Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why Darth Vader Is Really the Hero

Darth Vader is the archetypal villain; even his theme song is enough to denote evil.  After all, he kills his own men and destroys innocent planets for fun.  Yet, I believe that he’s the hero of the Star Wars series.  (I’m only counting the films.  I don’t care what the extended universe says happened on Stavromula Beta or whatever, we don’t mention that here.)

Seriously, screw this.

Let’s look at the facts.  Anakin Skywalker was prophesied to restore balance to the force, but turned to the dark side and had all the Jedi except for Obi-Wan and Yoda killed.  Both of whom exiled themselves to desolate lands.  When you first meet Obi-Wan and Yoda (in the original trilogy) they seem like wizened hermits devoted to spiritualism.  It’s easy to forget that the Jedi used to have a skyscraper and an army of clones.

They take a vow of poverty, like the pope.

The Jedi were extremely powerful and, for a group that’s supposed to be operating for the sake of the light side of the force, did extremely well financially.  With their new army, is it that hard to believe that they’d convince themselves that it was okay to do bad things for good reasons and vice-versa?   Imagine if the Empire were run by a council of Jedi, instead of two Sith lords.
While most people point to Vader saving Luke as proof of his inherent goodness, that was the worst thing he could have done.  The force has the power to corrupt even the best of men, and if Vader, Palpatine, and Skywalker had died on the Death Star II, everyone who knew how to use the force would be dead.  Anakin Skywalker was supposed to bring balance to the force by killing everyone that could use it for their own means.  The same human weakness that made this drastic action necessary is what prevented him from letting his son die.
So don’t forget, Vader eliminated the Sith, and prevented Jedi control of the universe.
Truly, he was the hero the galaxy deserved.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Box: Uncanny Stories by Richard Matheson (book review)

            The Box: Uncanny Stories (originally titled Button, Button: Uncanny Stories) was released in 2008 and contains stories published between 1950 and 1970.  The name was changed to capitalize off the (then upcoming) film adaptation of the previously titular story, Button, Button. 

See The Box on Goodreads

            Button, Button is a good place to start when discussing Matheson’s short stories.  Most of his stories have a compelling “what if?” scenario behind them and end with a sort of poetic justice twist.  While reading this collection, I immediately made comparisons to The Twilight Zone.  A quick bit of research on Matheson turned up that he was a writer for The Twilight Zone.   Another comparison I’d like to mention is how some of his stories are reminiscent of the old radio program Suspense.  The stories Dying Room Only, No Such Thing as a Vampire, and Clothes Make the Man are very suited for a radio adaptation. 

            What follows is a brief (spoiler free) review of each of the twelve stories in the collection.

            Button, Button (originally published in 1970): A stranger offers a married couple $50,000 if they press a button.  However, pressing the button will kill someone they don’t know.  The real effect of this story is in the ending, which you can find for yourself.

            Girl of My Dreams (originally published in 1963): The story follows a woman who dreams future tragedies and her exploitative boyfriend.  Together, they sell the information the woman receives in her dreams to those that would be affected.  Like Button, Button, there is a definite Twilight Zone poetic justice air to this story.

            Dying Room Only (originally published in 1953):  A married couple stops at a diner in the middle of the desert, and the husband disappears.  This is more of a mystery/suspense story than a sci-fi/horror story.

            A Flourish of Strumpets (originally published in 1956): What if prostitution became a door-to-door business?  That’s the premise of this story, which leans toward the humorous.

            No Such Thing as a Vampire (originally published in 1959): A Romanian doctor’s wife starts to succumb to symptoms of vampiric assault.  The story’s prose is very melodramatic, the first sentence describing the how doctor’s wife “awoke one morning to a sense of utmost torpor.”

            Pattern for Survival (originally published in 1955): A very short story about the dreams of a writer.

            Mute (originally published in 1962): At nearly 50 pages, this is the longest story in the collection.  It follows the story of a child named Paal, who is adopted by the town’s sheriff and his wife after the boy’s parents die in a fire.  Paal cannot speak, but has some telepathic ability.

            The Creeping Terror (originally published in 1959):  Despite having the most cliché title of any story in the collection it is the most original.  It’s written as a college paper (with brief interludes of third person omniscient narration) about a historical event known as the L.A. Movement.  Not only is Los Angeles alive, but it’s spreading.  This is a humorous story, which pokes a bit of fun at Los Angeles (as an Angelino, I’m all for this).

            Shock Wave (originally published in 1963): A church organist is convinced that the organ has gained sentience.

            Clothes Make the Man (originally published in 1950): There is a man who cannot think without a hat, walk without shoes, use his hands without gloves, etc.

            The Jazz Machine (originally published in 1962):  This is the only story where the prose is worth mentioning.  Written in non-rhyming verse, The Jazz Machine is the first person narrative of a jazz musician who is approached by a man who claims that he has a machine that can translate jazz into the sentiments it is meant to express.  While I’m not a fan of beat poetry, this story is very well written.

            ‘Tis the Season to be Jelly (originally published in 1963): A slice-of-life story about mutants living in a (presumably) post-apocalyptic world.  This is probably the strangest story of the lot.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Time Machine to the Future

            There are some forces that can never coexist peacefully, that, when they meet, must play a zero sum game for power in which one will always be dominant.  The McFlys and the Tannens are such forces, drawn together again and again throughout history only so one can exert control over the other.  The Tannens were always more powerful and would have stayed so if a McFly hadn’t befriended Doc Brown who was able to retroactively aid the McFly clan.  Not only that, he went to the future to make sure that the McFlys had the upper hand in all future generations.

            Travelling across time and space in his flying train, Doc Brown aided the future generations of McFlys against the Tannens as their numbers grew.  Eventually, most of the world’s population was either a Tannen or McFly descendant, and those who weren’t had to pick sides.  There’s no way to tell how many times the final battle was fought, Doc Brown effectively rewriting any time stream in which the McFlys lost.  But eventually the brutish Tannens were vanquished and forced underground while the spritely McFlys and their allies enjoyed life on the surface during a technological golden age.  Satisfied that all was well with the world, Doc Brown flew off into the sunset.   

            Time passed, hundreds of thousands of years of natural selection changed the two societies so that those on the surface and those beneath barely resembled the men they once were let alone each other.  Eventually another time traveler arrived, in the year 802,701 A.D.   This time traveler had never heard of the McFlys and the Tannens or their war for supremacy; the traveler only saw the distant echoes of what they once were.  So he came up with his own names to describe the descendants: Eloi and Morlocks.