Monthly Archives: November 2019

DID IT

Hey.

Today, being the last day of November, is when NaNoWriMo comes to an end.

And I friggin’ did it.

50,000 words (and change) written in a month. Somehow.

I’ve no real idea where this story’s going and I’m pretty sure about 50% of those words are trash, but I did it. That’s 50,000 words done.

Finishing the novel is for another day, now it’s time for video games and whiskey.

Expect some regular scheduled geekery next Saturday.

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Ah, Crap, It’s 7pm.

Hey!

If you’re wondering, yes, I’m still doing NaNoWriMo while trying to remain a functional adult! (I’ve also, by my count, consumed, twenty beers, nine cups of coffee, seven bottles of kombucha, and seven whiskey sours [amongst other beverages] while writing this month [yes, I am keeping count, and yes, I usually write in the evenings])

And I just realized it’s 7pm and y’all need to hear something from me because, I dunno, blogs are supposed to be ~regular~.

So. Hi. I live.

In my non-writing misadventures I’ve been clicking around the internet, and in so doing came across a LetsPlay of The Last of Us by Nolan North, Troy Baker, and Hana Hayes. Troy and Hana play Joel and Sarah, the main characters in the opening of The Last of Us (which, if you’ll recall, broke me) and Nolan, the voice of Nathan Drake in Uncharted, hasn’t played the game before.

I did not watch the video, because it’s really hard to get me to sit down and watch something and I don’t usually see the appeal of watching other people play video games, which, for the uninitiated, is what a LetsPlay is.

But I did see a screencap from it, courtesy of the Kotaku comment section:

That’s their response upon hitting the title card after the devastating prologue. Nolan’s face on the right is one of pain and shock, which is fitting giving the prologue. It’s also why I’m so hesitant to engage with a piece of media I bought (again) nearly a year ago and have had sitting downloaded on my PS4 since. Waiting. Waiting to break me.

I could wax poetic about how wonderful video games are with how they can give you a visceral feeling of doing stuff, but I’ve words to write. It’s also a horse I feel like I’ve beaten to death on this blog and there are better and more interesting to write about (eg: The wacky nonsense of Star Wars). But there will also be time later for that when I’m not trying to knock out 50,000 words in a month.

Instead, here’s a bullet point list of Pop-Culture Thoughts I Have:

  • The Mandalorian is excellent
    • It captures so much of what made movies like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly so good.
      • Including the humor!
    • I love the low stakes of Chapter 2.
    • I love how Star Wars-y Chapter 3 feels.
    • I love how it feels like a good RPG plays.
  • I really want to play Star Wars: Fallen Order and The Outer Worlds and Death Stranding but I’m WRITING and have not the time to really dig in to a game.
  • Folks, The Good Place gives me all the warms and fuzzies.
  • The Star Wars books Resistance Reborn  and The Legends of Luke Skywalker are both very good for very different reasons. The former is very much a Star Wars adventure, the latter is essentially a treatise on stories and legends using Luke Skywalker as a focus.
  • Jojo Rabbit is very good and very wonderful and very cute and very warm and a movie you should definitely go see.

 

Cheers, folks; I’m at 37,455 words.

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A Post

Hello. It’s November, a month where some people opt to forgo shaving for no other reason the alteration (and sometimes fundraising). It is also a month where foolish people try and write a 50,000 word novel with in its thirty days.

Reader, I am one of those fools.

In light of National Novel Writing Month, I’ve been writing pell-mell to try and reach my goal, and, as such, am going to forgo my usual rant essay this week (the last couple had been prepared in advance! I’m sneaky like that).

So maybe check out an older post. I’ve been in a science fiction mood (owing in no small part to the release of The Mandalorian and what I’ve been writing), and I really think it’s an important genre, as I rambled about on Christmas Eve three years ago. Or look at my new fancy website www.joshuatong.com.

I know this is a cop out, and you oughta expect another one next week and possibly the week after, but trust me, I’ll be back going on and on about Star Wars and whathaveyou soon enough.

But seriously, The Mandalorian is so good and it wears its spaghetti western influence on its sleeve, and not just in the gruff cowboy trope, but its use of comedy and more. That, however, is a post for another day.

Cheers,

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What Is It Good For?

I’ve logged a really unholy number of hours in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. It’s a fun game, and there’s just so much to do. Plus, I’m easily distracted and so merrily go off assassinating nation leaders and taking part in conquest battles. It was during one of those conquest battles where I was fighting alongside the Spartans/Athenians to wrest control of some nation-state or another from Athens/Sparta that I finally got ahold of what Odyssey’s stance is on war.

Before I go any further, yes, the game has a stance on war. Any story that deals with the topic absolutely does. The Call of Duty games fall pretty firmly into the camp of wars must be fought to stop the bad guys. Star Wars sees all-out war as a tragedy (note that the start of the Clone Wars was a downbeat) and sees scrappy insurgencies as the recourse of good guys when others idle around to let evil men run rampant. The ultimate goal of the heroes is peace, not to fight more wars. Tolkien presents war as a place for honor and glory in The Lord of The Rings, but he is not blind to the horrors of warfare. The veteran of World War I spares thought for the horrors of warfare. The first time he sees a battle between Men – not Men and Elves against Orcs, but Men fighting Men – Sam is decidedly unsettled, wondering of a fallen foe “what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace.” Tolkien appears to believe that peace would be preferred.

But can a war story be anti-war? There’s a quip by François Truffaut saying that no war film can be anti-war. There’s a nugget of truth there, no matter how terrible what is presented onscreen, ultimately there will be some pleasure on behalf of the audience for it to work narratively; warfare will be glorified to some extent. I’m not sure if I’m entirely onboard with that.  Dr. Strangelove is a bitter satire of nuclear politics that makes no glory of soldiering, but it’s also not a movie about a war so much as it is about the idea of war. Comparatively, The Hurt Locker does have soldiers doing badass stuff, but we’re also privy to the personal toll it takes on them; epic guitar riffs are meant to be discordant with the reality. It’s hard for a movie to be anti-war.

And video games? Spec-Ops: The Line is fiercely anti-war, and all your badass glory is The Hurt Locker’s discordance ramped up several notches. You’re mowing down fellow American soldiers and burning civilians with white phosphorus. You are not a good person. The Metal Gear Solid games praise the honor of soldiers, but director Hideo Kojima has little good to say of the countries who send them to die. Naked Snake grows disillusioned with the United States in Snake Eater after the Americans order his mentor to betray the country to embed herself with the Soviets to weaken them then ordering Snake to assassinate her — to his commendation and her degradation. Perhaps the absolute that there can be no anti-war films (or games) is too stark a statement, perhaps it’s often a lot more nuanced than that.

So back to Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. You are awesome. Kassandra (who you play as lest you’d rather pick Dude McBlandman) kicks all the ass. Spears are stabbed into enemies, opposing soldiers sent running in awe of your might. Conquest Battles — big fights between the warring factions — are another chance for you to prove your martial prowess (and get some sweet loot). Now, Kassandra is a misthios, a mercenary, and so she can fight for whichever side she wants. But here’s some ludonarrative dissonance. As part of the story I’ll be helping Sparta take over a country, then hop across the border and fight for Athens, slaughtering Spartans. Which, okay, I’m a mercenary. Makes sense. But, due to the way the game works, I can roll up into a war camp, kill everyone except for the unkillable NPC who gives me the Conquest quest, and when I talk to said NPC he’ll be happy to see me despite the ground being littered with his dead compatriots. Ah, video games.

And war.

As far as Odyssey is concerned, war is pointless and random. Today’s allies are tomorrow’s enemies; the allegiance of any nation-state is up for grabs at a moment’s notice. Ultimately, it’s all meaningless, small pieces being moved around on a bigger chessboard whose players have no concern for the pawns. If Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is to be ascribed a position on war, and it ought to be since it is a game that takes place during one, it is one of nihilism. No matter how much the narrative may account for a just war or honor, ultimately, it’s just the same dance over and over again with different partners.

But it’s really fun, though.

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Shoeless Superheroes

Today we’re going to talk about one panel from a comic:

noshoes.png

It’s from Agents of Atlas issue #3 by Greg Pak and Nico Leon with colors by Rachelle Rosenberg and lettering by Joe Sabino. At this moment, the titular agents are meeting in their secret headquarters to discuss some potentially nefarious shenanigans that are happening.

And, naturally, all these superheroes have taken their shoes off.

Okay, so, the Agents of Atlas are all ethnically Asian. You’ve characters like Amadeus Cho and Cindy Moon, Korean-Americans based out of New York and Pearl Pangan from the Philippines and Lei Ling of Shanghai. There’s even a handy map on the credits page to offer an easy rundown:

AOA Map.jpeg

Look at that multi-nationality! | Greg Pak, Nico Leon, Rachelle Rosenberg, Joe Sabino / Marvel Comics

 

 

Yes, there’s a gut reaction to dismissing this sort of team-up as being pandering; it’s just Marvel realizing they’ve got a dearth of Asians and are mashing them all into one comic to highlight them and hope that combined their combined appeal can move books. Consider it tokenism but on steroids. Yet Atlas is able to get past that by applying verisimilitude to its fiction. An early beat during their War of The Realms introduction has the diverse cast (and yes, they are diverse: there’s a world of difference between being Chinese and Korean) sitting down to eat and bonding over the myriad of ways to prepare spam. It’s a quick gag, but one that quickly conjured up memories of how I’ve been served it in the past.

So the third issue and the lack of shoes.

I wrote not too long ago about how much I loved a beat of Always Be My Maybe that involves running kids taking off their shoes indoors and that same sentiment is in play here. It’s an absolute darn delight to see that tiny bit of detail. I take my shoes off indoors! And so do Silk and Shang Chi! There’s even a genkan where the shoes are left and fuzzy slippers available for indoor use. This ain’t some half-assed representation. It’s a small detail that’s really big in that it very much establishes that a) these characters are Asian beyond being drawn/named such, and 2) when given the opportunity will embrace that part of their culture.

There’s a narrative component to it too!

What’s it mean that they took their shoes off when going into their headquarters? Understand that taking your shoes off somewhere belies a sense of respect and comfort/intimacy. You don’t take your shoes off at the office or the movie theatre, but you definitely do in someone’s home and, in some parts of Asia, restaurants too. When someone like me — who’s been taking his shoes off in houses his entire life — sees this, it instantly communicates a lot of information about the people and where they are.

The Agents of Atlas are comfortable in their headquarters. Not like “ah, I’m comfy here,” but they treat it like a home. Sure, they’re all still in costume, but it’s somewhere they can take their shoes off. For someone like me, that feeling of taking off my shoes when I get home is a little marker that “yep, I’m back.” Thus seeing this being acknowledged in the comic is a delightful nod that immediately establishes how these characters feel about where they are.

It also helps with the conflict! In the scene we find ourselves in, Amadeus Cho, leader of the Agents, is wary of newcomer Isaac Ikeda — a hero in the employ of the entrepreneur responsible for the aforementioned potentially nefarious shenanigans. Amadeus didn’t invite Isaac; he’s surprised to even see him in the headquarters. Maybe he’s paranoid (he’s not quite sure), but he doesn’t want Isaac in their secret base, and for Isaac to be there — in this place where they’re able to take their shoes off! — isn’t unlike a roommate bringing home that super sketchy dude from the bar. This is made clear in the dialogue, of course, but the complication of the shoes adds an additional subtextual layer to it all.

Oh, diversity and representation. How I do harp on them. But this is why! This panel brought me such joy! This detail means so much to me because it’s something that I understand and speaks to me from a frame of reference I’m familiar with. Look, I’m a biracial third-culture-kid who’s an immigrant on both sides of the Pacific; I take the wins where I can find them. And yes, that means a comic where the superhero team takes off their shoes indoors. It’s important!

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