ATTENTION PARENTS! COMMUNIST PLOT TARGETING YOUR CHILDREN: Goodnight Moon.

Having read the classic children’s story “Goodnight Moon” to my son for many many nights now, I am most disturbed to report that I can no longer expose my son to this horrific piece of propaganda. Its innocence belies the sheer malignity of its purpose, which is no less than the complete destruction of American society, and the establishment of a godless and communistic State. In order to appreciate fully the subtleties of the work, I will need to reproduce the text, here. I cannot do the same with the pictures, so just grab a copy and follow along… IF YOU DARE.

Page 1

“In the great green room
there was a telephone
And a red balloon.
And a picture of–“

Okay so firstly, why does a child of this one’s age (less than five, I would think… would an older child actually be talking to inanimate objects?) require a telephone? An intercom might be understandable, but a telephone? Surely if the child had an important phone call, his mother, or at the least the mysterious “quiet old lady whispering hush” (q.v.) would wake him. Therefore the reader can only presume that the entity responsible for the installation of the telephone was one that both wished direct access to the child at all times, and was powerful enough to demand it, i.e. the State, which is seen as normal and even comforting in this tale of innocence at bedtime.
It is perhaps also interesting to note that the room is described as GREEN. Why? The walls are green, yes. But the curtains are yellow, and the floor and furnishings are red. Obviously, this is an attempt to make green into a friendly and unthreatening color, and an attempt to foist a radical anti-capitalist environmentalist agenda onto American youth. And the red floor? Obviously a code showing that all such politics must spring from the firm foundation of Marxism-Leninism.
The balloon is another communistic reference, possibly calling for immediate war with the west, as in: ‘the balloon is going up.’ If so, the authors’ opinions seem to vacillate as the balloon disappears and reappears throughout the work.

Page 2
“The cow jumping over the moon.”

Goodnight Moon was published in 1947. The cow jumping over the moon symbolizes the author’s hope that Soviet Russia would win the Space Race.

Page 3
“And there were three little bears sitting on chairs.”

The three little bears are obviously a reference to Russia as the leader of the Communist movement. Lenin and Stalin would be two of the bears. The third may be Trotsky, but it is more likely that the author at the time believed that Mao Zedong would continue to foster tight relations with Moscow.

Page 4-5
“And two little kittens
And a pair of mittens.
And a little toyhouse
And a young mouse.”

The kittens, significantly, are black and white, signifying the “black” capitalist forces fighting Mao’s armies and the “white” forces already defeated in the Russian Civil War. Their reduction to annoying housepets suitable for distracting the people is very much in the style of Socialist Realism’s heavy-handed satire. The mittens and the socks are pink, considered an appropriate color for the child, whose very thoughts will soon be clothed in socialist-leaning terms. The toyhouse is also, significantly, red. The mouse, of course, would be considered dangerous vermin in most cases. Obviously the authors realized that Soviet housing was rife with these pests and are conditioning their young readers to accept them as inevitable.

Page 5-6
“And a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush.”
“And a quiet old lady who was whispering, ‘Hush!'”

Why a comb AND a brush? The redundancy is unquestioned. One of these objects is probably a listening device of some kind. Again, the child reader is being conditioned away from questioning such cognitive dissonances. Most chillingly, the “quiet old lady” makes her first appearance. She is not named as any relative, nor does she have any interaction with the child but to silence him. Obviously, the authors wish to instill silence as a virtue in the compliant subjects of the State, and to accept any authority figure presented by that State as legitimate ipso facto. She knits a green cloth, the makeup of which the black and white kittens attempt in vain to tangle.

Nothing further seems to be going on for the next four pages, but…

Page 11-12
“Goodnight light
And the red balloon
Goodnight bears
Goodnight chairs”

Note the child’s body position, here, kneeling on the pillow before the seated bears. Communist “prophets” are being substituted for bedtime prayer, and elevated to godlike status.

Page 13-14
“Goodnight kittens
And goodnight mittens”

What happened to the socks? They have disappeared from the rack. They show up later, of course, but this again reinforces the idea that the State alone will choose the context and syntax of information shown to its subject. Consistency is not required.

Page 14-15
“Goodnight clocks
And goodnight socks”

As a child this age, I don’t believe I had one clock in my room, let alone two. the child is being trained to conform to the cold, mechanistic schedule of the State, and accept it as natural.

Again, nothing significant for the next four pages, but then…

Page 19-20
“Goodnight nobody
Goodnight mush”

The child says goodnight to “nobody,” an indication that agents unknown are always watching and should be accounted for by the wise (read “terrified”) subject of the State. And of course the “mush” again, is conditioning the child to the reality of collectivism: bland porridge will become the staple meal of the populace, as it is one of the cheapest foodstuffs that any society can produce.

Page 21-22
“And goodnight to the old lady whispering ‘hush’

Again, the acknowledgment that the servants of the State, seen and unseen, are always with us.

Page 23-24
“Goodnight stars
Goodnight air.”

This looks innocent, but in some ways is the most haunting propaganda image of all. The stars and the air, two things that even the State knows it cannot hope to control, are presented. Alone of all the full, two-page illustration, this one is colorless, a washed out and Siberian snowscape. The message is plain: an escape to nature is an escape to sterility, exile, and death.

Page 25-26
“Goodnight noises everywhere.”

Noise, and any form of rebellion, is, chillingly, everywhere extinguished. The “quiet old lady’s’ eternal ‘hush’ has succeeded in stilling every form of dissent. And this is presented as a comforting truth to put children to sleep with. A few other factors deserve consideration: Note that the telephone alone of all the objects named is never said goodnight to. Obviously, it is for the State to contact its subjects, and not the other way around. Also, the books on the bookshelf move around, a reminder that knowledge is under the sole control of the State. It may change at any time, and these changes are not to be questioned.

I know that this post is, well, disturbing. I was certainly disturbed when the awful truth broke in upon me in the middle of reading this book to my son after two nights of no sleep and about forty-seven cups of coffee. But the awful truth is no longer possible to ignore. How Brown and Clements escaped the vigilance of HUAC in the fifties I will never know. The truth is self-evident.

Movie Reviews Far Too Stupid: Monsters and The Ruins

You know, what really makes me want to tear my own throat out as a writer sometimes is when I see that, despite the enormous number of wonderful novels that would make great movies, people keep making films based on ideas that should have been shot down in a high school Creative Writing I class. So to illustrate this, a pair of movies that I couldn’t even finish. And because they deserve no better, spoilers do exist:

First: The Ruins

This one actually started off really well, which was why the subsequent idiocy was even more disappointing: Team Disposable 5 (Jock, Nerd, Clown, Slut and Virgin. Thank you, Cabin In The Woods) go out to an old “Mayan” ruin, where Jock’s brother is supposed to be digging. They are surrounded and forced into the ruins by creepy tribal “Mayans” with guns and not allowed to leave. They quickly discover that they are under attack by carnivorous plants, and the Mayans are really quarantining them so they don’t spread the stuff. So far, it’s really good.

Here’s where I got turned off. Jock is the first casualty, and breaks his back, leaving him paralyzed. Early in the second day, Nerd (who is in med school — or maybe is just accepted to med school, it’s unclear) nominates himself the leader and decides that the only way to save Jock from sepsis is to amputate his infected legs. While they have nothing but a pair of tourniquets and a pocket knife.

Yeah, no: I’m out right there. I don’t believe this asshole could even get into med school, and I don’t believe anyone would go along with it. I don’t believe Clown doesn’t just punch this moron out an try to run for help, especially since no help is known to be coming. It’s obviously an excuse for serious gore and screaming, and I’m done.

But these guys are geniuses compared to whoever wrote Monsters.

So, yeah: a NASA space probe fell on Mexico awhile back and infected it with giant squid kaiju. The “infected zone” (i.e. Northern Mexico, which conveniently didn’t spread north of the US border) is quarantined. Gas masks are for some reason ubiquitously distributed to the poor just outside the Quarantine Zone (in case what? Someone inhales a case of kraken?) and the US military and reporters are dispatched to contain and record the invasion.

The storyline before I turned it off was that Reporter Hero is ordered by his boss, Magazine Owner, to rescue Magazine Owner’s Baby Girl (age: 22-25), who is there for No Discernible Reason and was mildly wounded in a Squid Kaiju Attack (OUTside the QZ. Why does the QZ exist, again?) and to escort her back to the USA. So, we’re supposed to believe that Magazine Owner who is willing to pay $50,000 per shot of kaiju-killed kids won’t charter a private jet with trained security squad to fly down to Mexico to get Baby Girl away from the kaiju, but instead will simply bully Reporter Hero on the scene into buying said Baby Girl a $5K ticket on a refugee ferry up the Baja coast. Sure. Because that’s what people do. In the same scene he’s buying the ticket, refugees are lined up to be “escorted” across the “Quarantine Zone” to the US.

And that’s where I was out. The producers/directors obviously don’t understand that quarantine might mean something in an alien invasion, or that rich people would spend money to save their loved ones effectively. The script also contained such gems as:

Reporter Hero: So, you’re married?
Baby Girl: Engaged.
Reporter Hero: What’s the difference?

Although I have to admit liking the exchange that went:

Baby Girl: Doesn’t it bother you that your job relies on terrible things happening?
Reporter Hero: You mean like a doctor?

Or a soldier, policeman, firefighter, safety regulator, health inspector, et multiple cetera…

Please, friends. There are ways, MANY ways to get your drama without relying on idiot plots like these.

Don’t Hate The Catcher, Hate The Game

So, I did something this weekend I’ve been thinking about for a couple of decades, and reread The Catcher In The Rye, which I haven’t touched since I was forced to read it in high school. Honestly, the most memorable part of the book for me was Holden’s rant at the end of the book about the kind of people who feel the need to write “Fuck You” on blank surfaces. Other than that, the book was fairly unmemorable for me, but then I was in a conversation where the book came up and a few people said that they hated Holden Caulfield more than any other character in literature.

I didn’t remember hating Holden Caulfield all that much when I read the book. I just remembered thinking that he was kind of an asshole. But I also thought that maybe, just maybe, being the staple that it is, the book deserved a reread from an adult perspective rather than the self-centered teenager that I was when I was forced to read it.

Having read it again from a middle-aged perspective, however, I can now say with confidence that Holden Caulfield is, in fact, still kind of an asshole. He’s pretty emblematic of the kind of asshole that comes from rich, urban families: the kind that has absolutely no inkling of what real need is and is obsessed with criticizing all his peers and family because, (ugh!) his rich brother who writes for Hollywood and the guys at his private prep school keep wanting to do things that they care about for Chrissakes, without realizing how stupid they are.

Of course, Holden is just fine with screwing up what other people want to do — his own school’s fencing team, for example — and his own education by refusing to study for anything, and never once considers that refusing to participate in the games of life that he so despises might be even dumber than participating in them. He merely goes on with his suffocating sense of superiority in having “seen through” everyone else’s phoniness. Of course, there is absolutely no way for anyone to prove to Holden that they aren’t phony (although, to be fair, he doesn’t seem to think everybody is: Holden at least has the virtue of taking innocence seriously) but he rarely thinks that the problem might be him. He thinks he’s pissed off because he is where he is, but he’s really pissed off that he isn’t who he isn’t. Holden never considers that anyone might actually have a reason to be invested in anything that Holden doesn’t personally value. He assumes the worst of everyone but himself all the time, and assumes the worst of himself half the time.

In other words, Holden is the typical teenager, but the “loser” variant: He’s unpopular with his friends because he doesn’t really do anything, won’t pick up on social signals like ending conversations, and talks loudly enough to piss them off — except he always seems to have friend. This, by the way, is where I call bullshit on the novel: any kid who acts the way Holden acts wouldn’t have ANY friends except guys exactly like him, and Holden manages to be hanging out with at least three girls plus a couple of guys over the course of the novel, and everyone always has time for him. This makes Holden a kind of depressing Reverse Gary Stu: he THINKS he’s better than everyone else, while clearly being worse, AND YET people still talk to him. This seems rather clumsy for a writer of Salinger’s stature, but I mean, he’s also got Holden telling us that he breaks his hand punching in car windows while not cutting hell out of the same hand. And he meets a guy who has a Memorial Wing of a private school named after him while he’s still alive, and I’m pretty sure both of those things are bullshit, too.

Now, “loser” teenagers usually straighten up after a couple of hard lessons and progress toward more-or-less functional adulthood at least: there’s no real shame in being one, and Holden, let’s be honest, has had a bit harder a road than most rich kids, having lost a brother to leukemia and a classmate to being (likely raped and) murdered. So I can’t say that I hate him, or even think terribly badly of him: he’s just a kid, acting in the way that a lot of kids do. A slave to his feelings: looking for sex, looking for love, looking for friends, drinking when he can to ease the pain, and pretending he’s a lot older and smarter than he is, judging the people he wants to keep him company.

The question I’m left with is, what the hell makes Holden Caulfield so special? Holden has become this rather-tiresomely-repeated “symbol for teenage rebellion,” that “captures the experience of being a teenager,” butr it’s so mundane that it could be ANYONE. So why this guy? Holden is a literary Kardashian, famous for being famous and having the right friends and money. I can see no more reason to care about Holden than I would care about Stradlater or Sally except for the fact that Salinger chose to shove Holden in our faces.

Moreover, Holden plainly is everything he’s rebelling against, and he’s rebelling mostly by doing nothing in particular except throwing around money and endlessly discussing the most average insights as though they’re profound truths, and trolling those more successful and popular than him and utterly failing to get laid, while bitching about how the people that actually can are bastards. While messing around with this bog, I found a fairly well-written piece that claims that Holden is actually protesting against sexual assault. But the flip side of this is that Holden still wants sex from the same women, he just doesn’t get it because, well, because Holden is a nice guy. Holden’s white-knighting while complaining places him as sort of an eerie incel of the fifties,* who even prefigures the incel-lingo of “Chads” and “Stacies” by referring to people in magazine stories as “Davids,” “Lindas” and “Marcias.”

Look, this kid is about sixteen. I can sympathize with the kid and his pain and frustration, sure. But take him seriously? Who with an ounce of sense would? Holden Caulfield talks like a pothead without the pot. The Deep Philosopher of the School of It Stands To Feel without actually having done the work of reasoning and understanding philosophy. He is, as Wolfgang Pauli is supposed to have remarked about a physics paper, “not even wrong.” He doesn’t have even the beginnings of a framework to make the moral judgments he’s pronouncing.

I really can’t imagine what kind of person could have ever read this book and found it entertaining, let alone profound, except… no wait: this is Maury Povich for pseudointellectuals, isn’t it? It’s so popular in English departments and among English teachers because so many guys in the English dept. ARE Holden Caulfield. And since I have two degrees in English, I think I might have a clue as to what I’m talking about: so many of them are absolutely contemptuous of everyone and everything because they think they have risen above “the common taste.” Only where I read books and dreamed about riding starships and dragons, as far as I can tell, when most of these guys read books, they hoped that one day they would be the guy with all the drugs and the broody sexiness and instant intellectuality, which is just sad. And Holden is simultaneously their model, while failing to be what they want to be. So, yeah, they can aspire to be the better version of him: it’s watching Maury for people who think they’re too good to watch Maury.

The sad part is that Holden is almost offered (though it’s questionable whether he would take) an epiphany by Mr. Antolini, who warns Holden of the danger he is most certainly in: the danger of declaring yourself disillusioned before you were ever illusioned, and of disdaining paying society’s dues because it seems unprofitable and mundane.

But just then Salinger immediately undercuts this by having Mr. Antolini behave in a way that is at least inappropriate toward Holden, and is probably a sexual advance. So where does this leave us? Well, it conveniently leaves Holden as the only remaining moral authority in the book, able to freely disregard Antolini’s actually good advice.

The problem is not Holden the catcher. The problem is that Salinger has made it impossible for Holden, the Catcher in the Rye, to win any game. All the potential victories are poisoned, all the possible goals false. There is no consummation, there is only masturbation: the fruitless and hollow comfort of having been right never to trust and never to try. And I can’t help but think that’s what the goal was all along: for Salinger to propagate despair and pat himself on the back for it. And far too many people have bought into his game.

*And holy shit, how is there discussion of Holden Caulfield being gay? I mean, that takes some world-class projection: he’s punching his roommate for maybe feeling up a girl he likes, hiring whores, and desperately proposing marriage. And this guy is gay? Yeah, in a world where Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas were “just roommates,” maybe.

Movie Reviews Far Too Late: Dragonslayer

So, let’s just come out and admit it: there were a lot of bad movies in the eighties. And especially, there were a lot of bad F/SF movies. There were a lot of people who, having seen the success of Star Wars, were convinced that they could do the same thing, either by blowing their money on special effects and not bothering to write a decent story (Lifeforce), or worse, by NOT blowing their money on special effects, and STILL not bothering to write a decent story (Yeah, that’s you Buckaroo Banzai). There were movies that tried to blatantly rip off other, better movies (Explorers and Starman).

But every now and then you got a real gem of a film that managed to do it mostly right. And it hovered on the background of your consciousness until you finally watched it. And for me, that film was Dragonslayer.

I think the thing that stood out for me was this: I can think of few films that used their limited special effects better. Oh, sure, you can tell that the director was stretching 1981’s technology to the breaking point, and by our standards today, it’s pretty laughable. But considering how difficult it was to film something as complex as a dragon (spaceships are easy by comparison) the results were stunning.

But mostly what blew me away was the dedication to telling an actual story that I, who live in a time of gritty anti-heroes, found refreshing. I really don’t want to spoiler this film (which can be watched for free on Amazon Prime: go watch it!), but roughly, it’s the tale of Galen, a sorcerer’s apprentice, whose master, Ulrich, is approached by a delegation of commoners whose kingdom is beset by a dragon. Their king is appeasing the dragon by feeding it virgins by “lot,” a lottery that his own daughter and those of his nobles are curiously immune to. Ulrich is killed by the king’s captain of the guard, Tyrian, whose lord doesn’t want to take the risk of upsetting the dragon, and Galen is left to attempt the deed himself, with only his master’s amulet to give him any power at all.

While the writing is sometimes clumsy and rough, the movie as a whole was like a breath of fresh air. Galen, our hero, is neither a whiner nor an overpowered Gary Stu. He just decides he’s going to get the job done, and faces it with courage. Valerian, his love interest, who has grown up disguised as her blacksmith father’s “son” to save her from the lottery, is actually believable in that role, and not a knockout beauty that leaves you wondering whether literally all the men in the village are blind. Casiodorus, the appeasing king, has a backstory that makes his cowardice understandable, if not pardonable, and probably believes, on some level, that he really is doing what’s best for his kingdom. Taken together, the heroes use brains and courage to defeat the dragon Vermithrax, and it’s a great ride.

In these days when men of physical courage and authority are often derided or suspect by definition, and the ninja supergirl is often called upon to improbably save the day, it’s a tale that recalls a more innocent time.

Movie Reviews Far Too Late: The Stuff (1985)

Okay, I think I may be the only person in the world who even remembers this film anymore.

Here’s the reason I watched it. In 1985, when I was twelve, this poster and its fellows TERRIFIED me. The body horror and the look of agony and terror on the victims’ faces made me think that this was going to be THE BLOB, a film that completely freaked me out, only worse, because The Stuff was so obviously already inside you… in other words, it was going to be The Blob meets Alien. I didn’t even think of watching it, because if it was ANYTHING like I imagined, I was going to have nightmares.

So, it was on Amazon Prime free last month, and 47 year old me decided to watch The Stuff.

It turns out that twelve-year old me was a MUCH better horror writer than anyone involved with the script of this laughably terrible film. So, by the way, were the poster artists, who did a masterful job of making it look terrifying, right down to the tagline: “Are you eating it, or is it eating you?” In fact, as a writer, I really do not understand how you can miss with this concept, but apparently it goes something like this:

1) You absolutely refuse to acknowledge that anything like the FDA or ingredient lists exist, and that you could totally market “mysterious substance that oozes out of the ground” to the public with no legal difficulty.

2) You don’t ever really acknowledge that anyone infected by The Stuff really suffers pain, or even make it clear whether they die or not. At least once in the film, The Stuff oozes out of a victim’s body, but he gets up and is apparently still controlled by The Stuff. Other times, the Stuff just kills.

3) You don’t really even show that anyone who didn’t voluntarily consume The Stuff can get killed by it.

4) You infect people for completely irrational reasons. One of the most lurid on-screen deaths involves one of the protagonists who lost his ice-cream business because of The Stuff, was always suspicious of The Stuff, has no reason to eat The Stuff… and yet, he shows up infected. I strongly suspect that this happened because he was Black and therefore disposable.

5) On top of all of this, you hire actors that have less chops than high-school leads. When the tagline is finally delivered, at the end of the film, it’s read with all the gusto of the slogan for an antacid.

So please, don’t see this film. It wasn’t worth it. Instead stay tuned for the collaboration I’m negotiating with 12 year-old me to turn this concept into the horror novel it should have been.

Taglines Not To Emulate

Cruising around book descriptions, you see a lot of taglines supposedly designed to make you want to read books. Here are some that well… didn’t. 

Can one man save an immortal race on the brink of extinction?

Um, you know what ‘immortal’ means, right?

Humans are unwelcome but tolerated as none of the galaxy’s other intelligent species has the power to stop them.

Yeah, I tend to “tolerate” people who can kill me with impunity, too. And a run-on sentence isn’t a great way to convince me to buy what you’re selling.

He wouldn’t have stolen the latest cybernetic implant if he knew it was infected with a virus.

Well, I’d really hope not. I wouldn’t want to read the story of an idiot. Actually, I think I’ll pass on reading the story of someone who thinks “not being an idiot” is compelling.

Ahem!! Who says the star messiah can’t be a chick?

No one I suppose, but if you’re trying for some sort of gender-equality, here, I think your tone’s, um, off.

It’s not too late to click now!!

Oh, thank heavens, I thought you might not allow me to give you money for your writing if I waited another minute.

He never thought of arming himself to defend the ones he loves…

Um, really? Never thought of it? Is that because he’s a complete coward, or simply lacks any vestige of imagination?

Stranded on an alien planet, luckily, Major XXX XXX is the most powerful human in the universe!

Thing is, powerful people don’t usually end up stranded on alien planets. That’s one of the indications they’re powerful.

Turns out there’s a whole lotta’ strange going on that most of the world knows nothing about.

Turns out there’s a whole lotta’ bad writin’ going on that most of the world knows nothing about, and for good reason.

Submarine Explorer’s sentient. Dr. Smith knows. Admiral Donovan doesn’t believe. Giant sharks, octopus, a cyberswarm, and enemy submarines. It’s fun.

Tagline consists of fragments. Sounds bad. Reads bad. Stuff happens. Do not want.

Abandoned as a child, Kelly is later forced into a situation where her parents’ betrayal will only be pardoned after her execution. 

That seems needlessly complicated: can’t we just execute Mom and Dad?

PEACE TALKS Theories: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!!

Okay, so I know Jim Butcher’s latest installment of The Dresden Files came out only yesterday, but I devoured the whole thing by this morning, and I really want to talk about it, so in case the HUGE CAPITAL LETTERS weren’t enough, I want to make it really clear to everyone choosing to read further that there will be HUGE AMOUNTS of spoilers below.

Okay, if you’ve got this far and haven’t chosen to turn back…

Too late, here they come.

All right, so what I suspected about this “book:” since seeing that we were getting two of them this year was correct: PEACE TALKS is not a book. It’s the first half of a book. At best, we get the second half in BATTLE GROUND later this year. At worst, of course, we get part two of three or more. But Butcher is a good guy and hasn’t left us with that kind of cliffhanger since the end of CHANGES.

So, there are a LOT of questions unanswered here, and the biggest one is this: Why did Thomas Raith decide to attack King Etri of the Svartalves, causing a lot of trouble for Harry and Mab? This question is unanswered in the book, a lingering mystery.

First of all, what are the possible reasons?

It is heavily implied, and Harry acts on the assumption, that Thomas was being blackmailed into the attack on Etri by someone who could credibly threaten the love of his life, Justine. This is made more serious by the fact that Justine is revealed in the opening chapter to be — very improbably — pregnant.

But there’s a few serious problems with that. Firstly, who would want Etri dead and have the ability to threaten Thomas to the point of making him carry out a near-suicidal attack? White Court vampires aren’t supposed to operate that way even if they are good at it. Furthermore, Justine is guarded by several formidable security teams. Harry’s hiring of Goodman Grey is very nearly redundant. Thomas had to know Justine was guarded by the full force of the White Court. But she’s also being watched by hired Monoc Securities guys, the cops, Feds, Goodman Grey and Paranoid Gary. And Thomas, whose brother is Harry Dresden and the Winter Knight, didn’t go to him or his sister, the White Court ruler, for help? Especially if Harry is right about his supposition that Justine is being threatened by one of her “guards?” The only credible threats of those mentioned (against Thomas) are the White Court and Monoc. Neither have an interest in killing Etri OR destabilizing the Accords.
That’s dumb.
Secondly, what was the effect of the attack? Who benefited from it?
Well, you could argue that no one did, because the attack failed. Okay, sometimes the bad guys fail. But Etri’s death has no obvious consequences besides making the svartalves even more angry with the White Court.
Very well, was that the goal? If so, the Fomor and the Outsiders — who are obviously working together — are the obvious suspects. There’s only one problem with that: it didn’t work. By betraying the peace talks, the Fomor and their patron Titan simply forced the svartalves and the White Court to work together in spite of their issues. That’s also dumb.
So, if that makes no sense, why else would Thomas attack the svartalf king? Were the svartalves threatening Justine? Why? It would be utterly out of character for them to attack or threaten a guest.

No, there’s a much more sinister plot that’s possible here. The person who was influencing Thomas to attack the svartalves was… Justine herself. Or, more accurately, something pretending to be Justine.

Consider these hints:

  1. Justine should not be pregnant. Thomas and Justine can barely touch, they’re using contraceptives, and White Court vampires are almost infertile.
  2. Justine surprises Harry by her reaction to the news of Thomas’s attack and capture. Rather than falling apart, she asks if Lara knows. Her first reaction is to seek intelligence on Harry’s actions and Lara’s knowledge.
  3. Thomas is conveniently unable to talk to Harry after the attack. He manages two words: Harry’s name, and then, three attempts at a word starting with ‘J.’ Harry assumes he is trying to say “Justine” and means, “Protect Justine, Harry.” Each time Harry promises to, though, Thomas breaks down crying. Harry thinks he’s desperate to protect Justine. But what if Thomas is trying to protect Harry by warning him about Justine? Thomas says “Junghg. S’Jnngh.” Suppose what he was trying to say was “Justine. It’s Justine?” He cries because not only is the real Justine in danger, but now so are Harry, Lara, and everyone else who believes they are guarding the real Justine.
  4. The one player we haven’t seen in PEACE TALKS is The Black Council, whose man Cristos they elevated to the Senior Council back in TURN COAT. The Black Council is known to be able to exercise mind control powers, and the Outsiders are known to be able to infect humans and fae with a seemingly unbeatable mind-control effect.
  5. Finally, Harry orders up and uses an ability to cast a doppelganger that fools even Blackstaff McCoy.

So, taking all these things together, I hypothesize the following:

The Black Council has taken the real Justine and done something to her. Possibly they are simply holding her under threat, and possibly she is taken by the Outsiders’ mind control. In either case, they simulated her pregnancy and are continuing to simulate her. Sometime after Thomas revealed Justine’s “pregnancy” to Harry, she revealed her true nature and demanded that Thomas attack Etri and the svartalves. The goal of the attack was to get Thomas out of the way and distract Harry Dresden. Which means that something happened while Harry was away from the Peace Talks or on his way to the island, and that Justine is an entirely new front of the Black Council/Fomor/Outsider alliance, ready to strike at either the White Court, Monoc, the svartalves as a false flag, or Harry himself or any combination as opportunity presents itself. The worst thing would be if it could similarly infect others.

Okay, once you’ve read the book and this, explain to me why I’m wrong.

Movie Reviews Far Too Late: Phantasm

Holy shit. When I wrote the review for House, I thought I’d seen the worst the 80s had to offer in the horror genre. Then I saw Phantasm.

I legitimately cannot say which of these two movies is worse. I was interested in Phantasm because it certainly had one of the more unique ways of offing its victims. The little silvery flying murderball. I was hoping to find out more about that.

And yet, I did not, because the murderballs are disappointingly secondary.

Okay, here’s the plot: There’s a mysterious mortician who is apparently killing humans in a small town. Once he has their bodies, he shrinks them to half-size and reanimates them to serve as slaves in some wasteworld where the gravity is higher. He has a portal to it in a spare room.

Yet apparently he’s really operating on a shoestring because the only way he gets caught is that the younger of this orphaned pair of brothers sees the guy lifting 500-lb. caskets by himself and some of the dwarfzombies sneaking around.

Eventually he and his brother kill the guy. Sort of.

And then the younger kid wakes up to find his live brother dead, his brother’s dead friend alive, and he gets kidnapped through a mirror. Roll credits.

That’s it. The mysterious murderball is used exactly twice, once successfully when Big Bad decides to off a henchman, and then again when he tries to off Big Brother. Despite apparently being an alien, undead, or both, he cannot make murderballs immune to buckshot. So that was anticlimactic.

Is it better than House, or worse? Well, let’s put them head to head:

Do the characters act reasonably? Well, the protagonists in Phantasm eventually come up with something resembling a plan. It’s basic: go to the bad guy’s mortuary and perforate him with bullets. Essentially, this works. This beats the protagonist of House who forgets he has military training until the last 15 minutes. On the other hand, the Big Bad in House at least has a plan to get revenge. The Big Bad in Phantasm could have saved himself a lot of trouble by simply calling the cops and having the protags arrested for B&E.
House: 0, Phantasm: 0

Are the plots coherent? Phantasm‘s plot is simple, but makes sense: the bad guy is doing bad things. The good guys stop him. Contrasting this with House, where the bad guy is apparently haunting the house where the protagonist doesn’t live for several years, it’s a win for Phantasm.
House: 0. Phantasm: 1

Which movie is less boring? In House, strange things keep happening. They’re all red herrings, but things occur. In Phantasm, approximately half the film is taken up with Older Bro refusing to believe Younger Bro.
House: 1. Phantasm: 1

Do the endings make sense? In House the protagonist rescues his kid. So, yeah. In Phantasm, dead people are alive and alive people are dead, no fucks given.

Conclusion: Don’t watch either of these movies: do something more entertaining, like filing off your eyelids.

Movie Reviews Far Too Late: Midsommar, Part II (of the review. There is no Midsommar II) Now With Fresh Spoilers!

So, I figure the first part of this review didn’t really do justice to MIDSOMMAR. I watched it while I was doing laundry (and if dirty laundry isn’t a metaphor for this film, I don’t know what is) and wasn’t thinking about it too deeply. But now that I’ve thought about it, I actually have to hand it to them: it’s a film that is full of meaning. Whether that meaning is worth anything or not is up to you, but it’s quite obviously there.

So, Dani, our film’s protagonist, is in a bad place. Her parents and sister have all committed suicide, leaving her as the only member of the family to survive. It’s never quite clear whether Mom and Dad were partakers in the suicide or whether suicidal little sis just decided to take them along.

Dani has a boyfriend, whose name is Christian. Yes, that’s important. He’s about to dump her when the suicide hits, and now he can’t. Christian is about to leave on a trip to Sweden with his buds Mark and Josh to visit their friend Pelle’s home. Christian decides that, in fact, he’s going to bring Dani with them, which doesn’t exactly thrill his friends as they find Dani clingy and annoying. Because she is clingy and annoying.

Upon arriving at Pelle’s village, it becomes quickly apparent that we have arrived in Scandinavian Deliverance land, where dwell Pelle’s people, the Hargans. There are two more outsiders, a couple named Simon and Connie. These folks are all about the old gods, and we all know what the old gods were like: they enjoyed sacrifice. Indeed, it doesn’t take long for the newcomers to start disappearing.

Now, over at ScreenRant, you can find an article explaining what happens to the characters in terms of the “sins” they commit during the film: they want to leave, and they defile something, etc. However, I believe this interpretation is completely off base. Midsommar is, from the outset, a pagan sermon about the virtues of the old gods, and the corruption of Christianity.

The first indication we have that all is not well in Hargaland is when two of the community’s elders commit suicide by jumping off a cliff and dashing themselves to death on rocks. Just to drive it home (sorry), the man doesn’t quite die, and he is “assisted” to his doom by means of a large mallet. The outsiders are horrified, but are asked to understand that this is only the Hargans’ way of seeking balance with the natural world and embracing death in its proper role. Josh, Mark and Christian murmur weak protests. Dani is horrified, but Christian is too weak and spineless to stand up for anything or really comfort her.

The true zealots here are the aptly-named Simon and Connie, who have had enough and make plans to leave. Simon (Peter) was always the fiercest of Jesus’ followers, and Connie is, well, constant, not to be shaken from her conviction that what the Hargans are doing is simply wrong. They are “taken to the train station”

Meanwhile, trouble is erupting among the former friends. Pelle is clearly cozying up to Dani and pointing out Christian’s shortcomings. Josh is completely indifferent to any moral failings on the part of the Hargans and is only interested in getting as much material for his anthro thesis out of it as he can. Meanwhile, Christian and Mark play the ugly-American oafs, with Mark as an incel who is clearly desperate to get laid, and careless enough to piss on a sacred tree, while Christian alternately shrugs off Dani’s pain, flirts with Pelle’s sister who is casting love spells at him, and then tries to horn in on Josh’s thesis topic by insisting on doing his anthro thesis on the village as well.

I think the names here remain key to understanding the roles of the major players. First, we have Josh. He’s fascinated intellectually, but morally repelled by this practice of paganism and wants access to their scriptures, eventually violating their proscription on photographing it. Joshua is also the English version of Jesus’ Hebrew name, Y’shua. Josh represents the Judaeo-Christian morality that wrote down the laws of God, stealing the pagans’ mysticism and then condemning the pagans. He is the most dangerous of the anti-pagans, and must be killed.

Then we have Mark, named for the writer of the first gospel. He has no real interest in anything except sex, drugs and food. He’s a tool, nothing more, and has no idea what he’s stumbled into. Only a fool would rely on anything he said. The gospel is therefore discredited.

And finally, we have Christian, named for the entire religion. He is completely and utterly unlikable, having no virtues that can stand up to the smallest vices, but always wanting to appear virtuous, no matter what the cost. He doesn’t want to look heartless so he stays with Dani. And yet he always puts himself first, never giving her any real time or energy. It’s made clear he’s at fault in this (despite the fact that Dani is obviously extremely needy and not really ready to be in a relationship at all). At the Hargan village, Christian can neither condemn the Hargans with the fierceness of Simon and Connie, nor question them with the intelligence of Josh, nor stand up for them in the face of Dani’s disapproval. When Maja, Pelle’s sister, casts a love spell on him and he finds out, he is faithless, unable to even say that such a thing is inappropriate. He is quick to steal Josh’s thesis idea when it looks easy, (imperializing over both a black man’s idea and a native culture simultaneously!) and when Josh disappears (supposedly with the Hargans’ scripture) he is just as quick to repudiate Josh and deny that they have ever been friends. Finally, he is completely willing to go to Maja’s bed and be unfaithful to Dani. In short, the “Christian” is in reality exactly what pagans imagine him to be: a weak-willed sheep, led about by his lusts, but without the courage and fortitude that would make fulfilling them admirable. As such, he is their sacrificial animal, to be used, condemned, and well-rid of.

But what of Dani? Well, she becomes the May Queen, elevated there by that most pagan of forces, fate. She was fated to be invited to the Hargans’ village, and fated to become the May Queen. As such, she is the one who ultimately chooses whether Christian or a member from the Hargans will be chosen. Screen Rant’s “explanation” of “why she kills Christian” is almost comical in its overexplanation:

“The answer to that is complex, but a good place to start is the fact that Dani isn’t exactly in her right mind at the end of the movie.

She wasn’t exactly in her right mind at the start of the movie. At best she’s traumatized. At worst, she’s codependent.

She’s been given drugged tea that’s causing her to have strange visions, danced to the point of exhaustion, and experienced the emotional trauma of seeing Christian have sex with another woman,

Her boyfriend cheated on her in public. That isn’t “complex;” that’s one of the oldest explanations for murder we’ve got.

followed by a release of emotion with her newfound sisters. By the time she’s on stage in her enormous flowery gown, Dani looks pretty out of it, but the one thing she does seem to be aware of is that Christian has hurt her.

Yes. Christian has “hurt her.” That really seems to be the sum total of Dani’s awareness, and the idea that Dani’s pain is Christian’s fault is the one thing that is hammered home time and again in this film. He didn’t kill her sister, or her parents, and he tried to include her when she needed to be included. Being drugged and exhausted is an excuse for her behavior, seemingly, but not for Christian’s. Funny how that works out.

Moreover, she also seems to recognize that Christian is the best choice for the sacrifice that represents the exorcism of evil from the community, because he – not the Hårgans – is the source of her pain.

Yes, and it’s also not the Hargans’ fault that they seduced a guy who was in a relationship, apparently. They are innocent, while Christian is guilty.

In the pagan world (note the small p, I am referring to classic pagans, not any followers of modern Wiccanism or related faiths, here) holiness is more positional than consequential. It derives more from what people are than what they do. Dani is good and Christian is bad because Dani is a woman in pain. Therefore, she must be in the right. To say otherwise would be to blame her on some level for her pain. We endure endless sobs throughout this film, most of them from Dani. And while it is true that Christian’s choices are mostly selfish, so are everyone else’s, including Dani’s. No one ever seems to think that Dani should do anything for him, but it is made very clear that Christian must stay with Dani, be there for Dani, adjust his life for Dani, invite Dani along with him, remember Dani’s birthday. He is responsible for her pain, but she is never responsible for his. He doesn’t even (conveniently) have real pain in his life, just selfish ambitions.
Dani kills Christian for the simplest of all reasons: she is angry at him and wants revenge. And her killing of him is held up as right. She is the May Queen, a holy figure. It is right that she kills him because she has decreed it to be right. It is right because it represents the triumph of the strong pagan goddess reclaiming her true superiority over the false, weak, Christian god who lied and failed to fulfill her.

Of course, what’s truly astonishing is exactly how successfully this message overrides the demonstrable horror that this pagan community has achieved: a monocultural, racist theocracy which by its own admission deliberately practices incest in order to induce mental disabilities, enforces the euthanasia of the elderly, and lures outsiders in to be sacrificed along with their own people annually. But what are such little defects compared to freeing our minds from the evils of Christian hypocrisy?

It’s a breathtakingly simple message. Who is listening?