Extra Life 2018!

After a rather lackluster 2017, I’m back!

For the rest of the week, I’ll be streaming a variety of games while trying to raise some funds for Riley Hospital for Children right here in Indiana!

Be sure to check out OseronPhaer, subscribe and click the bell for notifications for when I go live, and check out my fundraising page: https://www.extra-life.org/participant/oseron-phaer

Thank you all!

Advertisements

Star Trek Day

Today is my birthday.

Honestly, however, I don’t want to talk about my birthday. I want to, more importantly, remind everyone that it is Star Trek Day, the anniversary of the first airing of Star Trek: The Original Series.

In honor of this great day in Science Fiction history, I would share one of the greatest fan films ever made: Prelude to Axanar.

Porn Is Not Harmful, or So They Say

Hoo boy, where do I even start with this one?

Let’s start with “any man that tells you he doesn’t watch it is probably lying to you.” When you yourself watch pornography, it is very easy to fall into the trap of believing this statement. After all, isn’t it common knowledge that “everyone does it”? The problem with this statement is that it’s false.

I do believe it is true to say that most people intentionally consume porn; it has simply saturated our culture that thoroughly. But this idea that there isn’t a soul untouched by it, or uninterested in it, or willingly avoiding it? That’s ridiculous. Of course there is. Being inundated in porn culture leads us to believe that everyone is secretly a closet pervert like ourselves; we end up living in a (disturbingly large) bubble that keeps us from realizing that there is a world away from internet porn and that some people still live in it. There are still some people who want to live in it.

Let’s look at “insecurity,” as though it is simply blind paranoia that would lead to someone hating porn or refusing to date someone who has or still does consume it. But what do you have to be insecure about when it comes to porn consumption? Is it being compared against other attractive women (or men)? Is it fearing that your significant other’s eye is being drawn askance? Is it being replaced emotionally? How about physically?

Wait, but these are all things that can and do happen when someone watches porn. So is it insecurity or justified fear?

I’ve written before about my struggles with porn. I’ve spent the bulk of my life struggling with feelings of guilt and shame, disappointment and weariness. Pornography is harmful; I’m my own best example. But I don’t need to stop at myself.

When I started following Fight the New Drug, it made me conscientious of the fact that not all porn on the internet is fun. The performers aren’t always having a blast, they aren’t always doing things they really want to do or are comfortable with.

That’s when I started to notice; you can see it. You can see when performers are tired, when they’ve exhausted themselves, but have to keep going to finish a shoot. You can see when female performers are in pain, or when they’re disgusted by certain acts or actions. Who knows what goes on behind the scenes; what happens to these people before the camera is turned on or after its turned off? Have they been coerced? Are they desperate? Do they numb the pain with drugs?

The people you saw on that video on Pornhub are just that: people. They aren’t sex machines or gods. They aren’t just images on a screen; they’re flesh and blood human beings. Human beings who have either chosen to or been coerced into using their bodies for the basest of acts.

I mentioned my feelings of guilt over porn before, because porn has harmed me. It has shaped my character into something…small. A jaunt into the comments of these videos brings you to the other side of this coin. Whereas I hide what I do, the comments are filled with all forms of degeneracy.

Men (with the occasional woman) appraise the performers (most often the woman) on looks and how they act, treating them as a piece of meat hanging in a butchery. They ask for names, so that they might hunt down more videos of the person in question. Most are blind to what I can see. To the degradation and the humiliation. They comment gleefully on how “excited” and “into it” she seems to be, and certainly there are videos where they are. It is always striking, however, when the commenter is blind to the obvious.

It’s even worse when the commenter likes it. When they see that the woman on the screen is unhappy, is being humiliated. And they cheer it on. They write out the most vile ideas from the dark hole that is their minds. Yet people say porn causes no harm. They are wrong. It twists individuals into horrid gremlins, mutilating their souls, wringing from them empathy and humanity. On the outside, they still lead normal lives. But on the inside, they hide their darkest desires. And those desires may one day come out, often onto the shoulders of a girlfriend or boyfriend, wife or husband.

And what of the women who watch porn, a cohort the OP proudly declares herself a part of? Perhaps she believes herself to be fine, to be unharmed (I doubt it). But what about everyone else? What about the women who become what I described above? What about those who have their self-image tied directly to how large their breasts are, how curvy their bodies are, how long they can perform in bed, all because they saw another woman on a screen?

Porn is harmful. No matter what anyone says, it is harmful. Somewhere along the line, it is hurting someone. It debases humanity in the cruelest of ways, turning something beautiful and meaningful, the greatest act of intimacy on this planet, into something comparable to the rutting of dogs. Humanity should be better than that. We should see the nobility within ourselves and aspire to it.

Instead, we’ll burn ourselves to the ground, all for a little bit of empty pleasure.

FFXIV Selections III

It’s the midpoint of Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood’s life, so it’s about time for me to add to the playlist! …Which I actually did four weeks ago or so, but who’s counting?

“Penitus”

I’ve mentioned before that I tended to gloss over A Realm Reborn’s soundtrack; I simply never found the game particularly engaging until the story-telling improved. Between that and the fact that my first run of this dungeon saw me get held up by watching a cutscene and subsequently getting lost, I never paid much attention to the music. Indeed, the music may be the only redeeming quality of a long, draggy dungeon. From bombastic brass to haunting vocals, Penitus is evocative and a fine final dungeon theme.

“Steel Reason”

A holdover from Final Fantasy XIV’s 1.0 era, Steel Reason is another tune I kind of tuned out. It wasn’t until mid-Heavensward when I really started to listen to it. I honestly want to say that the aspect of this song that stands out the most to me is how unique it feels. In a world of swords and magic, Nobuo Uematsu did a fantastic job of capturing the feel of fighting foes that wield advanced technology, from guns to armored walkers. Yet, it remains upbeat, as though even foes far above you can still fall.

“For the Sky”

For a change of pace, this is a theme I loved from when I first heard it. For the Sky perfectly captures the feeling of this time in the game’s story. When you have almost nothing, banished in a strange, war-torn land, still you drive forward.

“Even in our lowest low, we could cling to one thing: hope. Hope and the will to see our hopes realized. So did we enter Halatali, determined to save him, driven by the hope that, despite everything, there was still a chance to salvage this.”

“The Measure of His Reach (The Royal Menagerie)”

“Oh come ye wayward brothers,

bereft of hearth and home.

Beneath yon burning star there lies

a haven for the bold.”

This might be my favorite version of this song. I’ve always been a sucker for orchestral arrangements and this one is no different.

“Wayward Daughter”

I’ve always been fond of this style of music. There’s something about the haunting female vocals that arrest me. The song fits perfectly with its fight: it is face-paced without being too upbeat, somber without being too depressing. A fitting theme to end a tragic and wicked life.

I suppose I’ll be back in a few months to give the music one last look before 5.0’s launch…

Harmony and Free Will

I love Star Wars; it is not a stretch to say that it was the defining element of my childhood, far and above anything else. I wasn’t good at making or keeping friends. I didn’t have much interest in physical activity. No other franchise could grab and hold my attention the same way Star Wars would.

Whenever my mother’s siblings would visit us, I would arrange my Star Wars toys in my bedroom as a museum they could visit. I would watch the movies whenever they were on TV. I remember every summer, TNT would air the trilogy in a solid block; it was the only night my mother would let me stay up into the wee hours of the morning. I watched them on VHS. I played Star Wars: Tie Fighter and Yoda Stories obsessively.

When The Phantom Menace came out, I loved it. It was the first new Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi, a movie that was released six years before I was born (a concept I still didn’t get at that point). All I wanted was new Star Wars, and Episode I delivered for me. It wouldn’t be until I was in my twenties that I would realize how flawed Episode I was. I did not understand how poorly paced it was, how it focused on superfluous elements like politics, how tonally jarring and annoying Jar Jar Binks was.

But there was one thing I was lost on from the very beginning: the prophecy. Leaving aside the incredibly questionable decision to turn Anakin Skywalker from just a tragic hero to tragic Space Jesus™, I did not understand what it meant by bringing balance to the Force. How do you balance something by destroying half of it? The prophecy stated that the Chosen One would bring this balance by destroying the Sith. For years, I could not wrap my head around concept.

Space Jesus
“Are you saying this…boy is to be out lord and savior?”

Indeed, it was only recently that I rethought it in such a way that it finally made sense.

You see, balance in this case doesn’t mean Yin and Yang, light and dark balancing each other out.

It means harmony.

Balance means allowing the Force to flow through the universe, uninterrupted. There may be light and dark elements contained within, but those elements are not discordant. The life cycle naturally involves death and rebirth. However, there are not forces within the stream disrupting it, causing strife and suffering.

This, of course, was the central goal of the Jedi, both on an individual level and on the whole:

There is no emotion; there is peace.

There is no ignorance; there is knowledge.

There is no passion; there is serenity.

There is no chaos; there is harmony.

There is no death; there is the Force.

The Jedi, in their purest form, seek only to maintain the harmony of the universe.

For the Sith, this was antithetical to their creed:

Peace is a lie. There is only passion.

Through passion, I gain strength.

Through strength, I gain power.

Through power, I gain victory.

Through victory my chains are broken.

The Force shall free me.

For the Sith, the ultimate outcome of their actions, intentional or otherwise, would sow chaos and discord. The Sith would bring strife upon each other and war upon the innocent. At their very worst, the Sith would destroy entire worlds, stripping them clean of life and leaving wounds in the Force. And all the while, the forces of light and dark would battle against each other, dragging countless souls into the conflict.

Invasion_of_Alderaan
This wouldn’t be the last time Alderaan would burn at the hands of the Sith….

As ill-conceived as it was (from a storytelling and lore standpoint), the crux of the Chosen One prophecy is that this cycle would stop. The darkness seeded into the galaxy during the first great schism of the Jedi would finally come to an end with Anakin Skywalker. Even if there was still darkness in the galaxy (and there certainly would be), the destructive horrors perpetuated by the Sith would finally come to an end. After nearly thirty thousand years of conflict, there would be harmony again.

Which brings me to The Last Jedi.

“Oh no, haven’t you already spent seven hours talking about The Last Jedi?”

I would spend seven more, too. In a sad way, it’s precisely because there’s something I dislike so vehemently (Episode VIII) in a thing I love (Star Wars) that makes me so engaged in the topic. I wouldn’t talk about it so much if I didn’t care so much on every conceivable level, be it about in-universe canon or storycraft. It is fascinating, in its way.

The thing about The Last Jedi is that Rian Johnson took the simpler interpretation of balance being “light and dark” when trying to explain who Rey is. Supreme Leader Snoke says that she is the light that has risen to face Kylo Ren’s darkness. She is who the Force has chosen (after a fashion) to balance him out. There are plenty of things I could say about this, I could even say it was not a terrible creative choice, but there is one thing that stands out to me.

If Rey has in fact been chosen by the Force to be Kylo Ren’s opposite, to be the light to his dark, then Rey, in fact, has no agency. She is not in control of her destiny because she is a vessel for a greater power, a power that seems to be giving her no choice in the matter. This upends the storytelling in there Star Wars saga in a very fundamental way.

Part of Star Wars’ appeal to the audience is the fact that all of the characters within the movies are making choices. They are independent actors, choosing their actions not because the narrative demands they do, but because they want to. One of the core aspects of well-crafted stories is that the characters act because they have the motivation and will within the narrative to make the decisions that drive the story. Barring stories where the goal is to show that mortal men cannot escape destiny and/or the will of the gods, this is more often than not true.

Anakin Skywalker chooses to pursue his own selfish goals; he is the ultimate cause for his own downfall. There is never a point where an outside force beyond his ken is making him marry Padme, or making him choose the Sith over the Jedi. There is no element that creates attachments for him or makes him fearful of losing those things he loves. All of that, in the end, is Anakin’s doing.

AnakinVaderVision-GOM
Anakin contained the seeds to be either a hero or a villain.

The same applies to his son, Luke. Luke chooses to pursue the path of the Jedi. He chooses to fight for the Rebellion. He makes the most important choice of the saga when he chooses to try to redeem his father, the most hated, evil man in the entire galaxy, simply for love of family. The choices of these two Skywalkers in their respective trilogies are the why of Star Wars.

It is not hard to see these two characters making different choices, as well. One can very easily see and believe Anakin Skywalker choosing to instead let go of his affections for Padme and dedicating himself wholly to the Jedi. If circumstances had even been slightly different: if Qui-Gon lived, if Obi-Wan had been a better mentor, if Anakin himself had held himself more accountable…. Luke, on the other hand, could very easily have taken Vader’s hand in Cloud City. It is entirely believable in that moment of deep doubt and confusion, Luke could have made the choice to follow his father, a man he’d idolized all his life, because it was the only option that made sense to him. There is never a point where the narrative of either the original or prequel trilogy makes it feel as though Anakin and Luke are forced to act in a particular way. Their choices naturally flow.

What about Rey? Perhaps this is just a case of unfortunate implications and not intended at all, but it seems to me that her destiny is set, that there is no real choice for her.

As I’ve discussed in both my Last Jedi Rant series and on our Star Wars episode of Nerd Rage, Rey always seems to make the “right” choice, the “good” choice. Despite two big opportunities to break this mould in The Last Jedi, she simply seems to “revert” to the good choice. She doesn’t question her path when she discovers Luke’s deception nor does she seem to meaningfully consider Kylo Ren’s offer to join with him and forge a new course. Part of me can’t help but wonder if this is a consequence of Snoke’s assertion that she is the light opposing the dark. For me, at least, there seems to be a subtle implication that she may not be able to do wrong at all.

Whereas Anakin, even though a character who seemed to rise in opposition to darkness, made terrible mistakes, Rey seems to make none. Luke spends his movies making difficult choices, choosing to be the light rising in opposition to the Emperor’s darkness, but this role just seems to fall into Rey’s lap. Rey feels like she is getting pushed around by the universe instead of forging a path through the tempest. Even when she does make a choice, notably when she goes to confront Snoke on the Supremacy, it never quite feels like she is a free moral agent. Her destiny feels laid bare, thus robbing her journey of all emotion and potential.

Kylo's Offer
What if Rey had instead chosen to follow Kylo on his new path?

Star Wars, when you dig a bit, has always been about individuals making choices, for good or ill. For every Sith who chooses to destroy, there is a Jedi who chooses to meet them. The Force does not create heroes and champions, nor does it create villains; those individuals choose to use their gifts, they consciously choose harmony or discord.

Rey does not feel like she fits into this paradigm, leaving both her character and the story around her feeling…empty.

Tomorrow

“Live like there’s no tomorrow.” That’s how it is these days, right? You may be here today, but you may not be here tomorrow, so live like only today exists and will exist.

As a sentiment, it sounds nice. It is very easy to waste one’s life, to come to the end of it all and realize you did almost nothing. In that sense, to cry “carpe diem” and live is not such a bad way to go through life.

How does that manifest, though?

How many people, in their quest to live, instead waste their lives by pursuing the dangerous and the unhealthy? How many live to party, spending all of their free time drinking and sleeping with as many people as humanly possible? How many people jump from thrill to thrill, never satisfied, always seeking the next “adventure” as long as it’s loud and exciting? How many, in their quest to not be dull and uninteresting, take innumerable risks?

And how many end up not having a tomorrow, not because of happenstance, but because of their own decisions?

The problem with living like there’s no tomorrow is that there is a tomorrow. More often than not, we will live into that tomorrow and we shall have to live with the decisions of yesterday. We shall live and discover, one day, our quest for cheap thrills has led to addiction. To disease. To sorrow.

A few won’t see that tomorrow, it’s true. But what about the people that will? The people that loved the lost, that were with them? The people that must endure tomorrow without them? Time does not cease when we do.

Of course, that will not be everyone, probably not even most. Not all decisions are reckless, not all are bad or even (inherently) negative. Yet, when you have spent your entire youth chasing adventure and thirty rolls around and you have built nothing at all…what does tomorrow look like then? What does tomorrow look like when you suddenly have to start building what people a generation or two ago had established in their prime?

There is a tomorrow. Tomorrow matters. You may not want to think about tomorrow today…but today will not last forever. Is not today best spent preparing for tomorrow? Is it not better to carry ourselves with dignity and grace, with honor, instead of sacrificing these ideals in the quest for an ever-greater youthful high?

Indeed, there is never not a tomorrow.

How we choose to live will influence the ultimate tomorrow, the tomorrow without a tomorrow: eternity.

If we choose to live life like there are no consequences, we will discover there are. If we choose to live like nothing matters, we will discover that everything does. If we choose to live without Christ, we will discover He was there the entire time and that it is now too late.

The featured image for this is the empty tomb because Jesus walked out of His tomb to ensure we would have a tomorrow worth living for. He walked out to ensure that tomorrow would not be one full of suffering and fear of the unknown. After all, for the world at large, tomorrow can bring nothing but decay and death and, for that reason, one can fully understand living like it won’t come. But it will. And two thousand years ago, Jesus made a way for tomorrow to be worthwhile.

The Greatest Gifts

Note: This is a post adapted from yet another Dixon’s Musings post.

In light of the many miseries of the world, many often wonder where God factors into all of it.  We wonder why God allows evil men to walk among us, men who seek to slaughter, to destroy.  In a world where earthquakes rend the land and tornadoes tear up the very foundations of the places we call home, why does God not let the Earth lay at rest?  Does He even care at all?

If He is all-powerful, why doesn’t he stop all of the disasters and cruelties of the world?

It goes back to Eden.  When Adam partook of the fruit, he did more than simply sin, he did more than simply curse us.  Something that is all but forgotten these days, with the rise of secularism and naturalism, is the presence of the supernatural. All the things that we do influence the supernatural and, likewise, the supernatural seeks to influence us.  When Adam chose to disobey God, he didn’t merely do a bad thing, like a child who has fibbed or a dog who pooped on the carpet. He surrendered the world to Satan. His choice gave power to Satan to dominate and corrupt the world.

This begs the question of why God doesn’t use his unlimited power to simply stop Satan? If He is truly so strong, and the devil His own rebellious creation, why doesn’t He just say “Stop!” and put an end to it all?

For reasons beyond our understanding, it seems that God has “rules of engagement” of some form in place on Himself.  These rules seem to give Satan some degree of freedom to sow chaos where he wills (before he is finally sealed away as foretold in the book of Revelation) without interference from God. This is best exemplified in the book of Job, where the Lord allows Satan to do what he wills to Job. God then uses Satan’s depredations to show the importance of faith and the value of His promises.

Naturally, the Lord doesn’t violate these restrictions, either. He would have no grounding on which to command us to follow His commandments for our own lives. It would make God hypocritical and inconsistent to violate His own laws, thus nullifying everything in the Bible.

Yet, God refused to leave us at the mercy of a being who seeks to corrupt and destroy us, to sunder us from the One who created us.  At first, His grace and mercy was largely reserved for his people, the Hebrews. The world was wicked and corrupt, and very often not even His chosen people obeyed him. He created laws and rituals for them to obey, but the task was insurmountable for mere men.

Then Jesus came.

Once before, God had given up on humanity.  Were it not for the righteousness of Noah, all of the world would have perished.  Yet God did not destroy us and our future.  Furthermore, He set in motion a greater plan, one that would not bring about destruction, but salvation.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16, KJV)  After thousands of years of separation from him, God gave us all the means to return to Him,  He gave us a way to be absolved of our sins, to know that there is more to our lives than misery and the fear of the unknown.  To know that there is more to the universe than what we see before our eyes.

Despite our flaws and our failings, God loves us still.

Yet, Jesus’ coming is not the only proof of God’s love.

When God made us, he made us rational beings.  He gave us the ability to think and make decisions.  More than that, however, He gave us the freedom to make choices.  He gave us free will.

Our God made us free people.  He saw no purpose in forcing us to follow him, as if we were machines.  He saw no need to make us slaves to his will, compelled to act only as he saw fit.  Surely there are consequences for our actions; to sin and be in rebellion against God will lead us to an eternity none of us can fathom.  However, the existence of consequences does not make the freedom that choice grants us any less wonderful.

The fact that a God who could do anything opted to allow us to freely choose him may very well be the greatest gift of all.

So, yes, the world is broken.  There are griefs and miseries innumerable in the world.  It is also a world of beauty, a world with a savior.  A savior who would have never come had a loving God not willed it.

Merry Christmas all!

Self-Awareness

Or, more to the point, the sheer lack of it.

I thought it would be a fun exercise to break this down. So let’s take the first tweet, which seems to assume that saying “trans women are women” enough will eventually make it true. I had actually seen this one before and mostly dismissed it as nonsense. You can’t simply declare something to be true and expect everyone around you to accept it as well. Indeed, the past few years have more than proved this to be a very dangerous approach when dealing with reality. What someone else says is true (particularly unsupported by evidence/supported only by ones feelings) is not always so.

Which leads to the small reply thread after it. Now, let me start by saying that this is the internet, and many overtures given are frequently not done in good faith. However, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that telling someone to “get fucked” in response to a (seemingly) polite request to debate the matter is probably a bad thing.

There is nothing more immature than being given a chance to make your argument and immediately shut it down. And really, this is the crux of the problem with so many debates today; it is not only that people don’t want to listen, they don’t want to persuade either. They think that merely stating their case is enough for everyone else to shut up and accept it. They make no room for people being apathetic, let alone people actively disagreeing or being hostile to the idea. They presume that there is no such thing as a rational or sincere counter-arguments to their beliefs and so choose to act like an ignorant child.

Of course, the problem is further compounded by folks like the quote retweet I took this from. Too many people in the world see this sort of immature behavior and, instead of calling it for what it is, reinforce it, calling it good and right.

Pay close attention to the words chosen, however. “the correct way to debate with a transphobe.”

As though there’s a debate.

As though this person isn’t making the enormous assumption that the person who asked to debate is somehow irrational and not worthy of attention.

Well, maybe, just maybe, Dirak is getting shit because Dirak had a shitty opinion to begin with.

I’m sure that there have been many less polite responses to the original tweet, but given that Dirak responds to the polite ones like an asshole, maybe nothing about this reaction is surprising at all.

Maybe we should stop acting like being stupid children in response to opinions and people we dislike is somehow the height of rhetoric.

Then again, we’re all stupid children now.

Just Watching…

Just a few passing observations:

Have you ever read something and immediately something bothers you about it? You can’t place your finger on it, of course, and on the surface it seems innocuous, but it’s still wrong. That’s what this tweet is to me.

“Invisible and neglected.” What do these words even mean? As a general rule, Sikh’s tend to stand out in their communities. So they’re not invisible. And neglected by whom? I don’t see anyone in the United States who’s obligated by law to look out for and cater to the Sikh community. Or the black community. Or the gay community. It’s almost as if you’re responsible for looking out for yourself.

But “representation matters,” right? Everyone (except whites/men), must be pandered to and catered to. It’s not enough that you be allowed to live your life; no, you must force others to see you and celebrate you, even if they’d rather do neither. Even if, for all intents and purposes, you’re irrelevant, you must make people look at you and your causes so you can feel special.

So, trans representatives and Sikh mayors: that’s great, you achieved something, be proud of that. But let’s not pretend that “representation” is what everyone is so happy about. It’s vain narcissism, coated in layer upon layer of feel-goodism, to the point that we no longer recognize it. A Sikh mayor in Hoboken or a trans representative in Virginia doesn’t make a difference, not on its own.

It is not what they are that matters. It is what they will do with their power.

~ It feels like Dr. King’s dream is all but dead these days. All everyone ever talks is what folks look like on the outside. No one cares about “who” anymore; it is all about “what.” Black? Trans? Atheist? Hispanic? Gay? Muslim (in the most reductive, meaningless way)? It does not matter if you are an utterly awful person, as long as you fit the mold of being an Oppressed Minority™, you have a place in “society.”

Meanwhile, if you’re white (and especially if you’re white and male (and triply especially if you’re white, male, and Christian)), you’re pushed to the back. You’re assumed to be racist. You’re automatically a monster who needs to literally kiss the ass of every “minority” on the street to begin to make up for something you can’t help.

It is almost as if segregating and slandering people on the basis on that which is uncontrollable is a bad thing. It’s almost as if there was a whole movement to end this sort of thing….

~ Periodically, Shannon and I will talk about the old days of online conservative activism back in 2012. We talk about the comradery, about the joy of finding like-minded individuals across the nation to connect with. And we talk about how it slowly sort of fell apart. How we saw the reality of certain individuals and groups. How what was once an alliance of happy warriors descending into vain infighting and back-biting. About how far too many people were invested in keeping things as they were rather than trying to build (or rebuild) something.

A year into the Trump era and things seem to be only worse. Plenty of people and commentators who I’ve liked and respected over the years have revealed themselves to be hateful and spiteful and petty. They hate Trump so much, they’re willing to sabotage him rather than fight for their supposed values.

For all of his faults, Trump is still better than Hillary, and certainly supports more rational policies than the left. Indeed, there are plenty of Trump policies and acts one could point to as objectively good things. Yet apparently hatred of Trump has eclipsed these facts. Few people out there anymore are actively promoting conservative values if they hate Trump; they are just hating Trump.

Welcome to the brave new world, where everyone fights for their own stupid egos.

~ It has been a century since the Bolsheviks turned Russia into a hellhole. Yet people, especially the young, act as though there are no lessons to be learned from this. Only if we tried it ourselves, the socialist dream would be fully realized and we would have perfection. Will it really take coming face to face with actual famine to understand what it means?

~ I guess I shouldn’t end this on a sour note, so have an arrangement of one of my favorite pieces of music:

The Defenders of Shannara

Warning: spoilers ahead.

When I was a child, I was enamored with my parents’ bookshelves. At least, if their covers were any indication. However, many of those books were old and brittle and, in my young hands, probably would have been destroyed seven times over. So I’ve never read most of them.

As I recall, it was my mother’s fantasy books that most caught my eye. In seventh grade, I began by reading The Hobbit (borrowed from the local library, of course). This, naturally, lead to The Lord of the Rings. But there was a series of books I wondered about more than them. A trio of big, worn, black paperbacks that dominated the shelf. Their font was evocative, their covers imaginative.

The Sword of Shannara

The Elfstones of Shannara

The Wishsong of Shannara

Next to them, The First King of Shannara, The Scions, The Druid, The Elf Queen, The Talismans.

What were these books? What was this Shannara? Fresh off of Tolkien, I delved into this new land.

In a weird way, had I not just come out of The Lord of the Rings, I might have noticed more easily how Terry Brooks did a soft rewrite of the trilogy in The Sword of Shannara. I might have noticed how familiar the scenarios were, how similar the characters were, how obviously ripped off the quest was. But I didn’t. I loved it. And when The Elfstones of Shannara diverged so completely from its formulaic predecessor, I was hooked.

I’ve read every book in the Shannara saga, from the Word & Void trilogy (confirming long-held suspicions I had about the universe), to the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara, and now to The Defenders of Shannara trilogy.

And it pains me to say how disappointed I am in this most recent set.

Brooks’ writings were always grim compared to Tolkien. The protagonists often suffered severe setbacks, and without fail, some would die. Darkness was always present and often stuck closer, due to Brooks’ more contemporary writing style. You were always emotionally close to those who were suffering. The Defenders books aren’t much different, but something was missing. The preceding trilogy, The Dark Legacy, had hints of this, but it became very apparent this time around.

First, the minor details. The writing in this trilogy feels very lazy. Information is very frequently repeated. Plot and character points get drawn out over very long stretches for no particularly good reason. Very frequently, the reader is simply told how a character is impacted by events (for the rest of their life!) rather than having an action or a conversation convey it.

Because nothing says “life-changing event” like being explicitly told someone has just endured a life-changing event.

Then there’s the matter of the characters. In almost every series (with maybe the exception of the Legends duology), there’s a character I connect with. A character I care about. A character I want to see surmount the odds and succeed. Most of the time, there’s more than one. Not this time. I found I couldn’t connect with any characters. Paxon Leah is bland, and spends half his trilogy feeling more like a background character than the main focus. Leofur Rai is much the same, feeling like a Mary Sue with daddy issues, rather than a well-written character with daddy issues. Almost none of the secondary cast get particularly fleshed out either, often appearing (and then dying) in the same book.

The only character who feels particularly fleshed out is the villain, the unimaginatively named Arcannen (did he give himself that name or were his parents really weird?). And even then he is unconvincing. He feels like such a small man, with excessively big ambitions. If you took Jabba the Hutt, gave him Jedi powers, connections in the Republic government, a desire to take control of the Jedi, and put him in charge of whorehouse (full of unwilling slaves), that’s Arcannen. He never feels big, powerful, or important, except in his own mind; this makes his villainy boring and cartoonish.

None of the character arcs (what few there were) come to a satisfying conclusion either. I won’t spoil any of these details, but I came away feeling ultimately disheartened and even a little hollowed out. There are too many bad happenings and very little to lift the reader up in the end. Everything may not be awful at the conclusion, but there’s no real triumph. There’s no real bright point to feel like all the struggling was worth it.

Which brings me to the plot: go back and read the paragraph on Arcannen.

He is the primary mover of the entire trilogy. And I’m never drawn in, never convinced he’s a real threat. A nuisance, no doubt, but it feels like he’s only so dangerous because the plot demands he must be. In general, the plot just meanders about, never really going anywhere…at least nowhere that warrants such a lofty title as “The Defenders of Shannara.”

And finally there’s the matter of the gay subplot…because of course there is. And, as with most gay subplots, it adds very little to the story except to stick out really obviously. Indeed, it only exists in the third book, with characters only introduced in the third book. So there’s no build-up, no attachment. They’re just there and the reader seems to simply be expected to empathize just because. No effort is made to make the relationship relatable. It is, technically, plot-relevant, but it sucks a lot of the energy out of Paxon’s journey, a journey which already lacked energy.

I’m reminded of the show Person of Interest, which did something similar. The damaged and mildly unhinged Root flirts with the cold, unfeeling Shaw for an entire season before it ends with a lesbian kiss and Shaw’s capture. The problem is that this element adds nothing to the show. We’re supposed to care about it just because, not because it’s convincing or enamoring. Indeed, the relationship causes both characters to act completely out of character when it comes up.

While it’s no secret I’m no fan of this sort of thing, I’m also willing to accept that it exists as long as it serves the story. My mother is much the same way, yet amusingly, came up with the best solution to the PoI dilemma. It’s already established that Shaw has a personality disorder that prevents her from empathizing with others (though this is, on some level, her deeply suppressing her emotions so she doesn’t feel pain). To have her reciprocate Root while remaining basically the same otherwise, was completely out of character and confusing. Rather, what should have happened is that Root’s affection should have gone unrequited until she ultimately ends up dying towards the end of the series. Create a scenario where Shaw is forced to confront her conflicting/repressed feelings, a trauma on the level of what made her the way she was to begin with.

We already care about the characters. Now make me care about how you’re shipping them.

In Defenders, I don’t even care about the characters, so why would I care about how you’re shipping them?

In the end, I’m disappointed. Defenders of Shannara was perhaps the weakest entry in the saga. Almost every series (with the notable exception of Word & Void) has a central quest, or several concurrent ones. There are always compelling characters working together toward a common, positive goal, even when separated from each other by the entire length of the Four Lands. Defenders has none of that. It’s aimless and meandering, leaving the reader feeling like more has been lost than has been gained. My hope is the coming Fall of Shannara (I already have the first book) is a step up again, a return to some of what made Shannara great…even with the promise of the end.