Archive for the ‘Post-Apocalypse’ Category

On occasion, I experience epiphanies while I am writing fiction that I realize applies equally to “real life”, and sometimes moreso.

In this case, I sat and stared inward while trying to “get into the head” of the character from whose point of view I am wanting to experience the scene unfolding. If we had an omniscient point of view, the highest level, an essential “god over the prose”, we could just tell everything that happens, describe all points of view, convey all experiences all at once. I prefer to see things through one set of eyes. Therefore, I can only describe what that particular character is seeing, observing, feeling, sensing. What he’s guessing, too. I can only describe the scene from what he actually can KNOW.

Now, in fiction, creating assumptions and then reacting on those assumptions (especially when they are incorrect, is FABULOUS for creating misunderstandings and conflicts that complicate the characters and the story). In that sense, it’s fun.

In real life? Not so much.

Take, for example, the politically-correct “Hyphenated-American”-ism we seem to be burdened with in the day and age of this country. Instead of being able to state our observations—“she was black,” or “he was white”[1], which is closer to the truth of being what we see—we have to assume, to jump to a conclusion. Often, those conclusions are quite incorrect.

If I asked you to pick out the “African-American” from the two photographs below, if you are into using the politically-correct vernacular, you’d probably pick the gentleman on the left. You would be utterly wrong. In this case, the actual African-American is the woman on the right. Yes, she’s white, but was born in Africa and holds dual-citizenship between the US and South Africa.[2]

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So what about the man on the left? He happens to be Brazilian. One could also argue that he’s American because Brazil is in South America, but that’s getting ridiculously technical. He happens to be Anderson “the Spider” Silva.[3]

Another example is from personal experience. When I was in college forever ago, I met a young lady who was an exchange student from South Africa. She’d never be recognized as South African with her pale skin, freckles and red hair. Another student despised being mis-identified as “African-American” because he just happened to have a lot more melanin than some other human beings—he was African. Period. I have even met a young man who was very pale, with red hair and freckles who could easily have passed for white, except he was actually”African-American” by the presumptive standards.

The point of the exercise is that we apply assumptions in place of actual skills of observation. If we describe him as black or her as white, we’d paint an accurate picture of what we see. Police are trained to not make assumptions about ANYTHING (“a material that appeared to be blood”), as it could later taint the prosecution of the case.

It’s also ridiculous for having people jump through mental hoops having to describe someone else by guessing the “hyphen-du-jour”. Paraphrasing the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, whose wisdom practically slaps us in our faces, said it best: “Judge a man by his character and not by the color of his skin.” Skin and race, let’s face it, are just basic descriptors, because the story really IS about the individual, not their hair color, eye color, the shape of their nose or eyes.

Hyphenation doesn’t automatically attribute a culture either. Heck, Africa is a humongous continent that encapsulates thousands of specific ethnic groups and probably just as many, if not more, cultures. The Masai warriors are very different from the Bedouins but they  When we speak of Asian influences, it includes the Middle East (Southeast Asia), who are not Japanese who are not Philippines, yet they could all be called Asian… That first factor before the hyphen only identifies a (mostly guessed) genetic history, and some of us have bloodlines so intermingled that to point out one of those aspects is just stereotyping. We CAN be more than one, happily and proudly, coexisting, you know. Hyphenation dilutes that. The individual—the strong individual, anyway—creates his own story out of his own experiences, heritage and genetics, not simply by latching onto someone else’s laurels and calling it a day. Think of it like building a house. It’s wonderful to have a good foundation to build on, but why just decorate someone else’s house when the good Lord gave you the tools to construct something wonderfully unique.

When I meet someone, and want to get to know them, I want to know THEM. I don’t about their skin color to begin with, and couldn’t care less after I’ve learned who they are. That cannot be distilled into their melanin count, or even their family’s history. It is what they have done, are doing and will do that makes that individual worth knowing. Awesome people (and, let’s face it, assholes) come in all shapes, sizes and colors, so why worry about those merely physical traits?

Let’s just dispense with the hyphenation altogether—it’s divisive rather than inclusive, a lazy cop-out of slapping on a label instead of defining an individual. It would be like me describing my faith as a “German-Christian.” It’s just “Christian,”[4] please and thank you. So how about we all just call ourselves “Americans” already, and leave the hyphens out of it.

 

[1] Yes, we can quite clearly argue that “white” and “black” are inaccurate too. Technically, I am a VERY pale mottled, freckled pink. My oldest and dearest friend from my Navy days just happens to be a lovely shade of chocolate brown (you know who I’m talking about). But at least it’s not making an ridiculous assumption.

[2] That, of course, is the gorgeous Charlize Theron, who played Furiosa in Mad Max:Fury Road and makes me jealous that, not only does she look better bald than I do with hair, she also got to be in a Post-Apoc movie with Tom Hardy. Not just any PA movie, either. A Mad Max movie.

[3] And he’s an absolutely amazing mixed-martial artist who holds the record for the longest undefeated streak until he was beaten by Chris Weidman during UFC 162 (and unfortunately again in UFC 168, if memory serves). He’s a figurative-artist’s dream and sports some crazy flexibility.

[4] Which is a whole different argument, splintering down into specific aspects of beliefs. I believe in Jesus as the Son of God and my Lord and Savior. Period. Everything else is just details.

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Hey, Bethesda! How about “Customizable Survival Mode?”

I admit it—I’ve been slipping away from my writing to get a little Fallout 4 time in, especially now since Survival Mode has arrived. I couldn’t wait to get some of that New Vegas-style goodness back into the game, add an extra dimension of a challenge.

Now, see, I’m not a hardcore gamer that spends countless hours of my life parked in a dark room on the couch next to a bowl of Doritos and a case of Mountain Dew escaping from the reality of things like a job and taking out the trash. I love video games, but I don’t plan my life around them. That’s why I’ve broken from my normal blog to rant. Yes, it is a bit of a rant, but there’s also, unlike a true rant, a suggestion to solve the problems I am pointing out.

And that’s where Fallout 4’s survival mode falls short. But, I am getting ahead of myself. Let me start with each of the new aspects that have been blanket-foisted upon us.

No Blips on the Compass: Awesome. I really like this challenge, as who knows where the bad guys are… It makes traveling with Dogmeat more meaningful as well. My only suggested change is make it a perk that you have hyper-awareness, as the blips become a substitute for more refined senses. (A friend argued that the blips take the place of other senses we lose in the meta-gaming fashion, for example, we have a much greater field of vision in real life than can otherwise be afforded on even the largest screens. Nor can we smell in-game, thank God!) AND… it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have your mechanical friends show up, you know, since they might have technology that could pinpoint their location imbedded in their chassis and/or power armor.

Tougher Mechanics: Yes and no. Frankly, I was tired of striking a sack-headed raider in the skull eight or nine times with a .45 before they dropped. There was no REALISM in that. However, the ghouls are still somehow able to penetrate my power armor and do serious damage to my body. Don’t tell me they miraculously, with every hit, manage to strike a rubberized joint area. That wouldn’t just wound me, it would cripple me. And see my footnote below about Alphas/Skulls showing up all over the place. I mean, they’ve already become overpowered… That’s just overkill (pun intended). So, just follow my Ultimate Suggestion offered later in the programming.

Crippled Limbs, Sickness and Disease: Yes. Another good thing for the game dynamic. I pretty much ignored the doctors in-game, and took care of everything with a stimpak. Now that part of the world makes sense, and makes you think twice and weigh options on drinking that possibly-contaminated water. I’ve also been finding myself at the Chemistry station with a purpose, too.

Food, Water, Sleep: Just what the doctor ordered. Sort of. Another challenge I enjoy, as it makes the settlements more important to get up and running. I would tweak the frequency. I don’t get that hungry or thirsty or tired, and when I’m peckish in real life, I DO get cranky (-1 CHR). And finding a safe place to sleep because I get grew exhausted from all of the ghoul-dicing, sure. Love it. Even more reason to keep my main squeeze as a companion, too. However…

Sleep on Save: This is where it gets irritating. Earlier in my rant, I mentioned that I am not a hardcore gamer. This means that I have only so much time to play. Playing should be moving the narrative along, experiencing the game, not “Crap, I have to hunt for a bed because I need to save so I can sleep in real life to get up for work” or even constantly seeking them just to save before I head into the seriously dangerous territories. Traveling from bed to bed isn’t experiencing the story. It’s purely annoying. Plus… You mean to say I can MAKE a bed out of five cigarettes and the business end of a shovel (there’s REALISM for you…), but somehow I am unable to craft a bedroll or even improvise one where I could catch some shuteye? How about making some of those cars that still have their upholstery in it a place where I can sleep? I’m sure many people have done that before, curled up in the back seat to get a few winks. There’s REALISM for you… if you are tired enough, you can sleep just about anywhere. The sleep-on-save isn’t a challenge; it is a narrative-killing annoyance. So, suggestion: portable bedrolls and more logical-if-not-comfortable places to “sleep” in order to save. Or just follow my Ultimate Suggestion offered later in the programming.

No Fast Travel: This I like and hate at the same time. The reason I like it? REALISM. Experiencing the world of FO4 is entirely different when you are forced to experience it. However… I dislike that I cannot FT when I want for two reasons. The first being that, yet again I iterate, I don’t have the time to spend just traveling somewhere, especially when, instead of engaging in the narrative when I reach my destination, I am more concerned about looking for a flippin’ bed to get sleep AND save the game because *poof* there went all of my game time just moving from Point A to Point B. Worse, I get all the way there and end up dead in one shot from either a ridiculously overpowered Feral Ghoul, or one of the Alphas that seem to be everywhere in my game[1] so I end up having to start from the one mattress I DID find, waaaaaaaaaay back home. Second, there’s a weird meta-gaming thing I love to do; because I don’t have all of my life to devote to playing the game twenty times through for all of the variations, when I hit a cool dialogue spot I like to revert to the closest previous save, then drag each of my companions back to that spot to get to hear what they say when the spot is triggered[2]. Without Fast Travel, that is all gone. To quote my favorite dialogue in the game, “Pfft!”[3]. It shouldn’t be a travel game, it should be a story, like reading a book. Chapters and scene break with jumps in time. We don’t hear about every minute of every day or we’d put the book down. Same with the unfolding story in Fallout.

Another drawback? Settlement rescues. How about when those settlements are being attacked? Will we actually reach them in time? And who has time to divert from travel to head all the way back? The settlement rescues will be ignored because who has time (other than Steam-blooded gamers) to run and rescue them? It just takes too long.

Companions Returning: Another very, very bad addition. How far is “abandoned?” Heck, some of my companions run off on their own after the enemy, and if I happen to go a step too far, not only is my backup support gone, but possibly a lot of my essential gear. With Fast Travel turned off, this makes it another annoyance factor instead of an actual challenge. For REALISM… you think your companion, in bad shape, would maybe cry out? Or if they were in that bad of a condition, like with a crippled limb, they would STAY WHERE THEY ARE. Suggestion: One of the few I suggest seriously altering this dynamic so that they remain in place, cry out, show up as a blip, or just getting rid of it altogether and having them behave the way they used to.

Weighted Ammo and Carry Weight: It’s another winner, not being able to carry so much. In fact, I think what you are allowed to carry in-game is MORE than generous. On a good day, even our most fit troops can only ruck about 110 pounds. 60 pounds is about the average, for a soldier. That means while Nate could probably get away with rucking 60-110, but Nora would be hard-pressed to get to that level even with enough time spent honing her strength in the wasteland.

Short Digression: Let’s not kid ourselves. Any argument of REALISM you throw at us to justify why this or that is in the game the way it is is countered with other REALISM that wasn’t considered or inserted. Example: it is a fact that people can go without food for a long time, several weeks. They can go without water for several days. Now, we have Nate and Nora, who lived in an idyllic past, may take a while to get used to not eating as often, but as they experience the wasteland, they will grow more accustomed to doing without so much food—their bodies will grow harder, leaner[4] and far more efficient. This is a corollary with the foot/water/rest, as in the REALISM you would have us believe is that we get famished quickly and need two or three cans of beans. Two or three cans?! We didn’t really need that before all the destruction. Is it some psychological need to consume all we can because all we see around is need and want? If it is REALISM you want to convey, have us need less and less the higher level attained. Basically, if all things are considered, there would be too much REALISM to program, so the argument boils down to a null value. Make it fum with some “realism”. I ask that you please just follow my Ultimate Suggestion offered later in the programming.

Console Disabling: I know this only effects PC users, but, let’s face it: the game is buggy. With the Saves and Fast Travel turned off, and the console disabled, there’s no way to “un-stick” myself by traveling elsewhere or reloading the game. Disabling the console was the trifecta of a evil horse race. Not all of us used it to cheat or to circumvent the game REALISM (god mode). Some of us just wanted to NOT be frustrated with the bugginess of the game, knowing we have a quick fix that won’t cause us to completely waste our time re-doing a portion of it because we fell into a crevice in somewhere in the Glowing Sea…

Now we come to the Ultimate Suggestion Offered Later in the Programming: Those of us who only play an hour or so a day are gamers too, even if we don’t devote 5/6 of our lives hooked up to the Steam-dialysis machine. We already suffer through the Cable TV crap of wanting a channel or two but having to deal with a whole package just to get the few things we want. Here it is: Customizable Survival Mode. Isn’t that what makes Fallout 4 the AMAZING game that it is? Making decisions and performing actions that make the world the way WE want it to be? We get to choose which faction ends up the victor, and which ones get wiped from the face of the wasteland. Some love to explore, others like to build and renovate, while others love the thrill of capping ghouls at 200 yards. Instead of lumping the current Survival Mode all together and ramming it down our throats as a package, let us select which challenges we want and forget the rest, make the whole game and the world in it our own? Why should we have to sacrifice the experience of the cooler challenges in Survival Mode because we would have to accept the tedious or annoying aspects that make it “not a game” for the sake of REALISM?

So, just like with the Fancy Lads Snack Cakes, there’s more than one in the package, so I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be able to have our cake and eat it too. How about it, Bethesda? Make FO4 awesome for everyone.

 

[1] I’m not sure if this is a glitch or not. I mean, if my enemies are already tougher, why is damn-near every random encounter I’m having with an Alpha/Skull-level enemy?

[2] That’s how I found the gem of dialogue, when Piper goes on about “The Treasure is You!”

[3] That’s from the same bit of dialogue from Piper. Seriously, take her to find the Treasure.

[4] Nora already looks to be in pretty good shape, considering that, when the story commenced, she had an infant still young enough to put up with swaddling. Nate, it could be argued, already spent time doing without a decent meal while he was serving in the Army. Unless he was a pencil pusher instead of someone actually involved in combat, in which case he had no business giving a speech that begins “War… war never changes.”

Two weeks ago I brought up several stories which I call my favorites, and that naturally brought me to the idea of influence. You hear the phrases bandied about often by any creative types–“I consider such-and-such my greatest influence”, as in “As a composer, I find Mozart and John Williams to be my greatest influences” for an example, or directors cite earlier movies that formed their interest in the silver screen.

Certainly, as a writer, I count many, many authors and stories among my influences. All writers generally do–after all, that initial exposure to tales that transport us to other worlds or realities far from our own personal experiences engender the desire in some readers to craft our own. Fredrik Pohl, Harlan Ellison, Harry Harrison, John Haldeman, Doyle, Tolkien, Lewis, Shakespeare etc. all count high on my list of literary inspirations.

But… what about other influences, such as music? Take my first example, with music above. I frequently listen to music while writing, matching the mood/tone with whatever I am trying to write. Umbra (and all of its previous iterations) came flying from my fingertips with an ample dose of Alice in Chains, early Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden pounding in my ears. For my darker fantasy stories like “The Falconer and the Wolf“, one of my favorite bands to get me in the right atmosphere is Dead Can Dance. When sketching notes for The Light of Liberty, I turned to Barry Phillips and his version of “The World Turned Upside Down” along with other American Colonial period tunes.

Are there any more? Of course there are. Many people have incorporated their likes and hobbies into their writing. Some cozy mysteries, for example, are based around knitting. My character Ennid the Havoc and his escapades are influenced by my love of MMA (that’s Mixed Martial Arts for those not yet initiated into its primal awesomeness). My interest in genetics features heavily in Clones are People Two. Even if the things we like aren’t at the forfront, we sometimes insert it in small ways. I love goats (Casey, from Umbra), I think rhinos are awesome and I smith silver (both of which will appear in The Opal Necklace, release date TBD) and I’ve an interest in raptors and falconry.

It’s all very simple–EVERYTHING can be an influence on our creativity, and EVERYTHING should be. It’s from these somewhat disparate ideas and influences that some of our richest “juices” flow.

 

 

Quite recently, a writer friend who comes to me for advice told me that he is glad I have standards. I laughed, but denied that the standards were necessarily mine. They’re not, in fact, but the culmination of millennia of oral tradition and tales of heroes. Good stories hit on touchpoints, on lows and highs as they run their characters through the wringers of conflict, and games of emotional tug-of-war.

Stories that are stories have a basic skeleton, or hangar upon which they hang. I can liken this to fashion design. At the minimum, stories consist of words strung into sentences, piled into paragraphs. Think of the words/paragraphs as the fabric. If you are making a dress, for example, you have to follow a certain format—essentially a long garment that covers some fraction of the torso with some type of bodice or halter, of varying lengths of beyond-the-ankles to just covering the crotch.1 That statement itself implies that even though there is a basic structure, the format can encompass many shapes subject only to the designer’s imagination.2 Fashion designers learn the basics of dress construction and then learn how to play with the rules and create bizarre monstrosities only appealing to Lady Gaga… but it’s still a dress. irisvanherpencapriole-0780-682x1024[1].jpg

The writer is no different. He must know the rules and know them well before he can break them.

What is the framework, or hangar, for a story? Well, they have to have beginnings, middles and ends. All good stories have them. But just having these does not a story make. I can tell you about my day, which begins with me waking up, brushing my teeth, continues to the middle where I have lunch (sometimes by myself and sometimes I go out with my co-workers), or the end where I brush my teeth and go to bed. Is that a story? Not really. Nothing exciting happens, nothing that would make anyone feel that their time wasn’t wasted by me relating nothing more than a series of events.

So what else does it need? I hinted at it already—something exciting. Let’s say that instead of waking up and continuing my routine as normal, I had to stop at the bank and on that very day, the bank was robbed while I was in it. That’s exciting, sure (not that I ever want that to happen while I am at the bank, although I couldn’t tell you the last time I was actually in one). But okay, there was a bank robbery and I was there.

The story needs something else. It needs something unexpected to happen. That element, if nothing else, can become the whole reason the story exists, the single point on which the whole story hangs. Let’s keep the above scenario and set it up. Say I am someone of strict routine, who is never late and never varies from that safe, comfortable routine. Only this morning I realized I forgot to deposit the paycheck in the bank and I wrote a check for the mortgage and mailed it yesterday, so if I don’t get funds in the account it will mess everything up. So I am irritated, because I’ve got to stop at the bank (which further messes up my routine and ticks me off even more), and then the customer in front of me is taking a while and leaning in to talk to a distraught-looking teller, and I just have to get moving, and when I vent my frustration uncharacteristically, the customer in front of me turns around just enough to show me his gun, and instead of running or screaming like a frightened little social justice snowflake at the sight of a firearm, I pick up the teller’s ten pound marble nameplate, whack the guy on the head and step over his unconscious body so I can deposit my check with the flabbergasted teller and get on my way.

Where does a story like that get started? It could start with the routine, to establish that I am a creature of habit who is likely to fly off the handle and do odd things when I experience disruptions, reiterating that the routine is tantamount to my happiness, and therefore the desire is to remain in it.3 It could start with my discovery of that item that changes the direction of my day. It has a middle where the tension builds as I come across the bank robber, which also lends itself to a hint at what the twist will be like—something going on with the money in the bank. It ends when I’ve dealt with him and taken steps to repair the normalcy I crave.

Plenty of writers and those who teach creative writing will tell me I am wrong, or I haven’t covered all of the criteria. That’s okay, we all have different ways of seeing the same thing. I will recommend several of these learned individuals who have published good frameworks for stories. They are:

  • Joseph Campbell’s works. Must-reads, all of them, for any writer.campbell-joseph-the-hero-with-a-thousand-faces[1].jpg
  • Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s 45 Master Characters. Not so much for the characters, but the priceless section in the second half of the book on the Masculine (based heavily on Campbell) and Feminine Journeys.thN6LAS0EA.jpg
  • Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! Yes, it’s a book on screenwriting, but a quick, fun and informative read.save-the-cat[1].jpg

The last two especially have been priceless tools for me. I don’t necessarily write to their format, but when I’ve hit a slump or something feels like it’s missing in my story, I will hold up the scenes to their framework and I usually see that they are skewed to one end or the other (or both!) and ask myself if the “stages” they spell out lend any ideas to new scenes that would help tie the bookends together. I’ve never come away not having a new scene or two that move the story more coherently. Next time you write or read a story (or watch a movie) that seems to drag, or be too talky, or seems incoherent, it could be because it’s missing something from the framework that helps to make it a true story and not just a series of loosely-related or random events.

(By the way, years ago I ran my tied-for-first favorite movie of all time,4 The Road Warrior, through Schmidt’s/Campbell’s Masculine Journey and the story rocks it, dead on. Can’t get any better than that.)

1Originally I wanted to say that reached to the thighs but modern fashions have shortened the dress to some fairly revealing lengths… or not to length, as the case would be.

2I have to wonder from where some of their imaginations spring…

3For the record, I am not OCD. At least not most of the time. My closet is about the only place where I have standards. No wire hangers. Nothing but black hangers, all the same shape and size. Call me ‘hangerist’ if you like.

4What’s the other? Fury Road, of course. George Miller is a master director, and a lot can be learned about storytelling from him.

DISCLAIMER: Unapologetic Spoilers (If you read on, don’t blame me. You’ve been warned)

My obsession with the post-apocalypse began decades ago with George Miller’s genre-defining films, and the Wasteland and Fallout video games. Enough so, that last year (2014) I published two collections that feature some post-apoc stories (“Treasure” in Morsels and the “Ain’t No Coffee” chapter of Melange[1]) as well as a PA mystery novel, Umbra.

They pale in comparison to the mighty prosthetic strength of George Miller.

Completely skeptical in many arenas, I had been hearing about Fury Road for years, when it was an on-again, off-again project for the Happy Feet / Witches of Eastwick / Babe, Pig in the City director. He explored anime as a possible avenue, and there were brief rumors about Shia LeBouf taking the role of Max’s kid (I’m glad he failed that experiment with Indiana Jones instead). I also wasn’t sure what to make of a Mad Max who wasn’t going to be played by Mel Gibson. Remake after remake shows they don’t often get better, and most of the time are worse for all of the gimmicks and none of the story-meat.

So, I watched the trailers, and wasn’t completely turned off. Good sign.

First, the movie NEVER LETS UP. There are scarce moments to breathe, and the “slow” points in the movie don’t really drop its pace. Like downshifting, but the car is still rolling a pace that could snap your neck if you braked too hard. Except for an extremely short introduction in the very beginning (rather like The Road Warrior, but without the montage) you are dumped into the chase. Period. Miller is a master of showing, not telling, with only one very tiny, practically gasped “info-dump”. Otherwise, you glean the narrative organically as the story unfolds through action. This IS a car/rig movie, however, so those of you who just wanted to see souped-up, weaponized and apocalyptisized (yes, I just made that up) versions of vintage cars, look no further.

It also gives no quarter—just when you thought you came up for air, you find yourself smothered in dust cloud. Not everyone gets the happy ending, and one of the most heart-breaking moments in the movie comes in one of these gasps.

Anyway…

Storytellers and directors, take note: THIS is the way to do strong women in movies. Don’t insert them where they don’t belong just to 1) appeal to a young female audience and 2) bring sex incidentally into a film. Not that there’s any sex involved, at least not overtly, and not in the act of pleasure kind of way. Mostly, it’s for procreation. Or lack of. (the chastity belts worn by the brides are positively feral looking, although I think I would have kept it on until I reached my destination. Talk about your rape deterrant!). Believe it or not, there is a tiny romance subplot between a bride and one of the half-life War boys, and it’s handled a little too roughly to start, but it “moves” into its own. But the women here are strong, supportive and determined to escape and survive without having to be glammed up to do it. I could easily see myself as one of the Vuvalini (assuming I would want to survive in a post-apocalypse).

A few gimmicky moments exist to play up on the 3D version of the film (most notably the shot near the end with the guitar and the flying steering wheel), but these can be forgiven. George Miller always did have a little fun in his films, with the odd juxtaposition of the ultra-violent and quirky humor (see the exchange between Papagallo and the Mechanic).

Was there a soundtrack? Yes, there was, but the frenetic energy is so pervasive that the “music” is lost. Except for one well-placed, drop-of-the-bass dub invasion. Thanks, Junkie XL.

There are plenty of moments that call back the older movies, such as when Max, wielding a short-barreled side-by-side shotgun goes to blow some guy’s hand off and the round fizzles.[2] There is a moment when one of the brides is playing with the innards of a music box.[3] Hugh Keays-Byrne, as everyone who knows Mad Max knows, played the Toecutter in that film.[4]

Toecutter2-1

There’s even a momentary, overt nod to another director’s film, The Dark Crystal, by having people on long stilts very much reminiscent of the landstriders ridden by Jen and Kira (don’t have a still from MM:FR, so if you want to see it, BUY A TICKET!!!!).

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Count on George Miller to introduce characters with medical issues and/or prosthetics. We know the post-apoc “look” which he created in The Road Warrior went on to infect 80’s hair bands with the feathers and football gear as armor, but his inclusions called on his former career as an emergency room physician. In Mad Max it was the young cop forced to use the electrolarynx after his chase of the Nightrider leaves him with a shard of windshield glass in his throat. In the second, the most notable is the Mechanic, not confined to a wheelchair but held aloft by a cherry-picker like device cobbled together to get him around the equipment. In the third, there is Master-Blaster, a duo whose brain makes up for his lack of stature, and the brawn of which he rides to make up for his weakness for which he serves (and loves) paternally. Then, there is this movie, when it becomes a staple. Imperator Furiosa is the first notable, with her prosthetic arm, and Immortan Joe of course, but then there are the myriads of those with tumors and missing limbs, etc.

Tom Hardy’s Max is an extremely worthy successor to Mel Gibson’s Officer Rockatansky.[5] There’s more than a little nod to Bane there, George, in his and Immortan Joe’s get-ups.[6] Enough said.

latest Hugh-Keays-ByrneImmortan-Joe-Mad-Max-Fury-Road

So, this one is already going to be on my shelf the moment it is released on Blu-Ray.

AND… I have heard there is already a second/fifth one planned, called Mad Max: The Wasteland. I, for one, am looking forward to it

 

 

[1] Which are available for free on Smashwords, and possibly Amazon if they caught up. Read them and let me know what you think!

[2] From The Road Warrior, during the rig battle, when Max discovers the shell he picked up in the beginning of the movie from the dead man on the “Meek Shall Inherit” truck is a dud.

[3] Also from The Road Warrior, and also during the beginning after the battle with Wez, when he finds the music movement and later gives to the Feral Kid.

[4] Calling up of course that George Miller borrows actors from his own movies as well. I address this in another post, here.

[5] That name shows up, by the way, in House of God, Samuel Shem’s novel about a teaching hospital. George Miller finished medical school before he became a director, so might have some interest in reading that novel. Coincidence? I leave you to decide.

[6] Then again, isn’t Bane a little more “Road Warrior” than “Batman” anyway?

I fight through the gila monsters, hordes of raiders and a few desert dwellers, turning them all into a thin, red paste in order to retain my claim to the treasure tucked carefully away inside my backpack.  I’ve been waiting for this for ALMOST 30 YEARS!  At last, the prize is mine!

As I reach my cozy little bunker, far away from the radiation zones where my Geiger counter sits silent instead of clacking away, the excitement and tension are palpable in the cloistered air.  Booting up the old kitbashed Commodore 64, I remove the carefully wrapped package, pop in the disk and proceed to install WASTELAND 2.

*****************************

So I purchased this some time ago, but my writing schedule did not permit me to play it.  I admit freely that I can be easily sucked into playing a video game for hours, but I have plenty of self-discipline to not let it turn me into the freak that lives off of cheese puffs and Mountain Dew in their mother’s basement whose only exposure is a trip to answer the door when the UPS or FedEx guy drops off that special collector’s edition Mad Meltdown Mayhem III.  However, I had been eagerly awaiting this one, as stated, for 30 YEARS!  Not that the Fallout series wasn’t fabulous (all of the games are), but Wasteland was the one that got me started, back in the day.  I was a young girl then, and when my brother bought the game and installed it on his Commodore 64 (two disks, double-sided, had to be copied*), I couldn’t wait to get my fingers on that keyboard.

And so it is…

First, I made a team loosely based on my characters from Umbra.  [The following may contain some SPOILERS, if you haven’t read the novel or played either of the games.]  There’s Shaw with his beard and boonie, Mance with his youthful stature and mussed hair, without the robes he wore in the novel, however.  And there’s Vera.  I am absolutely delighted to say that within three minutes of starting the game, she had her goat following her.  Now, Aberforth isn’t Casey, but I can’t get everything I want.  And to round out the team, I included hefty meatsmasher Deergut to give my team a little heavy weapons and brute force.  Deergut wasn’t in Umbra, but he will showing up in one of the sequels…

 WL2 Umbra

It was nice to see the “old faces” in the game, namely General Vargas (‘Snake’), Angela Death**, Thrasher and Hell Razor, and sadly, Ace as a corpse. Makes me wonder who else I am going to see***…

What also got me excited was that they tried to stay true to the locations, as well.  The Ag Center map is much like the map from the original Wasteland, with its desk area at the front, the long corridor in the center and the two garden areas off to the side, complete with the satellite dishes. The Ranger Center, now moved to the Citadel where they originally fought off hordes of evil nuns, even has the museum room with the Secpass in the display. (I guess the Quasar key you found there was left behind at Cochise.)

As for the soundtrack, they get extra kudos for bringing in Mark Morgan who created the music for Fallout 1 & 2.  Anyone who reads me knows I am very picky about soundtracks for games/movies like these, but I can’t say enough about Mark Morgan’s work. “Radiation Storm”, the track played during the Vault Dweller‘s trip to The Glow, still gives me the chills when I hear it.  Talk about creeptastic.  If anything, I am looking to progress through the game not just for the storyline and entertainment of playing an RPG, but for the music Morgan brings to the game.

I was really happy to be playing an isometric style game.  I loved the original Wasteland with its sprite-ful overhead view and the combat screens with portraits and descriptors (note that ‘thin, red paste’ I inserted above. And don’t forget to bring the blood sausage!), and I really grew to love the visuals of Fallout.  This game is no different, giving it a retro but not too retro feel.  I am able to accomplish a lot of tactics that I enjoyed setting up, like the crouch and headshot (headshots! woot!) for my sniper in order to get the ‘party’ started, and I like the ambush function.  My only gripe with that feature, however, is that they ALL shoot/aim for the same target on the ambush.  I wouldn’t mind having a simple “wait” so that my sniper, for example, could use her turn on the high-value targets instead of the fodder that can be cleaned up with a club or a simple burst from an SMG when they wander into firing range.  If they change this in an update (which they may already have, but my internet connection is spotty so getting the old computer to a place to DL them is a trip rather than a normal occurence), I will be one happy camper.

I could go on and on, but I think a full play-through will be necessary, and probably more than one, since the very beginning of the game sets it up for multiple playthroughs with different outcomes.  I’ve been having a grand time getting in an hour of gametime a day, so I see this one keeping my schedule occupied for quite a while.  So far, I am going to give the game 4-1/2 out of 5 mushroom clouds.

 

*This was done so that changes made during gameplay were maintained throughout the world, something few if any other games did at the time.  You couldn’t go blow a place up, leave the local map and come back to find everything intact.  Your actions mattered.  This is fairly standard now, but a lot of credit goes to the developers for the persistence of behavior and consequences in Wasteland.  Of course, if I wanted to play the same area over again, I could make another copy of that side of the disk and play ‘fresh’.  I suspect that was how a lot of people, myself included, got their Rangers absurdly high promotions.

**Minor break in continuity, if you had the Strategy Guide from the original Wasteland like I do (yes, I still have my copy).  Angela gets fatally gutted and they leave her behind, and SOMEONE is an android.  Good reading though.

***I hope the reference to the ‘blue woman’ is actually ‘purple’ and happens to be Charmaine, one of my favorite characters from the original game.

So, yes, I know the movies isn’t exactly this summer’s blockbuster, but when I read back over some of my old posts from a different site, I noticed a glaringly obvious snafu.  I promised a review of The Book of Eli when it came out, but I never delivered.

Well, ‘never’ is such an absolute term.  And I am here to rectify my error and nullify that ‘never’.

The Book of Eli stars Denzel Washington as Eli, most often referred to as ‘The Walker’ for the duration of the movie (in fact, his name is said only once, and is written once on a tag and carved into stone).  Mila Kunis plays Solara, the girl who becomes his sidekick by circumstances addressed in the film.

Post-Apoc, this baby takes the cake, eats it and bakes us another one.  The visuals in this movie capture all of the bleak and decaying landscape fans of PA and games like Fallout and Wasteland could ever desire.  One particular scene of Eli peering up at the broken, curving highway directly recalls similar images from Fallout 3’s Capital Wasteland.

The music was very hit or miss for me.  If anyone’s read my review of The Road, they would know that I favor a ‘less is more’ soundtrack for films like this.  Part of the scoring with the languid, melancholy cello seemed perfect, like endless drifting.  Too much of the heavier ‘rock-like’ music felt invasive.  The insertions of other music via the iPod or the radio felt right, and also seemed like something pulled from Fallout (I especially loved the ‘soothing’ song, ‘Ring My Bell’.  Proved this film had a sense of humor, too.)  Fans of Fallout 3 will also find a familiar face (voice) but I won’t spoil that.

I generally love anything Denzel involves himself in, and this film is not an exception to that.  Not a huge fan of Mila Kunis, but she didn’t grate on me in this film, although her character didn’t develop as much as I’d like.

SPOILER ALERT:

The ending image bothered me in that it seemed too amorphous.  I would have liked to see a complete circle happen in this story.  Having her take some of the Bibles with her would have given the sense of completion.  Eli brought the Bible to the place he intended, and now she is taking it (them) away, on another trip, to distribute.

END SPOILER ALERT:

In all, the only gripe I had with The Book of Eli was a very personal one: some of the images I found in the movie were ones I had already written into a very early draft of Umbra: A Post-Apocalyptic Mystery.  Some things that I conjured up seemed too familiar, too similar and so I felt forced to abandon those particular scenes and characters I had grown to love for fear of being labeled a plagarist.  Someone may still point out that a few of the ones I left in were still enough to evoke those similarities between the two, but for some reason or another, I couldn’t give them up, and they stay, albeit as modified as I could bear to change them.  In a very odd way, I suppose it’s flattering.  After all, the movie proved that some of the ideas I came up with would work, and work well.  (This happened to me quite a few times, sadly enough, while writing other stories during my childhood and early teenage years, when I began to think that someone was copying ideas from my brain.  At least that’s the only logical explanation.  I will just say that one of the Predator stories, as told by Dark Horse comics, is frighteningly close to ideas I developed in unpublished fan fiction.  Cree~py.)

Overall, I liked the movie. 4/5 Mushroom Clouds.

In the middle of NaNoWriMo, I have chosen to forego some of my word count in favor of a vacation. True, I had planned to take a break way back in the distant past (July 2014. Ancient times, you know) but in choosing not to write as much as I normally do per day during this month, I have been able to let some of the ideas simmer. And like anyone who makes spaghetti sauce (or tomato gravy, if you happen to be from Philly), the more they simmer the thicker and tastier it gets. Unfortunately, instead of the ideas for my NaNoWriMo novel, I found some ideas for the sequel to Umbra worked their way into my brain. Can’t entirely fault it, but it’s just as well, since I had been deciding whether or not to restructure my schedule and do the sequel earlier in 2015. Now I’m actually pretty eager to let the ideas get out and play around on the page. So Shaw and Vera and the others may just be making appearances earlier than expected. Stay tuned.

With the rise in the last several years of movies and books with dystopian or post-apocalyptic themes, the reporting media (as usual) does not take a careful look at the particular connotation behind these two terms.

Rule #1:  ‘Dystopia’ and ‘Post-apocalyptic’ are NOT synonymous.

‘Dystopia’ refers to the community or society.  ‘Post-Apocalypse’ refers to the milieu, setting, and is essentially a world-building term, of the locale after the Apocalypse.

The latest dystopian work to reach the masses, The Hunger Games, contains both dystopian elements and post-apocalyptic, but the latter only in a superficial and lazy way (never truly defined).  Mostly, it bases its storytelling on the interaction of the people within this society to ‘current’ events.

Rule #2:  Apocalyptic events often create Dystopias.

The society Panem from The Hunger Games could just as well have arisen from modern politics without the intervention of some apocalypse, in that the series of laws created eventually funneled the society into the state where it happens to be at the time of the novels, when the sheeple have given up their power to the government.  (Another aside: note that they tried once and failed, and gave up after that.  If they allow themselves to be so easily trod upon, then they deserve the government they got.)

Rule #3: Dystopias can beget a man-made Apocalypse

Nineteen Eighty-Four, by far the most famous, also has both elements to give it background, but by and large is dystopian.  It is about the people within the proscribed society.

For another example, I would personnally argue that Mad Max isn’t so much a dystopia as a film of anarchy slipping towards its apocalypse hinted at in the introductory montage in The Road Warrior.  Still, it shows that the societies that are created or born from the bad decisions of mad can eventually lean toward the type of mentality that would unleash its own post-apocalypse.

Rule #4:  Not all Apocalypses are created equal.

Zombie apocalypse abounds in our world.  In my youth, during the Cold War, the threat of a Nuclear Apocalypse reigned (and is still, ironically, my ‘favorite’ PA theme and may or may not be the ‘Visitation of the Fallen Suns’ alluded to in the first novel, Umbra: A Post-Apocalyptic Mystery).  The Road Warrior came from this era, as did one of my favorite games of all time, Wasteland (and its nearly 30 years in the making sequel, as well as the beloved ‘Fallout‘ series.)  The threat of pervasive, mutating radiation infecting everything for decades or hundreds of years, along with the (now-disproven) threat of a ‘nuclear winter‘ seemed just too juicy to not spawn some of the greatest PA works of all time.  (Now there’s also a discussion of a ‘nuclear summer’, for the global-warming hangers-on.)  Of course it had its stinkers too, like World Gone Wild, with Adam Ant and Steel Dawn, with Patrick Swayze, God rest his soul.

But what about all those other ones?  Day of the TriffidsWaterworld?  One of my favorite (and arguably one of the only ‘romance’ novels I will ever read, let alone love) – The Silver Metal Lover?  They introduce their own type of apocalypse (blindness/sentient and malevolent plants and melted polar ice caps for the global-warmers, and pollution/asteroid interference, respectively) and all of these are directly influential on the events that occur in the novel.

There are still plenty of differences, and I am sure to revisit this post as time permits to add a few more of my observations, and I invite you to research and suggest some of your own.

The end of the week, I mean, and the beginning of something altogether different. Kind of like the end of the world (as we know it) isn’t going to be the end of everything per se. To quote Aslan, it is only the beginning. But, as the typical workweek goes, the end is near (or nigh, if you prefer) and now it’s time for the fun to begin: the Weekend Media Review.

How could I possibly start this Weekend Media Review posting without mentioning my favorite movie of all time, The Road Warrior. Directed by George Miller (the same guy who brought us The Witches of Eastwick and Babe. Yes, that Babe.) this movie gave birth to the iconic look for the post-apocalypse (along with the punk movements, or is it the other way around?) for decades to come. The Road Warrior also raised the stakes in the car chase scenes, throwing bevies of cobbled road-rejects together -along with an innovative sky chase with the quirky Gyro Captain. Chase scenes in this movie weren’t just for the thrill of speed or just to get away from the bad guy, but they became central to the subplot of the survival of the people in the “village.” A need for speed that transcends – imagine that. This film, admittedly, could have been placed in a western setting*, with a town’s fight for survival because of the one commodity they owned, but we wouldn’t have had those fabulous punks and super-adrenaline chase scenes. Horses are beautiful creatures, and they’re not that expendable. So it’s excused. And George Miller needed a segue for Beyond the Thunderdome. And Fury Road, if it ever gets made as a real movie and not as anime.

What about Max? “Mad” Max Rockatansky already devolved into a heartless killing machine in Mad Max, but in this film, we see him follow the path of the Hero and rise above the self-centered anti-social ex-cop. Miller’s storyline fits the pattern unabashedly of the three-act character growth story.

Act I: Max runs around doing his own thing until the Gyro Captain challenges him to get what Max thinks he wants more than anything else: more fuel (literally, more fuel to keep him going in his old lifestyle, to run the wild roads by himself and stay away from the bad guys). Faced with the challenge, he also is forced to face something else – namely, his own self and his motivations. The people of the town ask him if that is what he really wants – to continue on his pointless crusade of “days go by” and he blows them off. While he experiences a little success in getting the tanker for the people of the town through the baddies’ blockade, all he manages to do is get himself back into trouble with enemies who have all the more reason to hold a grudge. Then when these people come to his aid, he finally realizes No Man is an Island and decides to help them. What does he get for it? The realization they used him as the proverbial red herring. The old Max, the Max of Mad Max, born of vengeance, disappears. Suddenly, he’s laughing at himself, and the pre-friends-and-family-brutalized-and-murdered Max is back.

The Road Warrior, while following the character growth structure so well, manages to create an interesting juxtaposition of the “world upside down” style. Most movies depict “life as usual” and drop an unwitting character into a situation where he/she rises above their everyday selves to become a hero when events turn a little crazy so they can return to their “normal” world. In Miller’s story, nuclear war distorted what is normal and made anarchy the reigning queen of the day. The “upside down” is where Max encounters a village still governed by order and civility, nothing like what he became used to in the outback.

Miller’s characters are over-the-top bizarre, including his good guys (note: Miller was a medical doctor before he became a director, and his movies tend to include at least one character with some type of medical issue, such as the man in the wheelchair in this one, or the cop in Mad Max forced to use the electrolarynx after the accident which slit his throat). As stated previously, the look of the film is groundbreaking and everyone that came after with something even slightly post-apoc lifted from The Road Warrior. Weird Science not only borrowed the gestalt of the character Wez, they even lifted the same actor to parody himself. Even Wells’ character in Commando draws from it.

Besides all of the above analysis, The Road Warrior is just a damn fine movie, a great flick to watch with your girlfriend on a Friday night. Well, maybe. That is, if your girlfriend is like me.

Meltdown Café: 10/10

IMDB: 7.6/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%

Flixster: 75%

*Note: Vernon Wells (Wez) sports a mullet mohawk, wears chaps and flaps with his arse free to the wind, shoots (cross)bow bolts and rides a motorcycle with his not-so-‘squaw’ behind him. Tell me that isn’t lifted and tweaked right from a Western. Go on, tell me.

(Originally published on The Meltdown Cafe 7 AUG 2009