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Supergirl Coming to CBS

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After knocking it out of the park twice in a row with Arrow and The Flash, Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg are at it again with a third superhero show from the DC universe. This time they’re bringing Supergirl to life. A pretty substantial introduction/trailer has been released, and I’ve embedded it below so you can watch for yourself to get a preview.

Of course, the question remains: will the show actually be any good? The trailer, of course, doesn’t definitively answer the question. They never do.

The good: Berlanti and Kreisberg seem to have the DC universe down in a way that Zach Snyder simply doesn’t. Arrow and The Flash are two of the best shows currently on television in any genre, and pretty much the only TV that I try to watch the same day as it airs (I still DVR it, so I can watch without commercials).

I also like that they seem to be going with the “adorkable” approach with Kara/Supergirl. It works well for the character and certainly beats the uber-bitchy model that so often seems to be the only way that Hollywood knows how to write a “strong” female character.

The best: Over three seasons of Arrow, Berlanti and Kreisberg have been saying in interviews that DC has told them that the “big three” (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) are a no-no. Yet even in just the trailer for Supergirl, those were some pretty strong references to Superman. Clearly DC has come to their senses – at least somewhat – and realized that these are the guys to let have this. Could there be more TV references to the big three coming? Dare we hope that we might even someday get a Batman show that actually, you know, has Batman in it? Yes, Gotham, I’m talking to you.

The not so good: It’s only a trailer, so we’ll see how the actual show goes… but this trailer has a lot more CW-style teenage girl soap-operatic drama going on than either Arrow or The Flash have ever shown. Ironic, given that those shows are actually on the CW and this one is coming to CBS. Not good if that’s the way the show plays out. Hopefully that’s not the direction they’re going with Supergirl.

Update: The esteemed John C. Wright has a more optimistic take than I do. He makes some great points, but I still worry a bit about it coming off as a CW-style teen soap opera.

Every Party Needs a Priest

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There has been a lot of supernatural fiction on both the big and the small screen in the last decade. As a fan of genre fiction, I approve… generally. Not all of it is good, of course. Some of it is downright unwatchable. Much of it is nothing more than soap opera or cheap romance fiction dressed up with genre trappings. But a fair amount of it has been pretty decent, and some of it has been really good.

But all of it – at least to my knowledge – suffers from a serious problem:

They need a priest in the party.

A lot of this discussion is going to center around the CW television drama Supernatural, because that’s the show my wife and I were watching when we first formulated the theory. But the basic premise holds across the genre – in its modern form, anyway.

So, as stated, let’s take the show Supernatural. For those unfamiliar with it, the show is about two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester. Their mother was brutally killed by a demon when they were small children. As a result, their father dedicated the rest of his life to hunting supernatural creatures. When the series begins, Sam has rejected that life and set out to try for something normal – college, a career, etc. Then their father disappears and Sam is pulled back into the life of demon hunting, thus setting up the main premise of the show: the two brothers on a constant road trip fighting off demons, monsters, ghosts, and pretty much any other supernatural creature you can think of every week.

Personally, I found the first season of the show to be the strongest by a good margin. There’s a stereotype out there of shows getting bogged down in a “monster of the week” format, but that worked for Supernatural. The show is at its very best when it’s dragging up obscure myths and legends – whether the ancient or the urban variety – and just running with the concept of two brothers on a road trip helping people. When the series-long story arc begins is when the show starts having issues. Well, actually the issues begin before that but they’re livable. They ramp up to killing any value of the show after that – although clearly there are many who disagree with me, since the show is still running strong in the ratings on its tenth season. I stopped watching after the fifth season, and frankly both it and the preceding season were pretty weak.

Ultimately, though, the culprit of that began at the beginning: they needed a priest in the party.

Let’s start with season one. At this point, the show exists in a universe where:

  • The major characters know for a fact that demons, monsters and other supernatural creatures are real.
  • They have met such creatures.
  • They have fought such creatures.
  • The have used religious items – especially holy water – to great effect in fighting these creatures.

Despite these points, and especially despite these last points, Dean has no faith whatsoever and the best that Sam can manage is a kind of vague “there must be something” modern spirituality.

Excuse me for a minute, but what?! Imagine for a moment that you are living their lifestyle. You have no home – you live in a new hotel room in a new town every few days. You fight dangerous creatures all the time. You know, for a fact, that holy or blessed items help combat these creatures. And you have no serious relationships anyway.

What do you do? I know what I would do: I would find my way to a seminary and get my butt ordained. Even if you don’t actually believe in the religious teachings of the church, it clearly gives you an edge. Once you’re ordained, any water can become holy water in a pinch. You can bless your own weapons. You can perform your own exorcisms. The brothers do quite a bit of this anyway, but one would think in a world where holy water actually, you know, works that a priest would be more effective at exorcisms.

OK, so you’ve decided that becoming a priest is too hard. Or maybe it just takes you out of the game too long and people are getting hurt. Guess what? There are more than thirty-eight thousand priests in the United States. Get one to join the party. Or – at the very, very least – you make friends with a few of them. Stay in touch when you’re in that part of the country. Get them to provide you with stuff.

So why do the brothers never do this? Because the Hollywood producers of the show don’t take the Christian religion seriously.

The show borrows the mythological trappings of Christianity: crosses, holy water, exorcisms, and, in later seasons, even angels. But the problem is that none of these items working the way they do in the show makes any sense without the theological aspects of Christianity to back them up.

Holy water works in more or less the traditional ways. In other words, it’s effective against undead creatures like vampires. But why does it work? And why only on those creatures? Under traditional Christian theology and the traditional folklore of vampires this makes perfect sense. Vampires are creatures who have forsaken God, consciously chosen to damn their own souls, and chosen an unlife of wretched evil. Therefore holy water, crosses, and anything else sacred is the antithesis of their very being.

What are angels? In traditional theology they are messengers of God. The very word means messenger (it’s the same Greek root from which our word evangelize comes). And yet for the first three seasons of the show, God is only mentioned in the moments when Dean is explaining why he (very unbelievably, as described above) has no faith in Him.

Speaking of that, where do the demons come from? The traditional view, again, is that they are fallen angels. But what exactly does fallen mean? It means that they’ve turned away from God – who, as noted, is barely mentioned in the first few seasons. And if demons aren’t creatures that have turned away from God, then why do things like holy water work against them? Evidently the answer is, “just because.”

This is a problem that only gets worse in later seasons as the show tries to address this issue and finds itself getting more and more convoluted.

In the second season, Dean makes a deal with a demon to save the day. The deal is that the demon will take his soul. But what good is a soul to a demon without the Christian theology to back it up? What purpose does it serve? This, again, is never really explained.

In the third season his deal comes due and Dean’s soul is taken into Hell. A Hell that is distinctly Christian in type and likeness, although Christ is mentioned in the series even less than God. In fact, in the five seasons that I’ve personally viewed Christ is not mentioned one single time. Nor is he ever hinted at, referenced, or anything. So why does this kind of Hell exist? Because this is definitely the Christian version… unless it’s the Islamic version, although once more there is no reference to Muhammad, the Quran, or any Islamic theology. So why does this Hell exist?

In the fourth season the Angels show up. One of them rescues Dean from Hell, and – this is the good part – the rest of the season centers around the brothers trying to stop Lucifer from rising out of Hell. This is where things get really bad. Because up until now, you can kind of make a stretch out of it being a whole “religion of the book” approach and just trying to be a vague Judeo-Christian theological world. That’s still kind of lame, but you can almost make it work. But battle between Lucifer and the angels is unquestionably Christian in origin, coming straight out of the Revelation of St. John. Of course, they fail to stop Lucifer from rising so season five is all about defeating him. This continues stealing from the Christian mythological tradition by bringing in the archangel Michael.

Over the course of seasons four and five the real butchery begins as we discover that Sam and Dean are caught in between the warring factions of the demons and the angels. And that is the real travesty of the whole show. The angels and demons are reduced to nothing more than two warring factions, no different than, say, the Washington Redskins versus the Dallas Cowboys, Democrats versus Republicans or Red vs Blue. Without realizing that they’ve done it, the entirety of the show has now been reduced from (previously) being about fighting evil to… just fighting other factions.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not offended – although I do think there are grounds to be, if I was the kind of person who was easily offended. At least, I’m not offended for the sake of my religion. Christ is stronger than that and he can tolerate a bit of mockery. I might be just a tad bit offended over just how badly these issues damaged what was otherwise an enjoyable story.

This kind of thing bothered me before, back when I was an atheist, and for the same reason. It’s absolutely terrible for the story. The story would be far more enjoyable if they just made decisions that actually make sense with the elements that they’ve borrowed. OK, they don’t want to run with Christian theology. Maybe they want to create their own instead to fill the void. And from where they were going at the end of season five and what I’ve read past that, it sure sounds like they’ve tried. But Christian theology, mythology and folklore has two thousand years of history behind it. The kinks have been worked out, so to speak If you’re going to replace it, you’ve got a lot of homework to do.

But I don’t think this was a storytelling decision, or not a pure one. And the reason I don’t believe that is because this isn’t just an issue with Supernatural. It’s endemic in everything that comes out of Hollywood these days. It’s in very nearly every aspect of this genre. Can we get real for a minute and acknowledge that Hollywood has a problem with Christianity? When the decision happens this frequently and very clearly has this large of a negative effect on the story, it’s clearly not being done for the sake of the viewers. Hollywood has an agenda and Christianity isn’t part of it.

The thing is, they’re hurting their own stories more than they’re hurting us.

Second Chances now available!

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"Second Chances" by K Bethany Sawyer

“Second Chances” by K Bethany Sawyer

The latest from Silver Empire, Second Chances by K Bethany Sawyer is available NOW from the Amazon Kindle Store!

A father wrestles with his daughter’s fate as she lies in a coma. He can save her body – but can he save her soul?

Pick up your copy today for only $0.99! You won’t want to miss this award winning story from an up-and-coming author!

"Wishing Only Wounds the Heart" by Morgon Newquist

“Wishing Only Wounds the Heart” by Morgon Newquist

While you’re at the Amazon store anyway, drop in and pick up Wishing Only Wounds the Heart. It’s currently ranked #5 in “Kindle Store > Kindle Short Reads > 30 minutes (12-21 pages) > Science Fiction & Fantasy,” so you know you don’t want to miss it! And this weekend only, it’s FREE!

So drop in today and pick up both stories for only $0.99! And don’t forget to leave reviews!

One Bright Star to Guide Them

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One Bright Star to Guide Them

One Bright Star to Guide Them by John C Wright

Larry Correia is dropping another book bomb today. Of the three novellas being bombed today, there are two that I haven’t read. Then there’s a third that I already own and have already read: “John C. Wright’s” One Bright Star to Guide Them. Since I already own it, I am contributing to the book bomb by writing this review – which I will also repost on Amazon.com.

John C. Wright is one of – if not the – best voices of our generation in science fiction and fantasy. And last year was a banner year for him – a quick search on Amazon reveals seven works he published in 2014:

One Bright Star to Guide Them is an homage and love letter to the works of CS Lewis. Bittersweet – but, importantly, never cynical – it shows the child heroes after they’ve won, returned home, and “grown up” – only to find that the evil they fought as children has returned, to the “real world” this time, and they must fight it again.

It’s a strong story, with a lot to say about the modern world. Yet it never becomes preachy or lets the message get in the way of an enjoyable story. John C. Wright has a wondrously insane (in the best possible way) imagination, and one of the most enjoyable things about reading any of his stories is just seeing where that imagination will take you next.

If you enjoyed The Chronicles of Narnia, then One Bright Star to Guide Them is a must read story.

Update: And a very special thank you to Mr. Wright himself for linking back to this review!

Apache Beats Dragon

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The Smithsonian Channel recently published a video purporting to describe what would happen in a confrontation between a dragon and an AH-64D Apache attack helicopter. They are dead wrong. Here’s what would actually happen.

A couple of caveats first:

  1. I am assuming the conditions of the dragon as specified by the video. Change the conditions of the dragon and the outcome changes, naturally. But…
  2. I am leaving magic aside and assuming an organic beast. Look, if you add magic into the system then the winner of the fight is whomever the author in question wants to win and the rules of the magical system can be jiggered to be whatever they need to be to assure that outcome.

Despite caveat #1, the case I outline below effectively applies to any conceivable organic creature that is recognizable as what we would call a dragon.

Despite caveat #2, the dragon as posited in this video is not actually possible without magic. It’s capabilities as an animal defy known limits of both biology and physics. For the sake of argument, and for a fun blog post, we will ignore this. The video itself, although it doesn’t explicitly state it, implicitly clearly assumes no magic and is trying to posit a, “what if this creature existed in the real world” scenario. We will take it on its own terms.

More Powerful Than You Can Possibly Imagine

apacheThe primary problem with claims such as those made in this video is that they are made by people who do not understand the raw destructive power of the weapons they describe. More fundamentally, they lack an understanding of the relevant biology and physics.

This is pretty easy to sympathize with. Most of us are not biologists, physicists or weapons designers. Our military represents a very small portion of our population, and most of us have never served in it and directly experienced these weapons. On the other hand, most of us have at least a little bit of experience reading or watching fantasy stories that involve magic and dragons. Hollywood – the prime source of most people’s knowledge of the military – doesn’t understand the military weapons any better than the average civilian. So we have an opinion that is a bit skewed toward these things.

There’s another issue. Past a certain point, unless we can put direct metrics on it and quantify it, the human brain starts lumping all massively destructive things together into one category: really destructive things. So fighter jets and tanks and attack helicopters and dragons all kind of get stuck together in our heads. Unless we quantify it.

And once we quantify it, a different story altogether emerges. The reality is that modern weaponry has far surpassed just about anything you’ll ever see in any fantasy story ever written. The frightening magical weapons of yore just aren’t all that impressive compared to modern military capabilities. But most of us don’t realize it.

On to the details.

As the video states, the Apache carries two primary weapon systems: an M230 chain gun and the AGM-114 Hellfire missile. Either one of these systems is sufficient not just to defeat the dragon but to turn it into a pool of goo. Here’s why.

The M230 Chain Gun

The M230 chain gun fires 30x113mm rounds at a rate of 625 rounds per minute. The Apache carries 1200 rounds for this weapon. Just so that you can get a visual, here’s what a 30mm round looks like.

30mm

(Note – I am unclear on the exact round here. It is a 30mm round, but it might not be a 30×113 as fired by the M230. It is very similarly sized, though, and serves as a good visual reference.)

In case you weren’t clear on it, that thing is huge. When fired by the M230 that massive round leaves the barrel at 2,641 feet per second. That’s right – half a mile every second, or more than twice the speed of sound. Now, the kinetic energy on that round is crazy. One or two rounds would liquify a human being on impact on that basis alone.

But the kinetic energy is only part of the fun here, because the Apache is likely to be firing the M789 HEDP (High Explosive Dual Purpose) round. Yup – high explosive. That round is specifically designed to explode inside its target (via a delayed impact fuse).

Oh, and the effective firing range on this weapon is 1,640 yards – or 0.93 miles. The Apache is shooting one thousand, two hundred of these things at our dragon from nearly a mile away.

This chain gun is designed to be an anti-armor weapon. In other words, it’s designed to take out heavily armored tanks. That dragon isn’t merely Swiss cheese. It’s a puddle of glop.

The AGM-114 Hellfire Missile

The video is joking, right?

The Hellfire missile has been known to successfully disable an M1 Abrams main battle tank (friendly fire incident in the first Gulf War in 1991). Now, for those who are uninitiated…

The M1 Abrams features reactive armor made from depleted uranium – one of the densest elements known to man. Sixty tons of it. Remember that number because we’re going to come back to it when we talk dragon flight characteristics later on. The M1 Abarms is pretty much the most heavily armored beast ever to hit a battlefield. And Hellfire took it down.

The final scene in our video shows the Apache firing all sixteen of its Hellfires at the dragon. Good luck finding any parts of the dragon after that.

Oh, and you think the 1,640 yard standoff range of the chain gun gave the Apache an advantage? The Hellfire’s effective range is five miles, which it will be covering at a speed of 995 miles per hour. In other words, it will close that entire distance in less than 20 seconds. That poor dragon doesn’t even know what vaporized it.

Demonstration Video

Here is a video that shows, as the title says, an absolutely typical Apache attack with Hellfire and 30mm gun. Pay particularly close attention to what happens to the pickup truck.

Dragon Flight Characteristics

The final consideration: if the dragon is capable of flight, that puts some serious constraints on it. Specifically, it must maintain a given lift-to-weight ratio or it will never, ever get of the ground. Given the basic configuration of a dragon, it’s primary lift source is its wings. And from the size of the wings, we can put an upper end limit on the amount of lift generated. And it’s not pretty.

We have a lot of physical examples of this in the real world. In order to fly, birds have various weight-saving features: hollow bones, hollow feathers. Most of their size is actually feather mass, which is seriously light.

red_dragon_by_caiommNow, hollow bones are pound for pound stronger than non-hollow bones. But nevertheless, by making them hollow, strength is sacrificed in order to make them far lighter. That’s why the story of nursing a bird with a broken wing back to health is a common one that many of us have heard. Those hollow bones break easily.

Remember that depleted uranium armor we mentioned up above? Seriously tough stuff, right? The drawback is that it’s heavy. The C-17 Globemaster is one of the largest cargo planes ever built. It was specifically designed to airlift the M1 Abrams. It generates a lot of lift, largely due to it’s colossal size and gargantuan wingspan. It’s 174 feet long and 170 feet in wingspan. If you’ve ever seen one in person (I have) it’s truly awe inspiring for its size.

It can carry one M1 Abrams. Because the tank is so stupidly heavy.

If our dragon is going to fly, it has to have weight limits. Now, as I mentioned way back at the beginning of this post… people with far superior aeronautical knowledge to my own have already analyzed the traditional European dragon design and concluded that it could never fly anyway. The wings don’t generate enough lift to get the body off the ground. But as I noted above, we’re hand-waving that away for the sake of taking this scenario on its own merits.

If you up-armor the thing to a point where it’s even close to withstanding the weapons noted above then you lose even the benefit of the doubt that we gave it. Our dragon never gets off the ground.

Nevermind the fact that there is nothing known in the organic world that can withstand the weaponry that I described above. Even in the engineered world, there’s not really a lot that can stand up to it. Those things are brutal.

The dragon loses. Period. Full stop. End of story. Any other outcome is, well, fantasy.

I am not George R. R. Martin’s Bitch

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Way back in 2009, an eternity ago in Internet Time, Neil Gaiman left a blog post that set fans of George R. R. Martin on fire:

Look, this may not be palatable, Gareth, and I keep trying to come up with a better way to put it, but the simplicity of things, at least from my perspective is this:

George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.

This is a useful thing to know, perhaps a useful thing to point out when you find yourself thinking that possibly George is, indeed, your bitch, and should be out there typing what you want to read right now.

People are not machines. Writers and artists aren’t machines.

You’re complaining about George doing other things than writing the books you want to read as if your buying the first book in the series was a contract with him: that you would pay over your ten dollars, and George for his part would spend every waking hour until the series was done, writing the rest of the books for you.

No such contract existed. You were paying your ten dollars for the book you were reading, and I assume that you enjoyed it because you want to know what happens next.

Fair enough, as far as it goes. However, this came out the other day:

Another year of waiting for The Winds of Winter to blow is in store for fans ofGeorge RR Martin, as his publisher confirmed there are no plans for the much-anticipated latest volume from his A Song of Ice and Fire series to appear in 2015. Instead, readers will have to comfort themselves with an illustrated edition of three previously anthologised novellas set in the world of Westeros.

A couple of points that are worth noting:

  • Gaiman posted his rant in 2009 – almost six years ago.
  • At that point, it had already been almost four years since the previous book in A Song of Ice and Fire had been published.
  • In all of that time, almost ten years, there has been exactly one new book in the series.
  • That one book has been widely regarded by the fans as not up to snuff with the previous entries in the series – as was the book immediately preceding it.

Here’s the thing: I picked up my copy of Game of Thrones almost nineteen years ago. More than half my life has passed since I first read it. I’ve graduated from college, gotten a job, gotten married, had three kids, been laid off, gotten a new job, started a few businesses that failed, started (or helped start) a few others that have succeeded, and converted to a new religion.

I’m not in the same place anymore as I was when I first read that first novel – and the general quality of the series has greatly declined.

Don’t get me wrong, when the next book comes out I will probably read it. But as of right now, I’m two seasons behind on the TV adaptation and I don’t miss it. And I really didn’t even much mind when I heard the next book wasn’t coming out this year. I expected it. And if the next book isn’t a return to form I might not be picking up the final installment.

George R. R. Martin may not be our bitch, but neither are we his.

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