MantiCon 2015: After-Action Report (David Weber, Timothy Zahn, Eric Flint, + More!)

Dreams do come true. Here I am with my new Treecat (name pending) and David Weber!

Dreams do come true. Here I am with my new Treecat (name pending) and David Weber!

I spent Memorial Day Weekend having the absolute time of my life at a science fiction convention, MantiCon 2015. It was the inaugural MantiCon, a convention based on the universes of author David Weber. Weber, Timothy Zahn, Eric Flint, Joelle Presby, and other authors were in attendance. It was the most fun I’ve had in some time!

Overview

When I first arrived, the events hadn’t started yet, so I scoped out the rooms and the fan tables (AKA places with everything I wanted to buy). After I bought some sweet stuff (a lanyard, a Grayson Space Navy patch, and a War Officer’s pin), I went to the “Meet the Authors” session, then the Opening ceremony. After that, it was a string of sessions, meeting authors, and chatting science fiction with other excited people. Here, I’ll go over a few sessions and some cool stuff.

Sessions

Women in Science Fiction

I went to the panel on women in science fiction and the discussion was broad, but deep. We discussed things like whether the concept of a “strong female lead” is actually helpful in forwarding equality of the sexes, the notion of a “strong” character in general, the notion of women as “background” rather than characters in science fiction, favorite women in science fiction, and more. It was a fast-moving panel and it was clear that all the panelists had different perspectives that were each valued and mutually overlapping without being contradicting each other. Panels like this need to keep happening until we get to the point that we don’t need them any more.

Kinetic & Energy Weapons

This was one of several more technical sessions I went to and it was exciting. The speaker talked about some of the ways science fiction weapons are being adapted now, along with theoretical and mathematical data to talk about weapons in science fiction. It was  fun and more interesting than I thought it would be. Lots of thought goes into weapons development–even of the fictional variety!

Getting your Dream Job

I had the pleasure of going to a session that was basically about getting to be an author. It turned largely into a Q+A with me asking the questions because no one else was asking any. Several people told me after I was asking the questions they would have liked to but couldn’t think of them. I was pleased to help others–and myself–learn more about writing and becoming an author. Now to pound the keyboard to pulp cranking out some books!

Authors

Weber Q&As

David Weber outlined his publishing schedule, talked about his plans for where he wants to take various series, and took a number of questions. He was extremely gracious, and his answers were informative and interesting. One of the main themes of both of the Q&A sessions I went to was that his goal at this point in his life is to try to finish the series he has going right now. He said he wants to make sure his fans get to read the endings and get closure. Of course this means that he won’t be able to write the million other series he has just floating around in his head. He told us about one that sounded awesome but it was historical fiction and he felt he just won’t have time to get into it, unless he lives for 90+ years.

I was glad to hear that it sounds like he’ll be wrapping up the main Honor Harrington storyline within a couple books. He might even write more later about the Alignment and other issues, but again his goal is to try to tie as many loose ends as he can. It sounds like he’s going to really explore the universe a bunch more with the offshoot series once he’s done with the main Honor books.

Safehold! Safehold! I was pretty excited to hear him say that after the one coming up (Hell’s Foundations Quiver) and the one after that, we’ll have some kind of time jump ahead. Again, it sounds like we’re going to get this series wrapped up within 10 years or so, with books coming out all the time. To me, that’s an awesome thing. I can’t wait for more. I’m a huge fan of the Safehold series.

He also talked about many other series he’s working on and his plans for wrapping them up. It sounds like his fantasy series (starting with War God’s Own)–one I haven’t read yet–is wrapped up, but had some loose ends that he is going to write somewhere around four books to finish. His Multiverse series is going to start once more after a decade-long hiatus. Other series may see returns and completion as well. Weber was clearly dedicated to trying to wrap up as many stories he’s telling as he can. I think this is a very kind thing for an author to do, and Weber is a pretty awesome guy!

I had a chance at a few of the signings to ask questions, and one was to ask what his favorite hymn is. His Safehold series has had either hymn titles or lines of hymns as titles for all but the first book, and he’s a Methodist lay minister, so I was wondering what his favorite was. It was “Amazing Grace,” which was also my grandpa’s favorite hymn (my Grandpa was a Methodist minister)! I told him he should title the last book of the Safehold series Amazing Grace. It would be awesome if he did.

Timothy-ZahnTimothy Zahn Q&A

Zahn talked Star Wars and his thoughts about the upcoming movie, which was largely “I will go see it, but I’m not sure if it will be good.” He also talked about whether he might write Star Wars again (seems unlikely) and the possibility of whether they will wrap up the Expanded Universe–everyone hopes so.

After that, it was discussion of many of his series and what he’s going to do with them. He has some more Cobra books coming out, a few ideas for a Young Adult series, and many ideas for more in various universes he’s written. I am not as familiar with some of these, because I read pretty much everything by Zahn but I did so 15 or more years ago. Thus, it’s hard to remember anything. I’ve decided to go back through Zahn’s corpus though. It’s been too long since I read his stuff.

Swag

Got some pretty cool T-shirts at the vender tables, including both a Royal Manticoran Navy and Grayson Space Navy shirt. But the pride and joy of my MantiCon experience (apart from my loads of autographed books) was to get, at last, a Treecat! They had just 25 available and announced them at the opening ceremony, so I pretty much ran to the store they were going to be available and got one!

Conclusion

I can’t emphasize enough how much fun MantiCon 2015 was. It really solidified in me the notion that I want to be a science fiction author, but more than that, it was an absolutely awesome time. How often do you get the chance to hang out with hundreds of people with the same interests you have, talking about science fiction? Not often enough, I tell ya. Moreover, the authors were all extremely gracious and frankly amiable. It was a great lineup of guests and they were very kind. Here’s hoping MantiCon 2016 will happen, and be somewhere close to me!

SDG.

Book Reviews: “The Neanderthal Parallax” – Hominids, Humans, and Hybrids by Robert Sawyer

neanderthal-sawyerI recently read Robert Sawyer’s Trilogy “The Neanderthal Parallax,” made up of Hominids, Humans, and Hybrids. I have enjoyed Sawyer’s work in the past and dove into these books with great anticipation. How did they fare? Let’s find out! There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

I’ll not summarize the whole plot (see Wikipedia for more), but the basic outline is as follows: A portal is opened between our world an alternative world in which the Neanderthals thrived and we went extinct. As the two worlds interact, it is discovered that the Neanderthals largely remained a kind of hunter-gatherer society and developed a completely different culture than humans in our world did. The two worlds collide as people from our world see the Neanderthals as a challenge to our ways of life, and various issues related to religion and ethical issues come to the forefront. Ultimately, Ponter Boddit, the first Neanderthal to cross into our world, and Mary Vaughan, a woman from our world fall in love and decide to have a hybrid child. This, after an attempt to exterminate the Neanderthals goes awry and instead releases a deadly plague that prevents any males from our world crossing over to the Neanderthal side. The door is left open to the reader to imagine what comes next.

The culture Sawyer created for the Neanderthals is extremely deep and complex. I’d have to say it is one of the more interesting and unique worlds I’ve read. The male and female Neanderthals live largely separate lives until they come together for 4 days each month. This is to control population and also provide time for other cultural developments. Each Neanderthal has specific contributions they make to the society. The Neanderthals all wear “Companions” that record everything they do and say, which means there is no way to get away with crime, get lost, etc. They have also actively controlled their genetic lineage and weeded out traits they find detrimental. Neanderthals often have both a man-mate and a woman-mate regardless of their gender. This is to give them companionship both when they are with their own gender and when the genders intermix. All of this is just the beginnings of explaining the world Sawyer created in the novels, which is extremely interesting.

The premise is also great, because it’s one of those “what-ifs” that I feel we all wonder about from time to time. This premise touches off the plot, which traces what might happen if we ran into a group of people very similar to us, yet with profound differences. Sawyer also clearly put a lot of time and effort into researching and inventing the science and technologies in the book. It feels like many of these are just within our reach if we could just cross certain thresholds to create them.

There are some serious difficulties with the books, however. First, the intriguing Neanderthal society is largely used as a Utopia by which we might contrast the failings that have occurred in our world with violence, the environment, and the like. Although this can be a useful plot device, it makes the whole thing feel a bit contrived and much more simplistic than interaction with such a complex society should have been. Sure, there are moral questions about eugenics and the like, but overall even those are largely brushed off as just another aspect of an apparently perfect society.

The trilogy has a few explicit scenes, and the one in which Mary and Ponter initially “get involved” is particularly explicit. I’m not a fan of such graphic detail being portrayed, and felt that the scenes were largely unnecessary to the plot and were very uncomfortable overall. Sawyer also clearly tried to put forward a kind of women’s rights agenda alongside the other issues raised (gun control, environmental issues, and the like), but despite seemingly trying to advocate for women’s rights, I think he largely failed here. Mary is raped early in the trilogy, and she has to deal with the various feelings that come with it. But ultimately, the rape is just another plot device to make other plot threads meet. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I think that such an act of violence should not be used instrumentally. Moreover, it was jarring how casually the scene was portrayed. There never seemed to be a strong emotional content to trying to get the reader to empathize either; rather than focusing on the great evil of such an act, it was more about Mary’s subjective response. Of course, this is probably at least in part because Sawyer had no basis for objectivity in the novels.

The greatest difficulty in the book is the continual misrepresentation of Christianity in particular and faith in general. Mary Vaughan is put forward as a Roman Catholic who allegedly presents the best defenses Christianity has to offer, but not only is she questionably Roman Catholic (can someone claim that title if they reject the doctrine of original sin and their Church’s teachings on abortion, birth control, and the like?), but the “defenses” offered are quite weak and poorly presented. Sawyer’s has the Neanderthals teach an alternative to Big Bang cosmology which allegedly undermines Christian belief in a universe with a beginning, but apparently fails to realize that for centuries Christians also believed and affirmed an eternal universe (see Aquinas, for example). The amount of care and research put into presenting the science in the novels is not evidenced in the representation of faith. In fact, at times the books read like thinly-veiled attacks on Christianity and belief in general.

Overall, the books were a rather big disappointment for me. The complexity of the invented Neanderthal culture is never fully cashed in,  the research and care put into the science in the book doesn’t carry into other areas, and the moral issues raised find no objective criteria for arbitration. It’s a decent sci-fi plot with some great imagination grounding it, but the baggage that comes with it makes it very difficult to recommend.

The Good 

+Intriguing plot
+Great premise
+Complex, amazingly deep culture invented for the Neanderthals
+Clearly lots of research behind science and invented science in books

The Bad

-Little research or insight into issues of faith
-Constantly misrepresents or fails to adequately present Christianity and other faiths
-Unnecessarily explicit sexual scenes
-Overly simplistic Utopia vs. Reality
-Seems to falter on its issues of women’s rights, despite clearly attempting to emphasize them

The Verdict

Grade: C- “A solid plot can’t salvage what seems to be a thinly-disguised assault on faith of all kinds and overly simplistic comparisons.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Aliens that believe in God: The theological speculations in Robert Sawyer’s “Calculating God”– I write about a different Robert Sawyer book that I did enjoy quite a bit, Calculating God. I even wrote a second post discussing abortion, fundamentalism, and other issues the book raised.

SDG.

80s Fantasy Movie Review: “Ladyhawke”

ladyhawke

Even the movie poster is stunning.

I embarked on a quest to watch through Tor’s list of 80s Fantasy. I haven’t seen many of those flicks, so I figured I’d watch through. Next up is “Ladyhawke,” yet another one I’ve never seen before–to my embarassment! There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

“Ladyhawke” is, at its most basic level, the story of a curse. Two men–a corrupt bishop and Etienne of Navarre, the Captain of the Guard–fall in love with a woman–Isabeau d’Anjou; one is rejected and decides to curse her for spurning him. Thus cursed, the woman is a hawk by day, and the man a wolf by night. Fearing endless torment, the man decides to kill the one who has put them in this condition, and thus begins a quest which leads to the curse being broken at last.

But “Ladyhawke” is way more than that. It’s got true love, adventure, escape, fighting, revenge…okay I’m not talking about “The Princess Bride,” but this is a fantastic movie. Basically everything goes right. Seriously.

But let’s get this out of the way–the thing that goes “wrong” is the music. It’s not terrible, but it’s almost 100% 80s synth-rock. I’m sure it seemed like a great idea at the time, but it has not stood the test of time very well.

With that out of the way, let’s explore what went right. First, the movie is stunningly filmed. The angles in each shot are just awesome, often with characters silhouetted against beautiful landscapes or sunsets. Second, the story itself is compelling and epic. It’s a true fantasy, and it feels like a fairy tale that I never knew about [it apparently is one, by the way]. Third, the characters are endearing and extraordinarily well-acted, particularly Mouse–the cutpurse comedian who dialogues with God throughout the movie–played by Matthew Broderick. Fourth, you get the idea–go watch the movie!

The humor from “Mouse” was sustained throughout, but there were a number of truly epic one-liners that just had me laughing with glee. I don’t want to reproduce them here both because they really should be watched and because some of them are only humorous contextually. I could see this becoming a movie I start to memorize and use lines from, though.

The story itself holds up remarkably well, for as simply as you can write it out. Again, this is largely due to the strength of the characters. Etienne is clearly distressed by the cursed condition and is driven to vengeance while Isabeau holds out hope. Mouse deftly inflames their love even more. Something about the curse itself seems simultaneously sad and awesome. If only they could morph into those animals at will rather than having it tear their love apart.

Seriously, this movie was amazing. I immediately purchased it (having gotten it from the library).

The Good

+Interesting main plot with just enough feeling of a “fairy tale”
+Great characters that are each well-acted
+Absolutely stunning cinematography
+Genuine humor that never takes away from the movie
+Fantastic dialogue

The Bad

-80s Synth Rock doesn’t quite seem to fit the tone of the film

The Verdict

Grade: A “A super epic fantasy movie that just blew me away. ‘Ladyhawke’ is AWESOME.”

Guest Grade (Wife): A “It was absolutely delightful all around.”

Conclusion

“Ladyhawke” is a tremendous film.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Time to Watch some 80s Fantasy Flicks– I describe my quest to watch a bunch of 80s fantasy movies. This post also features links to all the reviews done so far.

A Ranking of 1980s Fantasy that would please Crom Himself– The original list of movies that made me embark on this quest.

SDG.

Star Trek: TNG Season 5- “Ensign Ro” and “Silicon Avatar”

Opinionated barber is opinionated.

Opinionated barber is opinionated.

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“Ensign Ro”

Plot

The Enterprise is dispatched to try to deal with a Bajoran–a people persecuted by the Cardassians–terrorist who allegedly destroyed a Starfleet colony. Ensign Ro is assigned by Admiral Kennelly to assist with this quest, fresh out of prison. The crew is as unimpressed by her as she is by them at first, and they try to track down the Bajoran terrorist. Ro is revealed to be working with Kennelly to try to help the Cardassians, and after a conversation with Guinan she decides to fess up to Picard. It turns out, however, that the Bajorans didn’t commit this act at all; in fact, it seems it may have been a Cardassian ploy to try to get Starfleet to clean up their mess for them. Picard commends Ro and tells her Kennelly is likely to be court martialed.

Commentary

At last we are introduced to the Bajorans. I admit I had forgotten they showed up at all in the TNG universe and thought them limited to Deep Space 9. How (happily) mistaken I was! This is a great episode that not only sympathetically introduces a race of people but also seamlessly interweaves them into already existing storylines. It is easy to believe that the Cardassians would do such injustice because that is the persona given to them: warlike and most concerned with their own survival as opposed to anything else. The introduction of the Bajorans adds another layer of complexity over that storyline, and this episode does it very well.

Guinan also had another scene! Yay! I enjoy her character quite a bit, and the apparent rapport behind the story of Picard and her continues to offer tantalizing hints.

This is an all-around good episode with plenty of intrigue, interesting plot, and solid characterization.

Grade: A “A great blend of political backstabbing, buildup, and action. Give us more Bajorans!” 

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “I enjoyed Ensign Ro’s character development and the intrigue of the mission.”

“Silicon Avatar”

Plot

The Crystalline Entity which destroyed the colony from which Data hails shows up at another Starfleet colony to reduce it to rubble. The crew of the Enterprise set off in pursuit, aided by a xenobiologist, Dr. Kila Marr, whose son died on a colony that the Crystalline Entity destroyed. As Data and Marr try to work together despite Marr’s suspicion of Data, they piece together a way to perhaps try to communicate with the Entity. Meanwhile, Dr. Marr finds out Data has her son’s memories and even voice pattern in his memory banks and seems to believe that it may be her son. When the Enterprise finally encounters the Entity, she manages to use their form of communication to destroy it through resonance. Saying she did it for her son, she turns to Data for affirmation. Instead, Data argues it is not what her son would have liked at all.

Commentary

This is a decent episode with a great opening and several impactful scenes. The sense of foreboding surrounding the Crystalline Entity is well done, and some of the drama between Dr. Marr and Data is pretty interesting.

What makes this episode hard is really two aspects of the same problem: the notion that Data could be so gullible and oblivious and the quick descent into seeming madness that Dr. Marr experienced. I get that Data isn’t human and sometimes really can’t figure humans out, but seriously, he had a real rough time predicting the craziness of Dr. Marr here. Moreover, it’s hard to believe he wouldn’t have noticed her locking out the console to make sure the Entity was destroyed.

The episode also drags a whole bunch in some parts. A lot of filler with Dr. Marr and Data just sitting around talking to each other. It’s not awful, but it does make it slow down a ton.

It was nice to see the Entity show up again, as we keep having some interesting continuity with the series pop up at unexpected moments. It’s a testament to how well the universe was established in the earlier seasons that we can go back and visit concepts to learn more about them. This wasn’t a terrible episode; indeed it was pretty decent. But it was just that; decent.

Grade: B- “Some good emotional impact is marred by a quick descent to madness… and some sloth-like moments.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “It was overall good, but I have a hard time believing that Data is so inept at interpreting people… still.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: TNG– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

Star Trek: TNG Season 5 “Redemption Part II” and “Darmok”

Let's Darmok this, Shaka arms wide Temba. Sort that out for me!

Let’s Darmok this, Shaka arms wide Temba. Sort that out for me!

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“Redemption, Part II”

Plot

The Klingon Civil War continues as Romulans try to influence it through the Duras family. Picard gains permission to form a task force to prevent Romulan supplies from getting through to the Duras faction as Worf continues to fight for his honor among the Klingons. Data is assigned to captain one of the ships and his first officer doesn’t trust him to succeed. As Picard and the Romulans, led by the apparent daughter of Lieutenant Yar, play a chess game to see who will outsmart whom, Gowron and his forces attack several Duras bases, pressing them to the limit. Data’s decision to disobey an order in order to prevent the Romulan fleet from breaking through saves the day, and the Duras family is defeated. Worf, however, spares the life of the young Duras child and returns to duty.

Commentary

As with almost every one of the Klingon story arc episodes, this is jam-packed with story. There’s so much going on that I just will pick out a few highlights. First- Data: “I understand your concerns… request denied.” – In response to his first officer’s request to transfer. Epic.

Worf’s character is, in my opinion, one of the more complex ones in the series now. The writers have done well by putting forth his balanced loyalties and cultures sometimes face off against each other as he paves his own way between human and Klingon. His ultimate decision not to kill Toral–the Duras child–was just such an excellent moment. It really showed how he has come into his own rather than doing what is expected of him.

The way the heat was turned up during this Civil War arc over several episodes is also impressive, and seeing it come to fruition was great. I think having the Romulan commander be Tasha Yar’s daughter was unnecessary, and there are all kinds of questions we could ask over Worf’s leave of absence, resignation, and reinstatement, but none of that mars what is a simply phenomenal conclusion to a major story arc. The fact that they left it just open enough by sparing Toral and leaving Worf to develop further was also brilliant.

Grade: A+ “An overarching plot is brought to an epic conclusion with enough left open to continue it if desired. Worf’s back!”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “A satisfactory conclusion to the Worf Saga.”

“Darmok”

Plot

The Enterprise comes into contact with the Tamarians, a people who have tried to connect with Starfleet in the past but have failed due to an apparently incomprehensible language barrier. Picard is kidnapped by the captain of the Tamarian ship–Dathon–after another failure in communication, and as he delves into the motivation behind Dathon’s motivations, Riker and crew try to rescue him. Ultimately, Picard begins to realize the Tamarians are communicating in metaphor, and after Dathon is injured by a strange beast on the planet, tells the story of Gilgamesh to him. Dathon dies, and the crew of the Enterprise rescues Picard, who manages to forestall any conflict with the Tamarians by conversing with them via metaphor.

Commentary

Here’s an amazing idea for an episode: how do you create a language barrier for a people who has a “universal translator” at their disposal? Make the language entirely dependent on metaphor–references to things beyond the words and even grammar themselves. The universal translator can make the words, but cannot convey information it doesn’t have about what the metaphors mean.

Sure, this idea starts to break down the more you think about it (after all, to have metaphor, you have to be able to tell other people what the metaphors are about; or, as one friend said: “You can’t build starships with metaphors”), but that’s beside the point. The point of “Darmok” is that moment of connection, the transcendence beyond language when two people are able to come to an understanding of each other. And that’s where “Darmok” excels.

Viewers will probably figure out the metaphor angle faster than the crew/Captain did, but that doesn’t take away from the journey the episode takes as Picard struggles with Dathon to come to a mutual understanding. When Picard finally figures it out and then has his attempt to fight with Dathon interrupted by getting partially beamed up, his frustration is palpable: it’s just at the wrong moment! Then, when he tells the story of Gilgamesh to Dathon as Dathon is dying, it’s a beautiful scene which required the investment of time before it to be pulled off.

“Darmok” is such a memorable episode that it sticks with you for years afterwards. It’s one of the only episodes with a name I have memorized, and its impact is undeniable. Sure, you can’t push the premise too hard without finding some cracks in the edifice, but you don’t want to. It’s just that great.

Darmok and Jalad at Tenagra!

Grade: A+ “One of the most unique and satisfying episodes in the series.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A “They did a great job imagining a different culture with its own language and the challenge of communication.”

Two A+ this week means this episode-combo can only be tied for the highest grade ever awarded!

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: TNG– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

Microview: “Off Armageddon Reef” by David Weber

oar-weberDavid Weber is probably my favorite author as far as fiction is concerned, but I admit that I had put off starting his “Safehold” series for a while because I was afraid it’d ruin my perception of him–that is, as the author of the greatest military sci-fi I’ve read, the Honor Harrington series (see a discussion of one of the books here). Finally, I gave in and read it and just had to share my thoughts here.

Let’s get it out of the way: this a phenomenal way to start a series. Humanity has been all but destroyed by the alien threat known as the Gbaba. The last vestiges of humanity have been brainwashed (voluntarily) into losing all memory of technology–the way that humans were discovered by the Gbaba–and were then established on a planet, Safehold, to try to start afresh.

Some of the humans who went with them as these memory-altered humans were being sent to their planet, however, changed the programming to include an extremely powerful church hierarchy. Other humans want to stick with the game plan and have the last home of humanity be a place where they could regrow and develop technology planetside to avoid detection by the Gbaba.

These factions clashed, and from the ashes came Merlin–the main character–a kind of human-robot whose goal is to guide humanity along the second path and away from the hierarchy established by others. And that’s where this book takes off.

Weber does a masterful job interweaving elements of fantasy, political drama, and science fiction in what was one of the most exciting experiences I’ve had reading a book. He sets the table for a truly epic series–one I hope will develop towards an ultimate battle with the Gbaba.

As is typical with Weber, lengthy conversations and insights into politicking are interspersed with battles–here they are battles on the high seas instead of in space. In-depth descriptions of new technology are also offered, but they add to the depth of the story rather than ever seeming dry. There are also a number of questions related to theology, philosophy, and politics that come up simply as aspects of the plot. This adds another layer of depth to a book already brimming with awesome.

When I finished this book, I stood (I was rocking my sleeping baby in a front baby carrier) and smiled as I contemplated the breadth and depth of the new world that David Weber had just introduced to me. It was an amazing moment as I realized the true scope of the plot to which I had been introduced. I hope the rest of the series cashes in on this promise, and that we get a centuries-long epic.

The Good

+Vast world with great depth to individual nations
+Huge potential for later in the series
+Seamlessly interwoven questions of philosophy, theology, and more

The Bad

-Perhaps just a bit too much technical language interwoven into the story
-A very steep initial learning curve

Overall

Grade: A 

Off Armageddon Reef is an awesome beginning, and I can’t wait to read more of Weber’s Safehold series. I’m hoping it’s going to be a centuries-spanning epic that the introductory portion seemed to promise.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Microview– Read more microviews to discover more materials to experience! (Scroll down for more)

SDG.

80s Fantasy Movie Review: “Willow”

willow

They don’t make movie posters as epic as they used to. This is SWEET!

I embarked on a quest to watch through Tor’s list of 80s Fantasy. I haven’t seen many of those flicks, so I figured I’d watch through. Here, I review “Willow,” another one that I had never seen before. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

“Willow” is the story of a prophecy- one that says that a dark Queen–Bavmorda–will be overthrown by a child. Naturally, the Queen decides to check for all the children to see if they might be the prophesied one, but also naturally, that one is born and many people manage to work together to smuggle her away. Then, she ends up with Willow, part of a Nelwyn–race of little people–community. After they decide to take the child elsewhere because she’s not their problem, Willow gets embroiled in an adventure to protect the child alongside Madmartigan, a great swordsman (and seeming ne’er-do-well). Along with some Brownies and other characters met along the way, they protect the babe and Willow–the aspiring Sorcerer–saves the day.

Wait, what? I thought the kid was supposed to defeat the Queen! Well never mind that. And really, never mind basically any attempt to be serious about anything in this movie. After an opening that seemingly promised epic adventure, we are delivered a kind of silly, whimsical journey of Willow’s own discovery of himself as a hero.

But you know what? You don’t care. The movie is just that fun. So many scenes stand out as just being uproariously ridiculous, like when Madmartigan and Willow go swooping through the snow, with Madmartigan ultimately getting turned into a solid block of snow. It’s silly, it involves sword fighting, and it’s amazing. Time and again the film delivers huge action scenes that are infused with all kinds of silliness, and as a viewer I really didn’t mind. It just works. Part of what makes it work is that a great decision was made to leave virtually no time for the viewer to sit back and reflect on the plot. It’s just action followed by more action followed by hilarity, all in a continuous cycle. Another part that makes it work is that it is so genuinely humorous. Only rarely do the attempts at humor fall flat.

What does’t work so well is finding the audience. It’s clearly aimed at kids–Lucas himself apparently said so–but there is some pretty creepy stuff like the dark magic or some weird transforming trolls that are super gross. Also, there were clearly some scenes in which you as a viewer are supposed to be taking the movie more seriously… but you just can’t because of the context of the whole movie. It at times wants to be an epic fantasy, but it has sold itself so much on the comedy side that it can’t rebrand itself enough to be taken as seriously as it would like.

What does work, though, is the underlying theme of the “little person” against the overall evil and injustice in the world. No that wasn’t supposed to be a pun! But it works! Anyway, it’s a good story of Willow finding in himself more than he thought was possible, and a story of how one person can change the world.

“Willow” is one part epic adventure, one part a journey of self-discovery, and two parts silly. Whether that is a good thing or not is up to you.

The Good

+Genuinely hilarious moments
+Virtually no downtime between action scenes
+Great opening scenes
+Fun characters

The Bad

-Takes itself far too seriously for its content
-Some scary scenes make it hard to figure out what audience the movie was made for
-Somewhat enigmatic resolution of the plot

The Verdict

Grade: B+ “Oscillating constantly between ridiculous and taking itself too seriously, ‘Willow’ is a treat.” 

Guest Score and comment: My wife gives the movie a B+ “‘Willow’ was a delightful if somewhat absurd fantasy story.”

Conclusion

Silly and fun, “Willow” is an enjoyable adventure.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Time to Watch some 80s Fantasy Flicks– I describe my quest to watch a bunch of 80s fantasy movies. This post also features links to all the reviews done so far.

A Ranking of 1980s Fantasy that would please Crom Himself– The original list of movies that made me embark on this quest.