Tag Archives: Sci-fi

The Allure (and Curse) of Prequels

The concept of a prequel as a literary device has been around in one form or another for quite a long time in almost every medium. When The Phantom Menace came out in 1999, the idea of going back and telling the story of the Clone Wars was something that hadn’t been done before on that kind of cinematic scale. More than 20 years later, the Star Wars universe is still dipping into that well, and will likely continue showcasing stories that take place before A New Hope for the foreseeable future. 

Star Wars certainly isn’t alone in wanting to delve into the stories that take place before the original setting of the intellectual property. A short list of heavy-hitters appearing this year alone on TV includes (but is certainly not limited to) the following:

  • Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
  • House of the Dragon
  • Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
  • Obi-Wan Kenobi
  • (And just this week) Andor

Before I get into the particulars, let me say this: This post is not about the casting, fan backlash, or creative decisions involved with any of these shows. I have the greatest respect for the actors, crew, and digital artists who bring these shows to life. If you’re here expecting some sort of fanboy outrage at one or more of those groups, feel free to hit that “eject” button now and punch out. Byyyyeee.

Still with me? Excellent. What I hope to do with this blog is to take a look at the viability of prequels as a framework for telling  stories, exploring three things that make prequels attractive as well as three more that make them less appealing than an original story. With that in mind, let’s dive in.

The Allure

Nostalgia

The most obvious answer is that a prequel hopes to capture the magic that the property had before, tapping into the good will and warm fuzzies that we may harbor from previous iterations of said property. Depending on how subtle or overt this previous connection is handled, you might wind up with fun call-backs, but it runs the risk of becoming heavy handed with member berries. 

For the most part, I’m fairly forgiving of when the fan service gets too fan service-y. Even when this happens, it’s hard to deny that the feelings that are evoked when you see parallels play out. In the right hands, they can be profound. The best prequels are able to successfully excavate those little nuggets of emotion we have tied up with the original and shine new light on them.

Nostalgia is often a distortion of past events, though, filtered through the lens of a yearning for a past that may or may not have really existed except in our minds. While it can be a two-edged sword, it can also be a powerful reminder of what we love, reigniting our passion and enthusiasm in the present. 

More Time in the Setting

Stories taking place in settings we love are always finite. There are only so many episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, only so many Lord of the Rings movies. Once a setting has achieved that sort of critical mass in the hearts and minds of fans, it’s natural to want to go back to that place if given the chance. After all, we have friends there, favorite spots, and (in general) we know what we’re getting ourselves into. It’s a known quantity, and one we already like.

Settings with rich backgrounds are often the most fertile soil for prequels. If you’re a lore nerd like I am, who just loves to sink your teeth into the backstory and worldbuilding, this is a chance to see it brought to life. The mentor figure of a previous story might now take center stage as the protagonist of the prequel. Characters who are bitter enemies might be friends in this telling. Maybe you get to witness legendary events play out that were only ever talked about, or receive additional context to the original story.

Like the voyages of the original Constitution-class Enterprise? Well, here’s more of that. Remember the thrill of Game of Thrones? Let’s have another foray into Westeros, shall we? And so on.

A Safe Bet

Prequels don’t have the risk that new, completely original stories carry. There’s a built-in audience, likely one that’s hungry to see more of whatever it is. This makes prequel stories something comfortable for both the producers and consumers of media. If you liked this, you’ll surely love that.

It’s the same mindset that brings us sequels, but there’s an innate guardrail backed into prequels: You know where the characters are going. You don’t have to worry about coming up with the next big story arc, and you already have the end point established. You’re just filling in the gaps and adding additional layers to a story that’s already been told. 

The Curse

Spectacle Creep

The issue with going back before the ‘main’ timelines is that the temptation to make the prequel story bigger, grander, and more impressive often blows the originals out of the water. Consider the lightsaber duels in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. They are orders of magnitude more complex and fast-paced than the ones we see in the original trilogy.

The ever-increasing want to pile spectacle on top of spectacle, to outdo what audiences have experienced before, can be momentarily thrilling in the moment, but it always has the effect of making the source material seem far more mundane. This is especially noticeable when you watch the releases in that universe’s chronological order. Thus, prequels often have the side-effect of downgrading or side-lining the originals.   

Continuity Nightmare

By its very nature, a prequel does not exist in a void. It comes before something. It’s no easy feat to balance the needs of the prequel story with the constraints placed on it by the stories that released before it. It’s a delicate balance to walk. Lean too much into what’s been established and you risk severely limiting the scope of your story. Throw canon to the wind and the prequel story may not fit within the greater framework that exists in the minds of fans.

This is personally why I think that prequels can be a hard sell for long-running fandoms — it’s too easy to cause contradictions and lore breaks. Sure, not everyone cares about that. Most casual viewers probably don’t, but invariably there are fans who are invested in the universe that do want to see continuity maintained. Prequels are often the bane of those kinds of fans.

Now I know that, more often than not, these types of fans are dismissed out of hand as whiny manbabies, like a Youtube comment section come to life. But, I would argue that many of the fans that object to major breaks in a universe’s continuity just want all parts of the thing they love to work in concert, forming  a cohesive whole, rather than having elements that work in opposition to that. Major breaks in continuity can make that a bridge too far to span.

Lack of Stakes

Perhaps the worst curse of prequels is that we know that nothing will really change. Yeah, maybe we get a little extra insight into what leads up to the originals, but we know the story can only resolve in a certain way. We already know who lives and who dies.

That means that established characters that are alive and kicking in the future are effectively untouchable in the present. There are no stakes when the outcome is already known. When there are no stakes to a story, it can make everything in it feel brittle and unearned. It doesn’t matter how outnumbered, outgunned, or impossibly the odds are against them, we know that the heroes will make it through. It drains most, if not all, of the dramatic tension from the story as we already know the protagonists will win. Prequels are where the plot armor is thickest, and it shows.  

Final Thoughts

For one reason or another, we live in an age of prequels. In the case of both the Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones universes, it’s because the main stories have already been told, and it’s too soon for any sort of reboot. With Star Trek and Star Wars, they seem to both have an allergy to advancing their own timelines (with some exceptions), and would much rather set their stories in eras that have historically proven popular.

Combine that with the powerful urge for studios to create some sort of interrelated cinematic universe, and it’s a safe bet that the stream of inevitable prequel releases is just getting started.  

Still, there are some places even within those offerings  where new, original stories can thrive, ones that aren’t as beholden to other source material that have more space to grow. (Mandalorian, I’m looking at you.) While my instinct is usually to leave backstory as just that, I’m usually willing to give prequels stories a shot. Sometimes they land, and sometimes they don’t. After all, a story well told is a story worth your time, regardless of how much baggage it might carry from what has gone before.

So, I put it to you, dear reader, what are your thoughts on prequels? Do you like them, love them, despise them, or are you just sort of ‘meh’ on them? Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!


Update #3: Patreon Re-Launch!

Hey folks,

My new Patreon is now live and ready to go! It’s taken a few months of revamping other stuff, such as my website and store, but now there are new tiers, new rewards, and tons more fun stuff ready to go!

Oh, Captain My Captain!

Here’s some of the new stuff you can unlock, depending on your chosen tier:

  • Access to Patreon-only short fiction
  • Discounts on everything in the Sector M store
  • Early access to cover reveals, sample chapters, and other author-y goodness
  • Cooperative storytelling to develop the lore of the Sector
  • Invites to online Sector M hangouts, Q&A sessions, and more

So, if you like what I do, I would ask you to support Sector M on Patreon at whatever level makes sense for you. I would never (repeat never an infinity amount of times) ask anyone to give more than they can. Instead, I want the Patreon to be a community of SF/F fans and gamers who want to revel in their collective geekery and fandom, and build something new.

With that said, please go check out the membership tiers. If you have any questions, feel free to email at TheSectorM@gmail.com or use the contact form on my website.

See you around the Sector!

Si vales, valeo.

-MC


Fanboy Movie Review #13 — Captain Marvel

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion based off of a single viewing of the film. Oh, and there are SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

Captain Marvel, the latest feature film from Marvel, debuted three weeks ago. Sure, there have been other comic book movies featuring a female lead, even one set in the Marvel universe, but this is the first time we’ve had one in the MCU proper. It’s also a sort of prequel that’s largely set in the late ’80s and mid-’90s.

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Yaaaas Queen!

One thing real quick.

Yes, it’s tempting to compare this movie to 2017’s Wonder Woman, since both are female superhero adventure films, and speak directly to things like the perception of womens’ roles, inspirational female empowerment, and breaking societal molds. Still, they are two different movies, emerging from two different continuities. Wonder Woman was a gem that came out of nowhere from the chaotic mess that is the DCEU. In contrast, the MCU has far more entries and is much more consistent in terms of tone, direction, and writing.

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Perhaps one day when Disney owns everything we’ll  finally get this mighty team up. 

Truth be told, I had always hoped that Marvel would get to this point first (*cough* Black Widow *cough*), but I am glad that Wonder Woman came out first. For one, it gave DC a much-needed win, but it also allowed Captain Marvel to do its own thing, since it also had to be more aligned with Marvel’s metaplot and serve as the set up for Avengers 4.

First Impressions:

Carol Danvers is a fantastic character in the comics. She’s a military officer, a leader, a fearless combatant, and practically a one-woman army. When it comes to the upper tier of powerful heroes, she is easily up there with Thor, the Silver Surfer, and the Hulk. And considering the poor state of the Avengers at the end of Infinity War, they desperately need new allies. Adding Captain Marvel to the battleline is one helluva reinforcement. The MCU has a pretty slick track record for transitioning heroes from the page to the screen, so count me in.

What I LIKED:

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Over 9,000!!!

THAT STAN LEE TRIBUTE! I thought there might be a Stan Lee tribute in this movie since Captain Marvel is the first release since he passed away. I was not prepared for this. I’m tearing up just thinking about it. The Mallrats cameo was also very touching. Excelsior…

The Captain Herself – There was a lot of talk about how wooden Brie Larson is in this role. I disagree. She might be poker-faced, but that’s perfectly in keeping with the character she’s playing. She’s a soldier, a fighter pilot, and essentially a member of Kree special forces. She’s a storm contained in human form, but one who decides where and when to focus that power. That level of stillness (almost Zen) and determination in the face of the enemy is exactly what I would expect. I think her performance is much more nuanced than is being recognized.

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I see you. 

Nick Fury – What movie can’t be made better with the addition of Samuel L. Jackson, huh? What I like about this is that he is playing a proto-Fury, a less experienced, less hard-edged version of himself. He’s not at the top of his game yet, and while he is moving up the ranks of SHIELD, he’s not the master spy we see in later films. I love being able to look into this period of the character’s life. That leads me to my next point.

Agent Friggin’ Coulson – Coulson was the common thread that brought together a diverse array of heroes into the Avengers, and his death cemented their resolve. I was overjoyed when he returned in Agents of SHIELD, even though he is remains the ‘unsung’ hero of the continuity. Seeing him as the new guy at SHIELD was great. It goes a long way to explain why Coulson is so loyal to Director Fury later on. Of course, I wish he had a larger role, but I was glad to see him at all. Thanks, Phil.

Talos – Ben Mendelsohn is a fantastic actor. He’s played the villain in a few high-profile films in the last few years, from Nolan Sorento in Ready Player One, to Orson Krennic in Rogue One. When he shows up on screen, I sort of expect him to be evil, which is why his casting for the role of Talos is so inspired. It’s a meta bait-and-switch to find out that, no, Talos is actually a sympathetic character who is fighting to ensure the safety of his family. Brilliant. If Ben’s game for it, I would love to see Talos appear in future installments.

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“Mind if I have a drink of your tasty beverage to wash this down?”

GOOSE – I love the running joke that everyone in the know is instantly terrified when they find out Goose is a Flerken. The big reveal that Goose is hyper lethal when he wants to be is a great moment of the film. The only downside is that I think they played the Goose card a bit too much in the last part of the movie.

Carol “Avenger” Danvers – I’ve heard that some folks didn’t care for the reveal of how the Avengers Initiative got its name. I thought it was a nice touch, especially since the alternate name “Protector” was more accurate for the idea Fury had, but was bland. Giving Carol the credit for naming the program is a nice way to include her in the growing mythology of the movies. Maybe that’s just me.

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Perhaps we’ll get a Photon/Pulsar on screen in the future, or even a second Captain Marvel. 

Lieutenant Trouble – Actress Akira Akbar plays a young Monica Rambeau, a character who grows up (in the comics) to take the mantle of Captain Marvel for a time. Her mother’s callsign of “Photon” was also fun, as Monica takes that as her superhero name later on. Since we are fast-forwarding back to the present in Endgame, perhaps we will get to see Monica grown upon Carol’s return, perhaps even following her mother’s example and joining the military.

Where’s Fury? – That post credit sequence was intense. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the one to explain the situation to her. Yikes.

What I DIDN’T Like:

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Good thing she was right. 

The “Light Speed Engine” – The central MacGuffin of the film, which also serves to give Captain Marvel her powers, doesn’t fit. We are told time and time again that it will end the war. How? When you have the ability to travel from the Kree capital to Earth by opening a single hexagonal wormhole, an engine that goes the speed of light would be unimaginably slower. It would take you 4 years and some change to reach Proxima Centauri. Reaching another galaxy would take millions of years, relatively speaking. So how would that affect the course of the war? If there was a piece of dialogue to explain this, I didn’t catch it.

Pacing – The first part of the film starts off slow, and could have used some tightening up. I will give them credit for framing a large part of the early exposition as Talos and company scanning through Carol’s memories. “No, no, let me drive.”

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Wait…wut?

Nick Fury’s Eye – If I recall correctly, the Ultimates Nick Fury lost his eye in a duel with Wolverine, thus the three visible scars across his ruined eye. Since Marvel Studios didn’t have the rights to the X-Men when the character first appeared at the end of Iron Man, we were left with the mystery of how the world’s foremost super-spy lost an eye. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Fury tells Cap, “The last time I trusted someone, I lost an eye.” Now we know it was Goose, who paws at his eye for no apparent reason. This is the MCU equivalent of finding out that Han Solo’s last name comes from some guy at starport customs. It’s underwhelming, and Fury himself doesn’t seem too upset about it. Almost any other explanation would have been better than this one. Ugh.

Nick Fury’s Retcon – It’s established in the early MCU that Nick Fury worked with Howard Stark. He even tells Tony in Iron Man 2 that he knew Howard better than his own son. Unless a senior member of the SHIELD’s steering committee, (who died a few years before the events of Captain Marvel, at the hands of the Winter Solider) took a very rookie agent under this wing, this doesn’t bear out. It also seems to contradict some of the back and forth between Fury and Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce in Winter Soldier. I have to wonder if anyone at Marvel Studios acts as a sort of ‘line editor’ for the movies just to get these little bits of continuity right. Yeah, yeah, I know—it’s a fanboy nitpick, but consistency is the glue of any great continuity. It’s making sure that if the aliens attacked on a Tuesday in one place, they aren’t referenced as attacking on Saturday somewhere else. 

“I’m Just A Girl” – I’m all for ’90s music, which this movie has in spades. I’m also down for Gwen Stefani and No Doubt…just maybe not during a serious combat sequence. I get the message the song is sending, and it’s good one. Still, I like to imagine that when Captain Marvel steps foot on the battlefield that it’s like the rush of an oncoming storm. Something like Carmina Burana should start playing, or something rousing. Pinar Toprak delivered a wonderful score, one with remarkable depth and subtlety. Why not let her drive home the importance of this fight with an inspirational battle theme that’s uniquely Carol’s? Having the fight play out to “I’m Just A Girl” made it seem gimmicky and cheapened the moment.

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A bit anticlimactic. 

“I Don’t Need To Prove Anything To You” – A funny moment in the film to be sure, but one that seemed like a cop out. Earlier in the story we see Carol and Yon-Rogg sparing. I thought this would be the Chekhov’s Gun for later in the movie when they square off again. I wanted to see Carol defeat her previous mentor by outclassing him, and not just because she used her powers. Again. The most telling moments in Black Panther were when T’Challa didn’t have his powers, and still had to fight for Wakanda. I know why it played out this way, but I think it was a missed opportunity to show that Carol could be a badass even without her powers.

The Science Guy – Poor unnamed Skrull “Science Guy.” I’m not sure why he was left behind in the first place. Surely Carol didn’t think that he could stand up under Yon-Rogg’s professional scrutiny (smoking out Skrull infiltrators is kinda his job). Krill Vye the Science Guy seemed nice, if maybe a little bumbling and out of his scope. Too bad his allies left him to die like that. Tragic.

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Round 1…FIGHT!

Unresolved Questions:

There’s the usual stuff about why Fury didn’t use the pager during the Chitauri Invasion, which was led by a renegade Asgardian deity, or when a maniacal AI decided to build a vibranium mass driver. But I suppose we already have the answer to that in a real life sense.

Apart from that, it appears that Captain Marvel’s powers are derived from the Tesseract/Space Stone itself. Is it possible that Thanos might be able to take her powers away since he controls the blue stone? Or might it be the other way around and grant her some measure of immunity from that stone in particular?

As a fan, the real question I’m asking is: How will Captain Marvel interact with the surviving Avengers once she’s returned to Earth? What role will she play in the events ahead, and in whatever victory is to come out of all that. She will be joining a team that already has an existing dynamic and established leader, so how will that work out? I’m looking forward to finding out.

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See you in Endgame, Avenger.

Conclusions:

It’s strange that we are 11 years into the MCU and they are still producing “origin story” movies. And yet, they have it down to a science because I think Captain Marvel definitely works. The vibe inside the theatre was electric, and I could see wide smiles on the many young girls in the audience. For those little ones who wanted a sterling example of superheroism up on the screen, they definitely found it.

The best part was the energy in the lobby as I left the theatre. There were bunches of people all standing around discussing it, laughing, and recapping their favorite moments and quotes. Not even Infinity War had that kind of effect. (Maybe that was because we were all in shocked silence.) At any rate, the movie has its share of flaws and missteps, but so has practically every movie that Marvel has every released. Ultimately, I think that Captain Marvel is a welcome addition to the MCU, and a fantastic character to add to the existing dramatis personae.

Thanos should be worried.

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.


The Mountain and the Sector of M

As I was doing research on Neil Gaiman for my last blog post, I came across a clip of him giving a commencement speech in 2012. Clad in an academic cap and robes, Mr. Gaiman gave an interesting thought model for how he steered his way forward, creatively.

I’ll be paraphrasing from that speech in just a moment. You can find it here in its entirety, and it’s well worth a listen. It’s the part about the mountain, that caught my attention. It’s a simple way of looking at things for a writer, or indeed any artist who wants to pursue art. As we explore the idea, I’ll tell you my own thoughts and goals.

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Only the road will not be as flat or straight.

So, imagine a mountain in the distance. That mountain is your goal, whether it’s to become an artist, write a novel, a screenplay, learn to play the trombone, or what have you. Whatever it is you’re dreaming of, it’s there in the distance, waiting for you. In my case, it’s to become a professional author, and be able to devote myself to writing fiction full-time.

Now, think about the best route to get to the mountain. It’s deceptively easy, and often easier said than done. What would it take for you to follow that route to the mountain? What it means in my case is to make enough of an income from being an author that I can pay the bills. I never write my stories with dollar signs spinning in my eyes like Looney Toons. And yet, if I am going to pay the electricity bill by way of my stories, money has to enter the picture at some point. (Unless the electric company starts accepting speculative fiction as currency, so yeah.)

Let’s say that you’ve clearly identified what life goal your mountain represents AND you have mapped out the best way to get there. If you’re at that point, you still have to actually get to the mountain, right? You still have to walk that path. This part is perhaps the hardest because no plan survives contact with the enemy. There will always be setbacks and obstacles, no matter your course, and along the way you will need to make choices.

And it’s here that Mr. Gaiman really nails it. Whenever you’re faced with a decision, ask yourself this: Does this move me towards the mountain, or away from it? He mentions that there are lucrative jobs he passed up because he felt they wouldn’t bring him closer to the mountain, jobs that he might have taken earlier on his journey, since those opportunities were closer to the mountain than he was at that time.

It’s a pretty beautiful way of looking at it all. Envision the goal, plan your way forward, and make choices with the goal in mind. And if you ever do reach the mountain, look for the next one.

Truth time, folks.

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He’s going to tell! He’s going to tell!

I’m on the third leg of that journey, the making choices part. I see the goal in front of me, I see what it’s going to take to get there, and I’m making far-reaching life choices to bring it about. What I realize, however, is that I will need help along the way. After all, a writer without a reader is almost nothing at all.

If you read this blog on a regular basis, or you are familiar with my work, I ask that you support what I do at Sector M, in whatever form you’re able. I’ll have plenty of links at the end of this post for your consideration.

The best way to support me as an author is to buy one of my books. Obvious, right? My novel, The Backwards Mask, has just been re-released in e-book format, and we’re working on a print-on-demand version. If you haven’t read it, now is an ideal time to check it out.

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Find it here.

Additionally, I have an anthology of short fiction coming out next month called Strange Reports from Sector M. It’s primarily science fiction with a little bit of urban fantasy and horror thrown into the mix. This release will include both an e-book and a paperback version. I’ll post the link here, among many places, when the book debuts next month.

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Coming soon.

If you pick up any of any of my books, I ask only that you leave a review. Aside from buying the book itself, leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads (or both) is the single best thing you can do for an independent author. I cannot overstate this.

Outside of books, you can buy a Sector M shirt, mug, or the like, or support me directly on Patreon. Or PayPal for that matter, if you prefer one-time contributions.

Beyond that, there are many ways to support me on my journey that are free. For one, if you’re reading this blog, subscribe to it. The same goes for following me on various social media, whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, or any of them.

And if your mouse finger just can’t quite find the motivation, helping me out can be as simple as telling a friend about my work, or pointing them in the direction of my books and/or this blog. Know anyone who likes science fiction or fantasy? Tell. Them. Word-of-mouth should never, ever be underestimated.

Okay, I’m promised some links. One last time for those in back, please consider supporting my ongoing efforts by any of the following means.

The Backwards Mask — the re-release of my science fiction novel.

Strange Reports from Sector M — Link coming as soon as it goes live.

Sector M Store — T-shirts, mugs, phone covers and more.

Patreon—Support me directly, and get some cool perks.

PayPal— For one-time amounts, use: thesectorm@gmail.

Subscribe to this blog — If you haven’t already.

Like me on Facebook — A good place to start.

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram: @TheSectorM

Join me on Goodreads — See what I’m reading, ask me a question, read my reviews, etc.

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel — More content to come as time allows.

Check out my other works— I have a few stories out that you can read for free on my website, with more of them to come.

And there you have it, folks. My mountain is there in the distance, and its name is Sector M. With your help, I have no doubts that I will reach it.

See you around the Sector!

 

Si vales, valeo.

-MC


(New)Battlestar Galactica and My Roller-Coaster Fandom

Richard Hatch passed away last week, and it got me to thinking. Most folks probably remember him as Captain Apollo, starring beside Dirk Benedict and Lorne Greene in the original Battlestar Galactica. My favorite role of his was in Galactica, but not in that one. I’m talking about his role in the 2004 reboot as the calculating political operator, Tom Zarek.

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Previously, on Battlestar Galactica…

While lamenting Mr. Hatch’s passing, I found myself revisiting the music of both the original and reimagined series. Of course, I still feel the thrill and majesty of the original main theme. As a connoisseur of space operas, that one is pretty boss. Inevitably, I began listening through the score of the ‘new’ series, which is tonally much darker and angst-ridden (pretty much like the show itself).

For the most part, I don’t look back on New Galactica very fondly, mainly due to the nonsensical third and fourth seasons, and the X-files/LOST kind of ending that was disappointing in the extreme. But then I rediscovered the track “Reuniting the Fleet.” Go ahead, give it a listen. I’ll wait.

The same mix of drums and the uilleann pipes are a direct callback to an earlier piece of music, “A Good Lighter.” Both instantly transported me back to my favorite moments in New Galactica. One is where Adama, played by Edward James Olmos, shared a moment with his son, Apollo, (Jaime Bamber) on the flight deck before an all-important mission. While I take issue with the direction of the show, the peformances remain incredible, and this scene between them – just thinking about it as I write this – gives me a big ol’ lump in my throat.

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I’m not crying. You’re crying!

The same is true for the “Reuniting the Fleet.” Faced with leaving the colonists behind on New Caprica in search of Earth, Adama makes the decision to reunite his people, who were sharply divided down ideological and political lines. I remember watching that scene on TV and being moved by it. Now, it’s downright profound.

With this level of emotion, atmosphere, and acting, how could my immediate impression of the show be negative, now after nearly eight years since it went off the air?

There are so few shows that leave me with such mixed emotions. The aforementioned X-files and LOST are two of them, certainly. These are shows that I absolutely loved at the beginning, but by the end watching an episode was uncomfortable, and largely consumed out of ‘fan duty’ if that makes any sense. And also the hope that it would get better.

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*holding in the existential dread* It’s going to get better…right?

When I first discovered New Galactica, I feel in love. Unlike many old-school Galactica fans I know, I really loved the darker more helpless tone of the new show. It really felt like a great tragedy had befallen the survivors of the Fall of the Twelve Colonies, and this had scarred them all to a lesser or greater extent. Here was military science fiction I could really sink my proverbial teeth into.

The first and second seasons of New Galactica, as well as the first few episodes of season three were not only some of the best sci-fi I’d ever seen on TV, but also one of the best dramas. Full stop. Again, I cannot say enough good things about the performances turned in by Olmos, Callis, Sackhoff and so many others. Bear McCreary’s score put it over the top. The discovery of Kobol and the hint that old gods where not who they seemed, the return of the Pegasus, and the interplay between Adama and Cain…wow. Intense. Like Samuel L. Jackson in the diner with Tim Roth in Pulp Fiction.

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Yeah, pretty much like that.

But once our intrepid heroes blasted their way off of New Caprica, season three took an immediate nosedive. They had gotten the show back on the road, back on the quest for Earth, but it seemed like the writers and showrunners had less of an idea of what to do next. The intro to the show boasted of the Cylons that ‘they have a plan,’ but it became apparent that the showrunners didn’t.

Season three felt like this strange mix of individual character studies that didn’t seem to support what had gone before. Previous to this, each episode had stacked on top of the last, adding layers to the story while adding new developments, new wrinkles. These new episodes, however, felt like you could pull them out of the pile and they wouldn’t be missed. In fact, ‘Hero’ was an episode that I think weakened the series as a whole.

The continuity began to unravel and characters began acting, well, inconsistent to say the least. Adama is willing to stand Cally up against a bulkhead and execute her if Chief Tyrol doesn’t comply to his demands because ‘he can’t have people deciding when to obey orders,’ but does nothing to Helo for disobeying orders when they could have shown Hugh the insidious diagram and destroyed the Borg Collective…er—I mean the Cylons, and saved the human race. And then Helo is promoted to CAG, even after this incident…and he’s not even a pilot.

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Baltar isn’t so sure about that. Baltar is not alone.

There were some bright spots along the way, to be sure. I’m a huge fan of Jane Espenson, and so the middle of the season got a bump with “The Passage” and “The Eye of Jupiter.” But then the ‘All Along The Watchtower’ moment happens at the end of season three that really looked like the show had gone off the rails, and I wasn’t sure it was coming back.

It took more than a year, but come back it did. There was a little improvement, but that’s when the ‘Final Five’ story arc came into play, and for me…the worst thing about the show, not counting the ending. I was this close to just calling it and watching something else. It takes a lot for this fanboy to want to pack up and go home, but I was done.

Then we got to the mutiny arc and, by Grapthar’s Hammer, we were back, baby! The excitement, the drama, the everything…I wanted to shout at the producers: “This is what I’m talking about! Every episode should be like this!

But after that, the show went back to floundering. They found ‘Earth’ only it wasn’t Earth, and we got a pretty weak explanation of how the Twelve Models came to be, even though it didn’t make much sense AND seemed to contradict what we knew about them already. Again, I must stress, Final Five = Worst Part of the Show. Somebody should have really gamed this out ahead of time. I understand writing yourself into a corner, but come on.

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Submitted for your approval…

By this time we all knew that Season Four would be New Galactica’s last. You couldn’t tell it by the way the story plodded on, however. The episode “Someone to Watch Over Me” did not feel like a series with only a few episodes left, but rather a series that still had three or four seasons still to come.

And the ending? Well, let’s just say that it would take the god-awful ending of LOST to eclipse New Galactica on my ‘Worst Ever’ list. It still remains in a solid #2 spot, however. From eschewing technology for no good reason, to Kara’s unexplained departure, and even Adama deciding to live alone for the rest of his life rather than with his son, there are so many horrid things here that a recounting of them all would be a blog post unto itself. It had some interesting action sequences, and *something* of a resolution to the ‘All Along the Watchtower’ craziness of before, but…well, yuck. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

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Yeah, Brah, I don’t what to make of that either.

So why do I bring this up? Is it just to bash a long-time fanboy disappointment? A bit, yeah. But really it’s to show the extreme ends of the pendulum here, and the lasting impression it made on me both coming and going.

Understand that I still use Bear McCreary’s music when I write. (If you ever need to write an epic combat scene, put “Prelude to War” on your playlist, trust me.) I follow the projects of cast members of this show as much as I do for Firefly, or Babylon 5, or Star Trek. I love to see cosplay of these characters, and enjoy fan theories on the connections between the original series and the new.

That’s still with me.

This show meant something to me. It still does to some degree. I only wish that more care and energy had been put into the latter half of the series to match the first. To me, New Galactica serves as both a shining example and a cautionary tale of what to do/not do in modern science fiction.

Like with people, you have to take the good with the bad here. And in that sense, boy howdy is New Galactica like the contradictory nature of the deeply flawed people it portrayed in the show.

Can I get a “So Say We All”?

 

 


Backwards Compatible – Part 7: Double Vision

[Note: It’s been almost two years since the last installment of this series. Since there’s been something of a resurgence of The Backwards Mask lately, I think it deserves a continuation. This series was meant to inform folks of the odd experience of writing my first novel, and this part explains some of the confusion surrounding it.]

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Fun Fact: Foreigner’s hit “Urgent” was an oft-repeated song on my writing playlist for this book.

To recap, I found myself with the opportunity to complete a trilogy that had been started by another author, Paul Brunette. This new book had to pull double duty as both the conclusion of a trilogy, wrapping up the loose ends set up in the first two books, as well as a standalone novel since years had passed since the previous volume in the series.

I finally had the dark counterpart for to challenge my antagonist, and the stage was set for a final showdown between the two them. Development of the manuscript continued as I finally began to find traction with each character. Many of them were inherited from the previous books, so it took a while for them to really speak to me, and for me to make them my own. Everything just sort of clicked.

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Full speed ahead, Colonel Sanders!

 

Some of the most intense writing sessions I’ve ever had occurred during this time. Understand, I’m a pretty slow writer. Maybe not GRRM slow, but I’m lucky to write 500-750 words in an hour when I’m really on it. Once during this time, I wrote more than 13,000 words, with minimal errors, in a session lasting only a little more than three hours. That goes to show how dialed in I was to the character and the stories.

It was so strong…(How strong was it?)

It was so strong…that a character I fully intended to kill off in an escape attempt utterly defied me. I tried several ways to kill this character and nothing worked. She survived until the end of the story. (I’ll leave you guessing which one it was.)

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A life of its own, indeed.

At this point, the manuscript was about 80% done, and it was pretty long already. Still, everything was coming together. I knew what needed to happen. Now I just needed to get it down on paper. And that’s when it happened…

Paul Brunette’s version of The Backwards Mask surfaced online, on a fan fiction site. Neither I nor Marc Miller had any clue that it existed. As far as we knew, it had been discussed before Game Designer’s Workshop closed its doors in the ’90s, but never written.

But there it was, staring us in the face. Worse, (for me, at least) it was complete. Suddenly all the work I had put into the project seemed in jeopardy. I was an outsider to the series, and my book wasn’t finished. Here was a manuscript, by the original author, that was done and ready to go. Further, I was afraid that fans of Traveller or the first two Brunette novels would see his version as the ‘real’ version, and mine as some sort of weird exercise in fan fiction, or relegated to ‘rogue’ status. You know, like Never Say Never Again, the Bond film that doesn’t ‘count.’

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Not exactly what I had mind…

Thankfully, Marc Miller didn’t kick me to the curb. Instead, he made the decision to make both versions of The Backwards Mask available to the public. So you see, that is why there are two versions of the book floating around out there.

Naturally, this has led some to ask me: Did you take any cues or inspiration from the Brunette version? The answer is simple: no.

I made it a point not to read any of the other version until months after I had already turned my finished manuscript into Marc Miller. Even then, I got a few chapters in before I decided to read no more. To this day, I’ve never read it to completion. Not because it’s bad, but because it is uniquely weird to me as a reader.

It took me about three years to write The Backwards Mask. If you’ve read this blog series from the beginning you can see that there were many obstacles I had to overcome as far as finding a direction, guessing at the previous author’s intent, and generally trying to deliver the best book I could. After all that, reading the other version was like looking into some Twilight Zone/alternate timeline where I hadn’t put in hours upon hours exploring the mindset of the characters, plotting out action sequences, or rewriting whole tracks of dialogue.

I never realized how much ownership I had put into my manuscript until I began reading someone else’s take on the material. It’s a kind of weirdness that only affects me, but I just couldn’t read it. I still can’t. Even though I didn’t create Coeur, Dropkick, Crowbar, and Deep Six, I still feel the connection I forged with them years ago. Writing the final lines of the last chapter was bittersweet. Coeur’s frame of mind closely mirrored mine as the story came to a close.

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“Then again, all good things must come to an end.”

So now there were two versions of The Backwards Mask slated for release, and we were on the countdown to launch. And next time, we’ll talk about my scramble to get everything ready for publication.

[Check out The Backwards Mask on Kindle.]


Will We Ever Outgrow Violence?

This is a departure for me on this blog. Normally, I’m content to write about pop-culture, video games, nostalgia stuff, and generally get my geek/fanboy on.

I’m writing this the day after five police officers lost their lives in downtown Dallas, not 20 miles from where I sit right now. So, when I say this hits close to home, I mean it.

There’s so much that can be said, and will be said, about the events of last night. For my part, I don’t believe that being on the side of Black Lives Matter means that you are anti-police, or vice versa. It’s easy to become cynical an inured to these things when they happen, which is all too often.

But this got me thinking.

Will we, as a species, ever outgrow violence?

There is much about humanity that is admirable. We have the ability to adapt, to innovate, to guard those who cannot protect themselves, to learn and imagine, to create and to teach. We went to the MOON for crying out loud! We put rovers on Mars and satellites around Jupiter and as far away as Pluto. That is why the space program captures my imagination so much; it is the perfect summation of Humanity’s determination, perseverance, and triumphant spirit. We’ve bootstrapped ourselves up from using stone tools and wearing crude skins to being able to play Pokemon Go on our smartphones.

But, even in the midst of all of the great things we’ve accomplished, we still don’t mind killing each other, even when we KNOW the pain and suffering it causes. We keep on doing it, anyway. Whole industries are devoted to finding better and more efficient ways to kill our fellow man.

Maybe it’s hypocritical for a guy who writes military science fiction to wax philosophic about the futility of violence, but I am already a study in contractions anyway. So be it. But, back to my original question – will there come a day when Humanity decides violent solutions are not the way?

I doubt I’ll live to see that day, but for my part, I think the answer is yes. Some science fiction gives us glimpses of future generations of humans who learned from the mistakes of their primitive, misguided forebears (which means us, BTW). Those hypothetical humans of tomorrow choose a different way. They grow out of their infancy, embracing our best traits and discarding our worst. While those may just be stories, or wishful thinking on the part of the authors, I firmly believe that if we can imagine it, we can eventually make it a reality.

Here’s my ‘Captain Obvious’ moment, but just go with me for a minute: Every life lost to intentional violence diminishes us all.

Let me explain: Each of us has the capacity to influence and inspire those around us. Heck, in a digital age, we have the ability to influence people from afar that we’ve never met. Take a moment and think of the people who have helped you in the past, or challenged you to reach higher than you ever thought you could, the people who made you who you are today. How would your life be different if they hadn’t been there for you, if they had been at the wrong place at the wrong time?

Oftentimes we see the names of victims in plain text and it may not sink in what we’ve lost. What if one of those names was destined to be the next Mozart, or Newton, or Shakespeare? What might they have inspired in those around them, and what does the absence in the lives of those closest to them ultimately cost us?

We’ll never know, of course, just as we won’t know how much more advanced we might have been if the Library of Alexandria had not been destroyed. But, we can safely guess that it would be to our benefit.

Look, what I’m saying is that our time on this planet is limited; all of us are on a countdown timer, whether we like it or not. There are many things that could end our lives that we have no control over. Earthquakes, disease, accidents, asteroid impacts – we can’t do much about those except try to mitigate the effects.

The violence we do to each other, however, is something we absolutely can control. It is a choice, and each time we choose to do it, the sum potential of what the human race can accomplish is lessened. Some part of us is lost.

Let us hope that this realization dawns on us, as a species, sooner rather than later.


Continuity in Sci-Fi

In this author’s opinion, continuity is the glue that holds a sci-fi universe or series together. When I speak of ‘continuity’ in this sense, I’m not talking about whether an actor looks the same from one shot to another, or that the level of someone’s drink doesn’t fluctuate between scenes. No, I’m talking about a storyline that keeps itself internally consistent.  I’m a super stickler for that kind of thing. Why?

Science fiction already requires some help to suspend the reader or viewer’s disbelief. We’ve got aliens, flying cars, faster-than-light travel and all that good stuff we don’t have running around in real life. When the boundaries of that continuity are smooth and seamless, it makes it a heck of a lot easier to swallow the concept of Klingons, lightsabers and giant robots.

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This is one of the largest cranes in the world.
Sometimes even this isn’t enough to suspend my disbelief.

But when the continuity is sloppy or inconsistent, when the established rules of that universe are lazily ignored, the cracks show through in a hurry. It reminds us that we’re not peering off into some other distant time and place, but rather that we’re looking at a bunch of actors standing around on a set made of plastic and wood. Sci-fi movies, novels, TV shows, and comic books all desperately need a solid continuity just as a given. It’s the foundation on which the story is built. Build a house on a faulty foundation, and well, you get the idea.

So, here are three examples from sci-fi where the continuity frayed with varying degrees of consequences. Here we go…

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

First off, I love this movie. James Cameron is my favorite action director, hands down, and I think this movie is some of his finest work. His stories tend to be pretty well thought out, which is why this continuity slip irks me. In the first Terminator movie, Kyle Reese tells Sarah Connor that time travel is only possible due to ‘a field generated by a living organism.’ This explains why Kyle arrives in 1984 wearing only his birthday suit  with no futuristic equipment like plasma pulse-rifles, etc. The Terminator itself is a machine, but its endoskeleton is covered with actual living tissue, so that explains that, right?

In T2, however, the T-1000 comes through just fine. Even though it appears to be a man (and still arrives naked), its entire body is actually made of a liquid metal (a mimetic polyalloy if you want to get technical). There’s nothing organic about it, at least nothing that’s ever revealed to the audience. So, how exactly did it travel through time?

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If I can shapechange into anything, why was I naked when I arrived?

Granted, we get all of our information about time travel from Kyle, who admits he doesn’t ‘know tech stuff,’ but it still causes a wrinkle. Even if it doesn’t destroy the movie for me (and it doesn’t), it still reminds me that someone wasn’t paying attention to their own canon.

Battlestar Galactica “Hero”

This episode of the reimagined Galactica series is from the notoriously wobbly Season 3. I’m not sure what happened to this show. It went from being some of the best sci-fi I have ever seen on television to a show that was almost painful to watch near the end. Season 3 was really where the continuity of the show wore thin, and this episode pretty much sums it up for me.

If you haven’t seen it, let me explain: So, Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) is being awarded a medal for his years of meritorious military service. Adama, however, harbors a secret that’s been tearing him up inside. We get a flashback to when he commanded the Battlestar Valkyrie a year before the 13 Colonies of Cobol were destroyed. It turns out that he may have been the one who inadvertently touched off the war with the Cylons (or so he suspects), which resulted in billions of deaths. So, being awarded a medal for heroism cuts him like a knife. It is full of angst and regret, moving background music, and it’s exquisitely acted by a veteran cast.

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Wait, where was I again?

So what’s the problem? Well, it had been established previously that Adama had been in command of the Galactica for several years leading up to the outbreak of war. So how could he have been on the mission with the Valkyrie, when he was already firmly stationed on Galactica? Whoops! Someone needed to keep track of their timeline a little better, huh? It undermined the entire episode, and quite frankly, the show would have been better off as a whole if it had been left out.

Star Trek: Enterprise

My first example was pretty minor.  My second was pretty bad…but the last is one of the worst offenders I can think of – Star Trek: Enterprise.  Not just one episode, nor even one season, but the entire series from start to finish.  It’s one of the most glaring continuity errors in science fiction history. Why is that?

The series takes place in the timeline well before Kirk and Spock, serving as a prequel to the other Star Treks. The Enterprise in this Star Trek series is touted as the first human-manned ship to leave our solar system. In fact, that’s a major part of the show’s pilot episode. For her time, she’s supposed to be the most advanced starship ever built by human hands, and is supposed to have started the legend that later starships named Enterprise would build upon. James T. Kirk, John Harriman, Rachel Garrett and Jean-Luc Picard all stand upon its shoulders, right?

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Nope, not there.

So why is there no mention of it before this series? Wouldn’t a ship occupying that singular place in human history be mentioned before that somewhere? Well, in the conference room aboard Picard’s Enterprise-D, you can see the outlines of past ships bearing that name. There’s a string of ships from the aircraft carrier, to Kirk’s original ship, then the A, the B, and up through D.

So where is the Enterprise-NX in all of that? It’s suspiciously absent from the lineup. That’s because the showrunners made her up on the spot without much consideration for what history had already been established for the show. They could have chosen any other name for the ship and been okay. The Valiant, the Constellation, the Good Ship Lollipop, S.S. Minnow – anything, and it would have worked out just fine. But no, they just had to go and name her Enterprise, didn’t they?

And this show ran for 5 seasons.

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Braaaaaaaaggggaaaaaa!

Yeah, that was pretty much what I thought, too.

So, is all of this needless nitpicking by a fan who should really find something else to do with his time? Probably. I’ll admit that I speculate and ponder things like this quite a bit, and when there’s a mistake, I generally find it.

It’s not for the purpose of harping on it, to point fingers at the creators/authors and say, “Ha Ha!” like Nelson from the Simpsons. No, it’s because when I want to immerse myself in sci-fi, I want to believe on some level that what I’m reading or seeing could exist out there somewhere in the past, present or future, and share in that discovery or adventure. A consistent continuity allows me to do that; a faulty one reminds me that I’m just some poor schlub with a Netflix account.


Sci-fi’s Strongest Heroine?

Female characters in science fiction have come a long way since the pulp-era days. No longer are they always the cliché ‘maiden in distress’ or merely a means to have a love interest in the story.  Oh, there’s still quite a lot of that goes on, but it’s not quite so omnipresent throughout the genre anymore.

Speaking as an author, I love strong female characters (both reading and writing them). I feel privileged to live in a generation of great sci-fi heroines. We’re talking names such as Nyota Uhura (past and present), Ellen Ripley, Katie Sackoff’s Starbuck, Katniss Everdeen, Honor Harrington, Buffy Anne Summers (or practically any female character from Joss Whedon’s brain), Dr. Dana Scully, Sarah Connor, Susan Ivanova…the list goes on and on.

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OOOH YEEEAH…
*said in the Kool-Aid Man voice.*

These are the ladies who don’t need anyone to make them powerful, because they are already.  Helen Reddy songs would not be out of place blasting in the background as they go about saving civilization, humankind or the universe.

In this author’s humble opinion, there is one leading lady who takes the crown of strongest sci-fi heroine, and, wow, talk about a tough choice! But if I had to pick just one it would be…(drum roll)…Trinity from The Matrix.

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Hear me roar…and soar, apparently.

Note that this is the Trinity from the first Matrix movie, not the ones that followed. Sure, she was cool in those too…in the same way that Connor McLeod was also cool in Highlander 2: The Quickening. Cool, but just not the same. For the sake of this post, forget that the Reloaded and Revolutions movies ever existed. I do.

Here are the top three reasons I think this, along with the stereotype that Trinity shatters with a ‘bullet time’ slow-motion jump kick.

1.) She Looks Like She Can (And Will) Kick Your Butt

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Dodge this.

The first scene in The Matrix shows her taking out several SWAT team guys with martial arts moves that border on anime. I remember the first time I saw this in theatre. I was completely sold on the character’s capacity to kick butt.  Carrie-Anne Moss was in incredible physical shape in that role, and she completely owned the physical stunts necessary to convince us of Trinity’s formidable hand-to-hand skills.

Have you noticed in the movies how many times we see a rather diminutive female character going toe-to-toe in a fistfight with goons more than twice her size and weight? Yet she wades through tons of them as though they were nothing. Does that really seem believable to you? Most of the time it looks pretty forced, leaving many of us thinking um, what? With Trinity, her combat abilities don’t seem out of place at all. Once you know that she can bend the Matrix, it makes even more sense that she can go through even highly trained special ops-types without breaking a sweat.

2.) Not Just Another Pretty Face

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Whoah…

Carrie-Anne Moss (and thus Trinity) is beautiful, no doubt about it. At no time in the film, however, was she so glammed out that she no longer fit the role. Trinity comes from a dark and hard world, one where she risks her life on a daily basis to fight a system that has enslaved humanity without its knowledge.  If she couldn’t pull her own weight on missions, she wouldn’t have survived for so long. In that sense, she doesn’t suffer from “Bond Girl” syndrome, where her usefulness and contribution to the story are just skin deep.  Quite the opposite, in fact − she’s integral to the story.

Also, Trinity is uber competent at what she does. Even after Ted “Theodore” Logan came along to become the Kwisatz Haderach, she remains one of Zion’s elite operators.  When Neo goes in to rescue Morpheus, who’s the other half of the assault team, in what was surely a suicide mission, the one he could not have done it without? Sorry, rhetorical question.

3.) Her Femininity Doesn’t Clash

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Trinity à la Nagle.

Okay, ladies, here’s a question for all of you. Does it feel like some female characters are stripped of their femininity when they are put in what would be traditionally considered a ‘man’s’ role? It’s almost as if the idea of a woman who knows how to mix it up in a brawl or a firefight can’t be considered womanly.

I disagree with that idea, of course. More than that, I disagree with the underlying assumption that puissance at arms is something uniquely masculine, or (more to the point) not feminine. While The Rules would not approve of ladies who know how to field strip an M-16, set explosives or do anything else a Navy SEAL might be trained in…I do. For me, femininity and masculinity are not about what you do, but who you are.

In the case of Trinity, she is very much a woman. At no time does she come off as mannish or butch, and she doesn’t need to adopt the caricature of male persona to be brave in the face of nearly impossible odds, or to fight for her cause or for those she loves. She doesn’t have to give up one to have the other, and I love her for that.

So that’s how I see it. Of course, I’m a guy, so me going on about all this might be comical to some of the ladies out there. Let’s just remember that this is an opinion piece, after all.

What do you think?