Hunting Monsters For Fun And Profit

Hypothetical: You live in a village with grass huts and no doors. There’s a tiger about, who only eats infants. He literally cannot eat anything else, if he tries, he starves to death. This tiger roams in and around your grass huts. You can hear it growling late at night. You know that sooner or later it will pounce.

Do you:

A.) Wait until it eats a baby, then take action.

B.) Shoot that motherfucker in the face again and again and again and again until it goddamn stops moving, because baby eating tiger.

Call me retrograde, but I’d choose option B. I ain’t got no kids, and I’d still choose option B. I’d go all Atticus Finch on its ass, as soon as I could find a gun.

Well, I just read an Urban Fantasy novel where option A was the entire moral code of the main character. 24/7, 365 (366 on leap years), it was her entire job to not shoot baby eating tigers (actually baby eating monsters), until after they’d chowed down on a little child.

Crunch. Scream. Little limbs wave helplessly. Scream. Blood hits the walls. Scream. Slurp.

“Oh, what? A baby got torn to shreds by a poisonous slavering fang-toothed vaguely bat-like monstrosity from Mexican folklore? Now it’s on, asshole!”

(“Sure, I saw it last week. It hadn’t eaten any babies, then. That I know of.”)

Yeah. After a dead baby, and not a second before. That’s the best time to hunt slavering, baby-eating monstrosities you knew were there in the first place.

And God help you if you’re a human who shoots and shoots and shoots and shoots until the baby-eating, slavering monstrosity goddamn stops moving, because she will, no lie, track you down and shoot you — the human — in the face. Because ecology.

(No, really. That’s what the main character says. You can’t kill baby-eating, slavering, fanged monstrosities, because ecology.)

By the end of the book, I was so very tired of the “leave the fanged, slavering, baby-eating monstrosities alone!” attitude of the main character. “Can’t we all just get along?” No. No we can’t. Not when you eat babies. I gotta draw the line somewhere.

After that, I was a little burned out on Urban Fantasy. I said to myself, “Can I find some Urban Fantasy where the monster hunters actually, I don’t know, hunt freakin’ monsters?” I was ready to give up on the genre. Until…

Almost a year ago, I was reading this guy’s blog. He had a link to a book. I opened it up in a tab (one of my infamous 250 tabs), and it sat there. Unread. For a goddamn year.

Oh, I saw it. Occasionally. On my way to and from other tabs with research material or potential links. I just never stopped to read it.

Then, just this week, that same original blog linked to another blog. That blogger was clearly upset. I read his post, and found out he was an author. Of Urban Fantasy novels. The same novel I had been ignoring for a year. A novel described (by him) as “The X-Files meets The Expendables“.

Huh.

It’s about a bunch of monster hunters. Monster hunters who actually shoot freakin’ monsters. Before the babies get eaten, even.

They shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot until the goddamn fanged slavering monstrosity is dead. The only time they’re not shooting, is when they’re reloading or reaching for a bigger gun, to do more damage when they resume shooting. (Wisely. These things are fricken tough. It’s like Tharkold that way.)

(Oh, and they sometimes use high explosives. Yeah, baby. Yeah.)

“Well, that sounds potentially alright”, I thought. A quick visit to iBooks, and I owned a new ebook.

And I’m loving it. L-o-o-o-o-o-o-ving it.

[Oh, wait. The book. It’s Monster Hunter International, by Larry Correia. (Amazon link.) Buy it. Borrow it from a friend. Check it out from a library.]

I thought Jim Butcher (of “Dresden Files” fame) wrote great action. (And he does.) Larry Correia writes the best action scenes I have ever read. (And I was a technothriller addict.) Better than Koontz, Clancy, King, anybody.

His monsters are tough and implacable, the main character is literally, actually millimeters from being disemboweled or eaten all the time, and each action scene just goddamn moves. Each one is quick, tight, and inexorable. You can almost feel the half-a-ton werewolf busting through doors and walls, right on your heels, after having regenerated away all that damage you just did it. It’s incredible.

And he knows pacing. When to speed it up, when to slow it down, when to drop in a tense crawl through an abandoned structure liberally decorated with the viscera of former inhabitants and innocent victims, when to throw in another I-think-Owen’s-really-gonna-die-this-time action sequence. (Schmuck bait, yes. But effective schmuck bait.)

Tense action, smart and tough protagonists (who are nonetheless hopelessly outmatched), and viscerally evil bad guys. If I could order a bespoke Urban Fantasy novel — “Please, just make it decent, okay? Stalwart heroes versus pure evil, and a lot of gunplay. And some explosions.” — that would be it.

Again, Monster Hunter International, by Larry Correia. (Amazon link.) Buy it. Borrow it from a friend. Check it out from a library.

Read it. It’s worth it.

Rewatch: Star Trek: Generations

And now we come to the first Next Generation movie, the one that is intended to bridge the original series and the Next Generation era, hence “Generations”. Too bad this is such a mediocre effort.

Now, I’m not saying this is a bad movie, just not a very good one. There are several problems:

  • The MacGuffin, the ribbon and the nexus, is silly. Perhaps even sillier than “red matter” (from 2009’s Star Trek movie).
  • The movie fails to set any stakes. You can’t casually mention that a planet of aliens, who we never see, are threatened by a ribbon, and expect the audience to care. And if the audience doesn’t care, the climax is pointless.
  • Kirk’s death is pointless. Captain James Tiberius Kirk, the most legendary captain in all of Star Fleet history, dies a stupid and meaningless death saving a planet of people we never see and don’t care about. When a legend falls, by God, there had better be something legendary about his death. Great success or great failure, his death should have meaning. And Kirk’s didn’t.
  • Picard is pointlessly glorified. The screenwriters shat all over Kirk. Picard had to badger him into leaving the Nexus. Picard had to rig the missile. Kirk died in a fall, clinging to an iron grate. All of this was intended to make Picard, a mediocre captain at best, look good. They killed off James Tiberius Kirk, just so they could make a mediocre captain look marginally heroic.
  • They wasted some pretty good villains. In addition to making Kirk into a wuss, they killed off two of the better Next Gen villains: Lursa and B’Etor Duras. They survived the entire series, including the Klingon civil war, only to die… for nothing. They deserved better than that.

What plagues this movie is the story and script. It’s about stupid and pointless events, in a galactic backwater, and truly great character dies to make a mediocre character seem better. (Like killing off Harry Dresden, to make Mortimer (the ectomancer) look good.)

The movie is competently acted, has good special effects, the performances are pretty solid, but it’s lacking something the original series had. In many ways, the Next Generation series and movies came across as plastic… artificial and unreal.

What they gained in budget sizes, they lost in soul. They’re just not dirty enough to seem real. (This problem carried over into First Contact, hampering an otherwise excellent entry in the series. I mean, in a post-apocalyptic future, Cochrane’s “dirty” furs seemed freshly dry-cleaned.)

Babylon 5? Dirt. Star Wars (the original trilogy)? Dirt. Deep Space 9? Less dirt than the other two, but more than the Next Gen ever had. (And, to be fair, this same problem also plagues several of the TOS movies, like IV and V.)

But the Borg? Dirt. Grit. Genuine menace. At least a little. (Which is why they’re the best villains in the Next Gen canon.)

To be clear: “dirt” is a metaphor here. I’m not necessarily talking about actual physical schmutz.

I’m talking about the sense of awfulness and danger that’s a necessary part of adult media. Sesame Street has no dirt, nor did The Smurfs Saturday morning cartoon. G.I. Joe only had a little. But Die Hard? Dirty, dirty, dirty.

There is no sense of genuine danger in Generations. We never once actually fear Dr. Soran. (Unlike, say, Khan who radiated menace and danger. He was a villain.) Soran’s about as menacing as Gargamel, and throwaway lines about hundreds of millions of people (who we never see and are thus unreal) don’t change that.

Without some grittiness, some dirt, some genuine danger the people don’t seem like they’re struggling. The enemies don’t seem threatening, and the problems don’t feel real.

The audience has to buy into the reality of the fictional world you’re created, and the Next Gen movies are just too clean, too comfortable (a hotel in space), too safe to make that happen.

Rewatch: The Undiscovered Country

Well, this is it — the last, great hurrah of the classic Trek crew, Spock, Kirk, McCoy, et. al. After this, there are only the humiliating cameos in Generations and the final appearance of Spock in the JJ Abrams Star Trek.

Looking back at my ratings, I put The Undiscovered Country at #2 on the list of classic Trek films. Has rewatching it changed my mind? Not in the least.

Why do I like thee? Let me count the ways.

Let’s start with scope. The worst of the Trek movies were basically two-hour TV episodes with bigger budgets. (Insurrection, I’m looking at you.) They were small in concept and small in execution. “Let’s save these hundred people lost in one irrelevant corner of the whole galaxy, while the whole galaxy is at war.” A (potentially) great episode in a series, but a crappy movie premise.

TUC has scope: it’s all about the collapse of the Klingon Empire, and a possible peace between them and the Federation after 75 years of warring. It’s also about Kirk coming to terms with his son’s death at the hands of the Klingons (back in Search for Spock). It’s also about… you get the idea.

The story isn’t boring, it’s got a decent mystery in it, there’s action, murder, revenge, true love… Sorry, got carried away there. There’s no true love. But there is a lot going on, and it’s all entertaining (unlike, say, The Final Frontier).

David Warner, who turned in a terrible performance in TFF, shines as Chancellor Gorkon, the Klingon peacemaker. His death sets all the changes in motion, including Kirk’s journey towards forgiveness.

Christopher Plummer thrills as the Shakespeare-quoting Klingon general, Chang. (Quoting the Bard of Avon in “the original Klingon”. Opera and Hamlet. Quite cultured for a band of howling barbarians, what?) Chang is one of the better Star Trek villains, by turns brutal and jocular.

They took the time to get basic details right, like the shape of blood in free fall (“zero gravity”). They also included many little details — like a mess, and no-skid flooring — that made the Enterprise seem like a real starship (and not a hotel in space, ala Enterprise-D). In short, they took this movie seriously, and fought to redeem themselves from the justifiably-loathed disaster that was Star Trek V.

I can’t point to any one element and say “That! See that? That’s why I love this movie!” (Unlike Robert Downey, Jr. in Iron Man. He made that movie.) It’s the accumulation of many, many great elements that elevate the movie above most of the rest.

And, given that this was their last, great hurrah, their last chance to dazzle audiences in the roles they’d been playing for 25 years, I’m happy that the crew went out on top, in one of the greatest Star Trek movies ever. Even the humiliating cameos in Generations can’t take that away from them.

Rewatch: Star Trek V

The nadir of the series. As bad as you remember. And worse. Worse, even, than Insurrection. (And isn’t that a sad day, when I’m forced to compliment Insurrection, no matter how faintly: “Well, it isn’t quite the worst of the Treks.”)

This movie was so bad, I stopped every now and then to make notes, just so I could remember all the awfulness. So, rather than some well-written little essay, let’s just chronicle the cascade of crap:

  • Kirk is free-climbing a cliff over half a mile high (that is, without ropes or pitons on a cliff that’s higher than the tallest building in the world), and Spock chooses that moment to annoy him with advice about climbing. Hey Spock, heart-to-heart confabs are best saved for when your captain is on the ground, not desperately clinging to a rock face 300 stories in the air, yeah? (The sight of Shatner climbing such a cliff is mind-bogglingly implausible. It’s less “a feat of rugged athleticism” and more “a suicide attempt”.)
  • Terrible special effects of Kirk falling, just terrible. (Spoiler: Kirk falls. I told you to keep your mouth shut, Spock.) Horrible optical compositing. (Kids, watch the “Making of…” documentaries for Empire Strikes Back for an explanation.)
  • Shatner really is a terrible director. The costumes are ugly and unconvincing (especially the alien makeup work), and otherwise great character actors are turning in shite performances (like David Warner as the Terran Ambassador).
  • Given the series’ penchant for self-derivative plot points, it’s unsurprising that the Enterprise is new and flawed. This was also a plot point in Star Trek 1 (the boring one), Star Trek: Generations (the biggest wasted opportunity in the series), and possibly some others. Sheesh, guys, can’t we pick different tropes to thoughtlessly repeat?
  • When was the Enterprise’s crew replaced by a bunch of drooling morons? “We’re caught in a blizzard”, they lie. “Caught in a blizzard”? You do know you work on a starship, in space, in the 23rd century, right? You do know they have weather observational technological thingies, right? That they can literally put you up on a wall-mounted HDTV just by saying “On screen!” What are you, morons?

Okay, at this point we are 18 minutes into what is nearly a two-hour movie. The number of mistakes, omissions, and sheer idiocies is piling up, and there’s no end in sight.

For the sake of human kindness, I’m going to save your sanity by not listing any more. (Won’t help my sanity, unfortunately, as I had to watch the damn thing.) Just be assured that, yes, the rest of the movie is that bad — and worse.

Star Trek V is, without a doubt, the worst Trek of all time. Even more than Insurrection. (And damn Shatner for making me say that.)

[In under the wire, if only just. Tomorrow, Star Trek VI: The Other Really Good One.]

Rewatch: The Voyage Home

Star Trek: The Voyage Home is one of the better Trek’s, tied for third place with First Contact. It’s great, because it’s fun. That’s it. It’s not deep, insightful, or thinky, just plain fun.

Oh, it tries to be deep, insightful, and thinky. It just fails, badly. Whereas Search for Spock dealt with powerful themes in an unobtrusive way, TVH went the IMPORTANT MESSAGE route.

See, when you have a MESSAGE, you have something DEEP and IMPORTANT that people MUST LISTEN TO. And to make sure they listen, you have to drill it into their skulls every chance you get.

In this case, the IMPORTANT MESSAGE is that hunting a species to extinction is a bad idea. Well, it is. I completely agree. It is a bad idea.

But that fact can be communicated much more adroitly than this movie did. I know — Wrath of Khan and Search for Spock already did it. They dealt with their themes and ideas in a deft fashion.

Whereas TVH is ham-handed and obvious with its preaching. And it didn’t have to be, because the IMPORTANT MESSAGE is clear, just from the premise.

Alien probe. Killing planet Earth, because the whales it used to talk to are extinct. (Wait, whales can talk over interstellar distances? That’s our Bullshit Tax, obviously.) The crew goes back in time to get some whales and bring them back to the 23rd, so they can “tell the probe what to go do with itself”.

See how easy that is? Just set up the plot, and the theme is obvious. “We kill whales, so we die” is pretty easy to grasp. But you couldn’t let it just sit there, could you? No, you had to go all Used Car Salesman on us.

Scene A. Spock: “Admiral, this species is extinct. This is bad.” Kirk: “Yup.”

Scene B. Hot oceanologist: “Killing whales is bad.” Kirk: “I agree.” Spock: “Word.”

Scene C. Spock: “Extinction is bad, mmmmkay?” Kirk: “Word to your mother.”

<Repeat IMPORTANT MESSAGE every five minutes for two goddamn hours.>

Then, the kicker. Just in case the crew repeating the IMPORTANT MESSAGE every five minutes for two goddamn hours went over your head, just in case the plot and symbolism were just too complex to decipher, just in case you were so galactically stupid as to miss the point after all this, Kirk says:

“You know, it’s ironic. When man was killing these creatures, he was destroying his own future.”

DO YOU GET IT? EXTINCTION IS BAD! IT’S BAD! AND YOU NEED TO GET THAT! DO YOU GET IT?

BAD!

Setting the obnoxious preaching aside, the film is fun. The fish out of water moments, where the 23rd century people tried to deal with the 20th, were amusing, if not so amusing as the ones from Back to the Future (my next candidate for a rewatch). The rapport between the characters is as enjoyable as ever (something the Next Generation never quite managed). And…

Well, that’s it, really. It’s fun. Just plain fun. Given the disaster looming on the horizon (aka Star Trek V: It Almost Makes Insurrection Look Good), that’s no small thing.

Rewatch: The Search For Spock

As folk wisdom would have it, the even Treks are The Shit, the odds just shit. This is kinda, sorta, but not really correct. 5 was b-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-d, but 1 was just mediocre, and most of the Next Gens were pretty much crap, odds and evens.

#3 on the other hand — The Search For Spock — was actually a pretty good movie. Being packed in between Wrath of Khan, the best Trek movie ever, and The Voyage Home, itself a great movie, it suffers by comparison, but it is definitely not a piece of shit. Had it come after TMP, we’d be praising its glory, talking about how it saved the series from pretentiousness and bad 70’s fashion. (Afros, man, afros.)

SFS is a direct sequel to WoK, the events of that movie setting up this one. (In a good way, not a Pirate of the Caribbean 2 “extra third of a movie pointlessly tacked on, just to set up the next” way.) The Genesis planet, Spock’s death, Kirk’s son, Lt. Saavik, they’re all here. Also here, finally, are the Klingons.

The Klingons are, without a doubt, one of the best villains in all Star Trek. If I hadn’t already declared the Borg #2, I’d have to put the Klingons there. In fact, since the Klingons are just more interesting, I’ll bump the Borg to third place. (So there!)

The Noble but Primitive Warrior is kind of a cliche, going back to 16th century stories of the American Indians, and maybe earlier. But the Klingons do it so well, you have to overlook that.

Though they didn’t really come into their own until the Next Gen TV series expanded on the lore — adding in anatomical details (two spines), cultural details (Sto’Vo’Kor), and historical details (Kahless) — they had their modern beginnings here, in this movie. Honor, battle, ruthlessness, the foreheads; it all started here. In fact SFS is the first place Klingon, as a language, appeared, and that has had a permanent impact on geek culture.

As for the movie itself, the themes and plot are clear and unambiguous, and more subtly presented than in WoK. The notion of katra, Spock’s mind or soul, and eternal life are dealt with in an understated way, because the focus is on the struggles of the crew after his death.

The previous movie depicted Spock’s dedication to the notion that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. This movie evinces Kirk’s belief that the needs of the one can outweigh the needs of the many.

This is — as Heinlein noted in Starship Troopers — a very human thing. “Two die rescuing a hiker” is bad math, but only in the short run. In the long run, this dedication to others, even above ourselves, is what allows humans to thrive.

Civilization has advanced precisely to the degree that we have expanded the group of people we will self-sacrifice for. And it has shrunk precisely to the degree that we have become self-seeking and selfish.

None of these things are discussed in the movie. Yet by touching on one simple story, the drive of a small group of people to risk death and dishonor to save a friend, the movie indirectly addresses all of this.

Eternal themes are eternal for a reason, because they speak to those deep truths. And doing so with subtlety and craft is what marks Search For Spock as an excellent movie. (If not up to the standards of Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home.)

My (pre-rewatch) rankings:

  1. The Wrath of Khan
  2. The Undiscovered Country
  3. (tie) First Contact and The Voyage Home
  4. The Search For Spock
  5. The Motion Picture
  6. Generations
  7. (tie) The pieces of shit.

Rewatch: Wrath of Khan

What to say about Wrath of Khan? It rocks, you should watch it.

Post over.

Okay, fine. WOK is an incredibly well done movie. Half a beat slow for my tastes, but otherwise impeccable.

The character moments are real and unforced, the acting the best Shatner and company ever turned in (The death scene. Period. Full stop.), and the plot clear and unambiguous. (Compare this to <shudder> Insurrection, and weep.) The only Trek flick that even comes close — and yet, not close enough — is The Undiscovered Country.

Khan — the real Khan, that is — is the single greatest Trek villain, ever. (Second place going to the Borg, naturally.) His arrogance, will to power, and sheer charisma are magnetic. His drive for revenge, at once Olympian and all-too-human, costs him everything.

This, assholes, is what a villain should be. Not the Son’a, not Dr. Soran, not the Voyager 6 space probe… but a man of great passion and malevolence.

Science fiction often gets lost up its own ass, the writers more interested in intellectual ideas than simple human drama. The best, of course, weave both together, as is done here.

Consequently, Wrath of Khan is among the greatest sci-fi ever made. Moving, compelling, visceral — very little modern drama is this well done. (Even if it is half a beat too slow.)