Monday, April 29, 2019

Game of Thrones -- The End Game

I'm still in a bit of shell shock--sword shock?--over last night's episode of Game of Thrones. Holy Mother of Dragons, was that intense! But wow! Just wow.


I'm glad it was 80 minutes instead of the usual 50-ish, but even with that extra half an hour the episode flew by. All-in-all it was the perfect amount of time to generate all the feels--dread, amazement, horror, sheer terror, intense suspense and that final HELL YEAH!--without letting it turn into an endless grind of swinging blades and splattering blood.

I'm sure there will be a lot of hurrahing and whinging (to quote a character) in the next few days. So let me just offer a few thoughts--in as non-spoilery a format as possible.

I loved all the tense preparation and waiting for the hammer to fall, as well as the moments during the battle when things started to look hopeful--right before they turned very, very bad.

I love the final blow and who delivered it. It was unexpected (which I loved) and spontaneous, but really--it was THAT MOMENT! The one where you jump up and yell. And it made every kind of sense for the character who landed it, and for the weapon of choice, when all things are considered. Think about the history of how that weapon factored in and how it was used in the end game, and I think you'll see what I mean.

By the way. Nice move, __________!

There was one scene that was very reminiscent of Kylo Ren's attempt to take out Luke Skywalker--with the forces of good and evil reversed. Unlike Luke's scene, the outcome wasn't quite so unexpected. For me, it was sort of a "Yeah, I've been here before" moment. All that was missing was someone brushing soot off their shoulder.

As anticipated, the death count was high--and I seriously doubt we have the full tally yet--and I'm going to miss some of these characters. And a few entire armies. They helped make this series what it was, and what it has become. We knew this battle was going to take a toll on the cast, and it certainly did that.

As a viewer I literally feel like I've been through a war with them, which speaks to how artfully everything unfolded. But I was but a bystander in my cozy recliner. The actors and cast had no such comforts and had to be borderline superhumans to pull this off. The conditions they overcame to film these scenes speak to their dedication to the excellence that is GoT. Here's a great article if you'd like to get the behind the scenes story on what it took to film The Battle of Winterfell:
Entertainment Weekly: GoT Inside the Brutal Battle to Make Season 8

But even though the Battle of Winterfell is done, as one character remarked it won't be the last battle. Things have not yet been tied up with a bright, shiny bow. There's a whole lot of questions yet to be answered and conflicts yet to be resolved, or ended permanently.

I expect these next three episodes are going to be mesmerizing. I hope the Game of Thrones connections can pull off the ending to top all endings. I realize that's an impossible dream. You just can't please all of the people, all of the time. But I hope I'm one of the happy campers.

Yet when it's all said and done, I'm going to be sad. This has been such a fantastic series and I'm going to miss those GoT Sunday Nights terribly.

Game of Thrones has added some phrases to popular culture that will probably be around as long as the 40-year reign of the popular Star Wars lines.

Winter is Coming

The North remembers.

Blood and fire.

The night is dark and full of terrors.

What is dead may never die.

A Lannister always pays their debts.

The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.

Stick 'em with the pointy end.

Not today.

And then there's the iconic theme and opening dioramas that change with the events of each season. It's now probably one of the most recognized scores of all times, with the possible exception of Star Wars. 




But just like a great novel, all good things must come to a close and that end is getting near. I think Game of Thrones raised the standard for Fantasy on the small screen the way The Expanse did for Science Fiction. Both series introduced compelling characters, awe-inspiring sets, conflicting personal and political commitments, and sky-high stakes with a threat that could wipe out humanity.

Hopefully there will be a lot of great fare going forward that will strive to meet the same standards. The good news is there may already be a GoT spin-off or two in the works. Well played, HBO. Because the fans remember.

Have a great week.


Friday, April 26, 2019

FEWER UFOS? MAYBE NOT, NAVY SAYS


I have had no personal experience of extraterrestrials. Never seen a UFO. Never been abducted by an alien or had an episode of “lost time.” I just write about such things in my Interstellar Rescue SFR series novels.

But I have done my research on the subject of alien visitation to our little planet—the U.S. Air Force’s Project Blue Book investigations (1952-1969), the military’s later Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) from 2008 to 2011, Groom Lake, Roswell, reverse engineering, abductions and so on.

One thing that has always puzzled me is the rise and fall in the numbers of UFO sightings. The post-World War II era was a Golden Age of UFO encounters and alien abduction claims (thus Project Blue Book, and, not coincidentally, a surge in the popularity of science fiction, both in written form and on the movie screen). Sightings rose again during the Sixties decade of the Space Race but fell off after we reached the moon and the more mundane space shuttle program took over NASA.

The Mutual UFO Network (MUFON)still received some 7000 reports of sightings every day to its website in 2018 but reported last year that reports had peaked in 2012 and dropped some 30-40 percent between 2012 and 2017. Cheryl Costa of the National UFO Reporting Center confirmed the observation, stating that after a rise in reports from 2001 through 2012, reported sightings have been on the decline.

How this can be in an age of ubiquitous phone cameras, selfies and videos is a little hard to explain. MUFON statistician David Korts reviews the photos and videos his organization receives and attempts to filter out the hoaxes, mistakes and otherwise explainable phenomena and ends up with about 50 percent of the total as genuinely “unidentified.” He still doesn’t understand the drop-off in reports.

““At this point, it’s unclear. It’s perplexing,” he said in a 2018 interview with Gizmodo reporter Jennings Brown. “I don’t know why it is. I think it’s an interesting question. That’s the kind of thing you discover by doing this kind of work.”

But perhaps the pendulum is swinging the other way. The U.S. Navy just this week issued new guidelines to its personnel for reporting UFO sightings. This was reportedly in response to a spate of recent encounters with what WWII pilots used to call “foo fighters” in the skies by Navy flyers and sailors. 

A screengrab from the NYTIMES shows what the Navy is on about.

Clearly, the brass did not intend to give these instances immediate credence by updating the procedure for filing the reports. But, given military parlance, that was about all that was clear. This was their statement, according to an article in Politico:

“There have been a number of reports of unauthorized and/or unidentified aircraft entering various military-controlled ranges and designated air space in recent years,” the Navy said in a statement in response to questions from POLITICO. “For safety and security concerns, the Navy and the [U.S. Air Force] takes these reports very seriously and investigates each and every report.

“As part of this effort,” it added, “the Navy is updating and formalizing the process by which reports of any such suspected incursions can be made to the cognizant authorities. A new message to the fleet that will detail the steps for reporting is in draft.”

          
Got that? Great, carry on.

In the meantime, the procedure for us civilians is the same as it has always been. See a UFO, whip out your phone, take a video and send it to MUFON. Or run like hell in the opposite direction. Personally, I’ll choose Option #2 and live to write another day.

Cheers, Donna

*Information for this post drawn from “Our Skies Are More Watched than Ever, So Why Are Reported UFO Sightings on the Decline, by Jennings Brown,” Gizmodo.com, 7/02/18, https://gizmodo.com/our-skies-are-more-watched-than-ever-so-why-are-report-1827284430
 

“The U.S. Navy is Working on ‘New Guidelines’ on How to Report UFOs,” by Tom McKay, Gizmodo.com, 4/24/19, https://gizmodo.com/our-skies-are-more-watched-than-ever-so-why-are-report-1827284430

Monday, April 22, 2019

2019: The Year of Big Finishes

So this year will see the end of two great epics, one that dominated the big screen and lasted for a big chunk of our lifetimes (or even predated us), and another that became a major icon on the small screen inside of a decade but with the help of a series of books that created a ready-made fandom.

2019 will be the year the Star Wars and GoT sagas both come to a conclusion.

Does that mean there won't be other stories set in these "universes?" No, I expect there will be many spin-offs whether in print or other media. But it does mean that the primary anchor serial that introduced and established these worlds for a legion of fans will reach the end of their central stories.

My thoughts.

I'm not a big Fantasy fan. It took me several viewings to finally get into Lord of the Rings, but once it "took" it rebooted my desire to write and eventually led me to finally getting published. I'd turned away from that goal in the late 1990s, but one lonely Halloween Eve circa 2006 when I first saw the three films presented back-to-back on television, Lord of the Rings became solely responsible for reigniting my creative imagination. For that reason, the saga will now forever hold a special place in my heart.

It's epic ending and the triumph of good over evil was heartfelt and satisfying--though I did find it a bit drawn out. But even when things were darkest, we always knew deep down that Aragorn would regain his crown, that Frodo would complete his mission to destroy the One Ring. Those were the only acceptable outcomes after following the Fellowship of the Ring members through so many agonizing trials.

And, of course, the LotR memes will be with us forever.



But Game of Thrones is very different sort of epic fantasy. I was engrossed in the series right from the very start. The characters, the politics, the landscapes, the great rise of "Ice" and "Fire" toward a cataclysmic conflict that might determine the fate of all people in this world. The stakes are sky high. Like Lord of the Rings, the goal is not just winning a war, it's avoiding potential annihilation.

But throughout the series, the "Game" was played with the loss of many key character--both loved and hated. That element of surprise--and sometimes horrified shock--was what made this series so engrossing. The story arc is revealed through many POVs. There is no central character who must survive in order for the story to be told. All bets are off on who will win the Game of Thrones or if there will be any winners at all.

But now not just winter is coming, the end is in sight. I'll be sorry to see GoT conclude after so many years of waiting for each season to start, and then holding my breath with huge anticipation between each episode. As I'm doing right now in the final season. (And I still say the clock runs faster when GoT is on. Those were some of the shortest hours of my life!)

I really don't want to see this series conclude, but as the saying goes "All good things must come to an end." We know from experience that it's better to have solid closure on a story well told than to let a series linger on too long and lose its way, along with much of what made it special to begin with.

So maybe it's best to say goodbye. At least there's still a series of hefty novels I can read to revisit the story in much more detail, and apparently, with a few different twists.

But that said, I certainly hope they have an ending planned that will satisfy the millions of loyal viewers. Please, please don't let it end badly. Please show us that great struggle and hardship will finally pay off for these characters who we've come to love--warts, blade and burn scars and all.

I'll also be sorry-glad that Star Wars will finally see its conclusion this December, nearly 20 years after George Lucas originally planned to wrap the third trilogy (originally around the year 2000 according to past statements), and I'm glad that it's finally drawing to that close. Good, bad or indifferent, the Star Wars saga couldn't remain an open ended question indefinitely. And now it won't.

Think what pop culture would have lacked without stormtroopers, Luke Skywalker and the Millennium Falcon all these years? Without the iconic sidekicks R2D2, C3PO and Chewbacca. Without The Force and hyperdrive? Star Wars was a 1977 summer sleeper originally predicted not to do well at the box office that instead smashed all expectations and left an indelible imprint on our culture for all time.

This tale has spanned generations, as has its audience and the actors that play the characters. Maybe that's how it was always meant to be. The mature Luke, Leia and Han certainly worked well within the framework of the final story arc (though the loss of Carrie Fisher was a terrible blow), and while I do sometimes wonder about all those "missing years" I think The Force Awakens filled in the blank years with reasonable clarity. Four decades of missing story line does leave a gap, but it also lead to one kickass phrase that I love, and that also resonates in my own work:

Every generation has a legend.

In case you missed the official Star Wars trailer for Episode IX, take a look.



If you missed it, you can also read Greta van der Rol's blog last Wednesday on the Star Wars end game here:  The Rise of Skywalker...hmmmm

And after over 40 years of waiting to see this epic grand finale unfold, I'm joining Greta in that silent chant: Please don't suck!  

After all this time, I couldn't bear to have my love affair with Star Wars end with a broken heart.

Have a great week.


Friday, April 19, 2019

MEAT WITHOUT THE ANIMAL IN OUR FUTURE?


Those of us who still enjoy an occasional steak or a night out at the sushi bar may find our indulgences come with a hefty portion of guilt. If we’re not worried about our waistlines or our arteries from the beef, or our livers from the mercury in the fish, we’re forced to ignore the environmental impacts of our dietary habits as we eat.

After all, livestock are said to be responsible for up to 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, and that’s not even accounting for the amount of land that is cleared to make way for pasture for the animals. Aggressive overfishing is rapidly depleting the supplies of the tastiest fish that land on our tables, including most species of tuna.
Of course, we could all make the difficult decision to become vegan or vegetarian. (I can hear the groans as I type.) But what is a confirmed carnivore to do?

Science (and commerce, naturally) to the rescue! The Atlantic reports that there are companies out there working hard to grow beef, chicken and even fish that will look, smell and taste like the real thing—in a lab. In fact, the meat will be the real thing, cells taken from living animals grown in a medium of protein, vitamins and sugar; it just won’t have been harvested from once-living animals raised in a factory and slaughtered cruelly on an assembly line. (And, yes, I know there are alternatives to the factory-farm model of livestock-rearing. Buying your meat and eggs directly from local compassionate farmers helps, but not every meat-eater can do that.)



CEO Josh Tetrick of Just Foods, which is working on a chicken-less egg and, uh, an egg-less chicken, and Michael Selden, co-founder of Finless Foods, which is working on a cell-based fish product, are two pioneers on this frontier, according to The Atlantic. But they’ve faced not only criticism from market-watchers, but also technical challenges in their work. Taste is relatively easy, but texture is a big obstacle. Even adults are used to a certain “mouth-feel” with our food; if it looks like a chicken nugget, but feels like a gummy bear in our mouths, we’re likely to revert to angry-toddler status.

Then there is the matter of price. Few grocery shoppers will choose the “greener” alternative if it costs twice as much as plain old bird. Both companies are working to lower costs, particularly by lowering the cost of the nutrient medium and increasing the scale of production.

But perhaps the biggest issue of all is selling the idea of meat without the animal to a human race only a few millennia removed from its hunter-gatherer origins. What do you even call the stuff? Cell-based meat? (All tissue is essentially cell-based, so . . .) Artificial meat? (I think we had that years ago in my school cafeteria.) Lab-grown meat? (Ackk!) One thing is certain, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association has argued that nothing should be labeled “beef” that hasn’t stood on four hooves out in a pasture somewhere, mooing loudly.

Josh Tetrick recognizes the labeling problem as central to his marketing strategy. “Back in Alabama, where all my old friends drive pickup trucks, imagine if Tesla put out a really fast, really affordable pickup truck, but Tesla couldn’t call it a pickup truck,” he said. “On the back, they had to say, like, ‘Electric mobility transport wheeler,’ or some godforsaken name. My friends do not want to drive that, because it [messes] with their identity, unfortunately.” Those same friends would be unlikely to choose “lab-grown” burgers for their weekend barbecue.



Yet both Tetrick and Seldon can envision a future where meat and fish grown in huge factory vats is the norm rather than the exception. In that future, livestock grown for slaughter and fish caught in nets on the ocean will be a part of our barbaric past, or practices relegated to aboriginal tribes for their sustenance only. As writers of speculative fiction, it shouldn’t be too hard for us to imagine this future ourselves. In fact, it’s exciting to think we could be part of making it happen.

Cheers, Donna


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Hosted by 5 Science Fiction Romance authors with 8 RWA Golden Heart finals and a RITA final between them. We aim to entertain with spirited commentary on the past, present, and future of SFR, hot topics, and our take on Science Fiction and SFR books, television, movies and culture.