed to be a little more ruthless than that.

So how does a sewer problem become an actual monster? You might notice my capitalization of Fatberg to indicate the monster and the lowercase to indicate that the word fatberg is already in use to describe what is simply an annoyance of modern life? A fatberg just sits there and you call a plumber when the sewers back up. A combination of lye, bleach, physical means like a drill and maybe extreme measures like thermite and it’ll clear soon enough.

Crud-balls that just sit there until the plumber comes have got to be the very definition of boring. The fatberg isn’t sentient even at the basic level of needing to hunt more fat (people have enough of that). Nor does it steal from the advanced class syllabus, needing to get revenge on surface dwellers polluting its home.

How do you create enough thought for it to know I’m hungry? And this is where I bust out – “don’t reinvent the wheel” – that lands us back in Frankenstein-land with the old standard, electricity. You’ll notice in the sample text above the existence of old electronics and the open outlet I didn’t tell you about (I told you I rushed this prose in this post where it doesn’t matter), until I needed it. A current, that has universally stood in for almost all other processes associated with Life.

And it wasn’t just me with the failure of imagination to come up with another reason the Fatberg absorbs more mass to itself and then hunts outside of its comfort zone. I spoke with a bunch of my comic book peeps on this recently. None of them had any other ideas, one even reminded me to “it’s always going to be electricity.”

I did mention a book where the electronic trash in the Mississippi River accumulates enough circuits to reach what my fellow SF writers might call the Sentience Singularity. Put too much tech too close together an the theory says sentience becomes inevitable. Conveniently forgetting we already have lots of tech cheek by jowl all over the world, either this singularity level is higher than we can presently imagine or it too needs some extra cause…full circle back to – “shoot some lightning at your fat monster and go get lunch.”

Probably the Fatberg in the above text wouldn’t need to jolt itself on the open outlet every time it added fat and wipes. Unless each piece of monster is intended to be individually capable of breaking off from the whole to go mug those poor folks at the Antarctic research station (The Thing) while the main mass f**ks up New York, the extra mass doesn’t need shocking.

That would be like me doing weird mad scientist stuff to make sure the cheeseburger I had today is sentient before I ate it. I just need the protein and the pretense of a few vegetables, not a meal that potentially talks back. But, the example above is intended to be illustrative for you, Dear Reader, when you write you own books and RPG campaigns.

Now we move onto the advanced class of monster design. How does it move?

The obvious answer here is it lets the currents of the sewers do the motion. At least in low power mode when it might be hibernating a bit to save up energy for the big hit on Fleet Street. But, the best monsters combine the sense of a home range/milieu with the ability to leave the fens near Baskerville. That Swamp Thing draws power from his bog, but can also mug those dumbass picnickers less than a few minutes from the edge.

For water motion, we have the drift technique. We also have the possibility of complex structures forming that work like the water jets last seen on the Red October sub in Hunt for Red October. Say an interior chamber on the Fatberg that makes use of increasingly smaller diameters to force water through pushing the beast forward. Realistically, I likely still need some kind of pseudoscience replacement for the musculature found in most creatures. Some kind of structure similar to a tongue that forces water through.

Aha! I just explained why it hunts people. We are more than fat with proteins that make muscles. It eats people to make these complicated motions possible. Which also leads us to land motion.

If the always hungry Fatberg can make a flapping tongue-like structure to swim against the poo current, it can also make legs and arms with which to climb those slimy, rusted ladder steps up to the manhole cover. Land motion is almost a given simply to solve the problem of a monster too rooted in one place. People tell stories about the sewer monster and then don’t go in the local equivalent of the ocean where there might be sharks (Jaws). Eventually, it has to hunt until it finds resistance of another high order predator.

Now to go extra wild…air motion. Can Fatberg fly? This one will be up to the writer/DM depending on how much mescal they dropped into their beer. The pseudoscience here isn’t for the faint of heart…the sewer is also filled with poo.

So far, we’ve talked about fat, protein and the solid non-flushable wipes (baby wipes are honest on the box about non-flushable, other wipes aren’t). But, if we really need Fatberg to fly, we just imagine a burn chamber that collects poo and lets this rot down to methane. A spark from the many live electronics in this icky story and instant rocket. Also a third method for moving in water.

So here we are. A Fatberg sewer monster going the extra mile to ruin people’s days. A few thoughts how to explain the beast when pissed off readers send emails and players whine. But, monsters have weaknesses…

Pretty much a fat, wipe and poo monster isn’t really going to evolve too far past its origin. Lye breaks up the fat, so less call it +2 to all attacks when the players happen to have sodium hydroxide handy. Fires helps in some circumstances, but usually only when the beast is slightly dry. Throw a match and…FWOOSH! We hope. The DM gets to pick a number between -3 and +3 to fit the exact circumstances in his sewers.

Hit points. Pretty much a Fatberg will spike HUGE. A ten ton beast is what 300-500hp (more?)? This pretty much reflects size and that so far removal of the real fatbergs takes a lot of hard labor.

And here we are, highlighting the beginnings of what could be a great monster in the hands of the right writer or DM. Yes, I just grossed you out, the point of the post. And I do I actually have to bust out the obvious message of do better about what we flush?

I know give this beauty a flash-bang! Cooool! Heh-heh-heh!

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

A panther or other Big Cat upgunned with stun grenades? Yep, my mind at work. But, only if I grok enough fake biology to make it seem plausible. But, first a potentially typical encounter…

A particularly striking black cat lounges out on a slight rise nursing her four cubs watching for danger. The young squeal and mewl for their turn at the milk. The breeze shifts the direction of wave of the brownish knee-high grass. Her mate roams the edge of their territory; she smells him coming back.

With the shift in the wind comes a shift in the sounds carrying across the plains of this interface zone between savanna and the nearby forest. Ears twitch. Footsteps across the soft earth. And suddenly the taste of the milk changes. Cubs instinctively stop feeding allowing the mother to reach for them with her prehensile tail placing her bulk between her children and the majority of the hostile smells approaching from upwind.

The hunting party edges closer spears at the ready. Slowly spreading out on the crawl. They have a beautiful pelt for the wall just within grasp. The mother raises her tail straight up, a last warning. The hunters crawl closer. And then a hatch of flesh opens up on her flanks and…

…with a quick flick of her tail, she lobs an object much like an ostrich egg but perforated like a wiffleball into the largest concentration of hunters. KER-BANG! At least a million candles of white light join about 170 decibels of ear splitting painful noise. The hunters blink trying to clear vision and hold their ears uselessly against the raging tinnitus. Minutes later…

We will stop to acknowledge a natural pause point in the narrative where an appropriately aggressive novelist or DM has a decision to make. Does the stun-cat use the distraction described above to grab her babies for the ride on her back in order to skedaddle to an alternate lair? Or does she step down hill silently like the bobcat/panther/tiger she’s basically built like and start eating or slashing throats? I have an opinion discussed below, but once this post goes up stun-cat ceases to be purely my thing. Mayhem will vary.

Okay first, how did what looks like a majestic black pelted panther or like another locally appropriate Big Cat pretend-o evolve the extra firepower of a naturally occurring stun grenade aka flash-bang?

In the pen draft of this post, I envisioned a creature with a lifecycle almost as complicated as the Xenomorph from Alien, at least since giving the movies back to Riddley Scott. I will attempt to summarize.

The female stun-cat mates usually after a chase she initiates while describing the result as noisier than alleycats in a rumble. The fertilized embryo is moved not to the uterus but to one of twelve of her grenade pouches where the embryo forms the wiffle-egg structure with an inner layer of metallic magnesium and ammonium perchlorate. When threatened, instinct opens up the egg pouch with the thickest layer of flash-bang mix. The cat reaches in with her prehensile tail and makes the lob.

To basically anticipate the hecklement from the joker in the back (a kindred spirit most days), I made rules. Two-year gestation with four phases. The first three are egg phases that either last seven months or until the mother needs the egg to defend herself. For the last phase, the embryo is shunted back to the uterus for a standard live birth.

An egg that is detonated early is swallowed and held in the next stage longer until the next normal detonation time. Eggs must be blasted on or before the seven months are up. If an egg goes through all three bangs before the 21-month period is up, the mother’s body shunts the embryo to the uterus for a longer than normal regular pregnancy to the usual potentially slight detriment to Mama. Whenever an egg reverts back to being an embryo in utero, the female stun-cat ovulates the exact number of eggs to keep her grenade pouches filled. The Circle of Life.

Other than that I didn’t see the stun-cat as very much more ripped than whatever Big Cat they’re going as for Halloween. Enhanced smell. Excellent vision including low-light. A stalk and pounce predator. Craftiness to recognize when prey is trying to spot them. You’ve watched National Geographic, so have I.

It seems to me that the flash-bang should be enough mayhem for most DMs to nail players for reading ahead in The Monster Manual. Personally, my opinion on whether the stun-cat attacks or flees after lobbing her child is that in most cases she flees. Looking at the paragraphs above, the long gestation period and limit of twelve egg chambers pretty much creates a built-in ammo problem.

A stun-cat that attacks after throwing the first device might have to throw another grenade. And another. Monsters/creatures/hungry animals tend to evolve behavior that keeps them alive. Fleeing in this circumstance seems smarter. But, assume she’s hungry enough and who knows how Raw Dwarf on the Half-shell will taste? Mayhem will vary.

Other random thoughts about stun-cats.

What does the male do?

I assumed a fanatically bonded pairing. So I figured that if he senses the threat first, he growls a certain way, puts out a changed pheromone cocktail while stroking his mate’s back. She opens up a hatch and he makes the throw. Everything else proceeds normally. After that what does a male leopard do?

What do they look like?

Whatever Big Cat is most appropriate to the environment. If the similar terrain on Earth gives you tigers, stun-cat comes to the party in orange or white with stripes. Or spots. Or that shiny black pelt. And if her home planet is mostly pink? Meet the pink stun-cat.

I personally would add the caveat that the cheetah with the extra speed might be unbalancing for the purposes of a game. To have the stun grenade, the basic camouflage and hunting instincts of a Big Cat and cheetah speed might be too much in one beast. But, you know your players and readers best. Mayhem will vary.

Which leads to the last three questions.

How do you defeat them?

The same way you hunt lions: upwind, good cover and a trusty projectile. If you can see it in the tall grass you can shoot it with a trusty Winchester. Or you need lots of people wearing earplugs and welding goggles to get in close for the mass sword whack moment. In game terms, let’s call it between five and eight or so hit dice and natural armor of the pelt more or less like a suit of stiff leather.

Can I make them into people (player characters)?

Sure, why not? Just because I didn’t think that far ahead, doesn’t mean you can’t take the ball to advance my fumble. Certainly giving Larry Niven’s Kzinti the extra oomph of a long standing cultural-biological imperative for liberally tossing around flash-bangs…yeah I see those possibilities.

It’s just that the post for stun-cats as PCs and other characters seems likely to go three times as long describing an actual culture and the average individual’s relationship to that culture. I don’t have that kind of space on this blog.

You do realize this whole post is probably biologically impossible and that there are few cases where such a creature could eat the precursor chemicals to make the magnesium powder and ammonium perchlorate described in the egg’s reactive layering, right?

See what I mean by anticipating the heckle from that wonderful guy in the back of the room? The egg thing is pretty much what it has to be looking up STUN GRENADE on Wikipedia. As for how do you eat the right chemicals out of prey animals or the local carrots or something, I’m just goofing around with the basic premise of – “yeah, give a panther a flash-bang!” – all without sparking up a single fatty. Pretty much, I just played my hole card – “suspension of disbelief, Ducky!” – a good way to end any post.

60-Minute Man drawn by a friend…

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

How do you begin your stories? You have several choices. An action open, a fistfight or something? A character open, your main character exists in a spaces both mental and physical that you describe? Setting, that orange you left out on the counter will rot as soon as next week?

Do you like Jane Austen going all witty about successful men going in search of a wife (a setting open disguised as a character open)? How about Melville having Ishmael wax blowhard about why he has to go whaling, but only on a Nantucket vessel taking a whole chapter (character)? Truthfully, I do variations and blends of all three and presumably you’ll learn to do the same. I have no preferences in my technique (or yours), just that it reads well.

A superhero overlooks Chicago from a height near to but not quite the formerly Sears Tower. He announces himself to the city in the tone of the more dramatically convenient of a stage whisper or Shakespeare soliloquy, just without the iambic pentameter. He throws himself over the rail looking for a fight.

Seems like this introduction is mostly a setting open. Towering concrete, rebar and glass at night as a battleground. Ooh! Of course, I robbed Batman and the union-mandated brooding over Gotham while standing between the gargoyles of Gotham Cathedral scene. I don’t reinvent wheels I don’t have to.

Possibly, the careful reader gets to chime in that 60-Minute Man’s introduction in his much delayed first appearance also has elements of the other two approaches? Certainly, I hinted at his character that whatever his flaws (a wandering eye for the ladies), he always moves forward. Additionally, I teased the fistfight to come having him leap over the railing.

What’s the why of a scene like this? Just because, mostly. And knowing I absolutely don’t want to go anywhere near the next scene in the story, the first of many moments in a law office discussing trademarks, sponsorships, reputation, public appearances, merchandising and a fierce game of paper football. An important scene that says what the story is about, but shit to open on. It’s not like we haven’t read Save the Cat and the harping on the Opening Image as one of the fifteen beats, right?

Things get even more interesting when you give me time due to the normal desire to get it perfect to experiment with the beginning (or ending). Or if, say, my ego tells me it’s time to come out of retirement as a screenwriter. I screw around with everything on the second go around all the time.

For my novel, Blood & Ink, I need to establish the heroine, Anna Victor. I put her in as valedictorian having to give that stupid speech. She drops her robe revealing pink man-catchers. Her mother promptly chews her out on the drive home to Los Angeles. A character open that reveals the chutzpah on this one and establishes the mother-daughter relationship. All of which is intercut with the vampire villain eating some other young lady that had no chance. I’m not stupid do action to establish villain and break up the main scene.

For the much delayed script, I did another variation of a character open. Fearing that I don’t have the kind of breathing room I want in a 120 page script, I’m just not going to waste time watching Anna’s pink skivvies (I’ll get caught looking, but not stupidly, Ducky). Good thing film has a cliché technique that prose doesn’t have: the tracking shot across the photographs on the character’s desk.

Dad and older brother are astronauts on a secret mission to Mars? A picture of both in their orange flight suits. Need to establish Anna’s ADHD? A picture of her taking neuro-feedback treatments with a lot of electrodes stuck to her head. For the mother-daughter relationship I did more than put a picture on the desk, Mom calls. Paging Mick Belker.

The rest of the scene where people actually talk is all about Bobby, the adorable little boy ghost that follows Anna home from the haunted house in Pacoima. In the book, Bobby follows the nice lady home. He serves as surrogate child, sidekick and unintentional plot obstruction resulting in Anna turning him over and shaking him from the ankles to see what drops out of his bottomless pockets. My script just has him being a little boy left to his own devices while the grown ups try to work; he thinks a friend with astronaut relatives is so cool and re-enacts the Apollo 11 landing at her desk with officially licensed toys that Anna didn’t provide.

So far I might’ve stiffed the action open. Got one, sort of. A rich heiress rides inside the body of a mysterious rookie firefighter trying to experience anything other than being an heiress for her book. All versions of this story: short story, incomplete script, incomplete graphic novel script, two different incomplete passes at a novel pretty much start with INT. BURNING HALLWAY. I mean the story’s about fire, right? And we can cite union bylaw here, right?

Yes and no. I actually start the story originally titled Ride Along (changed for obvious reasons) on the assembled Ladder Nine team tensed up in the stairwell ready to go through the door like paratroopers waiting for the green light. As much as I love big speeches before action scenes (Crispin’s Day, anyone?), I’m always going to poke fun. It also introduces the team while delaying the reveal of the mount program and then we do the big fire scene.

I’ve gone over the same 2,500-5,000 words and 6-12 panels again and again; nothing has changed in this open…ever. It’s as powerful as the come. Likely, it also beats the alternative…showing the main character getting into her infamous hair pulling, slapping and punching rumble with another heiress curiously much like Paris Hilton (does this count as a Save the Cat moment?). I’m not stupid, cut as soon as possible to the fire.

Some characters will, of course, scream out their opens. Batman broods atop Gotham Cathedral. A surgeon races time and blood loss to get the bullet lodged in the pound of flesh nearest thy heart. A sniper adjusts three mils right in the gentle Baghdad breeze going 800-meters minaret to minaret. Yes, I’ve written all these moments.

You’d think that having been there done that with all these opens in the past that I’d somehow have the next one locked in. You can stop laughing now. If you have all your writing decisions all sewn up like that, maybe you’re done as a writer. A fate worse than death.

Last example to prove my point. How do you present a young lady who is a witch serving as magic consultant to the LAPD, but who also couldn’t resist signing up for the police academy against her parents’ wishes? A crime scene (setting) to reveal the horrific aftermath of a magic fight? A cute father-daughter moment (character) where the father, a senior LAPD commanding officer, wants one last moment playing up the cadet and hazing thing, only to be deterred by his daughter’s special cat?

Or the current version set a few days earlier where the cadre run the cadets long enough to puke on the parade ground (character and setting) as a way of having the main character make friends with an important ally? Or how about skipping past all of this and just almost blow up the house (action) as part of a magic ritual?

Decisions, decisions. I’m still in that stage where Magic Scene Investigator can go any which way unfettered by the inevitable – “Make an end of it, Buonoratti!” – that must eventually balance against the exploratory fun of these projects. I’ll get back you when I know what’s what.

Clearly, I don’t have a preference nor end all be all answers on this or many other subjects. The point here was my confusion and that I can and should only just show you what your possibilities are. Then I should just set you loose with library card and Kindle account and get out of your way. The rest is up to you, as it should be…

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Yet another writing tool. I suppose my pretensions about being a journalist on the subject of writing said this post had to come. Luckily, Scrivener wasn’t a complete waste of my $65. More lucky, the platform pretty much does what it says…with some weird quirks of logic (see below).

All twenty of you that still follow me in between my less than regular posts might remember some version of my Love-Hate with Microsoft Word (still sort of need the single download desktop version, but the mobile version really wants me to join Office 365…as soon as I upgrade past my current phone). So I’ve done my testing landing on Google Docs for most writing jobs: write a chapter and output it for a later copy and paste on the desktop, write a post (not this one, too relaxed on my couch for proper typing), write comic book pages using a template I finally have just so, write coverage, write and post those much delayed serial adventures of Batman and Spider-man. Google Docs works fine. Will continue to work fine in the future for shorter documents.

I didn’t strictly need Scrivener. It took quite a while for the modestly fanatic users and their glowing reviews to induce a purchase. I thought I’d buy yet another tool, take the write off and keep going on with my regularly scheduled writing process, switching back and forth between legacy Word and Google Docs. Scrivener is better than that.

My usage is all about doing things in the spaces between my iPhone and iPad Pro. Throw in a wireless keyboard for each mobile dingus. Appease the generally reliable Bluetooth gods and who needs a notebook computer at twice the price? Well, people not named me because mileage varies. I need the mobile app, but the desktop version you need that to manage the couple three tasks at the end of the project to get it ready.

Scrivener has a very specific sales pitch as the platform for the first draft. Each project has a Research folder (haven’t used it yet, mostly writing Fantasy and other make it up as you go genres. Eventually…). Just below this button is the trash can. You write in the Draft folder by creating a new Document sub-folder, roughly analogous to each chapter.

Scrivener makes a big deal of outputting to most of the other heavy hitter: Word, FDX, PDF, TXT. The idea is that you’ll edit the manuscript somewhere else most of which have more controls. So each document can be Compiled into these other formats to create the larger manuscript file. You can also tell Scrivener to drop out a document by sliding the Include in Compile button.

Scrivener also makes a big deal about taking all kinds of inputs from other programs. I could but won’t add several in progress manuscripts to their respective future project folders. There’s a value to finishing open projects on the software that started them.

So for long form prose the process goes like this. Create and name project. Create the first document (Chapter One, don’t reinvent the wheel). Set the typography of the chapter. Type. Create the second document with the same typography. Rinse. Repeat.

A screenwriting project adds steps which feeds the minor frustrations of Scrivener. You have to tell the program in two different places to allow screenwriting to see script typography. Otherwise, you’ll just get more prose.

As a general rule, Scrivener’s front and center functionality is great while there is still a little bit of kludge around the edges. You type on your keyboard with access to the same autocorrect in other programs. Nothing changes from the solid experience you already have.

But, I have yet to find a button for footnotes. Word. I will keep investigating periodically.

I either haven’t found or simply didn’t push the button that should help me tell the project that Chapter Two will have the same typography as Chapter One. I’m okay with admitting to being stupid, but the other possibility…it isn’t there.

Right now, setting the typography has lots of button pushing in part because the defaults are kinda weird. The prose defaults like an off-brand 13 Pt serif font, 1.3 line spacing and fairly narrow first line indents. Until I find and use the button that streamlines my common usage of what I like (there’s a reason why 12 Pt Times New Roman should just be everybody’s default, publishers ask for it), this process is manual repeated with each new chapter. Ugh!

I’ve also found that switching between Italics, Bold and Underline could go smoother. Again, it’s a matter of burying these commonly used controls in with the rest of the typography buttons instead of making them easier to find in a separate banner. Minor problems.

Most of the not quite worked out yet in Scrivener lands on the screenwriting side. The writer must flip two switches in different sections of the document sidebar to get a screenplay in proper format. The writer quickly discovers that screenwriting only means a basic film script with total SOL if you have a TV deadline.

While there is a feature for writing the title page as in Final Draft, I didn’t get it to work and used Final Draft once I’d compiled and exported the test document out of Scrivener. And yet again a file exported out likes atypical defaults when opened in the other program: page numbers in the wrong place that sort of thing. Minor problems.

A word about devices. Despite being the same app and download, the iPad version has more space to write. The smaller iPhone version shunts controls that should be visible on the tool bar into the extended finger tap keyboard where you have to go looking for it. It took me a few days to find these buttons and screwed up documents where I started creating the new document elsewhere and then type on the iPhone.

Pretty much the eenie-weeny issues with Scrivener are the small things like button layout and just getting used to new things. The concerns are small nit-picks when you deal with them or learn the system. But, for some of the logic fails that I’ve described they’re made worse by the single worst written tutorial I’ve ever read, a document that doesn’t tell you key things and then you go to the Scrivener blog to find the answers. No one is making any PBJs (extra points for knowing this metaphor) with these instructions.

I’ve spent a decent amount of my words bashing what are really minor concerns made slightly less minor by the tutorial that doesn’t tell you what you need to know. Once you go to the blog and ask the right questions you get your knowledge and you’re ready to rock n roll.

I want to close relating two really good things about Scrivener. It types well; I said that, but it bears repeating. I’m not sure I even have the right vocabulary to bloviate about the arcana of the typing feel unless I really hated something. And one day I’ll figure out where the software ends and the physical gear that I already liked begins. Certainly, I didn’t add to feeling my sessions in the right forearm as is uniformly the case.

Scrivener really loves Dropbox. The best single thing about the program that verifiably is the software. Past writing software might allow you to write offline and synch later. Some of the time. And nail you with cloud copy synch error where you have to clean up the old copy at some point.

That hasn’t happened yet in three weeks of use; I’ve written both offline and online. Sometimes the synch is automatic, sometimes you push a button when you get back. But, you save the version you want.

Scrivener works well, even with a strange logic to its interface made worse by the tutorial. Dropbox works with the program to make many things land properly. So if I had to give out stars, three and a half losing almost all of it on the instructions; four and a half with a readable instruction sheet. I’m not quitting this one, especially with Word trying everything they can to quit me. So get back to your writing!

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Well, I guess I find ways to repeat myself without directly repeating myself about every two years. Either that’s brilliant blogging in terms of constantly feeding the maw, or…it just takes awhile for my not so good ideas to flush out. Two years ago, I thought I’d make up a completely false persona with a name similar to an old enemy to do some political blogging. Watch Brazil, yes, the black part of me hoped for the fly in the teletype that misspells a name causing the wrong arrest. Pity.

I blogged about it then (see post) mostly to tell you that pseudonyms of this nature, truly hiding from “imperial entanglements,” are tougher than they look. I also reported truthfully that a combination of my personal taste of “I don’t really do political” and “I don’t really want to rehash other people’s journalism” mixed with a bit of absolutely stupid served to kill the project. And then over the last few weeks, I found myself wanting to do more or less the same thing…write as Anonymous.

Certain things scared and annoyed me during the time of the first go round, they still do. I’ve learned to live with them and I have a vote I intend to use. This time around my concerns include not so much the Empire as the angry mobs with pitchforks that make up the various neighborhoods in that Empire. As viciously expressed on social media.

Ducky, I’m going to assume you’re fully aware of social media (Facebook, in this specific case) and the cesspit therein. Yelling in All Caps. Bullying in even more All Cappier All Caps (aware of Webster spinning in his grave over that last one). The unrestrained id of people saying things to each other from behind the computer that face-to-face generally results in the Three Stooges Eye Poke and then a resort to the otherwise highly limited Fighting Words Defense. And my general inability to tell the sheep from the goats in this case. Yes, you’re aware…neither one of us lives under a rock.

There were other reasons to frown on the state of my Facebook feed. I got tired of other writers in our shared groups. The fun and goofy questions to which I would reply decreased in number. Repetition of threads from people that didn’t read the previous three days posting in the group. A certain subset of those same writers trying to either find excuses not to write or to farm out their own prep work to the herd. A good way to spend too much time screaming and yelling from the comfort of my own couch.

But, the reason most relevant to the 2019 version of wanting to write as Anonymous or that…other name: Cancel Culture. Certain folks typically but not always progressive in outlook will use up much of their overall online douchebag time and energy trying to force de facto corporate and, in some cases, public censorship of everything they don’t like.

Slavery? The author better be black or at the very least be willing to submit to the opinions of sensitivity readers whose skill sets range from “why am I listening to this” to “maybe this one has something real to say.” Slavery, but not as experienced by anyone in the United States living or dead? Trick question, replay the answer above. I tend to go for the – “I have this story that’s been screaming in my head for years. Knowing there might be some yelling, I agreed to do my research before starting. I don’t need another pair of eyes I don’t trust gumming up the works.” – reply.

At some later date, there might be more to say about Cancel Culture (like maybe if it ends in some distant future) as a whole. This post is about I feel caught between the trends mentioned two years ago and the ongoing ones here. That writing under a pseudonym or the novel, X by Anonymous was moronic then and equally moronic now.

I get to bust out the title: Anonymous Left the Building with Joe Klein. Mr. Klein, a Time Magazine columnist, wrote Primary Colors a thinly disguised fiction about Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign in 1996. He put Anonymous into the author slot on the title page. Perhaps Mr. Klein didn’t want to pull a Truman Capote burning every source and friend he ever had. Perhaps he used Anonymous as a ploy to sell more books by making the book look like a reporter telling truth to power with fewer personal repercussions.

Whatever the reason, Wikipedia’s page on the book says it took “several months” for the people who thought this particular Anonymous wrote a lot like Joe Klein to conduct badgering until Mr. Klein owned the book. My imperfect memory of that time says the whole affair lasted about six weeks.

Think about it, 1996 we think of as a less connected time. I assert a month and a half, but Wikipedia says more than one. So even without social media, Mr. Klein was eventually forced to own the book before the year ended.

A primary tool cited in this outing was a variation of textual analysis. People then and people now make whole careers reading text and comparing them to known authors. Uses include preventing academic and the much rarer literary plagiarism. And…forgery.

In 1996, technology hadn’t fully become so ever present that true privacy might only exist if we sleep and turn off the phone or at the very least keep the phone in the living room while the lights are out. The business of textual analysis had more human guesswork and error to it. The year was only about ten years since the Hitler Diaries Scandal of the 1980s. The forgery fooled the first round of experts leading to a million dollar sale. On the second round, other experts checked the first batch’s homework leading to an arrest and conviction.

The 2019 version of this process, I have already posted about it (see post). At the time, I goofed around looking for the next funny writer thing to feed this particular mouth. A nobody will read results from the I Write Like site that say I have a stylistic affinity to Cory Doctorow. Will I always be a nobody?

If my couple-three not all that many ideas likely to pick such unwelcome screaming under the aegis of Cancel Culture pick up steam, suddenly my words won’t be plugged into these sites for comparison to established writers. The comparison suddenly lands on X by Anonymous versus all of my other published words.

Factoring in my normal blogging rhythm by the time I post this article, I will have just over 90 Scribbler posts, approximately 20 Dungeoneer posts, a similar number of Flamethrower posts, the 12 or so story installments in the Assortment column and the lonely Counterpoint post (I really should do something about that). Add the approximately 30K words on Wattpad. I’ve written and self-published three books for a total of about 270K words.

Then I have to account for the three self-help books written as the And author for a total of, maybe, another 270 K words. I published a book and then yanked it for reasons, including wanting to rewrite the whole thing from scratch. Between ten and twenty copies exist in the hands of people not too likely to burn me, but at least two I don’t know where they are. This book came in at 130K words with a 20K bonus story. Hopefully, Amazon didn’t keep these files. Lastly, there are extant copies of my presently rare journalism held by others if they decided to preserve their servers.

Adding this work up, I have published anywhere from 800K to 1,000,000 words. If the yellers care, there is a lot of work for the textual analysis experts and AI to compare to the works going out under my flavor of Anonymous who writes similarly to Cory Doctorow and even more closely to G.N. Jacobs. About like robbing a bank without a mask.

That’s just the textual analysis part of the story. We also exist in a time when physical privacy might only exist because other people aren’t all that interested in the rest of us. I spoke about these concerns with a friend, whom I ask about computers and linguistics. He agreed.

This friend I once had analyze a stack of posts related to the Nigerian Prince Scam. More recently, he started supplementing his meager salary acting as a process server. Using just the resources at his desk, he would find the people he needed to serve. He claimed to have found one person under the care of the Marshals Service to about a circle of several city blocks. Between the textual analysis resources and the general ability for the practiced to find almost anyone, I came away from the chat saying this – “really, the only Anonymous that survives in this day and age is the one that wrote The Epic of Gilgamesh and he’s 4,000 years dead.”

I sort of already knew these things but the need to write the small handful of stories that might need to go out as Anonymous defines strong and inescapable. This had me resurrecting the dark fantasies of two years ago with a lot of double down. Before I just thought I wanted to buy time, see if I could screw over an enemy and accept no money doing it. Now, there’s money on the table.

Money means infrastructure. What do you mean, infrastructure? Let’s just say, I need another ticket to the Cayman Islands or somewhere similar. Someone in my family has the photos that they take of tourists snorkeling at Stingray City. Hopefully, they stopped that sort of thing when the Crocodile Hunter got whacked, but I digress.

Anonymous the Writer needs this infrastructure in order to get paid without having a real name on the title page. No author actually wants to write without getting paid. So the structures that can evade taxes also might serve to obfuscate the hordes if the writer makes full use of offshore in the doing.

The offshore entity collects royalties and payments for ancillary rights. The financial institution doing the holding takes a fee to collect this income and politely defer all questions that aren’t backed by an international subpoena (banking haven secrecy isn’t what it used to be when a government law enforcement request is on the table). Of course, I would be on my word of honor about whether I wanted to lie to the IRS about this activity.

Best guess, all of these hoops would be good in most cases to deflect any members of the cancel horde (the point of the exercise in this case). Tax returns can’t go public without my permission. In theory I could file an onshore entity to do the same job, but my feel of the laws in various states says that privacy is a lot less than going straight to the foreign bank chartered in a haven.

Many writers make up pseudonyms but put their real names on the title page next to the copyright symbol. They aren’t trying to evade taxes or a cancel horde. Maybe they thought the pseudonym sounded cool for the genre. Maybe they know that the only people from whom to obscure the authorship don’t actually check the copyright symbol on the title page. A real name on the title page simplifies the process of getting paid over the life of the book. Or the author trusts their publisher to create these firewalls and I don’t know how Joe Klein’s publisher handled these things.

So like two years ago, I spent a lot of time considering things that are largely impossible. And it takes time to work it out for myself and step in off this particular ledge. I also spoke to another friend that reminded me that Cancel Culture might not be as effective as it sometimes seems. Canceling someone’s book can create notoriety that helps the author make money in other ways. How many canceled authors then turned around to sell a self published version at speaking engagements having used the cancel as free advertising to sell to the people most likely to buy the book in the first place?

So to recap, Anonymous gets mugged by the text analysis AI. Anonymous gets mugged in the physical world because he can’t give up G.N. Jacobs’ cell phone or stay away from security cameras. The financial infrastructure is time consuming and expensive. And maybe doing the best I can on the writing and research while trusting that there is a market for every book, despite the yelling, is my only recourse now. But, wanting to buy time to get these books into print I wasted quite a bit of thought energy, until I hit on another simpler idea to do the same thing…cancel Facebook.

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

The Great War of the Ring ends with Sauron’s master ring dropped into Mt. Doom. The whole of Mordor blows up as if the gods themselves want that blighted land just gone. The lava in the movie was a nice touch. Aragorn gets his crown. The hobbits go home to rumble the previously ignored Saruman out of the Shire. And what happens next?

According to the Appendices at the end of The Return of the King, Aragorn undertook several campaigns to reestablish the full reach of the Númenórian Empire of which Gondor was the surviving vestige. Included therein is the offhand acknowledgment that various orc bands that survived the Biblical scale destruction of Mordor albeit in greatly weakened state were subdued. Interesting, did the men of Gondor and, more to the point, King Aragorn commit war crimes in securing his throne?

By today’s real world reckoning, yes. Call The Hague. But, is it necessarily a crime inside the narrative presented in the story? And now we have ourselves a literary analysis essay touching on the conditions where a campaign of total war against a population might be deemed necessary or even acceptable.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy genres as a rule treat war in a small handful of ways. One, war is bad and the occurrence represents a failure to communicate before the shooting starts. Two, the author chose an enemy of a generally faceless character with an objective of total war against us and we, the good guys, are totally justified in dishing out what they intend to do to us, but do it first as the old saying goes. Three, a blended concept where the necessities of the Second Proposition conflict with the doubt, soul sickness and PTSD built into the aftermath of the First Proposition.

Let’s talk about the faceless and uncaring enemy trope. Fred Saberhagen writing his Berserker series proposed a race of sentient machines roaming the galaxy wiping out all biological life due to programming by races that fought each other to a standstill. The Machines won the war and then turned on their creators exterminating them in turn. Leaving the personification of death to roam the galaxy killing without mercy…until they bumped into the Solarian humans (people of Earth), depicted as being the surviving race who were otherwise still too emotionally close to their barbaric war making phase. “You’re our last hope, people of Earth.”

Saberhagen used this series mostly to present updates to various stories from historical, mythological and literary sources and then towards the end he went with a more traditional recurring hero possibly drawing from rogues like Han Solo. The later books didn’t land quite as well, but that’s just me. Throughout the series, the Machines remorselessly sterilize whole planets even down to the bread mold.

The story Stone Place retells the The Battle of Lepanto making sure to include the political rivalries of two brothers leading up to the great sea battle that checked the Muslim Turks of the Ottoman Empire from further expansion into Europe, a crusade by another name. Even the ram and boarding tactics of the original battle are replicated. All to present the story of a regular assault marine falling in love with a political bride promised to the Great Johann Karlsen (an analogue to the historical Juan Carlos who led the real battle).

Or maybe you wanted a rehash of The Battle of Midway where Saberhagen didn’t even hide his sources choosing to spell the battleship Arizona left in harbor backwards: Anozira. And the great film director John Ford, historically recorded at Midway to capture the action on film, makes an appearance. Or maybe you like Moby Dick? Also part of the series.

Now, Mr. Saberhagen was fully aware of the differing perspectives on war. Even though The Machines are coming and like the Terminator – “You still don’t get it, do you? He’ll find her! That’s what he does! That’s all he does!” – people who don’t fully appreciate the totality of the war abound. They’re called Good Life, a term the Machines use to denote life forms that break and provide temporary assistance in order to be killed later than everyone else.

Some Good Life do so because they can’t comprehend the totality of war and think they can behave like the people in the story about a group of people running away from the tiger behind them – “I don’t have to be the fastest person, just faster than the slowest person.” Other Good Life are depicted as falling into a strange worship of machines and death clearly making reference to historical death cults like the Thuggee. Opposing this process is a second version of the Templars who fanatically oppose all things Berserker and Good Life.

Now, let’s go with a more current version of the trope of the faceless enemy: zombies. As I write this, the Night King bears down on Winterfell advancing behind the snow flurries of the Long Winter. He builds his army of White Walkers every time he kills a member of the Living. Only weapons of obsidian or the unobtanium of Valyrian steel can harm these snow zombies. Bran Stark, the Three-Eyed Raven, offers to act as bait to draw him out…tune in next week.

A more traditional zombie infestation is heavily influenced by George Romero giving the immortal rule of shoot ‘em in the head. Movie zombies are typically depicted as made by some kind of supernaturally affected virus that kills the soul without immediately killing the body allowing transmission to others before the host rots. You can’t reason with a movie zombie anymore than a Terminator. Haitian zombies are something else that only gave the movie zombie its name.

The acceptability of Kill them All during a zombie outbreak trades on the fear factor of a disease. Black Death. Ebola-Zaire. Marburg. Its coming and…shoot ‘em in the head and burn your dead friends behind you. I’ve never heard of anyone experiencing these stories ever expressing remorse. It is, in strict point of fact, us or them and raise a beer at the remembrance ceremony in honor of the dead.

The diseases referenced don’t exactly fit the trope of the remorseless enemy. Plague, Ebola and Marburg all function by the spread of bodily fluids typically wiping out doctors and other caregivers first who then spread the disease to the rest of the population. The strictest of quarantine protocols must be kept, at least in any pre-Industrial society that doesn’t know how to make Class Four protective gear. But, the metaphor holds up slightly in that the quarantine procedures to allow your city to survive Plague requires at least as much tragic resolve as Shoot Your Already Dead Grandmother in the Head. We tell these stories over and over again along with all the others.

Back to Middle Earth. Aragorn wiped out the remaining orcs. These actions dovetail with possibly our race memories of once sharing the planet with our evolutionary cousins, the Neanderthal. And now they’re gone. Additionally, Tolkien’s entire realm of Middle Earth takes on a character of previous times on our own planet.

There are textual references in the Appendices and The Silmarillion that hint at Middle Earth basically being Atlantis. Hobbits refer to the Big Dipper as the Plow. Same star field available to all who look up at the night sky…interesting.

Curiously the drowning of the Middle Earth version of Atlantis happens in two stages, the second one only implied long after Tolkien ends the story. The first happened in the First Age. The lands west of the Blue Mountains, Ered Luin, fall into the sea forcing a temporary return to the island of Númenór.

Númenór also falls into the sea because of its arrogance forcing a return back to Middle Earth kickstarting the Númenórian Empire of Gondor and Arnor that Aragorn rebuilds after the War of the Ring. To do it, he wipes out the orcs with no word about negotiating spheres of influence, Romulan Neutral zones or even treaties of friendship. It certainly dovetails with the absence of Neanderthal, except as a cool SF trope about cloning, something best left for other essays.

And to make the Atlantis analogy stick, I’ve intentionally buried the lead about Tolkien himself making the linkage between Middle Earth and Atlantis. He wrote in the same Oxbridge writing groups as his friend C.S. Lewis. In The Space Trilogy, Mr. Lewis specifically had his overtly Christian protagonist, Ransom, link Númenór to earlier Atlantan times as part of the eternal fight with darkness using a footnote to promote Tolkien’s work.

I have no word as to whether Tolkien and Lewis were even aware of Robert E. Howard’s post-Atlantean works including Conan the Barbarian, or how they felt if they did know, but theoretically the crossover fan fiction could be awesome. But, I digress.

Did Aragorn commit war crimes or rather Crimes Against Orcs? Depends on your perspective that guides how you choose to interpret what is actually on Tolkien’s pages. Honestly, it could go either way.

Tolkien asserted that orcs were once elves taken by the original evil lord, Morgoth (Sauron originally was just this guy’s right hand, think Beelzebub to Lucifer) for the purposes of ruining because Morgoth’s anger at all things made by Illúvatar is so profound that there is no separate peace. Similarly trolls are wrecked Tree-ents and so on. Is it ever acceptable to obey Divine Will so completely that you slaughter whole peoples? Again depends.

The examples of the remorseless foe given above solve one of the problems of the trope, that of relatability to the enemy. Berserkers and their literary descendants, such as Skynet and the Doomsday Machine from the Star Trek episode of the same name certainly qualify as faceless and remorseless. And the average zombie infestation counts more as a disease story where the Living protect themselves by isolating the Dead or diseased by way of violent quarantine. Do orcs count in this regard?

Tolkien may not have fully understood the contradictions lurking in his own writing. Few of us do until we read our stories back long after or a good friend points them out on a beta read. Judging from the totality of what’s on the page in both Lord of the Rings and the greater expanded work in Silmarillion he landed somewhere in the middle.

Orcs were the unholy spawn of Morgoth that don’t deserve to breathe the same air as men, elves, dwarves and hobbits. But, then in The Return of the King Frodo and Sam march across the Plains Of Mordor in the shadow of Mt. Doom wearing orc armor to properly infiltrate a land where no hobbit in his right mind would dare go. They are grabbed up into an orc battalion marching to the Black Gate and the orcs march to their version of a Jody – “where there is a whip there’s a way” that includes call and response lyrics of “I don’t want to go to war today!”

You, Dear Reader, might have missed this moment in the movie. Don’t feel bad, it’s not there. The book had it as did the Rankin-Bass animated version of Return of the King produced to take up the slack from the Ralph Bakshi movie that only got the story completed up through The Two Towers. Gee, orcs not really feeling like marching to war and have to be whipped by their sergeants and other officers? Certainly, a juxtaposition between that and the fact that orcs eat the other sentient species of Middle Earth, even amongst themselves.

Orcs with antiwar sentiments versus the command from the local name for God to clean up the unholy creations of the Evil One, in a campaign for total war? Decisions, decisions. Again, what’s your perspective?

Much has been made by writers I presume to be to be smarter on the subject of Tolkien concerning his presumed experiences and influences. The man served at the Somme and took a bullet that sent him home with lingering lung issues where he could then complete his PhD at his Oxbridge university. So witnessed what nearly total war looks like, check.

Did he write the modestly sympathetic portrayal of orcs in Return of the King as part of the truth that most warriors come to understand and respect the soldiers on the other side once they get to know them after the war? Without reading more of his letters and nonfiction writing, I don’t know and the answer might not be there because we don’t always write about our subconscious motivations after the fact of our books.

Much has been made of Tolkien and Lewis intentionally drawing from Christian theology in their works. A theology where the story of the Flood plays huge. The actual black ink scripture simply says that people so offended God that he decided to wipe the whole planet out except for the one representative Man (Adam), his wife, three sons and their wives. We pissed off the Creator; we died. God felt bad about it afterwards and promised not to do anything like the Flood ever again putting the rainbow in the sky as the symbol of that covenant.

But, there are a few indirect mentions in the Bible of fallen angels called Nephilim (Numb. 13:33, Jude 1:6) doing mighty works against the wishes of God. And a prohibition against the Sons of God mating with the Daughters of Man (Gen. 6.4) leading into the Flood narrative. These hints have been used by Biblical Literalists to explain why we can go to a museum to look at dinosaur bones. Or to make certain jokes like Gary Larson’s Far Side – “Oh, right, that’s it for the unicorns, all predators are now confined to C deck.” If so, perhaps we’re better off without orcs or the monsters drowned in the Flood? But, only if you accept orcs as a construct of pure evil with no redeeming features. We’ve seen above that Tolkien may not have been sure himself.

Real world genocides have been justified by rhetoric exactly like how Tolkien described the orcs. The difference between orcs on the one side and Jews, Armenians, Rohinga and Tutsis on the other side is this, these people are verifiably human and, if we breathe down a moment we see this. We understand Shakespeare’s imperfect attempt to address this with the Shylock Speech. We also see how Tevye the Milkman in The Fiddler on the Roof shows how all of anti-Semitic stereotyping is just lies. In a village where Jews have been segregated away from the good Orthodox Christians of Tsarist Russia, you see a normal range of social stratification and they aren’t all bankers, loan sharks and so on.

I have an ugly additional thought. Tolkien’s work was written at a time when Fantasy was automatically shunted into a for kids thought process. Can we make an argument for Tolkien’s orcs as a representation of pure evil and thus behaving more like Terminators, Berserkers or zombies because kids were assumed to have a more black and white moral outlook than adults and thus have less tolerance for evil? I don’t know and don’t know if I will ever learn the answer.

Enjoying The Lord of the Rings for some people will depend on the perspective they bring to the read. I give the work a great deal of benefit of doubt. I was presented with a villain with vast supernatural power and titanic rage with which to lash out at perceived enemies. I will accept the author’s word that orcs define the exception that proves the rule that we should breathe and discern as best as we are able if we’re being lied to when told about the Hated Other. Your mileage may vary.