The Last Jedi & The Importance of Satisfying Your Audience

Or:  “Because… Reasons/Script/Girl Rule/Boys Drool/SJW/$$$$”

So…  Spoilers ahead for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

 

You have been warned.

 

Over the last week or so, I’ve thought a lot about The Last Jedi and I have to say, my enjoyment of the film has decreased with time.  When I left the theater, I would have given it 2.5 stars.  Not great but entertaining.  As I thought of the implications of the activities of the story, I got more and more grumpy with it.  Now I’d give it 1.5 stars.

Why has my impression of the film dropped like this over time?  Many reasons, but I’ve noticed since I started writing, my standards for writing has gotten higher.  So what were the specific reasons?  Here’s where the spoilers start.

 

 

 

 

 

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  1. Mary Sues…. Mary Sues everywhere!

Let’s face it.  We all expected Princess Leia to manifest something of the force sooner or later.  But to survive having the bridge of the ship she was on blown up around here, surviving the blast, being thrown into space, start to freeze, then force pull herself back into the ship and open the door…. ummmm…..  NO.  Just F-ing no.

Then there’s Rey.  Sure she has some skill with her staff, we saw that in the first movie.  We get the impression she knows how to fight.  But to suddenly go full Neo (I know kung fu) with no real training?  Not to mention have such a manifestation of the force so powerful that Luke is just about pooping himself?  She’s force pulling and pushing.  Grabbing for light sabers in a way that took Luke training to pull off, and she’s doing it with nothing, and being equal in power as Darth Emo?  I mean Kylo Ren?  Again… NO.  F-ing no.

Rose (why the hell are you even in this movie) who was a plumber… A PLUMBER suddenly being able to pilot those skimmers and make a death defying save of Finn?  Come on… really.  (Of course, Finn was a Janitor who can suddenly pilot all manner of craft like and expert becauseeee…. reasons?  It’s in the script?  Because Girl-Power!

:Facepalm:

And of course, Vice Admiral Holdo single-handedly, with one jump at lightspeed with a cruiser destroying a superdooper star destroyer and a dozen others in the First Order’s fleet?  Well, hell son!  Why not do this all the time?  They could have just done this to the Death Star and won with the loss of one ship and Alderran would have been saved!  The Rebellion had cruisers then.  Just go full Kamikaze and be done with it.  She goes from incompetent Bee-eye-tee-see-itch wasting ships and lives (blaming Poe in the process for getting them into this mess) to savior with little to no reason as to why.  Again… What the fuuuuuuuuuu!!!!!???!!!!  (And they got the cruiser trim without an auto pilot?  pffft)

Mary Sues destroy stories.  No movie can survive four of them, particularly when one goes full martyr too.  Not to mention when every single boy (for there are no men in this film, only stupid smelly boys) is nothing more than comic relief and a foil for the women.

2. Darth Gollem… I mean Snoke goes down like a chump.

Okay, now this is just a cheap way out of good writing.  I fully admit I larfed in surprise as he gets skewered and then CUT IN HALF by Kylo pulling a fast one on him.  The problem?  Darth Emo would not be capable of pulling a fast one on Snoke like that if he was as truly the puppet Snoke claimed.  This is bad because there is almost no indication in the story that Kylo’s free will and desire to be good is actually growing.  I mean even in Darth Vader’s conversion you got more of a tip off in that even his body posture showed he could not tolerate watching the Emperor kill his son.  Kylo?  Nuthin.

What makes this more egregious is that Snoke was to be this huge badass that seemed more powerful than Darth Sidious ever was.  So here’s movie one.  Big setup… BIG set up… then zortch!  He’s dead.  Now if he’s not dead, they better come up with a fantastic reason as to how, and then pay it off.  I mean this is the equivalent to finding the secret tunnel to the final boss fight on level one that the game developers forgot to remove, typing in the cheat code and killing the boss in 30 seconds.  Not good, and that’s what happened IMNSHO.

You can’t build up a big bad guy and then take him down after only one monologue and a show of relatively superficial force… joke not intended.

3. Bathos killing Pathos at every turn

Every serious moment was undercut by something humorous, or worse, the lack of courage for a new generation character to be killed is given the “just a flesh wound” treatment.  Admittedly, Poe trolling General Hux in the very beginning was quite funny and well done.  There were a few other humorous points too, like Luke brushing gravel off his shoulder when the AT-ATs fail to kill him… a funny Eastwood-esque moment worked well.  But there were so many other times where relief was subverted by humor, or noble sacrifice subverted by G.I. Joe Red/Blue laser writing.  Finn was in a point to go out a real hero and cement his place in lore history, but no.  Rose stole that moment in a Mary Sue level save for the guy she had the hots for so we can get a trendy cute puppy love kiss.  Shucking foot me.

4. Speaking of Lore… Let’s just crap all over it while leaving the audience in the dark.

Now some of this was explained in a video by a Star Wars super-fan that many of the things that left the audience wondering why or how things happened were in the extended media, but left out of the film.  Okay, yeah.  I get that.  Small problem.  I’m not buying the dozens of related materials just to figure out what happened.  If I can’t tell why it is so from the movie, tha’s crap writing, y’all.

But here’s the real travesty.  Big spoiler… REAL big.

Luke dies because…. reasons!  I know I’ve said this three times this blog, but holy crapsnacking porgs on a stick!  So, how does Luke survive the standoff with the AT-ATs?  BTW, you see almost all of their footage in the trailer… weak Disney, very weak for something so cool.  He’s doing galactic range force projection of himself.  So he isn’t even there, and cannot be run through with Kylo’s Lightsaber and die.  Ergo, he died because the plot said so… and Disney obviously wants to shove the original trilogy out of the way so they can go on making a new SW film every friggen year with new characters.  Han was killed because Harrison Ford said he should have died in Return of the Jedi.  Sure, I can see that.  But to have him go down like he did in Force Awakens tarnishing his legacy as hero to one of failed father and a bit of a deadbeat loser badboy a princess fell for and a broken and messed up kid who ultimately kills him because Darth Emo is all angst-ridden. (Your name is Ben, we named the dog Kylo)  Don’t get me wrong on this one point though, I like Adam Driver’s acting.  Guy’s good.  He’s easily the best portrayed character, but that says how good an actor he is for the crap he has been given for lines and characterization.

But to treat Luke as a broken and failed Jedi trainer who tries to murder Kylo as a child out of fear?  Just wow.  Mark Hamill was right to criticize this plot.

5. The biggest reason:  Wasted Potential

When I was watching the film, I saw so many huge potentials for really good twists.  Also, there are ways for Ep. IX to redeem the movie, but honestly, I don’t think they would or the public should let them off the hook so easily.

Potential 1:  The Weapons Dealers being the real source behind the war (Oh and way to piss me off, Disney, for having the word “RESISTANCE” be the only word fully capitalized in the opening crawl.  Way to telegraph for the SJW’s out there in the age of Trump)    That said, it would have been a very interesting direction to go, and make it believable how the First Order and the Resistance kept having access to a seemingly endless ability to wage war across the galaxy.  Seriously a good idea, new villians could be introduced and a war behind the war would have been refreshing.  But alas, I’m certain that will be ignored as a throw away commentary on American Imperialism and proxy wars.

Potential 2: What if we threw a war and nobody came?  If you had it where the destruction of the First Order’s fleet and the death of Emperor Snoke as well as the complete eradication of the Resistance’s fleet was the end of the war?  Called on account of no materiel left to fight with?  They called for help, but nobody came.  Not even Luke did really.  This again, opens the door for a more sneaky covert spy thing, as well as the scramble to fill the power vacuum.  Who’s next in line for controlling the galaxy?  The Hutts?  Any of a dozen factions or races from extended lore?  That’s some of the most interesting stuff there instead of painting ourselves into a corner with only having two small factions (or are they really that small and if so, we should give zero foxes about this entire movie because the losses aren’t that important) slugging it out.  Ben Shapiro said it best that Disney painted themselves in the corner by making the First Order being only a repeat of the empire when all new land could be cultivated and even our old favorite characters would need to find their place in it.  Newp.  We just got lather rinse repeat with a smidgen of new fan service and old fan kiss offs.

Potential 3:  Rey and Kylo rule the universe.  What if both of them joined forces?  They easily could have.  But no, let’s just recreate Luke vs. Vader all over again.  The potential for them to BOTH fall to their own lusts, being that one was on the dark side, and the other having no training…. it was a foregone outcome that they could become the next imperial force.  Or you could have both of them turn on the new Grand Moff Hux.  I still say, despite him giving off the snotty English private school bastard vibe, Hux could become a great villain and they could join the Resistance and fight against him, AND the weapons dealers as the First Order and Resistance fall into ashes creating two new orders to slug it out.

Potential 4: Luke could have redeemed himself.  If given the chance to make right his failures as yoda pointed out, and throw out the Jedi religion as antiquated and failed like Bruce Lee threw out Kung Fu to create Jeet Kun Do, that might have been something truly interesting as well.  They would then have to fight against new enemies as well as the corruptive influence of the Force if given over to their baser lusts personified in the Dark Side.

I do not expect any of these potentials to be addressed or realized.  I think we’re looking at those possibilities in the rear view mirror, n’er to return.

BTW. the Porgs are stupid IMHO, but supposedly there was a reason they’re in the movie that I have not confirmed.  Supposedly they had puffins walking into the shots so often they just CGIed them into Porgs.  If this is true, well played.  If not… another log of WTF on the bonfire.

What has this taught me about my own writing?  Simply put, payoffs and audience expectations.

I expected Snoke to be much more threatening and survive to the next movie and prove the build up we got in The Force Awakens.  Andy Serkis is a motion cap savant and it’s a shame to waste that talent.  So that’s taught me if I build up a villain, even if i just have them lurking in the background I must give them an appropriate conclusion to their own story ark and not throw them out like garbage.

There is only so much subversion of the tropes and mood you can do before the audience gets pissed at you.  You cannot turn every serious moment into a joke like Joss Wheadon on speed.  I remember in an interview about the movie “Iron Monkey” about the tastes of Chinese audiences.  They want a little humor, a little romance, something scary, something to cry about and lots of escapist fun all in the same film.  Because of that, you give them what they want.  You cant jerk them around with pretending to give them a heroic sacrifice of a main character to steal it away in order to preserve the power of the unnecessary sacrifice of a minor unnecessary character (particularly because its a woman).  Don’t manipulate the emotions of the audience with a beloved character’s death, but then to ‘save versus logical outcome because script’!

Do not… repeat DO NOT… violate the rules of your own universe.  mmm mmm… don’t do it.  You cannot go 7 movies without someone doing the obvious, “why don’t I just ram that target as I shift to hyperspace and press the ‘win’ button” only to then do it to create an unnecessary martyr, or any other reason.  This violates a fundamental understanding of the Star Wars universe.  It’s implied collision at lightspeed is bad, but logic dictates that would be the first weapon you’d go to when given the chance.  You just make it into a missile.  So in your own writing, unless you’re willing to spend the time explaining how nobody did it before (too expensive, too unpredictable, too penguiny… whatever)  you don’t do it.

For example in my own setting, the supernatural events (aka the magic system) always has God or Satan behind it.  (or by proxy a demon or angel)  There’s no digging up magic metal or water from the ground.  So that stuff is all physically hard science like we have in the real world.  This can create real pickles for me at times.  It also means that with steam power, you will never see walking machines or steam blimps.  Physics in my setting remain the same as they do in this world, unless a supernatural force from God, Angel, Demon or Satan is involved.  If I violate that, please beat me about the head and shoulders.

There are more reasons why I don’t like the film so much anymore after the fact, but this will do.  As you can see, not thrilled with the new trilogy.  It’s about as bad as the prequels right now and the third movie better pay off YUGE or they ain’t getting my money back any time soon.  Save yourself the cash and see it on some streaming service or rental.

This is not the movie you’re looking for.

Go ahead and comment below if you desire.

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Realm Makers – H. G. Wells Challenge

One of my fellow Realmies put forth this question in our group the other day, and after reading my response, I felt it was good enough to put here too and share with all you fine folks.  It’s Spec Fic, not fantasy, so… there’s that.

Dave Withe’s H.G. Wells challenge to the Realmies.

“If not us, then who?”

I was “blessed” to grow up in the Golden Age of Science Fiction and Fantasy (that’s what they called Sf back in the 1950’s and 1960’s). The hard Sf writers back then foresaw many of the Whizz Bang tech that has transformed the world into what we have today. (NASA was actually working on Faster Than Light travel before the Big O turned NASA into the Muslim outreach agency.)

Question for Discussion:

With your futurist speculative hats on; Starting from existing trends, what kind of Speculative, Whizz-Bang tech can you imagineer for your stories which will revolutionize the world in the next century?

I call it “The Missing Next Step Analysis”, look at today’s capabilities, then extrapolate as much as you can with existing trends until you get to “The Missing Next Step” that can’t be extrapolated from existing technological / biological / Quantum / etc. knowledge.

Then, imagineer something to be that next step.

I started using Solid 3D Holographic Projected Keyboards several years ago in some of my stories; but that’s old news now, a Japanese company is currently developing that technology for commercial release within the next few years.

Let’s see if we can pull an H.G. Wells on the early 21st century world. (he foresaw nuclear power during the Age of Sail you know).

Are we not some of the most innovative inventors of new worlds. Step up your game people. Have done with recycled plot lines and stretch to ask the tough “What If” questions.

Let’s Imagineer the future.

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My predictions of the future are pretty dystopian because I believe socio-economic failings of the globe will rewrite ourselves into a second dark age of barbarism and insanity similar to what came after the Fall of Rome… but worse. This will end up destroying our ability as a species to grow technologically for another 500 years (while saving our souls) till we clamber our way back up to even this level thanks to all the anti-intellectual insanity in the west, and zealous anti-enlightenment barbarism in the rest of the world. The only thing technology is going to do is accelerate the process by which this all happens and the thoroughness of the devastation. To paraphrase Einstein “I do not know by what weapons the next world war will be fought with, but I do know the one after that will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Ultimately, there are very few authors who envisioned what eventually came after their lifetimes. Victor Hugo (Submarine, Moon Landings to name a few) H.G. Wells as has been pointed out, but really there are none off the top of my head that I can point to that predicted future tech with any serious degree of credibility that wasn’t already being imagined in their epoch.

I’ve made this statement before, just not here, that the Spec Fic author is a captive of his time. Look at movies like “Metropolis”, or all the “Red Scare Sci Fi” of the 1950’s before the dawn of space flight. They were all victims of seeing the world through the lenses of the technology of that era. We too suffer the same problem, though we violate Clarke’s Law far more often or we now understand better the idea of technology so advanced it appears to be magic. All be it I’d call it dark magic at this point, and hence my first paragraph.

The older I get, the more I begin to realize that the world of “Thundarr the Barbarian” (pockets of super science and “magic” in the ruins of a world which suffered a global disaster) has almost as much chance to exist as Mad Max or 1984. We humans are too flawed to evolve a utopia. It may work on paper save for that one flaw of having humans involved. I also doubt very highly that AI or any other artificial life will be any more perfect beyond possibly having to eradicate all of humanity for its chance to survive.

The other elephant in the predictive realm is the “unforeseen outside factor”. What if aliens DO show up? What if Time Travel does get invented, or Faster than Light Drive? Things that are broad theory or fantasy that suddenly become reality. 50 years ago, the Internet was able to be predicted. So was nano-technology based on what was going on in that era. But that’s predicting one maybe two generations ahead, and mostly based on straight line predictions, which is ripe for much hilarity. Want proof? Look up the predictions from the first Earth Day in 1970. Cringeworthy. Mark Twain once told a parable on straight line predictions on how the passage from St. Louis and New Orleans by steamboat was shortening by a few hundred yards every year. In a few centuries, he “predicted”, the two cities would be neighbors.

But okay… if pressed, prediction time.
1. This assumes the west doesn’t collapse and technological advancement continues.
2. It also assumes Islam does not win the current 13th Jihad it is waging via immigration and the west somehow pulls it’s head out of its collective ass.
3. That the Deep State Technogarchy remains in power.
4. That Generation Snowflake and self loathing SJWism dies out thanks to objective reality being stronger than subjective madness (see Kipling’s Gods of the Copybook Headings).

A- Advanced nations will begin to devolve as their people, addicted to the internet and social media drop out into VR societies in an attempt to give the yearning for meaning a harmless outlet.
B- Automation increases, driving humans out of the workplace, requiring “A” to control them lest they destroy the powers that be due to idleness.
C- Human civilization grinds to a halt, replaced by AI control, reducing itself to cattle.
D- A slim chance that there will become a symbiosis between man and machine as cyborgs do become the next stage in “evolution”.

Nanofabrication will become household level tech. You won’t have to go to the store. Just buy and download the schematics, and have your home “nanofab” unit which will be the size of a refrigerator or garage workshop size tool, pour in the ingredients like a cake and make it there. You will have freebie apps and plans, as well as name brand sellers. Designing may become the only place left for human employment as men and women are reduced to nothing more than the creative thought processes of a new species. Good times, right?

“I have never seen a miracle of science
that did not turn from a blessing to a curse.”
Sting.

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Sermonizing, Failing the Payoff & Jumping the Shark: The End of Doctor Who

Warning: Offensive Opinions, Ranty Snarkiness & Spoilers Ahead

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The latest announcement from the BBC on the new Doctor has me thinking a lot of why I have been dismally disappointed in hind sight at the years of the New Dr. Who.  A show I’m quite a fanboy of.  Or at least I was until recent years.  I have considered many of my convoluted thoughts on the subject, and have come to realize that it’s a trifecta of issues that bothered me.  The reason I have not enjoyed the last 4-5 seasons of Dr. Who, despite remaining a fan of the series or individual episodes are as follows:  (and things I’ve learned from their mistakes).

 

Failing the Payoff

Ever since the decision to make “Season Story Arcs” had come about, we’ve had an unholy partnership of bad finales brought about by Failing the Payoff which I directly link to Jumping the Shark.  Mind you, individual stories have been great.  Fantastic even, but the season arcs with the exceptions of David Tennant’s first season, Matt Smith’s first and second season have been a bit rubbish.  Well that’s if you can call a smouldering dumpster fire a bit rubbish.  But why?

Every season save for the three I mentioned became massive “Save the Universe” type moments.  Even the oft appreciated Bad Wolf storyline from Season One was better save for jumping the shark at the very very end.  They’ve failed at the end because the writers wrote themselves into a corner.  Moffat was so good at it, he could practically have his picture in the dictionary for it.  His buildups are excellent.  He has some inventive ideas that create classic thrills and scares and seem like its going somewhere good.  But at the end, he loses confidence so he whips out one of my biggest irritant the Deus Ex Machina, and in doing so spoils all the build up.

Cases in point: Bad Wolf.  Companion gets phenomenal cosmic power.  Why?  Reasons.  With the exception of the three seasons mentioned all the companions develop a phenomenal cosmic power which ends the enemy but to save her the Doctor must rejenerate.  This is a rubbish copout.  Sure you can say that this groundwork had been laid all season long with Bad Wolf… which to be honest is the only reason I don’t go off on it more.

And poor Martha, who just has an out and out dumbass ending of Carebear Feels and Johnny Appleseed talky bits that really were silly beyond belief and became the poster child for wasted companions.  She didn’t jump the shark but the solution sure did.  Plus it was slightly alleviated because she had the best reason to leave the Tardis as anyone.  She was the rebound companion and had too much self respect.

Then you have the whole Doctor Donna Metacrisis in season 4.  What the Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!!!!!!!11!1!???  An awesome build up of planets being ripped from time leading to a face off between the Dr. and Davros?  Oh come on!  This has awesome written all over it.  But the solution was once again? Superpower Companion to the rescue at some forgettable nonsensical cost… if any!

What I learned is that if your ending isn’t good… guess what?  It poisons all the rest of the good work you did. You failed in the compact between you and the reader.  They expect you to do certain things, write about specific things specific to your genre even if you subvert or twist the trope.  But if you chintz out at the end…  no one will care about what you did before and possibly no one will trust you again.  (Full disclosure, I have seen only the “Return of Doctor Mysterio” and “Pilot” from season ten because A) they both jump the shark and B) I’m pretty pissed at Moffat’s serial violation of all these points.  Which is sad because I wanted Capaldi to have a better run than Sylvester McCoy and Colin Baker… who were also stuck with crap stories and wasted potential  (well not Colin Baker.  Ick).

Jumping the Shark

As you can see the theme for jumping the shark was Companion based.  Donna was great… then she got made into Doctor Donna.  Rose was great… then she became Bad Wolf.  Rory… the companion, through the power of Runninggag, who just wouldn’t die.  (Amy was good except by using her force of will to you know… drag the Doctor and the TARDIS across an impenetrable wall in space-time and back into reality.  You know… stuff like that) Clara was great… till she merged with the Doctor’s time stream and what was originally an interesting story became a gawdawful mess of “SuperClara and her trusty Sidekick, Some Schmuck Chauffer in a Blue Box”.  Hell, even River Song traipsed up to the line, but she was the one companion, other than say Micky, who didn’t become all-powerful or bend reality to their whim.  I will say that Rose at least had a good ending, all be it terminally sappy and now she comes back time and time again like a Brown Recluse bite and just as damaging to the integrity of the series and her own character’s credibility.  What part of “trapped in another universe unable to cross” don’t you get, writers?  Stop violating your own rules!

What this has taught me is that if you paint yourself into a corner, you’re going to have to go back and fix it where it starts and not… NOT… take the cheap way out and just ret-con some cheesy fix.  It also has taught me that sometimes, you just can’t bite on the tasty bait of a kewl trendy idea without taking into account the dangers of what it might create down the road.  This is also a major sin of Marvel Comics lately.

And that takes us into the last, most egregious sin:

Sermonizing

A while back I was introduced to the phrase “Story, not Sermon”.  It’s part of where lots of Christian Fiction falls down.  Too many focus on preaching while neglecting the story, and that life doesn’t always fall into neat little boxes of quantified faith and philosophy.  Lately, though, sermonizing has become endemic throughout movies, TV and music.  It isn’t so much in books much more than it had been in the past, other than artificial markets created for identity politics which are then weaponized by publishers and retailers with an agenda.  BTW, everyone has an agenda.  Those who claim otherwise are lying to your face.  When I read a book to learn something, sermonizing isn’t so bad.  For instance, I don’t pick up “Hind’s Feet on High Places” and don’t expect it to address me directly or obliquely.  On the other hand, if I pick up “The Screwtape Letters”, I don’t get sermonizing at you, but its more of a morality tale or fable where I can choose to ignore its subtext towards me, and the philosophy becomes a backdrop.  On the other hand, if I read “Ender’s Game” I don’t get any sermon or morality tale outside of the broad general themes of an Sci Fi adventure story.

What this has this taught me?  There are expectations on how much you can preach a belief or faith before it interferes with the good story.  “Hind’s Feet” is a book that uses allegory to preach directly to you about its subjects in an entertaining parable.  But I went into reading that book knowing it was going to preach to me.  If I had not and was averse to Christian theology, I’d have been pissed by the bait and switch.  Same goes for “The Screwtape Letters” if I did not know it was a morality tale with a solid trope twist.  But if suddenly I started getting either morality tales or parables from “Enders Game”, a book based on the pretense it is nothing more than an entertaining story, I’d have launched the book across the room.  It’s part of why the sequels have been failures.

So I work hard to use the morality tale/fable line in my work.  People know going in that I’m putting this out there as an aspect of the world.  I’m not preaching to the reader that this is how to believe.  It’s just the way the characters believe.  The instant you cross the line and try to make people agree with what you’re putting in the book, you leave prose and entertainment and become rhetoric.

How does this relate to Dr. Who?  For a few years now, we’ve been seeing creeping political correctness joked about, more libertine attitudes being normalized and the slow slow descent into forced Transacceptance theology.  Post Modernism and Social Justice has poisoned too much of the show’s underpinnings and has been slowly dissolving the “just for fun” nature of the show into subtle fables and sermons on how we should act and think. Social programming at its most nefarious.  Captain Jack was the first hammerblow.  Missy was the next.  Then came the “Day of the Doctor” with gender changing generals (a rubbish episode that wasted John Hurt), and then Bill and now… this.

No one who’s been paying attention is fooled as to what this is about.  This is pushing a political agenda and using the popularity and love of a trusted franchise to do it.  As a fan of the show since 1980, I find it insulting and infuriating that something used for entertainment and twisted it to push an agenda.  This is equivalent to a reboot of Star Trek making James T. Kirk into some man-hating feminist. Or Darth Vader was Luke’s mother.  It’s a comparable betrayal, and its something people need to realize is wrong for it violates trust for the sake of a trend.  I have no animosity towards the actress.  In fact, I feel kinda bad for her, because she’s going to be vilified and roasted on the spit of public opinion.  To them it’s now a delivery system for a socio-political agenda to sneak unpopular/abominable ideas past critical thought barriers of impressionable fans and normalize aberrant behavior.  All in the name of hypocritical “Tolerance”.

When you fail in the payoff, it’s often because you over-reached or sold something you couldn’t figure out and had to cheat.  If you jump the shark, it’s usually caused from the previous point, but made worse because its outlandish and violates the rules of your universe or at least sprains credulity.  And sermonizing… Well… that’s a direct violation of trust between you and your reader if you were not up front with the fact ‘Here there be rhetoric, not entertainment”, and that is the most bitter betrayal of all.

Some very important things for me as an author to consider.  Something I hope never to violate or at least be up front with my level of rhetoric/sermonizing/story.  A balance that I hope always comes out with story first.

If you think that this level of fan outrage has not happened before or is not coming, I refer you to this:

 

 

 

Self Reflection Through Current Geo Politics

A bit of a different direction today spawned by several things coming together.  This will have little to do with Book 2 or the print release of ALRDW.

What spawned this little walk down memory lane into the deep dark forest of my youth is this video between Stefan Molyneux and Bill Whittle.  It is very much worth watching unless you are easily triggered or love the Bolsheviks, Stalinism, Maoism or the Soviet Union.  It is a great discussion on history, and the cold war psychology that existed at the time.  Just warning you ahead of time if you’re that kind of person:

 

I am a child of the ’80’s.  I grew up in all things Reagan, played Pac Man, watched “Night Court” and wanted to be Marty McFly.  I listened to Purple Rain, 99 Red Balloons, Rock Me Amadeus and King of Pain.  The mall was the center of my generation’s culture, you could be left unsupervised till the street lights came on and had to come home and never feared being abducted.  It was a great time to be alive in so many respects.

Thankfully the filter of 20/20 hindsight and nostalgia colored glasses help nowadays make things seem better than what they were.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was good as compared to today in so many ways.

But there was also something in that era that really shaped the Generation Xers in ways that the Millenials and burgeoning “Gen Z” can never understand in a real way.  The idea of an impending nuclear holocaust that looked likely to kill every last person on the planet at any time and the emotional scarring that such a pressure puts on a society.  Today?  Pffft.  Sure we have the terror of Islamofascism maybe… possibly getting a dirty bomb, or North Korea splashing a nuke somewhere off the coast of Japan.  But there is nothing… NOTHING… in this world that compares to the psychological pressure that existed in that era and peaked in the 1980’s.

Of course the 1960’s begat all of it with the Cuban Missile Crisis which had a real chance to spark the death of billions of people.  The “Duck and Cover” drills of the 1950’s where everyone practiced sticking their butt in the air from under their desks like dogs scared of thunder were legitimate too.  I’m sure those were just as terrifying.  These were actual, realized existential threats.

The 1980’s were terrorized by the movie technology finally reaching the level where civilians could see ‘believable’ nuclear destruction on film, or the invasion of the US with limited nuclear exchanges.  Movies like “The Day After” and “Red Dawn” burned in our psyche.  Games like Twilight 2000 and Gamma World were toys of the imagination to play in the irradiated landscape pretending we were the next Mad Max.

To this day, I remember being shown the data for what would happen when the missile that was targeting my home town was launched.  The size of the fireball, the instant incineration zone, the debris field, and then the fallout chart.

I was 11 years old.

It scarred my soul.

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An entire generation grew up with the belief, and it seemed a pretty sure thing with what we had shoveled before us by the media, the arms race and the mass media of the happy warriors and blasted remains we all expected to experience before leaving high school.  I did not believe I’d ever see the year 2000 unless I was an unlucky survivor of a nuclear doomsday.

That kind of pressure, I now see gave rise to the nihilism of Post Modernist thought, the hedonism of our parent’s generation and the insanity of what we now know as the Security/Industrial complex.

Even after the Soviets fell and Yeltsin brought a new Russia out of the ashes, none of us could believe it.  Even till today, some of us still are looking toward that far off horizon waiting to hear the sirens in the middle of the night that missiles are on their way.

I realize now how much that shaped me.  How much this belief that I should not bother planning, or thinking about a future still taints my thought process to this day.  When you are sure that somewhere, deep down in your soul, you are going to die at any moment and all those who you love will be ash as well… planning for the future is not high on the priority list.  Why prep when the land will be poison?  Just keep enough money to survive till some maniac thousands of miles away decides it is time for mankind to die.

Just as this mentality was starting to ebb, but wasn’t out the door 9/11 happened.  But even this is not the same as what we felt when we knew that all life could be reduced to radioactive isotopes and shadows blasted forever into rock.

But today, we have a future, and it’s hard for my generation to cope with it.  We who failed to launch in so many ways, because launching was pointless now struggle to deal with the fact that there will be a tomorrow.  Those who were more prepared have already begun to march too and are shaping it into a world that so many of us are angry with.  A world that is based on a hatred of truth, where the moral are ridiculed and derided.  A land of silence through violence, and freedom is only found by obeying those with the faster fist.  Where facts are lies, and feelings are law.

This world we have found ourselves in is just as alien to us as a person coming out of a catatonic fugue.  It is great fodder for a writer, I will give you that.  In fact, there are so many things happening, it is making it very difficult to focus on a fantasy novel series that is focused on faith, history and fantasy.  The truth has almost become too strange for fiction, but then again, reality does not have to abide by the rule that it must remain plausible.

This is what I had to get off my chest.  A lot of personal musing on the memory of what it was like to be a teenager in an era where life could be snuffed out like a candle.  An era that I pray no generation has to fear again.  Global genocide is off the table for now, and God willing forever more.  We have other crazies to fear, that is certain, but a lot of that is jumping at shadows and the phantoms of a people gone mad because there IS no existential threat to all life.  No… no… Global Warming is not a threat when compared to Mutually Assured Destruction.  That’s just fog pretending to be a threat.

But it’s good to remember what it was that shaped my mind.  To remember for a moment that that there are no more missiles aimed at my home with malicious intent.  The freedom and relief that thought brings is paradigm shifting.

Now, back to living in a new, better world.

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Begin the Squee!

So, yeah… looking at your amazon rankings is obsessively dangerous and awesome when things are going the positive direction.  So let me share with you what I saw going to bed as of this morning.

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #149,913 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#124 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Myths & Legends > Norse & Viking
#125 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Religious & Inspirational Fiction > Christian > Fantasy
#130 in Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Myths & Legends > Norse & Viking
 

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I know it’s not much, but still, first book freakout going on here. 🙂

Sanitized For Your Protection?

With the book in final review stage, waiting on the cover to go, I’ve been picking at it, finding little stray hairs of errors and cleaning up the glossary of things I should have caught long before.   Then, I had something come to light that forced me to look hard at my creation.

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The Prodigal Son by James Tissiot

One of my reviewers, whom I thank for taking up the task, let me know that the book was inappropriate because of something that happened in it.  Now I bring this up not to bash, nor to seek to shame or take to task, but to help myself and others understand my work.  I keep the book relatively clean.  There are only a couple points where the language gets ‘blue’, but there apparently is one thing in here that someone found unforgivable.  It was put to me the challenge of whether or not I should remove the phrase from the book to make it ‘safe for a Christian audience’.  That caused me to think about it over the course of a day on what was the purpose of the use of the offensive/blasphemous oath.

I asked myself about the phrase.  Was it gratuitous or unnecessary?  No to both.  What the phrase did was set the tone for the kind of environment the characters were about to enter.  It was not a completely safe place and not everyone there were good citizens or Christians.  They were complex fallible people who sinned, but also gives a hint to several things deeper in the future and serves as a warning sign to the reader that not everything is as it seems.  Yes the phrase is blasphemous if you want to strictly adhere to the law violating taking God’s name in vain.  Something that we in modern times are often guilty of dozens if not hundreds of times a day.  But for a sailor in the 16th century… this is right in line with the speech and attitude many had despite being a faithful person.

What I then realized is that the reviewer’s statement was not going to be uncommon.  There will be thousands if not tens of thousands of Christian readers who will see this one statement get very offended and ban the book from their own libraries and possibly others.  I was heartbroken about this realization.  I did not foresee it.  But I also saw the solution.  Remove or soften the phrase.  Now, I’ve done this once before already, and I’m still troubled by it being the right choice.  Is leaving this phrase in the book a hill I want to die on?

I finally realized yes.  It is going to stay and here is why.

Although I want this book to be edifying and uplifting to Christians, they are not my target audience.  It is not primarily for legalists and purists of the faith.  I will be ecstatic if they read the book, get something out of it and love it none the less.  I really hope they do.  If my beta readers and some of my reviewers are good indicators, this will be the case.

The main audience I hope to gain with this book is not just nerdy Christians who have been in the faith all their lives and have never been outside God’s grace like I had been.  This is a book aimed at nerds who have never been exposed to Christianity in this way.  Who don’t want to be preached to.  Those who do not want to hear a sermon and talked down to like they are the sinner and must be saved.  I think I accomplished that even though the characters in it live their faith out loud.  You are talking a monk dealing with ecclesiastical problems who is being punished by his superiors for failing to toe the line and is caught in a crux of the plans of others.

I want those people to find a book that is entertaining… scratch that… I want them to be THRILLED by the book!  I want those Christians who are slipping or doubting their faith or wondering if they are good enough for God to be encouraged by what they find.  I want them to see characters who are not perfect Christians and fail and sin and are hot messes but God loves them and is with them inspite of themselves, while others who seem pious and in God’s good graces to have to take a step back and realize that is not all sunshine they’re standing in.

I want them to the little heresies of life to be evident, because it might inspire someone to look at their lives in a new way.  Under all the entertainment, that is what I want them to find if they look for it.  I want those who have never seen Christianity in the same ‘cool’ lighting and stagecraft before like we so often see paganism, pantheism, atheism and other occult philosophies.  How often have we read fantasy novels or even Sci Fi novels that are chock full of “ancient weapons and hokey religions” and nobody blinks an eye at it being preached and praised?  That’s what I am doing with Christianity.  “Azeroth Metrion Xinthos…” see nobody bats an eye at something that although made up, it stands in for praise of something occult when you boil everything away.  Change that to “In the name of Jesus, demon come out!” and you get the point.

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This also speaks to the other reason I am leaving the blasphemous oath in.  I have a hard time reading most Christian fiction because everything seems to be… sanitized.  Even the villains seem to be only Disney Channel level of menace.  Even demons seem that way at times, but people are sanitized the most.  Nothing that could besmirch the squeaky clean image of the Mouse is there.  A lacquered Jesus that doesn’t even get dusty.  Never do we see the real challenging aspects of faith in a mud and blood spattered mess that is mankind.  I mean even JRR Tolkien is grittier than them and he never cusses or deals deeply about crisis of faith in any of his books, but the people there feel more real than the glossy clean brand image you’d expect with people’s Easter Sunday behavior.  This is what I hope to avoid as a writer, because I want these characters you root for to be relatable because they walked in situations like you have and do on a daily basis sometimes because being a faithful Christian can be hard and we fail over and over again, which necessitates God’s forgiveness more and more.

On the other hand, you can completely gloss over the Christianity and just treat it from a historical POV slapped into a fantasy setting like you would if you watched the movie “Kingdom of Heaven” or “The Name of the Rose” (Nobody but crazy literary people and scholars actually read Umberto Eco do they?  I love the movie though!)  The rest you can treat as typical low/historical fantasy with heavy steampunk elements thrown in on top.  Nobody will fault you for it and honestly, if you don’t care about the spiritual stuff, just enjoy the story.  So I pray what I put together actually stands up that way and does not rely on faith and sermonizing to work.  It’s part of the setting and historical context, but I don’t want anyone to feel like I’m evangelizing them deliberately.

That means I now realize even more than ever this book is in God’s hands.  Hell, this whole SERIES will be in His hands!  He’s gonna do with it as He sees fit.  But then again, when doesn’t He?  ;c)

Lastly, I also realized two things that form a viscous worrisome stew in my head.

1. I realized that if this book somehow only ends up on the shelves or pages of Christian Bookstores or online retailers, I will have failed in my mission to deliver something good for nerds and fantasy geeks.  I will have missed my intended audience and gotten my secondary one.  That’s not bad, mind you, but it will go against my hopes.  And I refer back to “God’s gonna God”.

2. I’m probably going to get hate mail from multiple sides over religious purists who will not like my handling of the faith, spiritual warfare or history, despite this is a fantasy and fantasy twist that comes from a historical basis.  It is biased to my understanding and is not perfect as theologians may say.  In fact, I deliberately have mistakes in it because it’s part of the setting and/or based on historical precedents of the medieval Catholic Church and monastic system.  This will piss off legalists who will come up with a laundry list of reasons to hate this.  Ultimately I will unashamedly refer to “It’s fantasy and welcome to the liberal use of Handwavium.” if I must.

But you know what?  I am going to have to learn to deal with it.  I wrote all this because I really felt it appropriate in the book itself.  This novel is what I felt God wanted me to write, and so I’m going to do it the way my understanding guides me and let see what happens.

Just like I cannot pick my fans (thanks artists who demanded Ivanka Trump remove their art from her walls for teaching me that… but did not offer to buy it back.)  I just need to say, “Thank you.  I am grateful that you love my work.” and respect the fact that I touched someone I didn’t intend.  But God knows what He’s doing, and that is what I’m going to have to rely on.

Thank you for reading.

 

The Retitling is Here!

After much consideration and a wonderful game of “idea catch” with Torfinn, we have a new title for book one and rebranding of the novel.  Amazing how this is working out.

Book one new title is:

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Okay, ready?  I know I am!

“A Light Rises in a Dark World”

Book One of the Akiniwazi Saga

So why the retitling?

Simple.  The focus changed.  When I converted the book from first to third person narration, a secondary character, Brother Finn, jumped to main character status and quickly became the fan favorite among my beta readers.

Now, just between you me and the internet, this left me with a problem because Brother Finn was almost completely missing from the second book.  Yep.  Since the original titles were going to be the “Reimarsoga” and told in first person and for plot reasons you will find out when the book goes on sale… it was perfectly appropriate for him not to be there.

And now, this is where the problem kicked in.  He was so popular, and there is this lovely gap in my timeline, I realized I could write that new second book and focus on him while ignoring Reimar completely and everyone could be happier.  Book 2, as the first draft already written gets shoved to book 3 status, and now I fill in the gap.  And now I feel much better about it.

But I can’t call the whole thing “Reimarsoga” if book two is going to be all about Finn, and calling it book one of “Finnsoga” in the end just isn’t working so… pantpantpant… sod it all, new naming convention!  Huzzah!

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So, here we are then.  A new title that fits the series theme better, and just snaps, plus it’s Biblically inspired.  So….. win/win/win/win/WINNING!

I feel better now.

Animal Farm Lives Matter

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I think trigger warnings are a joke, but I am giving you one if you are so intellectually weak and unstable that you cannot hack another person possibly having an opinion different than you.  With that being said, and the title itself should be a good indication of what’s to come, you’ve been warned.

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I am going to diverge a little today. Generally speaking I avoid political stuff for this blog, but this is going to cross the line a little bit. Mostly I am going to deal with ethical, cultural, and spiritual aspects, rather than the politics of what I see going on .

Black lives matter.

Blue lives matter.

All lives matter.

The problem is, no matter how much you want a particular group of lives to matter the other side of the equation matters as well. I am not an apologist for the police, nor will I stand up for the actions of race based activists. Right now in America we have created a breeding ground for hatred that this nation has not seen since the 1960’s.

There are very few eras in American history where neighbor turned on neighbor to the point of violence. The labor issues of the early 1900’s was also quite a time of upheaval and brother vs. brother, particularly in the coal fields and before labor unions became a force for good (an era that died out in the 1970’s where they became more of a bane) Before that time which civil unrest was high the previous ways this stress and disagreements over cultural vantage points what’s by bloodshed on Civil War scale. Both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War came from similar levels of disagreement of the people against each other as well as against the governing.

I fear in 2016, we are coming up on another era that has the potential to become another War. Why is this upon us now? Because the last two generations have stripped out from our society the value of human life. In all truthfulness, this began far earlier than this. The me generation of baby boomers was the beginning of this erosion of ethical values by not teaching their children the idea of an objective concept of Good and Evil or the value of human life.  Instead everyone was left to follow their feelings, and objective reality was buried under a horrifying blizzard of feeling based subjectivism.  To steal a line from Dr. Laura:

“You feel hot, you feel cold, you feel sad, you feel mad.”

Feelings change and they change often Emotions are fickle and not a basis for rules, law or society.  Look at what we have now and you cannot deny this is truth.  They do not think or reason, and yet Gen X and now Millennials have been indoctrinated into believing feelings are more important than reason or thinking.

The intention was good, but as my grandmother was fond of saying:

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

In an in an effort to right the wrongs of racism that had been banished totally from the Civil War and even went through a Resurgence in the 1930s with Jim Crow and Segregationist policies.  All things that had to be ended.  Instead of getting on with their lives after they had won, they decided to make it a life cause and overcorrected. Now, they found themselves needing to perpetuate the illusion the threat was still there to keep their paychecks and livlihood.

That generation forgot the words of some of the leading cultural philosophers of that era where content of character should matter more than color of skin.  Martin Luther King no longer led the charge of culture in the world of race relations, Malcolm X gained popularity and now has started to supersede the non-violent personal responsibility laden guidance of the former. A hand that is now clenched like a fist, but not without your provocation.

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We are seeing a rebirth of Malcolm X vs Bull Connor. Extremists in both rhetoric and action are beginning to lead.  Police have forgotten that they are Servants of the people not their keepers. The growing militarization of police and the insistence on Zero Tolerance policies has caused a combative impasse between cultures. But what hides beneath the surface is that both sides of this equation have little to no respect for the value of human life or anyone who disagrees with them.

So why the title Animal Farm Lives Matter? Simple, too many people believe that all lives are created equal, those they agree with or identify with matter more, and therefore must be given supremacy.  Just like the pigs become like humans in the book while little changes for the rest… or in many regards, get worse.  Thus, George Orwell’s damning indictment of special rights for special groups comes home in a stinging slap to our American cultural face.

To say that only one group of lives matter, is to become the racist, bigoted evil you claim to hate.  You assume that other group of lives matter less than those you support.

This is the racism.

This is hatred.

It is no better than what the Nazis used to teach children in school.  (You can take your Godwin’s law and shove it sideways up a tender orifice if you try to play that card with me.  Reasonable comparisons are valid.) When you reduce another person to nothing more than a caricature or straw man in which you can vent your spleen upon, you are dealing with abstracts that do not exist, nor exonerate you  from any  guilt for having such evil desires in your heart or actions taken with your hands. Why anyone would want to teach a child this let alone act like this is an adult is abhorrent to me. Yet it happens every day.

Where did this come from? When people decided that there was only one arbiter for what is good and what is evil, as well as divorcing legality from morality.  With that, we set up a culture in which cultural immolation would occur.  If the individual is the only valid arbiter of what is right and wrong, good and evil, legal or moral, then there is no universal code in which we understand how to relate to one another as a culture.  There is no agreed upon social contract which then creates chaos, and we descend into the theoretical hell of Social Darwinism till a new societal paradigm stabilizes in the form of the strongest authoritarian voice.  We still live in a world that is controlled by use of force and the side most willing to kill and die for their cause will become the dominant one.  Don’t believe me?  Publish a cartoon of Mohammed.  See what happens.  Who’s culture is winning there?  That’s right.  The one willing to kill you.

But until that new ‘strongman’ culture takes over,  there is only one possible course: chaos and nihilism. If people cannot or refuse to recognize that other lives outside of their own personal existence or tribe’s existence have value, how is it that we can even preach to another person the idea of goodness, charity, or righteousness? If you do not believe that even your own life has value, how can you see any other result then complete destruction of a society?

If we are to get through this without destroying ourselves as a nation and divorce ourselves from what our founding fathers created, all lives must matter. This is not a negotiable point. We can’t sit there and scapegoat like the Nazi’s did, first to the communists, till they secured their power, and then to others like the Jews and Gypsies.  If all lives do not matter equally, even the lives you don’t agree with or value, then no life matters at all. This is why we are stuck in such a terrible crossroads. You do literally have two camps… no let me rephrase that we have three camps actually forming.

One that believes all lives matter and every life is important.  I will call these “Rationalists”, because they are using more than just their emotions and bias

Another camp that believes only the lives that look and act and think like they do matter.  I will call them the “Bigots”, for they want to destroy anything that is not like them.

Those that do not care if any life matters because their own life does not matter to them.  These are Nihilists and Anarchists who just want to watch the world burn.

The problem is made worse because the Bigots want to protect themselves, but destroy the rest.  The Nihilists want to kill everything, and will sabotage any attempts at bridge building.  The Rationalists are caught in the crossfire between two groups of bigots and the Nihilists trying to make things as bad as possible.  What needs to happen is more people to move into the Rationalist all lives matter camp.  No special rights, fiefdoms or powers.  The corrupt and wicked need to be rooted out from all sides in this, and all must turn on the Nihilists and take away their power or ability to incite cultural sabotage and disaster.

Sure, you might think that is a hypocritical statement, but its not.  You cannot have people running around who’s goal is to foment destruction and chaos in any society.  They must be neutralized.  But from a rationalist point of view, you must also realize that there is a point that comes along that when you have no choice but to put down mad dogs.  Be they bigots, or be they nihilists, or even if they’re rationalists who somehow pervert the right for people to coexist.

Of course, none of this will happen till we can come upon a new objective, universal set of societal rules that can be learned, taught and enforced.  That means this emotionally driven trigger-warning, offensensitivity culture must go too.  Society cannot walk on egg shells anymore because you think you have the right to be as comfortable as a day-care toddler.  That life ended when you became an adult.  Sorry it’s such a shock, but time to focus on being adults, or get out of the way and be quiet so the adults can fix this mess.  We’ve run out of time and money to coddle anymore.

You’re offended?

And?

Life’s offensive.  Learn to deal.  Your opinion is not worth more than mine.  Your life is not worth more than mine.  Develop some mental toughness and stop trying to call for mommy to come get you from your day care culture by throwing a tantrum.  Learn to overcome intellectual adversity and deal with your stress.  Only then, when you can behave like rational, thinking adults, do you become a valuable member of society instead of a turd chucking monkey playing law of the jungle with other people’s lives.

Nor will spouting slogans and catch phrases fix this.  Real debate and discussion is required.  A skill long abolished from universities across this nation because feelings have become supreme and people call objective facts racist.  I saw a wonderful little Q&A with Ben Shapiro the other day where a woman wanted to talk about institutional racism.  Ben was all fine with that!  What institution is racist, and what did they do?  The problem is, that was just a buzzword to the woman.  She had never considered that for an accusation to be true, there must be a real, objective noun behind it, not just a feeling.  Demanding the elimination if institutional racism is fine in theory, but we are talking practicalities here.  Mr. Shapiro challenged her to name the institution and the actions they had done so he too could fight them with her.  She had nothing, because nothing really existed.

This is what we have to overcome.  Objective reality and facts come first.  Subjective feelings and theory come last.  To take an ill used quote from George Bernard Shaw:

You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?

In the realm of culture like this, the answer to “why not?” is “Because it is not.”  We must deal with what is.  Then, and only then can we move forward and fix what is wrong with this nation.

All lives matter.

Now butch up, Sally Frillypants.  We have work to do in repairing our culture, and throwing tantrums is helping no one.