The Daily Shaft Archive

5

Indefinite Hiatus

This is proving harder to write than I expected. Let’s start with the fundamentals, and then get into the relevant details.

I’m not dying.

To the best of my knowledge, and the knowledge of two surgeons and one hematologist, I don’t have cancer. Though I did have a cancer scare. I bring this up only to say that said cancer scare – or the very small, outside chance of cancer in my immediate future – has nothing to do with this decision.

I’m putting the brakes on the Page of Reviews because, in most ways, it has served its purpose.

I started writing this website in 2009 because I thought I had lost something as a writer. A previous project of mine turned sour – very sour. It was the kind of project born of the limitless ambition (and arrogance) that comes with being a recent university graduate, intent on making himself the second coming of Christopher Hitchens. It was also the kind of project that alienated people I thought were friends. Granted they turned out to be little more than emotional baggage, but who can know these things at the time.

Nonetheless, I wanted…needed something in my life to help me find some footing. And the truth is this, I started The Page of Reviews without any intention of it running for nearly six years. I thought it was a lark that would last me six months, at most. Then a stranger, now a friend, called Matt Moore came along and offered me something unexpected: legitimacy.

You know the rest of the story. This website has been my personal brand since before I cared about things like personal brands. People who I would have otherwise never met now know me and my writing because of this website.

Beyond the vanity of feeling like I’m part of something bigger, I’ve used this website as my forum for arguing that a critical and thoughtful discourse is important to building a meaningful popular and artistic culture. And yet, I look at the work I’m doing here of late and there’s one word that comes to mind: safe.

This website is my kingdom. The only editorial voice here is my own. There’s a freedom in that. There’s also something else, though. It is a notion I couldn’t properly express until I came upon a line of dialogue in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: a person shouldn’t train alone, because then they are practicing their mistakes.

There’s no one here to challenge me. I can read critical theory books until I drown in praxis, but it won’t offer me a voice – save for my own insecurity – that says, “Adam, this idea could be better. Fix it.”

I heard those voices this year. They came from writers and editors who I respect (and often stand in awe of) telling me that my work shows promise. Someone even went so far as to say my work is good. But those voices are going to be few and far between if I spend most of my time splashing about in the tide pool.

My finite writing hours are spent doing the same old things, over and over, to the point where they have become rote. When I do come across an interesting idea, I’m afraid to develop it past 800 words for fear of breaking the limited attention spans people dedicate to blogs. Granted, selling long form writing – even for exposure (sigh) – is no walk in the park, but I feel I owe it to myself to have the chance to write bigger or different things, rather than doing the same work out of a sense of inertia.

I love this website. I love writing it, and I love you people for reading it. But I can’t have the freedom to do something new while working to twice or thrice weekly deadlines here. I need the freedom to do a twelve-part, one-off podcast, for example, without worrying that it will get in the way of writing the Page of Reviews. I need space to make mistakes without putting them to the public eye to appease a self-imposed production schedule.

In short, I need to know if I can do better as a writer. It could be I’m as mediocre as I’m afraid I am, and a year from now I’ll be right back here with nothing but a year’s worth of ignored/rejected pitches, essays, and short fiction to show for it. But I’ll never know if I can do better if I don’t make the effort.

So it’s not the end. It’s not goodbye. So long as I live, I’ll keep the Page of Reviews online, but the days of new content are coming to a close – unless I fail spectacularly in my attempt to grow as a writer. For the time being, www.adamshaftoe.com is my new home base online.

I’ll still be checking my Page of Reviews email every day for the next year or so. And I’ll still be rambling about this, that, and the other thing on twitter. So, honestly, it’s not good bye. With any luck, the best is yet to come.

 

1

The Force Awakens Predictions: Part 2 – Redraw the Map

This week I’m diving head long into some hype for The Force Awakens. The first part of this post saw my longshot theory on how JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan are going to take us from The Rebel Alliance to the Resistance. Today’s theory is considerably more boring, but it’s probably a more likely narrative interregnum.

Theory 2 – The Alliance to Restore the Republic worked – to an extent

Return of the Jedi ends with everybody partying on Endor and (sigh) wipe cuts to all the good times people are having across the galaxy. Chuck Wendig takes the piss out of Lucas’ retconned big happy ending with Star Wars: Aftermath. On that note, let’s presume that Mon Mothma and Admiral Ackbar are able to hold the New Republic together against the machinations of Admiral Rae Sloane and the Supreme Commander.

Sloane and the Supreme Commander are faced with a triage situation. Star Wars: Aftermath shows us that there’s no way they can hold on to their traditional power. Reduced to an armada unified by ideology, the Imperial forces would have little choice but to retreat en masse to the Outer Rim. This strategic withdrawal would allow the Republic to establish its control over the core worlds and the Mid Rim. Essentially, we end up with a version of what we had in the old extended universe novels. The Galaxy Far Away is home to two competing supra nations: the New Republic and the Imperial Remnant First Order.

How does this get us to The Force Awakens? Two words: Cold War.

After transitioning from the Clone Wars to the Empire to the Galactic Civil War, it is safe bet that the Galaxy Far Away is living with some serious war weariness. The First Order, driven from its power base in the core, needs to establish supply lines to keep its armada alive. The Republic needs to establish a system of government that doesn’t depend on fear and intimidation. The emphasis on both sides of the line is stabilization, without playing at full-scale military operations.

Assuming neither side can afford to engage in total war, the New Republic might adopt a strategy of proxy warfare against the First Order. Admiral Ackbar could send specialists and support groups to aid local malcontents against their occupiers.  Over time, these individual cells could become more cohesive, ultimately leading to a formal Outer Rim Resistance movement. I expect their end game would be about denying the First Order its safe harbours and forcing them to over saturate men and material on certain planets. I mean, why the hell else would anybody want to occupy a shit hole looking planet like Jakku?

The line between the Republic and the Order needn’t be limited to territory, either. It would make sense for the First Order to rewrite history on their side of the line. They can’t have the shit hole planets of the Outer Rim knowing that their salvation is just a hyperspace jump away. It might also explain why Rey thinks the Jedi are just fairy tale and not recent history.

Odds of this being right?

I’m going to say 3:1.

I can’t see the Empire carrying on like it is business as usual in the wake of Endor, at least not considering the events seen in Star Wars: Aftermath.

The other thing that bothers me about the idea of the Republic falling and the Resistance growing out of its ashes is the new X-Wings we’ve seen in the trailers. Those look like improved models over the ones we saw in Jedi. If the First Order took over the entire galaxy, one might expect they would outlaw the production of the strike craft that have been responsible for the Empire’s most disastrous military failures. It’s not like they wouldn’t know who was making them for the New Republic/Resistance. Since one doesn’t make hyperspace capable starfighters in their basement like so many pipebombs, the Resistance would need to have a manufacturing base of some sort. And that tells me things can’t be that bad in the Galaxy Far Away.


1

Adam’s The Force Awakens Predictions: Part 1 – A Knife From The Shadows

We’re less than two weeks away from the release of The Force Awakens, and it’s time for Adam to jump aboard the hype(rspace) train. That’s right, even a cynical bastard like yours truly is counting down the days to a new Star Wars movie. Sure, there’s a significant non-zero chance the movie will be dreadful. Good music and decent editing made The Phantom Menace’s trailers augur a good movie. This said, I have a hard time imagining Lawrence Kasdan writing a movie worse than Attack of the Clones.

So let’s pass a bit of time with a two-part speculation fest about what’s gone on between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.

Based on what we’ve seen in the trailers, which do a fantastic job of channeling iconic images from A New Hope, it’s pretty safe to assume The Force Awakens wants to take things back to the drawing board. For example, young Luke is a “nobody” marked for greatness, and he lives on a desert planet. Rey calls herself “no one”, is marked for greatness, and lives on a different desert planet. The Empire had a super weapon in A New Hope, and now the First Order has its super weapon. Obi-Wan Kenobi trains and guides A New Hope’s archetypical hero; Han and Chewbacca, likewise old soldiers, fill the Chiron-esque role for Rey and Finn. A New Hope had a scrappy band of rebels taking on an evil empire, but this doesn’t make sense for The Force Awakens.

Chuck Wendig’s canonical novel (eat all the dicks, haters) Star Wars: Aftermath paints a picture of the Empire in complete disarray after Endor. Imperial starships and planets, alike, are defecting to the New Republic. Mon Mothma has established a new seat of government on Chandrillia. Admiral Ackbar’s military resources are so great that Mothma wants to begin scaling back the Republic’s navy. This tactical situation doesn’t really mesh with the notion of the The Force Awakens’ Resistance being poorly organized and out-matched by the First Order. The Republic, not the Resistance, should be meeting its opposition with squadrons of B-Wings, Mon Cal cruisers, and starbird-painted Star Destroyers. Various trailer scenes of X-Wings attacking absent capital ship support strike as odd.

Theory 1: The New Republic Collapsed/is Crippled

Suppose Mon Mothma’s idealism bit the Republic in its ass. I can imagine her and Admiral Ackbar getting into it over deployment levels and response rates as her idealism collides with his realpolitik. I can almost hear the cheers from within the New Republic’s senate as tax burdens are eased, military spending reduced – probably for the first time since the Clone Wars – and civil infrastructure projects, long neglected under Palpatine’s rule, finally get off the ground. And on the day Home One gets mothballed, BAM, Grand Admiral Rae Sloane shows up in orbit of Kuat, commanding an SSD strike force. Before the Republic can mobilize a response, she’s blown the hell out of the shipyards and beat a retreat. Days later, she pulls the same stunt at Corellia, then Fondor, and finally Mon Calamari, itself. There’s no need for the Empire to hold these systems when raiding them effectively cripples the Republic’s ability to build-up its forces. Absent their primary shipyards and maintenance facilities, the Republic navy would have to return to its roots as a rebel armada.

What would the Empire need to pull it off?

First and foremost, time. Even with some units defecting to the Republic, the Imperial navy is huge. If Rae Sloane and the mysterious Supreme Commander can secure a proper rear-operating base, complete with supply lines to feed and fuel the fleet, then they need only wait for Mon Mothma to make a tactical miscalculation.

Odds of this being right?

10:1 on this or a variation on the theme. Kasdan isn’t beyond going dark, and JJ is probably inclined to let him go there. More importantly, if The Force Awakens wants to get back to the roots of the franchise, then something very bad needs to happen to the ability of the Rebel Alliance to govern as the New Republic. Or more precisely, something needs to happen to the power that legitimizes the Republic’s ability to rule.

There’s also something else that stands out from Star Wars: Aftermath. At one point an Imperial character says, “The Sith thing to do is to wait until your enemy passes by and stab him from the shadows.”

The Sith from Knights of the Old Republic were opportunists and empire builders. Darth Revan’s greatest success came not from direct conflict with the Republic, but from attacking them from within. He took advantage of the Jedi’s arrogance, subverted their saviour, Bastila Shan, and carved out an empire for himself. What if the Supreme Commander, Rae Sloane, and Kylo Ren are that kind of Sith?

On Friday, I explore my more plausible, but infinitely more boring theory on The Force Awakens.


2

On Kilgrave and the Monster Inside All of Us

I’m currently seven episodes into Marvel’s Jessica Jones. At this point, I think Jessica Jones stands alone within the MCU as being something that is both profoundly meta and effortlessly didactic. Rather than getting into all of that, I want to talk about Kilgrave. More specifically, I want to talk about Kilgrave’s powers.

At first blush, Kilgrave’s power to compel anyone to do anything seems almost subdued. Within the pages of the Marvel universe and the MCU, there are beings blessed/cursed with much more grandiose abilities. Likewise, mind control is far from an original ability. Professor Xavier, for one, could reduce anyone on the planet to a meat puppet. Of course, Charles Xavier would never use his mutant gifts on something as crass as cheating at poker. Xavier is a paragon beyond the reach of mere mortals.

In contrast, I’ve seen Kilgrave use his powers to make money, skip the bill at restaurants, kill people, torture people, rape people and general shape the world around him. The thing that makes him, in my estimation, a stand-out villain within the MCU, a place where so many antagonists are little more than the opposite of the person headlining the movie/series, is the fact that Kilgrave’s powers would probably turn anyone into Kilgrave.

Think about yourself for a moment, dear reader. Are you a good person? Do you generally adhere to some sort of moral or personal code in your daily life? Now consider where that code comes from. Do your behaviors stem from a moral core that provides an immutable right way to live your life? Alternatively, are you good because you recognize, on either a conscious or unconscious level, that civil society depends on a social contract where individual needs are subordinate to a collective good?

In other words, what percentage of your interaction with society is governed by your fear of punishment? Now suppose something (e.g. Kilgrave powers) stripped away your obligation to said social contract. What if you were free to revert to a state of nature, a place of absolute freedom, while everyone else was still bound to a social contract? Would such freedom change you?

For all the good we think we have inside of us, Kilgrave’s ability to compel anyone to do anything, filtered through a personal lens, forces us to consider where our good natures come from. How could any person (other than Batman) resist using his powers? How many compromises could a person make to their self-identified good nature while using his abilities? When would a person cross the Rubicon between man and monster? When would the monster begin seeing themselves as a god?

Would you, gentle reader, Kilgrave a misogynist into a feminist? Given the chance, would you tell Donald Trump to go home and retire from public and private life? Would you use the power to talk yourself into a dream job? I’d probably do all three. And even after running headlong into Jessica Jones’ central ethos – that any act of coercion is a violation – I could probably come up with some way to rationalize my actions. And with each rationalization, I, a generally good person, take another step to becoming Kilgrave.

Kilgrave can then be seen as a meaningful example of what might happen to a normal person if they were given god-like powers. Arguably, none of the Avengers meet my definition of being normal. The unique circumstances that make them who they are (e.g. war hero, billionaire, royalty) prepare them for the responsibility that comes with being empowered beyond mere mortals. Also, Jessica Jones and Matt Murdoch may have powers, but they are hardly the equals of the Avengers in raw ability, and their early childhood is likewise a product of a heroic archetype. When I say normal, I mean someone born outside of the confines of Mr. Campbell’s monomyth.

Kilgrave powers speak to the common person because they can be applied in such utterly banal ways. Jessica Jones hints at this in the way Kilgrave uses his abilities to always get what he wants to eat. Imagine what would become of a person if they won every argument about where to go for supper, what to say on the office Christmas card, and who should take out the garbage? If a person never had to compromise, how long would it take before things like compassion and empathy atrophied? How long could a person be eternally right before the people who would dare to contradict them became tiresome pests? In such a mental place, tolerance and understanding become acts of largess rather than fundamental patterns of behavior.

On the opposite side of the coin, how long could a person use their Kilgrave powers before they created an existential void for themselves? Think here of Homer Simpson when he became the Chosen One. Would absolute power over others lead to isolation and alienation? While there’s a chance this distance from other people might make a person with Kilgrave powers cling to their humanity, it might also encourage them to use their abilities in the pursuit of new ways to fill the void.

Notwithstanding the old Wargames maxim that the only way to win is not to play, I don’t see how a person could use Kilgrave’s powers without progressively surrendering the behavioral constructions that make coexisting with other people possible. Courtesy, manners, and etiquette go out the window when a person can act like the most boorish of French monarchs absent any real consequence.

As superhero antagonists go, Kilgrave is something far removed from the likes of Doctor Doom, Whiplash, Loki, or Ronan the Accuser. Unlike most of the MCU’s rogues’ gallery, Kilgrave is not a foil for the protagonist. Rather, he is a foil for the audience. He exists to remind us of what we would become if we woke up with his powers. He is why we can never be Batman. It doesn’t matter who Kilgrave was before his powers, because we, as humans, are not uncompromising enough to wield them without becoming monsters. Only the truly saintly among us can look in the mirror and not see a Kilgrave waiting for his day in the sun.


0

Trailer Takedown: Captain America: Civil War

Last week the internet lost its collective mind over the trailer for Captain America: Civil War. Critics and media experts, alike, took to their mediums to see who could twitch out the most original (but still exceedingly derivative) explanation for what a big deal it is for the MCU to take on the Marvel Civil War.

As I watched the trailer, I thought about three things.

First, what drugs does a person have to be on to think this trailer heralds the best movie ever?

Second, where can I get some of those drugs?

Third, at what point in the movie will Cap take Bucky to a redneck bar for a little slow dancing.

There is no way I’m the only person looking at this trailer and seeing superheroes so far in the closet they are finding last year’s Christmas presents. So with all due deference to slash-fic enthusiasts, who are rightly torqued up by the trailer, I’m left to wonder what the hell the rest of you are so excited about?

For a movie styling itself as the MCU’s answer to the Marvel Civil War, I don’t think I could imagine a more incipit approach to telling its story. Cap wants to save Bucky, a character who sucked so hard he stayed dead for decades, from the evil forces of the Federal Government. Wow, that conveys so much of the nuance and depth found within the actual Civil War story arc.

Even if Bucky single-handedly manages to destroy Stamford (or commit some other act of domestic terror), thus creating a climate of unprecedented political fear, where the powers that be institute a systematic defrocking of costumed super-heroes and their subsequent regulation under SHIELD, none of that is coming through the trailer.

The Marvel Civil War is a discussion of the 9/11 terror attacks and America’s response in the years that followed. Through the safety of the comic book lens, the long arc of the Civil War asks fundamental questions that put the security of the state and the rights of the individual at odds with each other. These questions aren’t merely the source of some man-pain. The Civil War destroys families and lives. It creates strange bedfellows where Captain America, champion of the anti-registration movement, teams up with known murder and libertarian poster-boy Frank Castle. The Fantastic Four break-up because Reed Richards comes on side with Tony Stark and the pro-registration supporters. Peter Parker throws away his mask before going corporate.

Who looks at the Cap: Civil War trailer and sees anything nearly so sophisticated? And please understand, I’m not asking this to play the role of an angry comic book nerd, outraged about a movie diverging from the source material. The MCU need not adhere to the comic book canon. The issue here is the banal way Disney/Marvel insists on dumbing down the MCU on the big screen (because Big Bucks, Big Bucks, no Whammies). Surely to god there is room for some grown-up story telling in these movies. Daredevil makes gentrification exciting. Jessica Jones invites us to think long and hard about systemic bias against sexual assault survivors. Is it really too much to expect quality writers like Anthony and Joe Russo to raise the discourse in the movies beyond the level of a beef between bros?

Apparently, yes. In expecting the movie-arm of the MCU to give me something smart-ish, I might as well be asking for a Ken Burns documentary of the Superhero Registration Act. Actually, that doesn’t sound half bad. I would watch the hell out of that.

So I guess the takeaway for this takedown is two-fold.

One, this trailer boasts so much man-pouting and unrequited dude-love that I could probably layer over the dialogue from a Brokeback Mountain trailer and still make it work.

Two, my expectations of superhero movies are unrealistic. I’d probably be happier with them if I could enjoy what I’m given. In this regard, I’m likely not normal. Spare me any comments along those lines. I get it.


0

Trailer Meltdown: Gods of Egypt

I am almost, almost, at a loss for words. The Gods of Egypt trailer is beyond contempt. I honestly took a moment to make sure I wasn’t watching some sort of parody. I mean, nothing real could be this banal, right? Surely it is all part of some weird social experiment. Perhaps it’s a cover for evacuating people stranded in a foreign country. Because in what strange world can King Leonidas and Jaime Lannister pass as, respectively, the Egyptian god of the underworld and god of the sky?

Yeah, I’m playing the whitewashing card. It’s not the damn 1960s anymore. The days of casting Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra should be behind us. I guess Hollywood didn’t get the memo. Butler is Scottish and Coster-Waldau is from Denmark. DENMARK: a country so white it produced Hamlet, the character who is the very definition of white people problems.

And do you know who I really blame for this? Not the writers. Not Alex Proyas (and I don’t care that he was born in Egypt. His parents are Greek and he grew up in Australia; in my books that makes him an honorary white person) Not even the studio…well I blame them a little bit. I put today’s outrage squarely on the shoulders of Butler and Coster-Waldau.

They are the frontmen for the movie, and this makes them part of the problem. Perhaps I could forgive them if they were newbie actors looking to make their mark, taking any job that comes their way. Yet both of these actors are high-profile performers, likely not hurting for money or stability in their career. What’s worse is that unless these two gentlemen are absolutely vapid, they must have known they were working on a dubious project. Something must have registered in their precious little actor heads saying, “this is wrong.” In spite of that, they pressed on, made the picture, and cashed their cheques.

Which brings me to my next point. If the North American audience is too gentile to cope with brown people in leading roles, then why the hell does Hollywood keep mining the non-English speaking world for its stories?

As for the movie, itself, this looks like the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen in ages. Everything about it looks awful. I won’t deign to mine the trailer for details. Diving into this marketing would be like putting my hand in dead pig’s ass. I don’t need to do it to know nothing good will come of it.

My bottom line, this movie is part of the problem. Anyone defending this movie is part of the problem. Paying money to watch this movie will make you part of the problem.

A pox on this movie, and a pox on Gerard Butler and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

 

Update:

Jesus fucking Christ, they have Geoffrey Rush playing Ra. A pox on Geoffrey Rush as well.


1

Why The Martian is Better than Gravity

Since the title of this piece speaks for itself, I think I’ll skip the clever introduction and get right into it.

I really like Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity. I think it was one of the best movies of 2013, and one of the best movies of recent memory. At the same time, Gravity is also a flawed movie. After watching The Martian, those flaws now seem all the more obvious. And no, this has nothing to do with how Gravity played it fast and loose with the laws of physics and momentum. Don’t pretend you knew anything about orbital mechanics before watching Neal DeGrasse Tyson’s Everything Wrong with Gravity video.

The reason Gravity shits the bed compared to The Martian is because Dr. Ryan Stone happens to be a woman. Wait, wait, don’t start throwing things at me; I’m going somewhere with this. The problem isn’t that Dr. Ryan Stone is a woman, per se, so much as Hollywood thinks its audience can’t deal with Dr. Ryan Stone as a woman. Instead of letting Ryan Stone be a smart, if somewhat dispassionate person (i.e. an astronaut) she’s gets humanized. The vehicles for this relatability are Stone’s mommy hang-ups and the non-threatening way she does nothing exceptional in the movie.

Stone’s ability to work in space, and the unique skill set that saw her tapped as a mission specialist, are largely irrelevant to anything that happens after the movie’s first ten minutes. None of those skills, whatever they are, help her survive her orbital ordeal. Stone simply blunders from one thing to the next. She is largely the beneficiary of chance and the sacrifice of others, rather than any closely-held competence.

When Matt Kowalski (George Clooney’s character) asks Stone what she loves most about being in space, Stone responds with, “the silence.” I ask you, what sort of person wants to be an astronaut because they are on the run from their life on Earth? What kind of space agency puts a seemingly manic depressive into space? Cue the loud farting noise.

Hollywood won’t let Stone be the equal of Kowaski to the point of almost breaking the movie. <sarcasm> Because clearly the audience can’t deal with a woman acting in such a traditionally male defined role </sacasm>. The humanization of Ryan Stone makes the through-line of her story one of luck and blunders. At the end of the day, she’s a terrible astronaut (though still better than Anne Hathaway, the worst astronaut ever). Her return to Earth is the closing of a circle that said she never had any business being in space to begin with.

Now compare Stone to Mark Watney. Watney is so competent that The Martian is essentially competence porn. Luck only exists within the negative confines of a man versus nature conflict during Watney’s two-year stay on Mars. Watney’s ability to survive each ordeal is the result of a MacGyver-like force of competence.

He comes up with a way to manufacture water from rocket fuel. He repurposes half of his habitat module into a greenhouse for growing potatoes in human shit and Martian regolith. He uses a crashed Martian lander to establish two-way communications with Earth. Does Ryan Stone do anything nearly that interesting during her attempt to escape low-Earth orbit? Let’s review:

Panics and blows through all her O2.

Gets rescued by Kowalski.

Complains.

Watches Kowalski die.

Attempts suicide.

Has a vision of Kowalski.

Makes it home because today was not a good day to die.

Again, my point here isn’t to say Gravity is a bad movie. Gravity is a beautiful movie. Gravity is also an emotionally affective movie. However, after watching The Martian, I want to know what Gravity could have been if Ryan Stone was even half as competent as Mark Watney.

What if Ryan Stone’s self-pity wasn’t her defining character trait? What if studio executives trusted the audience’s ability to handle a woman character in a very professional role without burdening her with mommy issues? We could have seen a version of Gravity where Ryan Stone survived through her own ingenuity, rather than on account of George Clooney and the grace of the gods.


0

The Bang Bots of Dawn

Last week the tech world latched on to the story of Pepper the robot. This particular product is a four-foot tall amalgamation of code and plastic. Its main selling feature is the “ability” to ape human emotions. The coming and going of this overpriced toy likely wouldn’t have made any waves were it not for a certain stipulation in the robot’s terms of service, which nobody reads anyway. You could literally include entire pages of Mein Kampf in the iTunes terms and conditions and people would still click, “I agree.”

People who buy the Pepper model have to promise not to use it in any sexual fashion. Robot ethicists, a profession which is actually a thing and not somebody cospaying an Asimov character, were quick to respond to this demand. Some of these aforementioned advocates went so far as to even suggest that humanity should ban the production of any sex robot. After reading those words, I felt a need to review some collective stupidity.

Pepper the robot isn’t Mr. Data, HAL 9000, Jude Law in AI, or any other sort of sentient creature. It’s a pile of code meant to trick people into thinking there’s more to it than meets the eye. It’s not a Cylon; it doesn’t have a plan. It’s an $1800 conversation starter for assholes who want to start conversations with, “Have you met my robot? I’m not allowed to have it jerk me off/finger blast me.” Pepper is no more worthy of an ethical debate than the average dishwasher.

But Adam, one day we might have thinking machines, and they will judge us on how we treat other machines.

One, shut up. Two, that’s what you’re worried about? You’re worried about a thinking machine passing judgement on how we treat toasters and coffee makers? If we’re worried about being judged as a species, surely the collected history of human-on-human violence is a more pressing concern. I’m sooo sure the thinking machines will come down on the side of humanity when they get to the fall of Carthage, the German Crusade of 1096, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the holocaust, and Stalinist Russia. All those things totally take a back seat to Dwayne from New Jersey sticking his dick into a mannequin with a vibrating vagina.

But Adam, robots can’t consent, somebody has to speak for them.

Oh go fuck yourself. Literally. I want you to go to a sex shop, because clearly you haven’t been to one in a while, buy an implement, and then see what sort of consent you can get out of a glass dildo or a fleshlight. And if the idea of securing consent from a tool before partaking in some vigorous masturbation seems laughable to you, then you now know how I feel whenever some self-appointed tech guru talks about getting consent from a sex robot. Consent is a non-issue apropos of things; things get used and then run through the dishwasher on pots and pans.

Even if we take the concept of sex bots to the inevitable point of interactive human-form androids, consent remains a non-issue. Assuming artificial general intelligence existed in concert with the capacity for androids that don’t weigh 700 pounds, why would you install an AGI in a sex bot? It would be like putting an internal combustion engine on a toilet. One could do it, and it might make the toilet flush at supersonic speeds, but is it really necessary to make the best toilet? Engineering is about functionality and efficiency. Putting an AI in a sex bot might be functional, but it’s inefficient and over-engineers the end product. Since a masturbatory aid, albeit one in human form, has but a handful of purposes, there’s no need to over engineer it with a sense of self.

The only remotely interesting thing to come out of this debate is the notion that sex robots would be focused on satisfying male pleasure, thus further objectifying the female form. Once again I find myself wondering if the people putting forward these debates have ever been inside a sex shop, or if they’ve spend any time online at all.

Explain to me how access to female sex robots would somehow create more objectification of women. Not only do we have near-limitless access to conventional porn online, but also people on-demand through the “camgirl” economy. Nor should we leave flesh and blood sex workers out of this discussion. If a person wants to watch another person or people, or buy the company of another person or people, then the means to do so already exist. Sex robots are just as likely to increase the value flesh and blood sex workers as they are to diminish it.

Oh, now I’ve gone and done it. I’ve turned a rant about sex bots, something people are quick to get judgemental about, into a rant about sex workers, something people are equally quick to get judgemental about. Isn’t that an interesting symmetry.

I’m inclined to think that the entirety of the “sex robots (will/should) have rights” discourse isn’t really about sex robots. It’s about people having problems with sex workers. Since the governments courts of Western nations are taking steps to ensure that sex workers are actually treated like people, maladroit assholes need a new anti-sex mascot. And what better way to drum up the ire of humanity’s lowest common denominator than suggesting technology, a thing idiots naturally fear, is going to lead to the breakdown of society and the enabling of pedophiles and sex pests.

Sex doesn’t lead to the downfall of society. Masturbation, with or without a robot’s help, won’t lead to the devaluing of people. The devaluing of people by governments, police, and popular opinion leads to the devaluing of people. One need only read the news to see we are doing a fantastic job of that in North America without the help of prostate tickling robots.

And now, a compilation of robots going falling down.

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A Brief Thought on Star Wars and Star Wars: Aftermath

At the time of this post, I’m about halfway through reading Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars: Aftermath. I feel quite confident in saying it is an excellent entry into the Star Wars universe. Despite Aftermath’s obvious strength as a space opera, a war story, and a piece of a greater whole, some segments of the internet have registered their discontent with the book.

I would like to speak to that discontent, if only to get the following words out of my system before sitting down to write a proper review of Aftermath. So gather ’round, ye monsters of cyberspace; Uncle Adam is going to lay a little truth on you.

In an odd way, I think I understand why some people are angry about this book. It has nothing to do with Mr. Wendig writing in the present tense or inserting lesbian characters into the novel. Nor is it about the lack of movie characters in Aftermath. I suspect the ugly anger comes from a sense of Star Wars being taken away. Lucas might have cocked it up, but now shit is getting real.

Remember back in the late 80s and early-to-mid 90s when Lucasfilm didn’t really care about Star Wars? You know who did care about Star Wars? LucasArts, Timothy Zahn, and a lot of us nerds. Genre defining games like X-Wing, Tie Fighter, and Dark Forces took us deeper into Star Wars than three movies ever could. We were the ones blowing up the Death Star, never mind some farm boy from the Outer Rim. Alternatively, we were the ones flying TIE Interceptors in an attempt to maintain peace in a galaxy plagued with bounty hunters, pirates, and left-wing terrorists. Names like Grand Admiral Thrawn, Mara Jade, and Kyle Katarn were as real to us as Han Solo or Leia Organa.

And then a bunch of suits came along and said that everything we loved about that mythology didn’t count for Bantha poodoo. Now we live in a world where Jar Jar Binks is more Star Wars than Mara Jade. Let that sink in for a moment. A character as asinine as Jar Jar should not be more Star Wars than anything.

Here’s the thing, angry internet people, Disney deciding what is and is not canon doesn’t take away from the fundamental truth that Star Wars was and is a piece of contemporary mythology. There are literally dozens of fan films and countless fan fics that allow people to participate in the communal story telling of Star Wars. Everything in the extended universe is still part of that mythos, regardless of what a corporate entity decides to expunge as to bring a sense of “order” to things. However, understanding that a mythology is a shared story is only half of the equation relevant to this discussion.

Myths and legends, within the Western tradition, at least, are ways of understanding society and one’s place within it. This means that Mr. Wendig’s choice to do “controversial” things like including a diverse host of characters within his novel, is not part of some grand conspiracy to remove “manly men” from Star Wars. Nor is it really controversial. If you’re the sort of person who thinks it is, then you’re likely an asshole.

Mr. Wendig is representing this world, as he sees it, within Star Wars’ mythological system. He’s also mobilizing some of the more complicated geopolitical narratives of our world in parsing the boring and binary nature of the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire. I’d speak more on that, but you will have to wait for my review.

Angry fans do have a right to feel hard done by when the things they bought into are deemed lesser by the stroke of a pen. However, directing this outrage at an author whose contribution to the mythology is more than acceptable is as unfair as it is brainless. Building new places, forging new characters, and telling new stories, all while weaving a reflection of our world into the mythology, is exactly what a good story teller should be doing. To suggest otherwise, is to miss the point of literary criticism and engage in the most banal sort of butthurt.

Thus I shall close with a recommendation to the angry, outraged masses. As the floodgates seem to be open on refilling Star Wars‘ literary canon, those fans who can’t get over themselves and enjoy the thing they purport to love should pick up a pen and start writing. Really, I mean it. There’s probably never going to be a better time to break into writing a Star Wars novel. If you think you can do better, then fucking do better. I’ll help you get started…something about some clone troopers who get frozen in carbonite by the Hutts just before Order-66. When they get defrosted in 2 BBY, they aren’t sure if they should be loyal to the Empire or the Rebel Alliance. I call it Star Wars: Sundered Loyalties. Whatever, shut up, I’m not good with titles.

I await your evisceration.


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MechWarrior Online: I Can’t Even…

Dear readers,

Though this post will touch on some of the reasons why I think most “free-to-play” games are the devil’s bumwash, there’s also going to be a lot of wonkish talk about BattleTech and MechWarrior games. You have been warned.

Now, let’s talk about why I can’t stomach MechWarrior Online, a game I should love.

When Pirhana Games announced they would be producing an online MechWarrior game, I did what any BattleTech fanboy would do; I opened my wallet. I wanted MechWarrior Online to take me back to the days of Activision’s MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries or, to a lesser extent, Microsoft’s MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries. Instead, I found a game intent on parting coin from hand. C-Bills were few and far between; Mech Credits, the game’s premium currency, ruled the day. I could spend endless hours grinding out the C-Bills to buy myself a fancy ‘mech, or I could pony up some MC and save myself the grind.

Even in early access, I hated what the game of armoured combat had become. I staked real world money in supporting it, and the final product was the stuff of my nightmares. It’s a game that makes progressing through skill tress, which confer various piloting perks on a player, so intentionally slow as to build an artificial demand for buying “mastery packs.” These “convenience” features unlock all variants of a ‘mech, thus allowing a pilot to achieve the highest levels of perks for said ‘mech. They are also the very definition of pay-to-win gaming.

Let me reiterate that last point. There are six variants of my favourite ‘mech, the Awesome. Each ‘mech has three tiers of specialty skills. To unlock the second tier of pilot skills on my AWS-8Q, I also have to unlock all the basic skills on the AWS-8V and AWS-8R. I assume unlocking the top tier requires offering up a blood pact to Lucifer. I don’t object to barriers against progression, but I do expect them to be entertaining. Warframe, for example, is a grind, but it’s a grind I can enjoy. Would that MechWarrior Online were such fun.

Though Piranha Games has developed three game modes, all three are essentially the same thing. In my experience, a given game mode almost always devolves into twenty-four ‘mechs meeting in the middle of the map for a battle royale. This is the game, over and over.

Keep up with the blob of your team’s ‘mechs; hammer away at the singletons broken away from the enemy group’s blob; end the round at the match summary screen.

With everything boiling down to a brutal punch-up, there’s not a lot of room for a player’s individual style. Light and medium mechs are limited to the odd bit of sniping and skirmishing before being swatted like flies. The winning team is almost always determined by which team has the most Clan ‘mechs on its side. How does one get access to clan tech? Either through compulsion or convenience.

The Hellbringer (AKA the Loki to you Inner Sphere freebirths) costs in the neighbourhood of either 13,000,000 C-Bills or 5,000 MC – its exact price depends on the variant of the ‘mech in question. For context, I’ll put my average per mission income in MechWarrior Online at about 150,000 C-Bills. Assuming I could grind out a game every fifteen minutes, I would make 600,000 C-Bills per hour. At that rate, it would take me 21 hours to grind a Hellbringer. Compare this to the $29.99 I would have to pay for 6000 MC. For further context, a person making minimum wage in Ontario earns $29.99 in less than three hours. 3 hours of real life work for a Hellbringer versus 21 hours of playing a video game for the same. I call this the mark of a pretty shitty in-game economy, at least for the players; I’m sure Piranha Games and co-publisher Infinite Game Publishing are laughing all the way to the bank.

This is not the MechWarrior game that fans deserve, not even close. Scant C-Bills and the limits of Inner Sphere tech were part of the challenge in old MechWarrior games, not an engine for extorting players. Where’s the joy in weighing the need for C-Bills against the impracticality of scoring a kill in a grand melee? Sorry, MechWarrior Online and Piranha Games. I thought it was me, but it’s actually you. I, and every other MechWarrior fan who is playing your game not because they want to, but because it is all they have, deserve so much better than this.