Posts Tagged With: sci fi

Dreaming of Turkey: Nostalgia and Diversity

Two things set the wheels turning for this post. One is this talk which a friend shared with me: The Danger of the Single Story.
The other is what I read online about Djimon Hounsou’s conversation with his son. (About half-way down.)

I honestly used to think that racism wasn’t an issue when I was younger. I had no conception of just how alive it still is today.
How could I? Mom and Dad both completely forgot to teach me to consciously colorblind; they just assumed that I already knew that the color of one’s skin was not a factor in one’s worth as a human. God bless Michael and his literal mind: the first time he heard someone being referred to as “black”, he piped in with a “No, he’s not.” When asked by the amused black man what color Michael thought he was, Michael replied “A nice chocolatey brown.” Michael didn’t think that he himself was white, no, he was “a much lighter shade of brown.”
Michael wasn’t being consciously cute. He was just being, well, Michael.

I didn’t realize that people were still being treated as lesser beings based solely on the color of their skin or where they were from. How could I? I spent my most formative years in Turkey, a country where being Caucasian was being the ethnic minority. And as the ethnic minority, I was treated like royalty. At four years old, I didn’t grasp how much of that respect was being given to me because I was an American in an American military base…and how much of it was because of local beliefs and superstition. When the Turks referred to my appearance at all, my blue eyes took center stage, there wasn’t usually any attention left to pay attention to my fair skin.
(Bit of explanation here, to Turks, blue eyes are considered the blessing of Allah. As the wearer of the blue eyes, most Turks would go out of their way for me and almost out of their minds to get me to stop crying. To the Turkish rug-maker and “mover bears”: I’m really sorry. In particular to the youngest mover bear, I’ve always remembered you fondly as the man who took time out of his busy day to entertain an unhappy little girl. I realize now that you were probably told by the rest of your crew: “do whatever it takes to get blue-eyes to stop raining misfortune down on us with her tears while we finish packing up her toys,” but still.)
As a young child, I had very little conception of the political and superstitious elements at play; all I knew was that the Turks had treated me, the ethnic minority, extremely well and that must be how all minority groups were to be treated. Protocol established and it only took living in a third world country to do it.
Going from Turkey back to the States was the most massive culture shock of my life. In some ways, it’s a shock that I have never gotten over. Our first stop was Georgia, the Deep South. Michael’s surprise was great when a neighbor boy (who was black) told him: “You know nothin’, you’re just a little white boy!”
Deeply hurt, Michael replied, “That’s not fair; you’re only looking on the outside!”
Further conversation was interrupted by the Wrath of God storming around the house in the form of the boy’s mother, yelling out “Little man, you of all people know what racial prejudice feels like! You and me gonna go over yonder and tan yore hide!”
In Georgia, I had no conception of what she meant by “racial prejudice”. How could I? I was still trying to get over the shock of being in America, surrounded by Americans. And what a strange bunch of people they were, whatever the color of their skin!
Moving from Georgia to Southern Indiana just put another jolt in that culture shock. Michael and I immediately agreed that this area was “boring” because everybody looked alike. Most of the people we met were Caucasian with light brown hair. Our relief was great when we started seeing people of different skin tones. I believe Michael put it best when at 12 years old, he put his hands behind his head and sighed “Ah, diversity!” All with the biggest smile on his face.

Because of all this, I never really paid attention to the color of people’s skin on my TV, or in the books I read. Physical appearances were of secondary importance to good characterizations and interesting plots. I never really thought I had to pay attention. I watched Star Trek, where Uhura, Worf, Tuvok, B’Elanna Torres, Guinan, Julian Bashir, Geordi La Forge, Harry Kim, Chakotay, Hoshi Sato, Hikaru Sulu, Benjamin Sisko, and so many others inhabited my screen…no less complex or innately heroic than anyone else there. I watched Star Wars, where the bad guys mostly all looked the same and the good guys mostly all didn’t look the same. Morgan Freeman was clearly more badass and interesting then Kevin Costner in Prince of Thieves. (And much smarter too!) Aravis tied with Peter as my all-time favorite character in the Chronicles of Narnia. I read Egyptian mythology; I read Arabian Nights. I read the Bible and I knew that the people spoken of would more closely resemble the Turks of my childhood then me.

I thought racism was a thing of the past. I remember one day, I was staring at the fireplace that used to reside in my living room and thinking “How would my life be different if my family was black?” I tilted my head and mentally changed the color of my skin. I eventually shook my head. At 11, I still couldn’t imagine anybody believing differently than my parents and besides, in my head, people in general were still all generous Turks and gracious Southerners. I hadn’t yet really come into contact with cruelty of the white, middle class variety.

~ ~ ~ ~

When I saw “cruelty of the white, middle class variety”, I do not, in any way, mean to say that white, middle class people are the scum of the Earth. That’d be a bit ridiculous for one: I’m white, middle class. And that would also be like saying all black people are criminals, or that all Germans are Nazis, or that all Americans are stupid, or that all Cretans are liars. Or that all Turks are Muslims. Not true.

I also don’t mean to imply that Turkey or Georgia are paradise and Southern Indiana is a bad place. If I’d stayed in either of those places, I would have eventually come to see the problems that plague them.
I love Southern Indiana. I love the people; slow but never stupid, laid-back but not lazy. I love the flavor of this place. But it was here that I first came into extended contact with what I call “casual racism”. It was here that I grew up and lost the innocence of childhood where I assumed that racism was a thing of the past. Sadly, it was in conservative Christian circles that I encountered it the most.

It started out small, as most things do. Grumbles about “Mexican” immigrants…despite their true nationality. Arrests and mug shots on the news, primarily young black men…and then hardly a mention when DNA and other evidence proved them innocent of the crime. Girls flirting with a white male stranger and then clutching their purses tighter when passing a black man. Jokes that said “Well, he’s just in that movie to check the ‘diversity’ box.” Condescension creeping into people’s tones when they call someone “mixed”.
One time in church, I overheard a conversation about crayons. A leader in the church was complaining because Crayola had changed the name on one of their crayons. “I’m not being racist, but seriously? That’s just being oversensitive!” The name of the crayon color? Flesh. It was tan.
One time in a restaurant, I was ordering breakfast and witnessed the following:
There was a hispanic construction crew eating together. They’d ordered in English and then started a conversation in Spanish amongst themselves. The other large group was a bunch of white, middle aged men discussing politics. One of the second group raised his voice so that everyone could hear and said the following: “I hate it when people move to another country and don’t learn to speak the native language. What’s next? My kids will be required to learn Spanish in school because these immigrants came into our country and won’t make their kids learn to speak English!” Never mind that the first group had ordered in English.
At the time, I was at my most awkward. That’s no excuse. I still wish I’d stood up and said “So…you’re actually speaking Iroquoian or another Native American language, right?”
I was horrified by this man’s rudeness. But I didn’t say anything and so if those hispanic work men think about that encounter at all, they will remember the rude white guy and the silent white girl. They could have remembered the rude white guy and the white girl who rejected his casual racism.
My silence gave them a single story of white Americans. To this day, I am still ashamed of my inaction. I knew better.

As I started to grow up and pay attention, I noticed a pattern…a pattern that assumed, unless otherwise stated, that the hero would be male and white. I noticed that the stories that held more variety were still being praised as “progressive”. At first I was confused, because this was in the 2,000s…Civil Rights was years ago, so why was the “progressive” label still being applied? Not all TV shows and movies were like Star Trek; as I watched more closely and learned more about casting calls, I found out just how skewed Hollywood still is to white leads…specifically white male leads.
Racism. Sexism. Intolerance. Hatred.
These things make people repress stories and silence voices.
The fear of these things make other people keep quiet and not tell their stories.
Through both, we are robbed of rich stories and unique voices. Even the habits of these things without the malice still oppress. Hanging on to old formulas because “they work” and “are the money-makers”, at the very least, signals a lack of imagination. Can’t we trust the power of a well-told story? Let our movies rest on the talents of an actor rather than the color of their skin?
The world is rich in variety…shouldn’t the world of fiction be too?

So what am I doing about this problem? It’s not enough to point it out and blog about it. If the white, straight male is still the default hero, something more active needs to be done.
Laryn and Alyn, my lead characters in my story have “nice chocolatey brown” skin.
Before, they had no skin color. I don’t “see” my characters, they usually don’t have any physical appearance in my head, except maybe the color of their eyes. I had to go back and add brief mentions of their skin color. It’s not a defining characteristic, it does not change or alter their characters…most importantly, it does not make them and their story any less complex. It is there, canon and set in stone. They are not “default setting”. Will these two girls in W.I.P. story change the world? Probably not. Will all my main characters be “chocolatey brown”? No. I’m not limiting myself. I’m going to write many stories, God willing, and my characters will be as varied as my friends.
Laryn and Alyn are my apology to those hispanic work men in McDonalds and all the children who are ever made to feel that they need be white to be the hero in a story instead of the side-kick. They are my rebellion against the casual racism in American fiction. They are a nod to the Turks I grew up around.

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Categories: ordinary life, Writing | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

The 100 renewed!

http://m.deadline.com/2014/05/cw-cancels-carrie-diaries-star-crossed-tomorrow-people/

Yay! More The 100!

Now, don’t you dare turn it into just a soap opera, CW! I like my Sci-Fi to be intelligent and the romantic drama to not take over the rest of the plot. Thank you.

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Sci-Fi names part two or this is all your fault Emily ;-)

Dear Emily, the next time I blithely promise you a list of unique names that “wraps around the earth”, kindly remind me that this is not, in fact, very much of an exaggeration. This started as a text or ten…then it turned into a monster and got away from me. 😉

Science fiction and fantasy names: those unique, exotic, out-of-this-world handles. What’s a writer to do if they don’t have fifty years to develop their own languages a la J.R.R. Tolkien?

You could make up your names….
Murae—um, not bad.
Quenneth—there’s only thing to be said: don’t kill me, I was 12.
Aithon–not too bad.
Ecan—something that sounds good at 2 am and terrible at noon.
Lahkaia–see above
Yatsuur–at least it sounds alien…

You could hijack ordinary names and words and change a letter or add a punctuation mark (by far the most popular letter and mark are Y and an apostrophe)…
Erig– from Eric
Taelori–from Taylor
Cosa–from C.O.T.A., certified occupational therapy assistant
Avani–based off a mispronunciation of the very pretty Indian name “Avni”.
Sar’ai
Ka’tee
Edana–from Adana
About a million variations of Kaley, Helen, Mary, Lyn or Anne…

You could take a common name like Sam or Cass and make it the shortened version of a grand-sounding made up name…
“Dany”, Daenerys
“Rae”, Reyhanis
“Chip”, Chipiparo (That’s mine. From age 11. I swear my tastes have improved!)
“Ann”, Derannon—not really making my case…

You could randomly hit your keyboard and pronounce the resulting “name” as an ordinary American name or word…
Aeiolaien, “Eileen”
Tuiwge, “Twig” (This one took some squinting and tweaking!)
Ruilean, “Ryan” (The L is silent, don’tcha know?)

You could watch the credits of movies, with a notepad and the remote or scour the index pages of plant books…
Adai–from somewhere I don’t even remember
Aisling–from The Clinic
Kalmia
Larcina
Kilik–from a producer on Catching Fire

You could flip open The Old Testament and pull names from the extensive genelogies…
Ithran
Ephraim
Ezer
Keturah
Iram
Lotan
Akan

You could name everybody common nouns and imply that the names have already been translated into the reader’s native language…
Silver
Coral
Stone
Bear

Or you could go to a site like Behind the Name and set the filters however strikes your fancy. Turkish and Welsh are my go-to languages: Turkish because they remind me of when I was a little girl in Turkey; Welsh ’cause it’s cool.
Then you can play with the spelling or swap genders to your heart’s content.

Seriously now, here’s a list of my favorite “sci-fi/fantasy” names that sound out of this world but really aren’t…

Laryn (f, modern American variation of Lauren)
Clio (f, Latinized Greek) “glory”
Zora (f, Slavic) “dawn”
Miren (f, Basque) “bitter”, from Mara/Mary
Aisha (f, Arabic) “alive”
Avi (m, Hebrew) “my father”, contraction of Avraham
Soren (m, Germanic) “stern”
Stien (m, Norse) “wanderer”
Hagon (m, Germanic) “high son”
Ansgar (m, Germanic) “god-spear”
Aydin (m, Turkish) “enlightened”
Eren (m, Turkish) “holy person”
Erol (m, Turkish) “brave”
Ithran (m, Hebrew)
Ephraim (m, Hebrew)
Evren (m and f, Turkish) “cosmos”
Aylin, Ayla, Tulin (f, Turkish) “moon halo”
Shayla (f)
Lien (f)
Ayrin (modern variation of “Erin”)
Sirin (f)
Senka (f, Serbian) “shadow”
Isra (f, Arabic) “journey by night”
Zahra (f)
Zahira (f)
Zayne (m or f)
Jinan (f, Turkish) “garden”
Lynnea (f, variation of Lynn)
Cyra (f)
Eirian (f)
Shatona (f, Native American)
Alina (f, Arabic, French)
Mateo (m)
Maelea (f)
Avni (f, Indian) “the earth”
Nahtan (m, Nathan reversed, The Poisonwood Bible)
Zhaigo (m, based off our Chinese visitor’s pronunciation of “Chicago”)
Iskander (m, Turkish version of Alexander)
Evander (m, Greek)

And my all-time favorite: Alyn, pulled from Alina, an Arabic feminine name meaning “noble”, and Alina, a Germanic contraction of Adelina (also meaning “noble”), and Alan–one of meaning of which is “noble”–and a WelchAllyn vital sign machine at work, which serves a very noble purpose. Therefore I declare that Alyn means “noble”. I can do that. I’m the author.

Categories: Writing | Tags: , | 4 Comments

Sci-Fi names or please help!!!!

First off, I’m not pregnant.
No, the nascent person in need of a handle is a character in my story…who keeps slipping out of her name.

There’s a character named Alyn (pronounced Uh-lyn, not Alan). She’s quite attached to her name. Then there’s my main girl, whose name up until now has been Adai. The relationship between these two is a main focus of the story…which necessitates the frequent use of such sentences as “Adai and Alyn”.

This is where I ran into a problem: my beta readers/patient family are getting confused as to who is who. Halfway through listening to me hash out an issue with a character or reading through a passage, a bewildered expression will settle on their faces and hands start going up in the air.
It never crossed my mind that the two names, each four letters starting with an A and having a tall second letter, would be easy to confuse.

Adai and Alyn.

Do you think they are too similar?

And if so, which of the following just stands out and sounds plausible as a Sci-Fi name? And by Sci-Fi, I mean alien.

Clio

Aisha

Laryn (pronounced “lar-ren”, not Lauren)

Zora

Miren

I’ve got it narrowed to these 5, but I just can’t pick between them.

P.S., Mom, no comments about that slutty Turkish girl we knew named “Aisha”.

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The power of Superman

Spoiler warning: all of Man of Steel movie.

The internet is a funny thing.
If I really liked a book or movie, I tend not to read as much about them online. So many opinions swirling around, too many haters, etc, etc. It’s just easier to deal with if I don’t feel as invested in the story under review. Consequently, I was mostly unaware of the massive hate-storm on Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel until recently.
By the way, I really loved Man of Steel. It’s very much a classic story, retold for today’s audience. My brother has spoken often of how it is the quintessential Sun-god story. I loved how it was action-heavy (as is expected of a summer blockbuster), but still found lots of time for the quieter moments and the motivations of each character. Many people are complaining about Superman killing, and blaming him for the extreme destruction shown in the movie. I was reading this stuff and before I knew it, the words were flowing from my fingers in response…so I suppose I’m doing a blog post on it! Huh.

Yes, the film-makers could have cut a lot of action from the film. I’m not debating that, nor am I claiming that Man of Steel is a perfect movie. Not at all. It is, however, in my opinion, a good movie with important themes running through it. Zack Snyder had stated that he wanted this movie to explore the real-world consequences of having someone as powerful as Superman…and in terms of collateral damage, I’d say he succeeded. But though excessive, I don’t believe the destruction was gratuitous, serving no purpose but to amuse the audience’s fascination with chaos. Quite the contrary; I believe that by end of the movie, Clark/Superman had discovered a very important lesson through the destruction. In rewatching the movie, two snippets of the Metropolis battle stand out to me. One is when Faora kills a human soldier by snapping his neck. In the process, she drops him out of the camera frame. At the end of his final battle with Zod, Superman wins by breaking his neck in an eerily similar move…but Zod remains in the camera’s view the entire time.
So what’s the significance?
Man of Steel is filmed in the same style as Battlestar Galactica: a hand-held, “found footage” kind of style. This means the relationship between the characters and the camera is very important. Back to Faora. In dropping the soldier out of the camera frame, she has communicated something to us: that soldier wasn’t important to her. Neither his life nor his death meant anything to her; he was a temporary obstacle at best. Killing him simply didn’t affect her, anymore than tossing out the trash would.
But Superman keeps Zod up in the frame even while he kills him. He didn’t want to kill Zod and begged him to stop…until it was quite clear that there was nothing else he could do except kill him. It was taking all of Superman’s strength just to hold Zod still and to split his focus to attempt a non-lethal solution would almost certainly mean the death of the human family. So he breaks Zod’s neck and the camera lingers on his fallen enemy. Killing the homicidal maniac responsible for God only knows how many deaths affected Superman in a very fundamental, very personal way. He stares at Zod’s body as if he can’t believe that his hands, hands that had held his mother and Lois, could do something so violent. There’s also something else in his eyes, a look that telegraphed to me that he’s just discovered how easy it could be to kill.
But he’s so much stronger than anybody else on Earth; with the Kryptonians gone, it’s doubtful he’ll have an opponent as strong as himself again. So, the question remains: does Superman have the right to kill anyone who is not his physical equal? We saw with Faora just how quickly and easily he could permanently dispatch human threats…but where is the line between what is easy and what is right?
The age we live in now is hardened and cynical. We like pushing the envelope, testing definitions and labels. We like gritty and edgy and dark, and because Superman is such a straight-shooter, such a “boy scout”, I think Snyder and co made a smart call showing us why Superman won’t kill: it’d be far too easy for him; far too easy for someone as powerful as he is to get into the habit of killing his enemies. Man of Steel, in my opinion, did an excellent job of showcasing exactly how powerful Superman really is. Take the battle of Smallville, the destruction of Metropolis: this is exactly what he is capable of if he wants to be, or even if he’s just being careless or distracted.
Jonathan Kent told him that he would have to decide who he wanted to be, how he wanted to live. Just by virtue of being what he was, Clark would always be an important force in the world. But who he was…what rules he lived by…I think he realized then that the only force that can truly control Superman is Clark Kent’s moral compass. And to prevent himself from slipping down Zod’s slippery slope, his morals are going to have to be consistent and firm.
I suppose they could have told us all this in dialogue…but this Superman is more expressive with his physicality than with his words. Killing an enemy, even though it was necessary, clearly left a foul taste in his mouth. His lack of experience in hand-to-hand combat resulted in major death and destruction. Going forward into the Superman-Batman movie, I can totally see this Superman saying “This can’t ever happen again. This situation will not happen again.” Going forward, this Superman is going to make himself into the biblical definition of meek: strength under control. He’s more powerful than anyone else around him, so he’s holding himself to higher standards.

Props to my mother for providing a thought-provoking conversation on meekness. Seriously, you need to write up your thoughts on Karl “Helo” Agathon from Battlestar.

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The 100

I read the book and it was, to put it mildly, crap. The TV show, however…
Seriously, this is an amazing show. It’s still recognizably a CW show, with “pretty” people and unnecessary drama of the romantic kind. But still…pretty freaking good. For those unfamiliar with the show, it is set after some kind of global catastrophe that seems to be radiological in nature. Humanity survived through those who managed to escape to an orbiting spacecraft known by the original title “The Ark”. Because of the need for order and the extremely limited resources, the justice system has become rigid and harsh. Any crime is a capital crime and executions are carried out by “floating”; i.e. shoving a person out an airlock while they’re still alive. Cruel and horrific? Yes. But the fear of it seems to be an effective tool of a desperate society.
So what happens if you’re under the age of majority and are convicted of a crime? You’re put in jail until you’re 18, then retried and most often floated. The show starts after something’s gone wrong aboard the Ark…after nearly a century of sheltering humanity, the poor thing is falling apart. We’re told that the Earth still needs another 100 years to heal, but the increasingly desperate folks in charge decide to kill two birds with one stone: free up resources and test the Earth’s habitability by sending all 100 juvie delinquents to the ground. Heading up this plan is Dr. Abby Griffin…or as we’re introduced to her, the mother of our leading lady Clarke Griffin, who is in jail for a crime of conviction and just a few weeks shy of turning 18.
So, is Abby cruel enough to use her own daughter as a lab rat or loving enough to give her an another (admitted long) shot at life? Or desperate enough to be both?
I won’t say too much more because my family is going to watch it when it comes out on Netflix, but here is a basic, spoiler-free version of why I’m addicted.

• Follow-through.
It is a CW show, so there’s no guarantee that this will continue, but so far I have been pleased. The show will present a challenge, an impossible choice, and then the characters have to make that choice and live with the consequences. Actual character development ensues. I guess ten years of blood, sweat and tears (as Michael puts it) from the Smallville team really did some good for the network. They’ve really stepped up their game with Arrow, The Tomorrow People and now The 100.

• Battlestar Galactica feels.
I miss my Battlestar. I really miss Helo and Starbuck and the Adamas. And The 100 feels like Battlestar-lite…not as gritty, not as deep, but still thought-provoking. I especially like how the show does not conveniently forget that these kids on the ground have all been convicted of crimes. I rather expected the youngsters to start acting like teenaged heroes, but no. These aren’t the cream of the crop; these are teenagers who have seen and done some rough stuff. Clarke is from a more privileged background but she is treated differently because of it. Multiple characters refer to her as “Princess”…which I find a realistic reaction. Speaking of which…

• Mostly authentic characters.
Now, every fantasy/sci-fi story has The One Big Lie, usually related to the set up. And however far-flung and unrealistic the situation, the characters have to be relatable, their reactions authentic for the audience to suspend disbelief. For the most part, both the kids on the ground and adults in space are behaving like people, not plot points. Okay, the adults more than the kids, but isn’t that to be expected anyways?
Probably the most compelling characters are the Griffins, both of whom are healers by nature and leaders by necessity. Also, the relationship between Bellemy and Octavia (the only siblings on the show) has a very natural, very organic feel to it. You honestly believe that Bellemy would do literally anything for his little sister and Octavia both resents and relies on him.

• Genetic diversity in the cast.
The Chancellor of the Ark, the most powerful human in existence…is a black man. Holy cow! And you want to know what’s even better than that? Nobody ever mentions it. The color of skin is a bit of a non issue when humanity is on the brink of extinction. And a bit of a rant here, but with humanity in the thousands and huddled on one spacecraft, pretty much everybody is going to be of mixed racial origins. And I love that the show reflects this and a lot of the characters are not pearly white Caucasians. Yeah, I know all this sounds funny coming from a pearly white Caucasian girl…but hey, you’re only looking at the outside, people.

• Forward momentum.
There’s a sense that this train is headed somewhere and going there fast…unlike the book, which kind of squished it’s way from drama to melodrama. Seriously, the show is 100 times better than the book; as in it is actually interested more in the premise of the story than the hormones of its teenage characters. Never thought I’d say that!

There’s no guarantee that this show will keep up its steam. But so far, The 100 is an intriguing premise with decent execution. Looking forward to Wednesday’s new episode!
By the way, even though it’s written as “the one hundred”, it’s called “the hundred”. Drives me nuts, but there you go.

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Questions: A review of Captain America: the Winter Soldier

Massive spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Michael and I have a tradition of going out to the movies frequently. It’s our special sibling tradition. Last week we went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Confession time: I don’t really like Marvel movies. There are exceptions, of course, like Thor…but for the most part I don’t really get involved with them. I should explain that for me, stories are like people and those that I like, I invest in. I build a relationship with them; I spend hours exploring their depths, their subtleties, their themes. And Marvel movies feel more like product than art to me…like they are made to pull in cash and not to explore an idea. I loved Thor because it was felt about brothers. Even then, it still felt a bit hollow to me.
Not so The Winter Soldier. As soon as I first heard the title, something felt different; the combination of those three words made me think of mystery and sadness and something precious that’s been lost. I wasn’t mistaken.
I loved this movie and, more so than any Marvel movie to date, I’ve invested in it. If Thor, my previous favorite was about brothers, the Winter Soldier is about friendship. In a refreshing turn, they withhold a romance from this movie, so as not to distract from the critical relationships in The Winter Soldier: Steve and Bucky; Nick Fury and Alexander Pierce.

That Pierce would betray and attempt to kill Fury, his own friend, was bad enough. That he would use the man who had once been Steve’s friend to do it is pure evil. Even in the world of story, there’s no good reason to spend so much effort to brainwash Bucky…except that he was Captain America’s best friend. “Even when I had nothing, I had Bucky,” Steve says mournfully and that has to be the reason Hydra spent so much effort to turn Bucky, to strip Steve of everything. Bucky as the Winter Soldier is the perversion of everything Steve wanted to be. In the previous Captain America movie, Dr Erskine asked pre-serum Steve if he wanted to be a soldier to kill people and Steve replied no, he just didn’t like bullies. So Hydra took his best friend, a fellow soldier of honor, and striped him of everything but the killer. Gone are the motivations, the reasons why, the drive to protect those weaker than himself. They even take his voice. The man who once Bucky is now nothing but Pierce’s weapon.

You can trace Bucky’s return to humanity in his few lines of dialogue and the gradual destruction of his uniform. First Natasha shoots off his goggles: he must now look at his victims with his own eyes. Then Steve rips off his mask and we realize it was never a mask. It was a gag. It’s only after the mask comes off that he really speaks and even after, his speeches are short, mostly questions and statements of fact. “Who is Bucky?” “Who was that man?” “But I knew him.” He says everything in flat tone, no inflection. Sebastian Stan does a terrific job of containing the emotion. His facial movements are sparse and it’s only in the eyes that we see the raging confusion. But his tentative questions go unanswered…the only response he receives from his master is the cold command “Wipe him and start again.”
He is sent out again and while the mask remains off, it’s almost more painful for Steve, for the audience…because Bucky’s face has become the mask. “You know me,” Steve pleads, using almost the same words the Winter Soldier used earlier with Pierce. And the response “No I don’t!” about broke my heart because it is the first to be spoken above a monotone. There’s a world of emotion in these three words, battering around the inside of a man who has forgotten how to feel…has forgotten how to be a man. The next line “Shut up!” is a desperate plea for everything to stop. It’s so much easier not to think for yourself, to take orders without question. Freedom is a hard responsibility and the cost is high. His transformation echoes the question of security raised in the film. Can humanity be trusted with its own freedom? Wouldn’t everything be simpler, neater, if we were all unquestioning like the Winter Soldier?

The bad guys started losing the moment the Winter Soldier uttered his first question…because this is what it means to be free. Yes, the world would be “safer” if we were all gagged and labeled. It’d certainly be quieter. But the freedom to use our voices means the responsibility to use our minds. Free will is meant to be exercised. That’s why God gave it to us. The heartbreak of that final fight is a man caught on the edge and what he does with Captain America is a metaphor for what he does with his life. Mission: a black and white world and the ease of letting others decide the course of your life. Friend: a riot of colors and questions and choices. What kind of world do you want? One in which we strip a certain few of questions and morality and send them to do the dirty work? Or a world in which we all bear the responsibility to make hard choices and live with the consequences? Do we lock our questions behind a mask or do we find our own voices, no matter how broken?

In the end, Bucky dives into the Potomac after a drowning Steve, in a scene that strongly invokes the imagery of a baptism. And even though he walks off and leaves Steve, we can see that he is truly and only Bucky. Confused, broken, but full of questions and seeking answers. His own answers: not Hydra’s, not SHIELD’s, not Steve’s. His own.
The Winter Soldier never came out of the river.

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Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Fair warning: this review is going to assume that you have read both the Divergent trilogy and The Hunger Games trilogy. I’m not doing a plot outline, I’m just writing down the thoughts that struck when I set down Allegiant.
The last of a trilogy marketed as “the next Hunger Games”, Allegiant finds protagonists Tris and Tobias/Four going outside the walls of Chicago, the city that has been their entire world up until this point. They leave behind a city in chaos and revolt against a rebellion (and yes, that’s as confusing as it sounds).
In my opinion, this book had many of the same flaws that House of Hades had: the author rushed too much. The story wasn’t developed enough. It felt to me like the first draft of the story I’m plodding my way through right now: needing both cohesion and clarification.
The story itself was good–maybe brilliant, poignant–but the execution was not on par with the ideas of the story.
SPOILERS AHEAD
I liked that it was Tobias who lived instead of Tris. Tris had a complete feeling about her, even before she met Tobias, but Tobias was a broken man hiding behind four fears.
At the end of Allegiant, he had faced every single one of them in a more substantial way than endlessly going over his fear landscape. Fear of heights (which I think might actually have been symbolic of a fear of losing control over his life); claustrophobia (being metaphorically ‘put in a box’, limited by the world’s expectations…Marcus’s son, Dauntless, GD); fear of becoming like Marcus; fear of losing Tris. He had faced them all and come out a whole man–someone who was more than Four, stronger than Tobias.
I liked all these ideas that Roth presented…I didn’t like how I had to keep looking for the names “Tris” or “Tobias” to tell me which POV I was in. Tris is a much more straight-forward character than Tobias–they shouldn’t both speak in the same voice. Honestly, I didn’t think that Tobias’s POV added anything until after Tris died. Yes, it was cool to see Tris from another angle, but at the cost of his mystique. Up until Tris died, Tobias never felt like the kind of character to let us in his head so intimately.

I have always had a problem with Roth’s pacing and credibility….I’m not, and never have been, completely sold on her set up, either with the factions or the whole GP vs GD thing. Or indeed with the solutions used to win the war. A mass memory wipe and Evelyn’s 180? Sorry, no. I’ve reread the end several times and I still don’t see how Tris’s sacrifice saved the world. I see how it saved Caleb in more ways than just his survival, but the world? No; and I couldn’t help thinking that if I was David and that girl was trying to erase my memory, my life and the memories of everyone I knew, I’d have shot her too. I think Roth was going for a neat solution but it just didn’t fit, in my opinion.

In the end, it was a good story but my original thoughts after putting down Divergent still ring true: it’s trying to feel like the Hunger Games. And for me, the Hunger Games did not stay as words on a page. That story has infused itself into my bones, and the end of Mockingjay remains the most beautiful, poignant thing I have ever read.
In the end, happiness is the ultimate rebellion against this cruel, cold world. That Katniss and Peeta could be happy, even when they couldn’t be whole…that will stick with me for far longer than Tris’s sacrifice and Tobias’s grief.

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