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Gary Gygax Day Flash Fiction!

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In honor of the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, Gary Gygax. Most gamers try to do something special on July 27th, Gary’s birthday. How does one throw a party for the late, original, consummate dungeon master? Gather together with fellow RPG geeks and dive deep into an adventure for the entire day! Well..that’s what I did. The game has evolved over the years with several edition. I still prefer AD&D, first edition. This year my DM decided to run a later edition module. I created a greenancestry, dragonborn paladin to play, which was really going out of my comfort zone. Interestingly, this adventure was recently finished posthumously for Gygax by his two sons, who used notes he made, but never got around to using.

My penchant is to play wizards, magic-users, druids, illusionists or any other arcane force weilding character. Consequently, I definitely had wizards and dragons on my mind when I decided to put out a piece of flash fiction inspired by my love of Dungeons & Dragons.

The resulting 1500 word (just small enough for some to still classify as flash fiction) story has been rattling around in my head for months. The characters Garv, Bryndis and Amin feature prominently in a fantasy book I’m developing. The scene is from deep within the middle of the plot. So…treat it like a trailer for a movie.

Music also fuels my imagination. I recommend listening to “Fix You” (The cover of the Coldplay song.) by Danny Olson with Jadelyn.

I must have replayed this hundreds of times while visualizing the scene in this story when dragon fire starts flying!!!

Please follow the link below to read the story, “The Dragon Eyrie”.

July, the Fair, a Phone and Aging.

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The amiable, carefree, grandeur of July consistently catches me of guard. August has yet to cover everything with its smothering, hazy oppressiveness. Gone is rainy June weather, typical of Cape Cod. Nights, still relatively cool, host clear skies affording amazing opportunities to stargaze along the shore. Constellations, Scorpio and Sagittarius, hang high in the south, while the Summer Triangle glimmers straight above. Arrival of the perennial onslaught of tourists, coupled with inexperienced summer help, had created utter havoc with local businesses a month earlier. Now, with kinks worked out, stores are moving and grooving, serving four times what they might at other times of the year. It’s the height of the season. A sense of hope permeates, promising plenty of time remains to squeeze all the fun in.

As a means to exploring the passage of a year, artists have richly painted scenes full of imagery detailing the stages of a human lifespan. I keenly resonate with this creative device employed to personify the seasons. Youth portrays the essence of spring. The prime of adulthood represents summer. Autumn is characterized by the newly retired, enjoying the fruits of years of labor. Old age depicts winter. Accordingly, July is the zenith of growth and vitality. Oxymoronic in nature, it is the crossroads where young and old meet. The festivities, annually occurring this month, echo this middling of the tides of time. Fourth of July is a riotous event displaying national pride, hope in the future and honoring the history of this great political experiment. Also in July on Cape Cod, the Wampanoag Powwow celebrates the continuation of the tribe, while paying reverence to an ancestral way of life. Lastly, July signals the arrival of Cape Cod’s annual county fair.  It has changed considerably from the agriculture event it was in days long past. Yet, enough exhibits of livestock and garden produce remain inducing a sense of nostalgia.  

A memory from visiting this county fair distinctly reminds me of an experience where I felt “old”. This wasn’t the first time I had reckoned with the reality of my age. I “died” a little when I realized my hair was thinning, reluctantly gave up my goatee because it was mostly gray and nearly fainted upon discovering my co-worker was younger than my kids. A younger me laughed listening to “Older” by “They Might Be Giants” Haven’t heard it? Check it out on Spotify or Youtube. See… I’m still hip. Maybe? The lyrics go something like: 

You’re older than you’ve ever been…and now you’re even older…and now you’re even older … and now you’re even older….” 

Terrifying, yet true!  Relax. Listen and take heart. The memory I’m about to share with you is an effective antidote against the downside of getting older. All the fuss about aging is due to our insistence on splitting every aspect of life into good or bad. Think of a time you struggled fitting a facet of life into one of two polar opposites. Usually, things are not that easily rendered down in such fashion. I enjoy pondering the adage, “There’s a thin line between love and hate.” Anyone who draws breath, walks this planet and shares their life with another will leap up and shout, “Amen!” My point? Most things lie on a spectrum. This includes getting older. I propose, if you look carefully, you will identify a key moment when you realized aging isn’t all loss and pain. There is joy in remembering the way things used to be. One becomes the steward of the stories, the perspective, the wisdom and the history.

Please click on the link to my historical writing portfolio page to read an amusing story about the time my twelve-year old son didn’t know how to use a telephone. Spoiler: the phone was avocado green, plugged into the wall, and used a rotary-style dial. Can you hear the disco playing?

Flash Fiction: Caged

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(Still have the characters, Indali and Nakul rattling around in my head. Here’s a longer piece revealing more of their story.)


Nakul dawdled about Indali’s isolated jungle dwelling. He lackadaisically played at keeping a guava from a small, wiry, animal. 

“I’m bored. Can we go explore?”

Indali understood “we” meant only the boy and the mongoose.

“Please.” 

Nakul’s voice cracked. He had seen about twelve rainy seasons Indali guessed. How long before he chose to leave? She promised to protect him, but he was discontent hiding from others. 

“Finish gathering the firewood first.” 

Nakul perked up.  

“Can we go into the cave today? It’s been ages since I’ve asked.”

Indali marveled he still asked instead of simply doing what he wanted. 

“No. I told you when I see better command of your senses.”

“I am in control. I hear and only listen. I can quiet the urge.”

“Yes… you’re improving.”

“Why don’t you trust me, Indali?”

“I do, Nakul. But, inhospitable terrain increases the likelihood of unwittingly losing yourself within your animal connection. You must continually remind yourself you are human.”

“Remembering is easier living amongst people; not trapped here.” he groused. 

Indali stiffened.

“Try. You’ll be dead or imprisoned.”

Nakul realized he had pushed Indali too far. He gently held her hand. The python slithered closer sensing the woman’s distress. 

“What happened Indali? Tell me. Help me understand the danger.”

“There are things worse than death, Nakul. They caged me, presented me to the world as an oddity. ‘Only a rupee to view the crushing strength of the python girl!’ I try to forget.”

Nakul squeezed her hand reassuringly. He waited for her to tell him more. 

“When the Raja took notice… I became… the royal torturer and executioner.”

Indali looked down at the snake.

“It’s one thing to kill to eat; it being your nature to do so. It’s another to needlessly… squeeze the life out of a person… just to satisfy the whims of corrupt men.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“It was time you knew.” 

“Indali, it wasn’t your fault. They would have killed you.”

“I was afraid to die, so I murdered.”

“I see good in you, Indali.”

Indali smiled wanly at her ward. She hugged Nakul. 

“I understand now this is stifling for you.” gesturing to the surrounding jungle. “Where you struggle to remember you are human.”

“It’s not that bad. I like listening to the animals. I just listen like you told me. I only talk to the mongoose. I promise.”

“I believe you.”

Indali straightened, breathed deeply, and looked around as if searching.

“I’ll collect the remaining wood for today’s fire. There’s another task you can do.”

“What is it?” 

“Bees have taken up new residence just up the river. If you listen carefully and… say a few coaxing words you should return with some honey.”

“You mean I can speak to them?”

“Gently, no demanding. Only ask. Bees tend to be generous when approached humbly. Flattery helps.”

“But…” 

“No danger asking when you acknowledge it is something only the bee should do. We’ve talked about this.”

“Yes. I understand.”

“It’s an exercise in the art of control. I see now you are ready to try more.”

Nakul’s face beamed. He danced about excitedly. 

“Thank you, Indali!”

“No, thank you, Nakul. I hadn’t realized in attempting to stay safe, I fashioned a cage for myself and you.”


Initially, got close to 1000 words. Enjoyed whittling this down to 544 words. Clearing away what’s unnecessary is often a struggle.

Courtesy of Prompt: Reminded Her.

By THESOLITARYWORDSMITH at PROMPTUARIUM.

Great sources for writing prompts! Please go visit and subscribe to their website!

Flash Fiction: The Cursed Power

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“Understand this. The power is a curse.”

Nakul stared. The woman’s pupils were slitted like a snake.

The youth nodded. 

Indali sighed.

“Why, Boy? Show you comprehend my meaning.”

He shifted apprehensively; surveying the cluttered hut. Nestled beneath the washbasin, an immense python lay curled upon itself. Seemingly attentive, the snake slowly blinked pronounced, round, brown eyes.

“Why are we and others like us damned?” 

Nakul had fled home and everything he knew to escape death. He cursed those afraid of him. But, the animal speak he cherished.

“Every time I use the power; I lose a part of me.”

Keenly conscious of Indali’s piercing gaze, he subconsciously ran his tongue delicately over his teeth. The needle-sharp canines filled him with a sense of exhilaration.

“Nakul. You saved your life the day the cobra bit you. Most would have died. The price though was a fragment of your humanity.”

Word Count: 150.

Courtesy of Prompt Titled: Huge Mistake.

By THESOLITARYWORDSMITH at PROMPTUARIUM.

Great sources for writing prompts! Please go visit and subscribe to their website!

Magical Economies (Part One)

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Why Can’t It Be Easy?

“You can’t get something for nothing.” is an old familiar saying. Consequently, anything worth having in this world is only gained with hard work, sweat and even a few tears. If one is lucky, the work required is well-suited to one’s sensibilities and becomes a joyous labor. Yes, there are people who live easy, by subjugating others or perhaps on inherited wealth. This is the exception though rather than the rule. Until limitless energy, endless supplies of raw materials and free labor (without any human cost) is discovered, everyone must exert effort and spend time to receive material gain. No matter how small the desire, it necessitates some form of sacrifice. Yet, the setting of a fantasy or science fiction story distorts, weakens or altogether negates this maxim. Readers can enjoy immersing themselves in a world full of magic or advanced technology (and with a willing suspension of disbelief) feel as if anything is possible. For example, the replicator, from Star Trek: Next Generation, is an interesting story element often paid little heed. With ample supply of energy this device allows humanity to instantly order up any form of matter desired. Viewers see the characters use this technology primarily in the storyline to order food or beverage at a moments notice. But, I don’t see anything limiting this ability, so long as the desired specifications for an object are inputed. In this futuristic, utopian setting, humans now have no need for money. There isn’t anything to be bought. There is an endless supply of essentially anything, provided the technology is available and sufficient energy. And there it is! The limiting factor remains. My musings have brought me back full circle. “You can’t get something for nothing.”

Let us contemplate how magic is typically portrayed in a story and think about the rules governing its use. There is almost always an economy of power dictating, when, how often and in what fashion magic is used. It is a very rare to find an example of a character with unlimited magical powers. Effortless use of magic tends to be found more often in tales written for youth or when the story’s purpose is to entertain. Consider Bewitched, a 1960’s sitcom featuring the character, Samantha, a good-natured witch living as your average suburban housewife. She can do practically whatever she wants with only a twitch of her nose and pointing her finger.  I Dream of Genie replicated this format, simply replacing the witchery with the all-mighty power of the jinn. Of course, it was necessary to have some limitations to their powers, otherwise there would be no struggle to drive even these simplistic plots. The shows were light-hearted comedies. The audience wasn’t looking to see “under the hood” at the magical engines. There was not mention of how the magic worked. It just did. 

Magic begins to be more reflective of real life attitudes and values when encountered in highly developed fantasy settings. Ultimately, the existence of magic, supernatural powers or sci-fi technology gives an author great fodder to be used in tackling heftier topics. But, before dipping our toes into a more serious discussion, let’s look at the motif of magic as an arcane study. The Harry Potter series veers closer to a more believable rendering of magical power with the J. K. Rowlings’ fabrication of a “school for magical arts”. In Harry’s story, the magical world is able to perform great feats, but only with intensive study and lots of practice. Genetics is a bit of a wild card for Rowlings’ characters. Not unlikely in sports, some are just born with more raw talent. 

Many RPG gamers, from the 1970s and 80s, undoubtedly feel familiar with what is presented in J. K. Rowlings’ books. The magic-using character classes designed for play in Dungeons and Dragons also follow this path. Magic-users must travel and adventure in order to gather treasure and experience to make their magical studies worthwhile. Just like Hogwart’s students, these imaginary characters shop for magical items, gather spell components and commit to memory obscure knowledge. They too, early in their careers, are limited in terms of the magic they can successfully perform. Further constraining their power, once a spell is discharged it must be painstakingly prepared again. The cycle of study, researching, memorizing, and obtaining additional magical component is never-ending. The rules and mechanics of the game are complicated and at times frustrating, yet they give it life and purpose. 

The source of power in our world is readily attributed to science, technology and other educational endeavors. But, what does one resort to when the mundane ways of getting something we want fail? Depending on how important it is to us, we might find ourselves turning to a faith-based solution. After all, the miraculous requires the intervention of something extra-ordinary; better yet, supernatural. Thus, we pray, beg, plead and bargain with any higher power, we feel might listen. Perhaps, skepticism is high and faith low. Submitting our laundry list of requests, we already expect disappointment. In small matters, we accept the silence, thinking “something” beyond us must know better.  We console ourselves, proclaiming the ill we endure will ultimately lead to a better opportunity unasked for. Yet, what happens when the request involves grave or dire circumstances? One may desperately offer to sacrifice anything for an answer to their prayer. This need causes people to recite or perform lengthy religious formulas, fast, abstain from all-manner of things, exorbitantly give alms, devote all their time to charitable works and even subject themselves to pain, in an attempt to cajole from the heavens speedy, effective aid.

Religions evolve from the desire to ward against and make sense of the evils and misfortunes of this world. Proffering a sacrifice to buy salvation is the ultimate result. It is here one finds the crux to why humanity invents and tells stories. We use fiction, as a means of mulling over our circumstances, as mere mortals, and in the process map out a remedy for it. Our favorite characters, settings and plots help us to cope with the ravages, this indifferent life can put us through. A vivid fictional portrayal of this is found in the popular television series, American Horror Story. The Coven season depicts, Marie Laveau, a voodoo priestess, performing a powerful fertility spell. A component to the ritual requires Laveau to ingest, straight from the fire, the hottest type of chili pepper in existence. The character professes her belief that displaying a willingness to suffer will cause the spirits to “sit up and take notice”. Watching the scene, one wonders what circumstance in the real world would make us willing to suffer so greatly. It’s only a story some might say, but cultures in the not-too-distant past ceremonially slaughtered individuals as offerings to obtain a greater good for the many. Modern society abhors the notion of human sacrifice, but elements of the practice remain. We have offered to the gods the choicest animals, other valuables, arts or the best share of harvested goods. What was presented mattered not as long as it was the best, the most beautiful and invaluable. 

The idea of only gaining great power through an immense sacrifice is central in many high fantasy plots. A well-known example from current pop culture is the story of the arch villain, Thanos, from the Marvel Universe. He seeks an unimaginably, powerful artifact. The bearer of this item is able to alter the very fabric of time, space and existence. His goal is to reorder all life in the universe. Thanos has an interesting perspective of the known, physical world. He is haunted by the suffering of those too weak to grab their fair share of what they need to survive. He sees over-population throughout the universe and resulting scarcity of resources as the root cause of war and conflict. In order to ensure a more peaceful future, he embarks on a quest to gain the power to eliminate half of all life in the universe. Interestingly, the notion of wanting to bring an end to warring over resources and providing all with ample living space is a noble one. But, his willingness to sacrifice trillions or more is misguided to say the least. It is an evil plan of immense proportions. It is worth pointing out, one can readily identify shades of this scheme within our own human history, which is full of instances of ethnic cleansing and wars for living-space. The implement Thanos is seeking is a gauntlet powered by “magical” stones. They must be collected and inserted into the glove. One of the stones needed, to complete his plan, can only be obtained by sacrificing someone he loves. Knowing her father to be cruel and always self-serving, his daughter believes Thanos has failed. She is convinced he is incapable of love. Any villain, worthy of the title though, is complex and harbors within good intentions long laid aside; even love. To everyone’s dismay, Thanos does gain the stone because does love his daughter. In a perverse fashion, he is committing a great act of love, self-denial and sacrifice. Tragically, Thanos’ ability to parse good from evil is eclipsed by his fanatical devotion to his belief that he is actually saving the universe.

 

Next time…I will explore characters, who gain magical or supernatural power by making sinister bargains with the darker forces in fiction.

Please Comment!

Do you enjoy fun and comedic characters who absurdly can do just about anything?  Know about other stories of magic/power involving characters who study and refine their craft at a school, academy or as an apprentice in a guild? Lastly, share with me your favorite story-lines in which a character must sacrifice something they hold dear or someone they love to access magic/power. 

Preserving Family Stories

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This past week began with the last Monday of May and consequently people throughout the United States observed Memorial Day. Ask friends, family and neighbors what they did over the weekend. Most will speak of cookouts, trips to the beach, or visiting their favorite summer time haunts for the first time this season. Local municipalities in all likelihood held a parade or other public event to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this country. But, this national holiday like many others has essentially devolved into another long-weekend allowing for rest, relaxation and partying. Traditional outdoor fun is expected and a poor weather forecast causes much consternation. The nation has in many ways strayed far from the original intent of the holiday. Some wonder why we memorialize those who died in military service at the end of May. Veteran’s Day is attached to the anniversary of the ending of World War One. I confess being under the illusion that Memorial Day must similarly coincide with the anniversary of the Second World War’s final resolution. Yet, surprisingly, the chosen date was selected for purely botanical reasons.

Memorial Day as a national day of mourning has its roots farther back than the wars of the early Twentieth Century. Growing up I remember my father staying up late watching old black and white John Wayne war movies. The mythos of the greatest struggle the world has ever seen reigned supreme. Most kids had toy army soldiers made of green plastic for the good guys and grey plastic for the bad guys. In college I was shocked to learn World War Two was not responsible for claiming the most American lives. Such dubious honor falls to a conflict entirely of our own making. The American Civil War is estimated to have claimed upwards of three-quarters of a million people. Considering the population of the country at the time was only around 35 million the number of lives claimed was staggering and far-reaching. I pause to consider this may have been the first time in the nation’s history war cemeteries of great magnitude were created. Even before the war ended communities on both sides were decorating the graves with flowers in May. The debate still rages amongst a score or more American towns and cities in regards to who started this practice. But, it is established that on May 5, 1868, General of the Grand Army of the Republic John A. Logan designated May 30 as Decoration Day. As to the earlier mention of botany, it is reported he chose the date because it would be a time of year when most flowers would be in bloom. It seems our general was a practical man who knew a thing or two about gardening. Not until 1938 was Decoration Day designated a national holiday and it was in the 1960’s when the name changed officially to Memorial Day. This made sense given much of the public already called the holiday by that name after 1945. A long weekend break was next guaranteed with the date of observance moved to the last Monday of May. Finally, President Johnson in 1966 waded into the controversy over the exact origins of the holiday by signing a proclamation recognizing Waterloo, NY as the birthday place of Memorial Day.

Now is it a bad thing to hold cookouts to mark the start of summer? I suspect not. Your average astronomer will surely point out, summer doesn’t commence astronomically until June 21. That’s a debate for another time. Memorial Day can be flexible enough to include a whole host of events serving a variety of purposes. We should remember until modern times summer was for humanity celebrated as a period of easy living. It was an age old symbol of health, happiness and abundance. If our ancestors fought to protect this boon for future generations then feasting and celebrating the advent of summer rightly aligns with remembering the debt we owe to those who died safeguarding it. Thankfully most labored throughout World War Two without sacrificing their life. My grandfather served during the war and survived to enjoy a long life passing in his sleep at the age of 80. I am grateful he was spared dying in battle. I like to think he would have risked his life if asked to. Yet, none of us know how we would react in eminent danger. I suspect there are a myriad of ways to show bravery. Placing the needs of others before yourself is probably key.

I have a keen interest in history. I enjoy learning about how I am connected to the past. With the advent of genealogical websites hosting vast databases of information more people are seeking to delve back in time to recover details of their ancestry. I applaud this. But, to truly connect with the names of past relatives one must understand how life was for them. I place my trust in the family stories, the details passed on, the facts that paint a more colorful portrait of the individual. Unfortunately, as in the same way the origins for celebrating Memorial Day have receded into obscurity, all too often the stories of our elders are forgotten. I find myself returning to what I know about my grandfather’s time of service in the U.S. Army and U.S. Army Air Forces. I cherish having the old photos in his scrapbook to peruse through. I can only wonder who exactly are all these people he knew. I am hoping one day to write a story loosely based on his experiences. Perhaps if I cast the net wide enough I will snare a few truths with good old fashion luck. I’ll never know in this lifetime if I hit the mark. To start this project I first endeavor to simply narrator what I know. With a bit of research I think I can reconstruct the circumstances of his life during the war. 

Click the link below to read about my grandfathers experience during World War Two. 

Chapter Two of Jupiter’s Embrace

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Not much to say…just posted chapter two. Looking to see if you all feel like you are starting to get some more depth to the characters Riker and La Croix.

Do you feel that the circumstances are believable?

What do you think of the flight briefing doling out the assignments to the pilots? I especially enjoyed writing that part.

Let me know if you were confused at any point while reading.

Is Riker too much like Han Solo? I’m trying to avoid that! Never felt Lucas allowed Han to develop enough in the movies. Some of the book series, the ones “no longer canon”, do paint a more angsty and dark side of Han Solo. I’m trying to go more for a character who lives a life of crime, but has a hidden, often neglected desire to do good. Probably will need to explore more his relationship with Sean and figure out where his kids came from etc.

Am I painting enough tension with the impending shuttle transfer of Riker to the orbital station above Jupiter?

Lastly. Is it clear that family, clan, cartel, syndicate are all different ways of referring to the crime organizations that compete to control the drug trade?

Hope you enjoy.

Fresh Off the Proverbial Press

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Hello to friends and family. As you all know I have been writing. Finally, I have dropped the first chapter to a book I am trying to author. I know many of you may not instinctually gravitate to science fiction. Hopefully, you’ll take the time to give it a serious read. I assure you I will appreciate it. This is a rough draft. It shouldn’t get too wide of an exposure out there on the internet, so I feel a bit more comfortable publishing raw on my website.

I’m open to feedback. I’m curious to see how you react to things like names I’ve used for characters, places and various items in this story. I’m not wedded to any of them. Let me know if the pacing and balance between description and dialog works. Do you feel a connection with any of the characters? Are they believable? The name of the book is tentative of course.

If I subconsciously wrote too close to some other story you know of please, please speak out. It’s hard sometime to know if an idea has come from something read or watched years ago.

Anyone with military experience I would love to get your opinion on the ranks I use for characters. I really was grasping when deciding how to title officers etc.

Hope you enjoy!

I attached a direct link to the story here.

The Allure of Fantastic Technology

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My youngest turned 18 years old today…which in my mind makes me officially old. Many parents face this milestone with a sense of accomplishment at a job well done. They got their child to adulthood. Their son or daughter can now vote, is legally responsible for themselves and most likely is either in their first year of college or getting ready to start it. My son is 18. But, due to complications from an acute illness he had as an infant, he won’t be going to college, voting or ever to acting like an adult. For us this is just another day; a continuation of the responsibilities and care giving required over the last 18 years. I know most people who don’t know me or my son will instantly utter something like,

“Oh, that’s awful. So tragic. Poor thing. I’m so sorry to hear that.”

I do appreciate the well-meaning, genuine sentiment behind those words. Yet, these days when someone meets us and reacts this way, I feel a sense of embarrassment for them. I respond firmly stating,

“Yes, it was tremendously tragic 18 years ago, but not now.”

You see my son is perfect just the way he is. Do any of us really get to decide how their life plays out? I stop to reflect on what is it that they see as so grievous. They only see the things he can’t do. Of course they haven’t gotten the chance to get to know him and see how happy he is. A stranger doesn’t know what my son is capable of appreciating in this life. But, the people close to us celebrate his life for what it is. He lives in the moment untroubled by past and future. He judges no one. He is wide-eyed, curious, social and loves being in the thick-of-it surrounded by busy, bustling people. He enjoys walks outside and watching the trees speed by during a drive. His wookie-like vocalizations and his huge smile are delightful. (Incidentally, Peter Mayhew, the actor who played Chewbacca is also deaf.) In a word, my son is joy.

Science fiction is rife with examples of extraordinary medical technologies that can cure all of this world’s current health woes. Instantly, I think of the character James Rhodes from Ironman. Rhody who becomes paralyzed is aided by Tony Stark who creates braces allowing him to walk normally when he is out of the War Machine suit. Similarly, LeVar Burton’s role as Jordy, on the television series, Star Trek: Next Generation, gave writers an opportunity to explore topics surrounding life with disabilities. The character was blind, but benefited from a stylish visor implant. The device not only restored his vision, but allowed him to see things the normal human eye couldn’t. Of course, I can’t help mention the suit Darth Vader wears after the loss of his legs and his near death at the lava fields on the planet Mustafar. The idea of using medical devices to help people live a better life is a noble one. Yet, some few point out that just because we can do something doesn’t always mean we should. The deaf community has long fought to counter the push to use the cochlear implant as a means to “cure” deafness. Most people who are deaf resent the idea there is something that needs to be fixed about them. For them the inability to hear is just a part of who they are. They live happy, productive, rich lives.

Taking the idea of using technology to benefit humanity a bit further, there is a growing interest in wearable technologies that people can use to enhance the typical human body. VR googles, iWatches, and eye glasses that allow us to access the internet with eye gaze is perhaps the current limit to this concept of merging human and technological systems. Yet, anyone familiar with the Borg from Star Trek: Next Generation will give a bit of shutter and pause to consider if this is the direction we want to go in as a species. The Borg are an advanced humanoid society that have evolved to meld their biological bodies with robotics. They are very advanced and billions of individuals are connect intimately through a kind of wireless neural network. The end result is a total lose of free will and self-determination in the aim of serving the whole. The idea of a collective consciousness is one well explored in some eastern spiritual traditions and it has a sense of beauty to it. The Borg though are anything but this, they are merely pieces of a vast machine.

Another theme that is explored frequently in science fiction and fantasy is time travel. This is a concept that is immensely appealing to all of us. Wouldn’t it be nice to go back, hit delete a few times and rewrite the story of our live? I liken it to a video game. When the character dies you can restart at the same point, if you save your progress sufficiently. Feels like a cheat to me. Again, I return to my son. Would I wish he never got sick at two months old? Yes! Would I change that? Yes. Should I change it? Pause…now I’m not sure. I have always subscribed to the notion life’s tough knocks and bumps are learning lessons. They refine us, make us stronger; purer. When the storm clouds come it can be fierce and dreadful. But, as they recede we see the rainbow. So, I try to reflect on the unexpected joy, good, and benefits coming my way from the bad situations in life. Yes, we all have things we would change. But, I venture most of us wouldn’t.

Son, I love you just the way you are. I look forward to witnessing all the things in life you will do. I know you will make a huge impact on those around you. Like a pebble thrown in a pool of water your life will make ripples throughout the world. Happy Birthday!

Can’t Help Feeling Bad for the Minions

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You’ve just downloaded a promising new book, found a comfy place to read, have snacks close by and are reasonable sure that no one will bother you for a while. Or perhaps you are old school and have an actual “book”. You hold it, take time to look at the cover, flip through the pages quickly to get a better whiff of the smell of the paper and the ink and then…you crack open the book with that satisfying sound of the spine of the book snapping. Ahh, enjoying the art of reading can be one of life’s simplest pleasures. For us fantasy and science fiction aficionados the thrill of losing ourselves in a brilliant, exciting unknown world with unbelievable technologies, super powers or magic is an addiction. There is always room for a new hero to cheer on as they battle the forces of evil! I’d like to spend some time talking a bit about those bad guys. Let’s put aside for a moment, the main actors. They get the best lines, the coolest powers and more often than not find a way to survive no matter what befalls them. Let’s examine a bit closer the role of the little guy, the minion. They are the poor ones that have to stand in the front row as the powers of good advance. In film and print they are usually dispatched with little effort or regard for who or what they are. Now I enjoy a good battle scene just like most, but let’s consider how these characters are portrayed. Entertainment is influenced by money, hype and flashy effects. Often the bad guys serve only one purpose and that is to give the good people targets. Subsequently, the costume designs, meager backstories and physical characteristics seek to eliminate any hint of individuality or self-worth. Yet, I wonder if one digs deeper into a fantasy world is it possible to garner a better understanding of what motivates the hordes of evil?

It feels right to begin with the Star Wars saga. Stormtroopers. Where to start? When George Lucas began it seems clear he had a larger back story, but had no idea how much of his space opera would actually make it to the screen. Stormtroopers are faceless, featureless, nameless. We get a hint that they might all be the same build when Princess Leia remarks that Luke is a bit short to be a stormtrooper. There is mention of a clone war, but I certainly had no idea what a clone was when I first saw Star Wars. I wonder how many did? The stormtrooper design works great for what Star Wars was in 1977. As the concept was allowed to evolve decades later, we learn what stormtroopers were. Honestly, the idea of clones is not really an improvement since these minor characters are manufactured and can simply be replaced. There is a reality that most fantasy/science fiction tales have a lot of violence in them. Dehumanizing the slaughter of the enemy makes it easier to read. I get it. But, the interesting thing about the Star Wars franchise is, as it became larger than any one story arc, a myriad of writers have set out in many new directions. It isn’t as simple as good and evil anymore. I highly recommend to anyone the animated Clones War series. I like this tv show for many reasons, but I really appreciate how the show addresses war, military conflicts, causalities and most importantly how the clones truly are individuals. In a way that couldn’t happen in a movie, the series shows how the clones name themselves, cut their hair different and have differences in their personalities. It humanizes these characters and changes the whole feel to the battle scenes. Deaths are mourned. The stormtroopers show emotions. The end result is a story that is more authentic and forces us to reflect on our own world’s troops, wars and the value of life.

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit first and then The Lord of the Rings. Most people do not realize that his true work wasn’t published until after he died. The works he is famous for are spin offs from the central story he had hoped to create. I will forever be enthralled with his attempt to fashion a whole mythology and history for his world. Again we do find ourselves confronted with enormous battles and loss of life. This is through and through an epic tale of great powers battling over the control of the destiny of creation. Tolkien employs a different technique to make the killing of the enemy more palatable to the reader. The orcs or goblins are grotesque, disfigured, ill-kept, unmannered, uncultured, foul-tempered …you name it…they have all the most horrible qualities. I am a person who tends to abhor violence in the real world. I champion the call to allow people the chance to redeem themselves when they have erred. So, what’s the deal with these orcs, trolls, goblins? Were they always this bad? Where did they come from? Being raised Christian, I realize geez…Jesus would probably be hanging out in the orc’s den trying to get them to shape up. I say that somewhat in jest, but I think you get the point I’m driving at. If a reader takes the time to branch out and explore more of Tolkien’s writing, one is shocked to learn that orcs are actually elves. Say what??? Yes, it’s true. Deep in the earlier ages of time after a cataclysmic war between powerful angelic-like beings, the forces of good didn’t really win. They withdrew into a fortress realm to guard against the armies of evil. It was a truce of sorts. The world where elves and men were to appear was left in darkness and all but abandoned. Melkor, an exceedingly powerful demonic being, was ever watchful, waiting for the appearance of the elves. He lied to them presenting himself as friend. He betrayed them and dominated many. They were enslaved and their very nature was twisted into the hideous form of the orc. The equally noble ents are the source material for the creation of trolls. No wonder the orcs, trolls and goblins are they way they are. They hate what they have become and hate anything reminding them of what they lost. Tolkien tells this tale, but does not explore the concept of salvation or remedying this corruption. One has to wonder if slain orcs go to the Undying Halls to await the end of time with the elf spirits. I get the sense Tolkien felt orcs had been damaged beyond any hope of restoration to their original beauty and dignity. Makes me think of how our own world collectively has groups of people it considers twisted beyond deserving the hope of rehabilitation. I would encourage all to take the time to read Tolkien’s masterpiece The Silmarillion. It gives The Hobbit and The Lord for the Rings more clarity and a greater sense of purpose.

So, I return to my poor minions. The message I am trying to impart is these armies of minor characters serve a purpose providing friction against which the hero strives to overcome. They are essential elements which if absent make for no conflict; no story. But, I am eager to find more authors that bring to bear the complexity of hard ethical questions about the value of a life into their writing. I hope, as I begin to contemplate my own villains and legions of bad guys, I can convey hints at least as to why they act so horribly. What will motivate them to walk the dark path? If you have a favorite book, movie or series that you believe does a good job of humanizing the poor minion please share with me.