Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Babylon 5 that (thankfully) never was: Season 5

Continuing my series attempting to reconstruct how Babylon 5 was originally (for certain values of original) "supposed to" go. More detailed explanation and Season 1 are here, although note that since writing that original post I have gotten access to JMS' "original" treatment and am no longer working from summaries.

Known: Season 5 opens with the return of G'Kar with evidence of Londo's alliance with the Shadows and their meddling in the Centauri-Narn conflict. The Minbari military caste stage a coup and take over, resuming the war with Earth. The Centauri lay claim to the neutral sector that includes B5, which Earth contests, leading Londo to break off diplomatic relations. Shortly thereafter a massive Vorlon ship carrying most of their civilian population is destroyed by the Shadows, although Earth is framed. Londo helps in the attack, though without the knowledge that it will result in hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths.

The series ends (yes, ends) with the Minbari attacking and destroying Babylon 5. Sinclair, Delenn, and their baby escape on a shuttle and flee into hiding, with every remaining power in the galaxy considering them enemies: the Minbari because of Delenn's ties to the deposed Grey Council and the Warrior Caste's belief that the prophecy is one of destruction, Vorlons because they believe Sinclair helped Earth destroy their ship, Shadows and Londo because they believe Sinclair and Delenn suspect who really did it, and Earth because they've been fed false intel that Sinclair betrayed them.

Speculation: Given how much happens in this season, and how little happens in Season 4, it seems likely that some of this would have been moved earlier. Any of a Centauri attack on Babylon 5 as part of them seizing the sector, the fall of the Grey Council, or the destruction of the Vorlons would have made good season finale material (though the last might be too soon for the war to end in this version of the story).

Given his human-Minbari hybrid wife and the renewal of Earth-Minbari hostilities, it seems likely that Earthgov's false intel makes Sinclair out to have betrayed them to the Minbari. Likely sources for the intel are the Minbari, Centauri, and Shadows, all of which have good reason to want to isolate Sinclair and Delenn and thereby cut them off from Earth support.

It's up for grabs whether the warrior caste are being manipulated by the Shadows in this version of the story. They almost certainly weren't in the actual series, but by this point the treatment and the show have nothing in common except Delenn's pregnancy.

And yes, this colossal downer really is how the series ends in the treatment. But it's not how the treatment ends--that still has another page and a half, almost a quarter of its length, to go. We'll cover that in the next and final installment of this series.

Concluded next week!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

When is violence an appropriate response?

I don't know.

I honestly don't.

I do know this. I know that when I was 17 and got stopped going 94 miles an hour, I reached for my coat in the passenger seat because my license was in it, and the cop who stopped me pulled his gun. It was frightening enough, but in hindsight I realize, if I were black he'd have shot me in the head until the gun ran out of bullets, because that is what cops do to black people.

And I know that if you are constantly subject to violence and the fear of violence, if the courts encourage violence against you by punishing it less often and less severely, if the people whose job is supposedly to protect you instead treat you as a threat, then it is not my place to tell you that you can't use violence in response.

And I know this, too: in communities around America, the police act like an occupying army, carry the equipment of an occupying army, speak and think like an occupying army, which makes them, guess what, an occupying army.

And this as well: if you put on the uniform of an occupying army and walk out onto the battlefield, it doesn't matter if your soul is as pure and sinless as the driven snow, you are a legitimate target.

"Some people," says the voice of wisdom in a well-acted but otherwise terrible and reactionary film, "just want to watch the world burn." Given what this world does to them, I can't blame them.

It may be that violence will just give them the excuse to clamp down harder. Or it may be that violence is the only hope of tearing down a system designed to prevent any kind of meaningful change. It's not my place to make that decision--only to lend my voice in support of the people who do have that right.

And one other thing I know: I know that when you have the power--a weapon in your hand, armor on your chest, an entire power structure designed to protect you from accountability--then violence is definitely not appropriate.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Let's try this poll thing again...

So it turns out trying to hold a poll that's also open to suggestions is a terrible idea.

Also, I now have way more suggestions than voters.

So, I've gone through all the suggestions, picked the three I'm most interested in, and now I'll throw them open for voting ONLY, suggestions are closed.

Remember, anything that doesn't win, including things that didn't make it this far, is fair game for a couple months from now when we add the next show.

Anyway, the options are:
  • Psycho-Pass (Season 1 only, same writer as Madoka)
  • Legend of Escaflowne (classic 90s mecha-fantasy series)
  • Mawaru Penguindrum (same director as Utena)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Hush now! Quiet now!/Lay your sleepy head! (For Whom the Sweetie Belle Tolls)

The young Sweetie Belle wallows in whatever
it is ponies are supposed to wallow in.
It's March 22, 2014. The top song is still Pharrell Williams with "Happy," and the top movie is young-adult dystopia Divergent. I saw the number two movie, Muppets Most Wanted, instead, and found it a pale shadow of its excellent immediate predecessor, appropriately enough. In the news, Russia formally annexes Crimea, while the U.S., Europe, and Japan respond with sanctions against Russia; the U.S. expels all Syrian diplomats and closes the Syrian Embassy in the U.S.; and the BICEP2 experiment finds evidence of cosmic inflation.

In ponies, "For Whom the Sweetie Belle Tolls" by Dave Polsky airs, largely retracing ground already covered by "Somepony to Watch Over Me," but with the other prominent pair of sisters. There are some differences--Sweetie Belle feels overshadowed, rather than controlled, by Rarity, lashes out at her sister rather than trying to prove herself, and therefore the resulting race across Equestria is Sweetie Belle and her friends rushing to undo the damage Sweetie Belle has done, rather than Applejack rushing to save Apple Bloom. But overall it is the same story: little sister feels smothered, acts out, chaos ensues, sisters reconcile.

So rather than retread territory just covered two weeks ago ourselves, let's focus instead on the fascinating ways in which this episode draws parallels between characters and events. Most obvious here is the one blatantly stated in the episode: Luna sees Sweetie Belle's feelings of being overshadowed, and acting out in response, as a parallel to her own jealousy and transformation into Nightmare Moon a thousand years ago. This is a particularly interesting statement to make, as it is the first time the show has reversed its usual approach to mythology. Generally, the mythological functions within the show as a way to depict the personal on a vast, even cosmic, scale: sibling rivalry becomes a cosmic war between moon and sun, Fluttershy's fears become a dragon, Twilight's completion of her education becomes the apotheosis and ascension of a new princess. This, however, is the first time the show has really made the cosmic personal; the ancient war of moon and sun becomes a point within Sweetie Belle's life, descending through her dreams in order to help her work through her personal issue.

This transformation of the personal to the cosmic and back is one of the unique functions of fiction, because in reality the cosmic is entirely impersonal. The moon and sun maintain their motions no matter what we mere mortals do, and have no message to impart to us--any secrets we think we see written in them are messages from ourselves. As, of course, are dreams as well, which makes the next set of parallels interesting: the degree to which the episode is full of performances.

The two most obvious performances in the episode are Sweetie Belle's play and Sapphire Shores' show. But most interesting is the third performance: Sweetie Belle's dream, which, it is implied, was deliberately constructed by Luna, and can therefore be regarded as a performance put on by her. But if it is a performance, and the majority was not real, what of the two memories of Sweetie Belle's fifth birthday? The first, from Sweetie Belle's perspective, is accepted by her as her own memory, so we can regard it as such, but what of the second, which shows that Rarity wasn't trying to steal the spotlight, but rather help her sister?

There are a few possibilities. The first is that it is a genuine image of the past as it occurred; given that the season premiere established that alicorn magic can empower a potion to see the past, it is not unreasonable to suppose that Luna can create dreams of the past. A second option is, given Rarity is also asleep, that Luna is bridging the two sisters' minds, and letting Sweetie Belle see Rarity's perspective. This is led some credence by the appearance of dolphins earlier in the dream--Sapphire Shores will later mention that they are a common fixture in her own dream. The third possibility is that Luna is just making up a likely scenario about the birthday in order to help Sweetie Belle accept that her sister acted out of love in the more recent incident involving the play--not a lie, exactly, but a comforting story that for all Luna knows is actually what happened.

Regardless of exactly where the scene came from, Luna deploys it skillfully, and along with her timely assistance to Sweetie Belle during the chase sequence later in the episode, successfully engineers a reconciliation between the sisters. That intervention then creates a chain reaction of characters happily supporting one another without credit: Luna suggests the dolphin stitch to Sweetie Belle, who passes it to Rarity without crediting Luna. Rarity then gives the headdress to Sapphire Shores without crediting Sweetie Belle, and Sapphire Shores performs without, presumably, crediting Rarity--certainly it seems unlikely that a major pop star would interrupt her performance to thank her costume designer, any more than she would the technicians who operate the lighting or set up the speakers, at least by name.

But the key thing here is that all of these characters seem content to not be credited. Luna in particular smiles and nods to Sweetie Belle, seeming to encourage her to take credit and not mention Luna's help. It is Rarity who provides the key here: why is she excited to have her costumes worn by Sapphire Shores? Because ponies in Canterlot and then across Equestria will see them. Most will only see them as one small part of a pop performance, but those who are most interested in fashion and costumes might inquire further and learn Rarity's name; even if they do not, they will recognize and acknowledge the quality of the costumes. In other words, she is content to do good work because it is good work, secure in the knowledge that those few who do notice it will recognize it as good work. This fits very well with Rarity's characterization; like Rainbow Dash, she seeks praise and acknowledgment of her skills, but where Rainbow Dash prefers the roar of the crowds, Rarity wants the accolades of the elite. In this case, "elite" means "those elite enough to recognize her work."

In turn, this gives us a powerful insight into how Luna now deals with being overshadowed by her sister. (Remember, Luna and Rarity share an actress--it is unsurprising they share other traits as well.) Luna, we see, is happy to have helped, happy that one pony, Sweetie Belle, knows and appreciates what she did. It doesn't matter to her whether or not Rarity, let alone Sapphire Shores or the general masses, know that she helped two sisters reconcile; what's important to her is that she did. She is no longer jealous of her more famous, more widely praised sister, because she has realized that the work she does isn't the kind that makes you famous, just as Sweetie Belle has realized that Rarity's costumes overshadowed her play because it wasn't very good. Luna has learned to appreciate the rewards her work does provide, instead of pining for the rewards another receives--that popularity is not the only measure of worth.

Next week: Although there's a fine line between telling people a story to help them, and peddling placebos as miracle cures...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

FINAL Kill la Kill liveblog chat thingy

How to participate in the liveblog chat:

Option 1: Whenever you watch the episode, comment on this post as you watch with whatever responses you feel like posting!

Option 2: Go to http://webchat.freenode.net/. Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! We'll be watching Kill la Kill and commenting there starting at 2:00 p.m. EST Sunday. Yes, that is a day later than usual, sorry!


I will update this post with the chatlog after the chat.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fiction Friday: Faultless, Part 1

Still running that Patreon! The Near-Apocalypse of '09 is still more than three months away, but Patreon backers can start reading it today!

I'm taking a break from Felda's story for a while, because I find I keep thinking about Ghost's instead. So I'm taking a crack at writing it. This is set quite a ways to the north of Toftor, in a culture with rather different structures and issues.

Trigger Warning: Child abuse and neglect, internalized racism, body image issues

Caer Wyndle, Pryderys
Twelve years, four months, and seven days until the end.

It wasn't Ghost's fault. Not really.

Sure, she was the immediate cause, but she had no idea what she was doing, and more importantly no way of knowing what she was doing. There had simply never been a chance for her to learn what she needed to know--if there had been, she likely would have learned it gladly.

That's what she was doing in the library, after all; learning. She spent a great deal of time there, there being little else to do. She got yelled at if her parents or Parry caught her doing servant work, and of course she couldn't go outside because someone might see how ugly she was.

Every once in a while Mother would send her maid, Kina--though mother always called her Kiah for some reason--to fetch Ghost. Kina would drag her to the baths to be washed and scrubbed and shoved into a frilly blouse and short pants, and then she would be presented to Mother. That was the only time Ghost was called Emlyn, which was her name in the big red book of family trees on the shelf by the mantle in the library: Emlyn Glenys Dyvis, daughter of Gwenfer Dylan and Caradoc Dyvis (nee Gruffyd). Mother was the only person who called her that, when she called her at all.

Every time started the same: Mother would grunt, say, "You seem in good health, Emlyn," and Ghost would agree. Then Mother would sigh and say, "Really, we must get you a governess or a tutor one of these days. It isn't right, a Dyvis child growing up wild."

Then Mother would brush her hair, or play a game with her, or teach her something, until eventually Ghost did something wrong and the screaming started. She stopped being Emlyn once mother started screaming; she was just that child, as in "Take that child out of my sight!" It was hard to tell what would be wrong, but there was always something.

Once, a few years ago, Mother taught Ghost her letters, and the sounds they made. After that Ghost would practice in the library, sounding out the words one by one. As time went on she got better at it, and learned more words. No one particularly cared if she sat for hours in the library--not like the kitchen, where sooner or later she'd be in someone's way, or the halls and rooms where Mother and Father lived and entertained guests, where Ghost wasn't permitted except when Mother sent for her.

No, in the library she was left in peace, except if Father or Mother or a guest wanted to use it. Then she had to disappear before they entered, so they wouldn't see her. She was very good at leaving a room just before someone else entered, which was why everyone called her Ghost. Well, at least, all the servants called her Ghost, and she herself did too, so that made Ghost her real name, whatever the family record-book might say.

So her education consisted of whatever books she pulled randomly from the library shelves, which meant a great deal of history, mostly in the form of "and then General so-and-so led the charge on Wherever and won the Battle of Thingy," books of advice on business, and literature, mostly in the form of "and then General So-and-So led the charge on Wherever and won the Battle of Thingy, as well as the hand of Princess Whatsername."

There was very little in there about magic, and none at all about the proper order in which things ought to be attempted when learning magic. And she was eleven, that age when such gifts begin to manifest. Not that her gift was that great--middling, really. But it was a Fire rune she looked at in the book, tracing her fingers over it while she read the instructions about focusing on it, letting herself flow into it. And the library was full of wooden shelves stacked with paper books. And they did put the fire out without too much damage. Eventually.

Honestly, she probably could have just faded away, stayed out of sight until the whole thing was forgotten, if not for the fact that she panicked as the first flickers of flame danced across the book, and ran screaming from the library straight into Mother, Father, and the Thain of Caer Wyndle.

On the other hand, six months in a dark cellar did give her both time and motivation to practice the fire rune. She had it quite under control by the time they let her back out.

Eleven years, nine months, and thirteen days until the end

Ghost sat under a table in the kitchen, nibbling at a twirlbread that had been dropped on the floor and trod on. Normally she wouldn't eat food that had had feet in it, since Alamea always made sure that every meal she prepared for Mother and Father had more leftovers than all the servants together could eat, but she very much liked twirlbread, with its cinnamon-sweetness and chopped nuts. Unfortunately she couldn't have the fun of unwinding it into a long thin strip of fluffy baked dough, because it had gotten all smashed, but it was still quite tasty after she scraped off the footprint.

Speaking of her, Alamea walked into the kitchen at just that moment, trailed by the new scullery lad. Ghost didn't know his name yet, since he'd started while she was in the cellar. Ghost quite liked Alamea; she was kind as long as you stayed out of her way and obeyed her iron-fisted rule of the kitchen, and she had a big, round, lilting voice that was somehow exactly right for a woman barely taller than Ghost and seven times wider, with a broad face and thick black calluses on her big, strong hands. The scullery lad was a bit taller and a lot thinner, but his face was close enough that he might be her cousin--and probably was, for all Ghost knew.

Alamea strode over to the bubbling pot of soup, and her apprentice, a shy and anxious girl named Luana, only a few years older than Ghost herself, stepped back. Alamea lifted a ladle and tasted the soup, while Luana clutched her slender hands together and watched in worried silence. "Hrm," said Alamea, and Luana visibly relaxed. That meant, Ghost knew, that the cook had no complaints about Luana's work.

Alamea turned to the counter, inspecting the vegetables and spices Ghost had watched Luana chopping and grinding for the last hour. "Hrm," she said again, and laid a saucepan on the stove next to the soup. Soon she was tossing and flipping vegetables, adding them and the spices to the pan in some arcane order Ghost couldn't figure out.

"Hi, Mele," Luana whispered to the scullery lad. Aha! So that was his name!

"Hi," he said.

"How is, uh, everything?" Luana asked. When he shrugged, she continued on, "Um, if there's anything that you need help with, or want to know... I mean, since I know you're new--I mean, of course you know that you're new, but--"

"Oh, just go fuck already," Alamea interrupted. "After work. Luana, I need you to start cleaning the fish. Mele, run to the pantry and get me more flour and two onions."

Luana blushed like two inkblots spreading across her cheeks, but Ghost caught the hint of a smile on the older girl's face as she turned to her work. Ghost watched in fascination; this was a part of life she'd only seen glimpses of before.

A couple of minutes later Mele returned and laid down the supplies Alamea had requested. "There actually is something I've been wondering," he murmured to Luana. "Who's that little girl I sometimes see? The one with the filthy face and the torn smock? Is she the maid's daughter or something?"

"Little girl?" asked Luana. "Oh, you mean Ghost! No, no, she's their daughter."

"Them?" he asked. "You mean--she's a nob? But then why do they let her just... wander like that? It's not right!"

Ghost perked up, suddenly interested. Wasn't it?

"You've answered your own question, boy," said Alamea. "You said she looked like a servant's girl. Oh, she's got the same lovely dark skin and eyes as her mother, all the Dyvis women do, but she looks more than half Keo, doesn't she?"

Ghost stifled a sigh, since that was likely to get her noticed and probably walloped for eavesdropping. That was always what it came down to, her ugliness. Fat and short and toadlike, flat nose in a broad face, and a tangle of curls that grew denser and bigger rather than longer--not like Mother's hair that hung down shining and dark and straight, tall, slender, long-limbed, beautiful Mother, or the tall, slender, long-limbed, straight-haired, beautiful ladies that sometimes visited her.

"Hard to believe she's their child," Mele agreed.

"Exactly," said Luana, voice dropping to an excited whisper. "Rumor is, His Lordship thinks she's not. He thinks Her Ladyship had a Keo lover and forgot to take her draft."

"Rumor," said Alamea, disgusted.

"Well, that's what Kina told me!" Luana protested.

"Yes, and she told me Her Ladyship thinks the child's a throwback, that the Gruffyds aren't quite as pure Tarnic as their family tree says," Alamea countered. "She repeats everything she hears, that girl." Alamea passed the vegetables in their pan to Luana and took the cleaned, boned fish from her.

"Well, if either one is true, why do they stay together?" asked Mele.

"Here, make yourself useful, boy, and peel this garlic." Alamea cracked a couple of eggs in a bowl and whipped them swiftly, then poured out the flour onto the counter. Soon she was at work coating the fish in first egg, then flour. "Because the Gruffyds might be rich and Tarnic, but they're as common as we are," she said. "And Lady Gwenfer might be a lady, but this manor was half in ruins and all her old father had left before young Mr. Gruffyd, as he was then, proposed. They may hate each other, and they do, almost as much as they hate her, poor little thing! But they need each other, Ghost or no."

Ghost clutched her scabby knees to her chest, hardly daring to breathe for fear they might catch her. She'd never heard anything like this before. Mother and Father hated each other? Hated her? She rolled the word around in her head. Yes. Yes, that was the right word. They hated her. And, she was vaguely surprised to notice, she hated them.

The next day she snuck out of the house for the first time.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Suggestion Box Post

So, my traffic's been steadily declining since I ended The Very Soil. This month looks likely to come in slightly lower than what I had in late 2013, which is not a great thing if I'm, say, hoping to be able to switch my day job to part time within the next five years.

So... what would you like to see me do? Or, since you're already here, what do you think I could do that would get you to tell other people, "Hey, you should check out this blog?"/post links to it elsewhere/share it on Tumblr/whatever?

Throwing the suggestion box wide open here, though obviously I am not willing to change the core mission of the blog--I'm not about to start posting porn or pandering to the right wing or whatever.

Anyway, suggestions?