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Sunday 26 August 2018

A Three-Letter Word

(Content warning: what follows will be a frank monologue that talks about body issues, weight, self image, self esteem, depression, anxiety, bullying, trauma and suicide. If you really don't want to read any of that, no judgement whatsoever. I understand. Feel free to check out one of my other blogs which are less heavy. This one is about Blade Runner. If you're into that sort of thing.)

Hi folks. My name is John, and I'm fat.

Here's a picture of me at Nine Worlds this year.

Yes, I am the one on the left, har har har. (This person cosplaying Ellen Ripley was really cool. Very friendly. Many thanks to her!)

I am fat. I use that word to describe myself, not to take the piss out of myself, not to disarm people who weaponise it against me, but because it is true. I am overweight. Obese, is the term. The BMI chart - if anyone even thinks that is a thing any more - doesn't go up far enough to account for my height or my weight, but I probably sit in the red bit.

Ever since I hit puberty I have been this shape.

Like, you can look at kid pictures of me and I've got pudgy little cheeks. You can look at teenager pictures of me and I am, yes, fat. I am fat, have always been fat, and will remain fat until such a time as I actually decompose or am otherwise reduced by being dead.

As you can imagine, this has led to my certain life experiences. I lucked out in many other areas of my life - I recognise that I have the privileges of being white-passing, straight-passing, cis, and coming from an only slightly poor household. This thing, though - this thing is something that can affect just about everyone.

Being generally treated like shit by half of the people I ever met was a strong motivator toward changing something. So I tried.

This is where a lot of people are going to roll their eyes and close this window, but stick it out, because this is the literal truth.

None of it worked.

I can understand your skepticism, trust me, because for all my life I was surrounded by people telling me I was wrong, and I was lying, and I was doing something wrong. To the point wherein I actually started doubting myself. Doubting whether or not I remembered how things went, properly.

It goes like this: I try to lose weight by just reducing my calories and doing more exercise. Two months pass. I put on a few ounces. I reduce the calories more, do more exercise. Doesn't work, again - this time I put on four pounds, which is absurd. My mother and father are confused at this, because mum's the one making my meals, and there's only so much snack food you can buy on £2 a week pocket money. So they assume I am sneaking food elsewhere, I promise them I'm not, I get the "Alright then" with the roll of the eyes which basically tells me they don't believe me at all.

So then, I am put into the care of the health services. Referred to a dietitian. I am issued a rather strict eating plan. Everything not on the plan gets lobbed out of the house and my pocket money goes away so I can't spend it on food. For six months I am on the first plan, and my weight actually - this time - doesn't change at all. It remains constant. I AM miserable, but - you know. Constant. The dietitian, who predicted the loss of three stone in those six months, throws up her hands and declares that I am either not doing enough exercise (har fucking har) or I am cheating on the plan. Except this time my mum is on my side here - because I haven't been.

We see another dietitian. This one swears by the cups-of-rice diet. Like all your food is measured in cups of rice. The idea of which actually made me burst into tears when I was in the back of the car on the way home. Nothing but rice, forever. But hey - at least I wouldn't be fat any more. Right?

I lost a pound in the first week.

I put on three in the second.

I had monthly weigh-ins. I was meant to be referred for six months but after the third the lady didn't want me to go any more, because I was half a stone heavier,and her heavy hints of "something else going on" pretty much told me she thought I had cheated on this diet, too.

Which I hadn't.

My food had basically been plain rice, for three months. It killed me. It absolutely killed me. I like food, that is no surprise to anyone. I like food, and here I am, eating basically plain rice. I got sauce sometimes, that was a luxury. Carrots, too. I love carrots. Maybe I love them because they were the only interesting thing I got to eat in that period of my life.

It was during this three months that I was written out of doing PE classes at school, anything high-impact like running or basketball, because my knee joints were already deteriorating. But you don't get Arthritis when you're young, so it can't have been that. That was because I was fat, too.

Now, there will be a lot of people shaking their head at me. "John," they will say, a knowing smile on their lips, an understanding hand on my shoulder. "You don't need to justify yourself. Everyone tries and fails to diet. Everyone does. You just need to try again, and you need to stick to it."

I mean, right, I fully agree.

The idea of not sticking to it was alien to me. I was highly motivated to make this work, and that was why I never cheated - because I was tired of being beaten up for it. Literally being physically assaulted for being fat. I was tired of being called names constantly, of always being self-conscious of myself, of always flattening myself against corridor walls and taking seats that people couldn't move behind me. People made my life an absolute hell. As a child, many times, I considered doing something very drastic about it. I must have been broken. There must have been something wrong with me. Didn't you just eat less and then the fat went away? Didn't you just jog and do the exercise bike and play the stupid football and eat the boring stuff and then it went away?

Except it never, ever fucking did.

It flies in the face of common wisdom, I know. But then a lot of actual facts in terms of weight loss don't actually marry up with common wisdom - here's a Time article on the topic. What it comes down to is that nobody loses weight the same way, and some people can lose it easily, and some people find it difficult to put any on, and some people find it nigh on impossible to actually lose it.

You will find it difficult to get any hits on actual science for this on Google, obviously, because dieting is an industry and a lifestyle - and it is one that is primarily fed by insecurity. Nobody in that industry wants one of the first ten results on Google to be "Actually Maybe You Are Already An Okay Weight, Just Eat More Veggies".

The notion of someone being a size and being okay with that size is an alien one. If you find it very, very hard to lose weight, that is your body pushing back. If you enter starvation mode and stop burning calories the moment you cut out your daily snacks, then that weight is probably not going anywhere. Nobody cares about though, because just wanting it bad enough and not drinking Coca-Cola any more worked for their uncle Derek, who put on eight stone when he quit his job, but now he's managed to lose seven, so literally anyone can lose weight, right?

Medical fat-phobia is such a common thing, too. Relatively recently, I talked to a doctor about joint pain. He didn't even blink, just suggested that if I lost weight it would help. After an awkward silence, I explained to him that I meant my knuckles. He cleared his throat, looked at my medical records, found the word Rheumatoid, and told me he couldn't do anything. Well, glad we sorted that one out.

For a long time I hated the word fat, because it was a knife that was stuck in my back constantly.

It carried a lot of hostility in it, and a lot of my own hang-ups. It carried the hatred and derision of my peers (and hell, just normal people who didn't even know me), and it carried the feeling of failure of constantly trying without any success. It also carried the constant accusations of being a liar. A treble-whammy of shit.

...if people weren't actually shit to me, though, I don't think I would have thought twice about it.

While I was fat, it didn't stop me doing things. It didn't stop me riding a bike or playing football - though I wasn't very good at the latter, I still did it, and did it every single school day and most Saturdays. I would walk a lot of places. I was still capable of every physical task in front of me, aside from winning any running races. Even if I hated doing it, I could still do cross-country races. We played cricket, and rugby, and (against my doctor's advice) basketball. While I was told my knees were in serious trouble, I kind of ignored that, because they didn't hurt unless I jumped around on them or dropped down on them - though when I got to fifteen they started crunching whenever I bent them. They still do.

It's as I got on in life, and I paid less attention to people that don't matter, and I found my confidence and my capabilities in the outside world, that I started using the word fat again.

Yes, at first, it was to disarm people that would use it against me as a weapon - but then I started to think, why should it be a weapon? We're not in school any more. Is fat really a bad thing? Is fat really a thing I shouldn't be? Is it a thing that you should scold me for being, in the street? Is it worse than being a racist, a sexist, a bigot, a thug?

The fact is, no. It isn't a thing that is inherently bad in and of itself.

Some people will throw up their hands at this, tell you how bad it is for you to be overweight, so on. If any of them had a similar childhood to me, or anyone that knew me, then I understand why.

Anyone remember the Two Minutes Hate from Nineteen Eighty-Four?

That one.

I will never use the word Fat to describe someone else unless they have told me I can or should. Just because that's my word now, doesn't mean it is theirs, and that's because the word still carries the same trauma, the same pain that it carried for me. And it carries that pain and trauma because we got to be the target of the two minutes hate.

I've talked before about insecurity, and how it drives people to turn on others. When Person A decides they need to lose weight because that will fix the hole they have inside, they go out and do so, but they find that Person B is apparently happy without having to do the same. I mean, I've also - in that same mini-series - done a blog about how high school never ends, which is also relevant, so...

So this word. This three-letter word. Fat.

We don't hate it because it is what we are.

We hate it because of how it was used on us. We hate it because people told us it was the reason why they treated us badly. We hate it because out parents and other people told us it was a bad thing to be and constantly, constantly pushed us to not be that thing any more. We're told from an early age that fat is mutually exclusive to beautiful or attractive or handsome, which leads to me being told, when I use the word to describe myself, to sometimes be told: "No you're not, you're lovely!" Which usually results in a snarky comment along the lines of: I didn't say I wasn't, did I stutter? But in these people's heads, fat is a definite negative. It precludes everything else.

You can probably replicate the same effect with any other word, with a concerted effort. If any school-age brunette was beaten up for being a brunette, and the word Brunette was spat at them from across the room as a term of abuse and hatred, and their parents constantly told them that, actually, it would just be a little easier for them if they just bleached their hair...

It's got so little to do with our own weight, and so much more to do with other people. With the fact that this was how other people were raised, how they get their kicks, how they make themselves feel better. Sure, they might be powerless in a sea of confusion in a world they don't understand and surrounded by people they have no empathetic connection with, incapable of illustrating their thoughts and hopes and dreams, and feeling like they will never achieve the things they aren't even sure they actually want to achieve...

...but at least they're not fat.

People want to make sure that chronic illness can't happen to them. It's why they offer such insipid solutions if it ever comes out that you suffer from one. They are just the things they cling to as reasons why it can't happen to them. It's the same with being fat - they don't like the notion of having to suffer from how society treats you, so they make themselves feel better with the thought of "Well, if you didn't like it, you could just lose it really easily".

Insecurity made manifest. And the easiest and quickest way people find to deal with it is to dump it on someone else.

Well I'm not letting that happen to me, any more.

I'm fat. I've always been fat. It's the shape I am, it's a shape I tried not to be and failed at. In the failing, and in other people's treatment of me even while I was failing, my mental health got very seriously snarled up. At least part of the reason behind my attempt to kill myself was tied to it,and to the clinical depression and generalised anxiety which was probably fed by it.

Except I wasn't depressed or anxious or suicidal because I was fat, if I am at all honest.

I was depressed, anxious and suicidal because every other fucker that I knew decided to punish me for being fat.

And I'm not taking that bullshit. Not against me, and not against anyone else I know.

This three letter word is my shape, and fuck you if you don't like it.

Sunday 19 August 2018

Readers Request - Private Lives, Aliens and The Perfect Pizza

Once more, folks, we come across the wondrous and sometimes terrifying place that is Readers Request. I will be answering your topics and questions, provided via Facebook and Twitter. I will be answering all of them, seeing as I didn't have all that many. No matter! It means I can natter at length about things, which is one thing I seem to be good at.

Cast thine eyes below! As always, names removed to protect the innocent.

Knowledge = sexy, fight me. - I mostly agree. I could listen to someone pop off about something they are passionate about for hours, though. That's not even a sexy thing. That's a thing. Also I am kind of wary of fetishising someone's intelligence or knowledge, because I don't want to devalue people who don't fit into my idea of what "smart" is. I know, I overthink this stuff. That's me, though - one-man Team Overthink.

Are there any stories, musicians or anything really that changed in a way you initially were wary of or actively disliked that you have changed your mind on and now like? (or vice versa) - More of the vice versa, really. Like when you first get into or find out about something, you can watch it without knowing anything relating to the people who made it or whatever - then you find stuff out and it makes you recoil. One thing I was wary of which I have since found out I shouldn't be was What We Do In The Shadows, the Taika Watiti vampire movie, which I had mistakenly conflated with In Shadows, the Burton/Depp thing. So I just avoided it like the plague. Which was a huge mistake. Also Baby Driver - I don't know why I was CAUTIOUS about this but I was, and then Chris tells me it is super-recommended, and all of a sudden it is one of my favourite movies like ever.

Private lives and public figures.... If you dedicate your life to public service do you forgo your right to a private life? - I have opinions on the notion of a private life. I think everyone's life should be private when they want it to be. I think that the notion that a public figure's life should be an open book because they are a public figure is a bit of a sticky one, given that privacy is a human right. Literally, Article 8 of the Human Rights Act. Should people be called to account for doing shady shit? Yes, absolutely. Should people be hounded constantly even when not doing shady shit? Hell no. I'm sure there is a middle ground between "Media Lynch Mob" and "Zero Accountability".

When is a photograph not a photograph? - A photograph is defined as "an image created when light falls onto a photosensitive surface". I think that digital photography still counts. So like - that's what a photograph is. That said, that doesn't mean that everything that is a photograph is JUST a photograph. Like let me see if I can find one of my favourite ever photographs and pop it in here:

Muhammad Ali standing over (and yelling at) Sonny Liston in victory. There's a lot going on here. It is a photograph, yes, but it's a statement too. It tells you most of what you need to know about who Muhammad Ali was, as a man. Ali had mere moments ago hit Liston with a right hand punch that many believe wasn't powerful enough to do what it did to Liston - but if you ever watch the replay, you'll see his lead foot actually leave the ground when he gets hit. Ali is, in this moment, demanding that Liston "Get Up And Fight, Sucker".

Sorry, I digress. So yeah. A photograph is a photograph, but sometimes it's more than a photograph.

Uranus and soda stream. :) - Okay so. Soda Stream was a fantastic idea that had several problematic limitations, the primary one being that you ended up making lovely drinks at home that still worked out as more expensive than just buying them from the shop, and that was without considering the cost of getting the machine in the first place. Uranus is an awesome planet, goes around the Sun once every 84 years, and is ABSOLUTELY fucking frozen cold. Like the surface temperature is around -200C. So to combine Uranus AND Soda Stream? It wouldn't work. Would freeze solid immediately. ...wait, is this a bum joke?

Scones. Cream or jam first? - If you're from Devon - cream first. If you're from Cornwall - jam first. If you're not - whatever makes you happy, honestly. It's not like we're talking about toilet roll (dangle to the front obviously) or making tea (milk goes in last unless you're using awful china) or making a sausage sandwich (brown bread, toasted, brown sauce).

Weirdest animal mating habits. - So there's three that I find very weird. Snails, who effectively harpoon each other before they get to the good stuff - I mean, that's metal as fuck but also scary as hell, I don't want to be harpooned by a snail even if it's NOT going to try and shag me. There's the male angler fish, who does something that I have seen people actually do, which is attach to and osmose into their significant other to just stop existing as their own entity. But truly, the weirdest one of all that I have ever seen, is...humans. Because we're animals. And because the hoops I have seen someone jump through to try and get into bed with someone else - note, they haven't been ASKED to do this stuff, this isn't something they have been tasked to do by the potential bedmate, this is just things they THINK they should be doing - is just comical. We do this to ourselves, people. WE are the funniest animals.

Which coming apocalypse do you think most likely and what will things look like after? - Well I think the future we are most likely heading toward is that of the Blade Runner / Alien universe (it's the same one canonically). I think apocalypse is less likely, but if one DOES happen, then I think we are looking at something like Terminator, if only because the Soviets actually built a real-life eighties-era computer system that could automatically launch a nuclear strike. A literal SkyNet, just without drones connected to it. If we did it once? Just saying. Arms companies can do basically whatever they want.

Aliens on tv are frustratingly unimaginative - here are some better ones... - Ooohhohohohoh. HAH. YES. Okay. So. Better ones. Every alien species in Becky Chambers' Wayfarers books. The limited alien life that can be found in the James S.A. Corey Expanse novels. Gas entities. Non-symmetrical entities. Creatures from zero-gravity environments that don't have an upright alignment. Creatures from aquatic worlds that DON'T just look like sealife from our own. Energy beings that don't always have to wear shells or cloak themselves (I love you Shadows and I hate you Vorlons but come on now). Anything that doesn't look like a Grey, or a human-animal hybrid, or an elf. A race that was MADE, so it doesn't have certain evolutionary traits - herbivores with carnivore eye arrangements anyone? Also while it is creepy stop making aliens look like Slenderman. That was played out five years ago and it's super-done now. Also if an alien species is going to evolve rapidly on the spot, a'la Life or whatever, make it look cool, not just some sticky white blob. It looked like hair gel.

Why are potatoes so versatile and awesome but we don't treat any other root vegetable the same way? - Cultural stuff probably? Like potato is so thoroughly accepted as being the cornerstone of our diet. And so it is the go-to, so people eat a lot of it as kids, so they like it when they're an adult, so other root vegetables taste different, and we're too busy clawing ourselves out of the muck we live in day in day out to go try new things. ...we should, though. So yeah, fuck it, new root veggies for all!

What traps would you have in your dungeon lair and why? - TRAPS traps traps okay so. My dungeon lair would actually probably be a black glass skyscraper because I'm into that cyberpunk shit. So each floor would contain a different trap. First floor - automated gun turrets. Second floor - hidden spring-loaded poisoned spike launchers. Third floor - CYBERYAKUZA. Fourth floor - razor wire. Fifth floor - laser mesh with a claymore mine at the end of it. Sixth floor - TWO MECHA! Seventh floor - literally just the words "Watch Your Step" written on the door. Eighth floor - perfect height for the snipers in the buildings opposite. Ninth floor - the throne room, which contains the steps up to the TENTH floor, which is the helipad. Which is ready for me.

If you were to have a super-power what would you have? - This changes whenever I think about it for more than two minutes. As of right now, though - I think I would like that healing factor. It would just make my life so much easier. Not even in terms of warding off future damage that I might take, it will hopefully fix the scarring in my lungs and the shit going on with all my joints. Then I'd be happy as a sandboy.

Why is Prince so awesome!? :D - I mean, he was encouraged from childhood. Thoroughly encouraged. He was surrounded by music. Practice plus will plus talent. He wrote songs deftly and with confidence, and he performed them, able to pretty much lay down any instrumental track he wanted. He recorded constantly, wrote constantly, his output was incredible. And in the end, he was so good because there is a song for everyone in his back catalogue. There's at least one song that cuts you to the bone,t hat you hear and can't turn off. If you're lucky, there's more than one. Oh, and by the way, he's basically one of the best guitar soloists ever.

What songs could be about the same thing/event but from different perspectives? eg It's Raining Men and Bodies. - It's The End Of The World As We Know It and Bad Day by R.E.M. are both about a financial crash when viewed from two different perspectives. So Long Astoria and All Signs Point To Lauderdale are both about the same small shitty town, but one person has fond memories while the other just wants to fucking bail. Before Tomorrow Comes and Rise Today by Alter Bridge are both about the same person - the first from that person's perspective, the second about someone encouraging them to do the thing they are doing. There's a LOT of these, it's almost a blog in and of itself.

What equates a 'geek'? - Well now. The actual etymology comes from German I believe. Geck. I think it means foolish. Up until recently, it was commonly taken to mean anyone not of the mainstream - but we can basically assume that geek culture is pretty significantly intertwined with the mainstream at most levels, now. Even if there's levels of geekdom. But there were dictionaries which basically described geeks as carnival performers or "freaks". I remember it distinctly being still used as a derogatory term for people who liked computers or other assorted nerdy stuff back when I was in high school, so I think it got put on like a jacket - a reclaimed word. Sure, we're geeks, so we go to geek clubs and do geek things and the stuff we like is geek stuff. Now it's become an entire aesthetic. It's everything that was classically associated with that lifestyle, that nowadays just isn't. What is mainstream and what isn't has become such muddy water that the word kind of loses all meaning outside of a stereotype of someone with thick glasses and social awkwardness who likes Lord Of The Rings and using computers.

Your perfect pizza? - Thin base, crispy but not unbreakably solid like chipboard. Barbecue sauce rather than tomato - small meatballs, ground beef, nice mix of herbs and cheese, a sprinkling of jalapenos. Delicious. Preferably eaten with a chilled cherry coke, a side of curly fries with salt and a sprinkling of cholula, while listening to good tunes in good company.

And there you have it. The readers have requested, and I have provided, as I will often do. Next time, we will be talking about something a little bit more solid, a little bit more focused.

Thank you for coming on this trip with me, you beautiful people.

Tuesday 14 August 2018

Best Of The Bad Bunch

Having just come back from Nine Worlds - and there will probably be a blog about that - I am absolutely shattered, having socialled myself into a coma. What this means is that the blog will not be some kind of epic sojourn into perfected academic understanding of any particular topic.

So I am, instead, going with a suggestion provided by my lovely significant other, inspired by a brilliant panel featuring several brilliant authors:

Who are your seven favourite villains?

Well, alright then. Hold onto your britches. In no particular order.

Carter Burke


Okay so Carter Burke, right? If you haven't seen the 1986 action science fiction horror movie Aliens, you haven't lived - especially the special edition, look for the sentry guns and the scenes in the colony before the marines show up. It is my literal favourite movie ever made, if the last blog didn't clue you in on that fact. If you haven't read it, it's about Bishop, go read it. Now. Yeah, now. Then come back here.

You back? Good. Okay.

Carter Burke. The man who made the xenomorph look reasonably honourable. The greasiest rat-fuck son of a bitch to ever become dogmeat. When he bites the dust, you feel the most deep sense of "yeah fuck you" satisfaction, because you hate him. You hate his slick smarmy attitude, you hate his duplicity, you hate his lying fucking face, you hate the way he makes these empty hand gestures and gapes like a dying fish. You hate him. You hate him so thoroughly and so completely.

And then he gets his head fucking eaten.



Rick Deckard


You see, Blade Runner is a noir flick; this means that the morality is all higgledy-piggledy. So you need to look deeper than the surface when you look for who is right and who is wrong, and in a previous blog, I talked all about why Roy Batty wasn't wrong.

So we have Rick Deckard. He used to be a Blade Runner - he still is one - and a Blade Runner is a person who, in this setting at least, hunts down Replicants and retires them. Given that Replicants need a very specific test to even tell them apart from humans, what that basically means is that Deckard hunts down people and kills them. The only crime those people commit is to not do what the company that makes them tells them to, such as wanting to live for more than four years.

Rachel doesn't know she's a Replicant. Roy does, and wants to live. Deckard wonders at one point if he might be. (He isn't, by the way. I will die on that hill.) Both the original and 2049 really serve to erase the difference between Replicants and people. So - yeah, Deckard's a professional murderer cleaning up corporate messes, who would retire himself if they told him to. He forces himself on vulnerable girl, and gets piss drunk because he can't deal with his job but keeps doing it anyway.

Sure, the greater villains of the piece are Tyrell and Bryant - the corporate overlord and the demanding police chief - but Deckard, being presented as the protagonist while actually being an assassin for hire, surely takes the cake there.



"I would have waited an eternity for this. It's over, Prime."

Sure, there are a great many different Megatrons in different Transformers timelines - but all of them are awesome, let's face it.

I am particularly fond of the gladiatorial pit-fighter of Kaon presented in Transformers Prime. He just oozes hostility and nastiness. When presented with perhaps certain death, at the mercy of a human controlling an industrial drill, Megatron tells him simply:

"Kill me now, boy. Or you will never get another chance."

Jack doesn't, obviously.

In another episode he has to fight a super-powered Insecticon bare-handed, does so, wins, then turns on the Autobots and dares them to have a crack at him too.

He then falls the fuck over, because he's near death himself.

Bad. Ass.


The Tessier-Ashpool Family

You know what Cyberpunk is - I already talked about Blade Runner - now meet the real villains of the novel that pretty much started it all, Neuromancer.

The Neuromancer in the title is an AI. As is Wintermute, who gave their name to my Starfinder character. They are both created as a way for an insanely wealthy family to keep maintaining their fortune and their legacy, a family that hated the earth enough to build a literal space arcology - the Villa Straylight - and that hated being in space so much that they just stayed there, in their baroque nightmare, being frothing mad and wealthy beyond understanding.

We encounter this place in the third act of the novel, a novel which begins in the murky underworld of Chiba City in Japan. Chiba is a place profoundly ruled by poverty and crime. Case - the main character - rents a plastic gun early on, just in case something bad happens. He rents a plastic gun. That's just a thing he does. Imagine the kind of world that creates that demand. Now imagine the kind of people who have more money than ACTUAL sense, like literally, who hang in orbit up above that world.

If you need more evidence as to their literal evil, one of them - the patriarch - has sex with and consequently murders a clone of his own daughter.

So fuck these people and everything they stand for.



In terms of Marvel villains, there's few I like more than Carnage.

I mean... he's pretty great, isn't he? When you think about it. Like Venom is cool, but Carnage is like cool but injected with maniac juice. Venom is a dangerous foe to Spider-Man, who defeats his spider-sense and can catch him totally unaware. Carnage is all that, plus, if he wants to, he can turn his hand into an axe and eviscerate you with it. Something he is very willing to do, because he loves eviscerating people.

There's just something so much more dangerous about the Carnage symbiote than most other bad guys in the Marvel universe. He sits between the huge deific threats (Apocalypse, Galactus, Thanos) and the powerful-but -mortal bad guys (Omega Red, Doctor Octopus, The Mandarin). It took one of the literal most powerful heroes in the Marvel universe to actually put him down, via flying him up into orbit and ripping him in half.


He's scary. He's violent. He's hard to defeat in a way that is morally sound. You can slap around a mugger, you can web up a thug, but Carnage? Carnage demands that you run, or fight. Just to survive, let alone to win.

And when you consider that the symbiote can infect other people... like, say, Wolverine... or Juggernaut...

...or Multiple Man...

Yeah, just thinking about that makes me sweaty.


Donnie Darko

I'm gonna have to explain this one...but also I kind of don't want to.

See, the entire trick to the movie Donnie Darko involves watching it, understanding it, and then interpreting it properly. If you do all these things, then I daresay you will agree with me insofar as that, in terms of the bad guy - Donnie is that guy.

Sure, there are worse people.

I mean, Kitty. Kitty is the most horrible, awful individual I can imagine. She's like that pink flowery shithole woman from Harry Potter but actually real. We all know someone like Kitty.

And Patrick Swayze... like, (SPOILERS) when you find out some wealthy pseudo-Christian self-help guru has a bunch of child porn stashed in his closet, you're probably not surprised. He's still an asshole, and he still needs punishing.

I am not going to go into the core of the plot. What I am going to do is tell you to go and watch this movie, and then understand this:

Donnie looked at what Donnie had done, and decided that what Donnie had done was the wrong thing to do.

Villains often think they are heroes of their own story. It's rare that they can witness evidence to the contrary and realise the fact.

He does.


The last villain is one that may surprise you, and herein I will present all the choices I went through before settling on one:

The Human Race
Film Production Companies
Internalised Homophobia
Religious Extremism
That Guy On The Bus That Always Wants To Talk To You Before 8am
My Grandmother
George Lucas
Whoever Threw Out The Whedon Script For Alien 4
Whoever Didn't Throw Out The Script For AvP Requiem
Rocky Balboa
Impressionist Painters
Calorific Content
Empty Carbs
That Weird Feeling You Get When You Drink A Cold Beverage Too Quickly Like Not Brain Freeze But Like A Chill In Your Throat That Is Just Super Uncomfortable
Professor Xavier
Yoko Ono
Tyler Durden
Scott Pilgrim
Toxic Masculinity
When They Change The Recipe Of That Thing You Like And It Just Tastes Kind Of Wrong Now Like Not Super Different But Different Enough That You Don't Like It Much Any More And You Can't Explain Why
That d20 You Used The Last Time You Failed A Save

No, really. Yourself. From Enter The Gungeon.

So to clarify.

Enter The Gungeon is a super-fun twin-stick bullet hell game with an amazing soundtrack, superb pacing, graphics to die for, replayability out the ass - it's just great, I can't recommend it enough. If you don't believe me, go watch a review or LP. Try Dunkey, his one is pretty much on point.

You see those crosshairs?

You, as the player, are entering the Gungeon in order to take - from its depths - a gun that shoots into the past, to kill your own mistakes. That is your end goal, the reason why you decide to enter this mad labyrinth filled with bullets that shoot you with smaller bullets, and enemies that are puns on firearm terms. This is why you bullet hell. This is why you have to live.

And when you lose all your health, where in most games you would be killed by the thing that killed you - in Enter The Gungeon, you get shot by the time gun.

You are literally shooting yourself from the future.

The thing is, THAT is what kills you. That is the thing that stops you. Not the bullet that the cute little shotgun shell just shot at you. It's the bullet YOU shoot.

One of our greatest enemies is ourselves. Our doubt, our internalised hatreds and fears, our damage, our dissonance. Of course, we have a lot more enemies than that - systems that are rigged against us, people that hate us for being us, people that casually harvest their fortunes while damning the rest of us to a forever up-hill climb. One of the things we can definitely work on changing is ourselves.

And a thing we should definitely stop doing is shooting ourselves before we have a chance to fail.


Well done, John.

So yeah. There you go. My seven favourite villains.

Normal service resumes on Sunday.

Sunday 5 August 2018

I May Be Synthetic, But I'm Not Stupid

I'd like to open with Asimov's three laws of robotics.

1: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2: A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Get it? Got it? Good.

Aliens is my favourite movie, something I have established before - and it is my not very humble opinion that it is a far more clever movie than it lets on. There's several world-class performances in this movie, and not just from the principle main cast too - perhaps one of the best performances in this movie is put in by the legendary Lance Henriksen, in his portrayal of the (spoilers) android, Bishop.

Let's talk about the first time we really meet Bishop - no, not when he walks past out of Cryo.

No no no, when we MEET him. In THIS scene, in the mess hall, right here.

See, this scene establishes character and setting, and it does so with great subtlety. It does so without you even realising it is happening, because these people are just playing out their roles, right? They're just being the people you know they are.

So let's review.

In this scene, we have all the non-commissioned Marines dining together, while the Lieutenant decides to eat on a separate table with the two civilian contractors - a fact that is noted, and interpreted as aloofness. This is an assumption that carries through until it's revealed that he's not really aloof - he's just inexperienced, and has no idea how his soldiery would perceive him doing the very basic thing of eating with Burke and Ripley. After all, none of the Marines want to eat with the civvies - and they'd just have to sit there by themselves. So it's the right thing to do to keep them company, right?

As much of an asshole as Hudson can be, he still respects Sergeant Apone, referring to him as "Top" when he enquires about the mission - but Apone doesn't know, so he spins a joke about colonists and their virginity. A further divide between the soldiery and Ripley in particular. This is a hyper-macho social environment, and it remains to be seen whether or not these Marines are all talk or not; an impression further portrayed by Frost and Hudson slapping hands over "Arcturan Poontang". Spunkmeyer has a smart mouth, but Hicks replies to his derision regarding the food with fatherly advice, humorous or not: "It's good for you, boy, eat it."

As this happens, in the picture above, we can see Bishop offering people food.

This is easily seen as his job - we don't know who or what he is yet, but he's been established as not a soldier (he's not sat with them) but not quite a distant civilian (not sat with them either) - and also, he's interacting with the troops directly, quietly, socially, positively - but in a subservient role. Everyone else has gone to retrieve their own main meal, but here he is, handing out cornbread to people and not, himself, eating.

And then this happens.

"Bishop, do the knife thing, man."

Further character establishment. Specifically we establish that Hudson is a clown, and that the Marines know Bishop, and have known him for longer than their new Lieutenant - no shared experience with them, but this is an event that has happened with Bishop and the Marines before. Hence the cheers and jeers from the others, until he caves in and...


Later - when the scene has played out as we all know it does - Bishop explains to Ripley that he cannot "harm, or by omission of action allow to be harmed, a human being", which is almost word-for-word a repeat of the First Law of Robotics. He states it is part of his behaviour inhibitors, which Ash - from Alien - simply wouldn't have. Perhaps due to what happened in Alien, even if the events of the movie are officially denied by Weyland-Yutani, or perhaps due to other events wherein the "twitchy" Hyperdyne 120-A/2s have hurt people.

Now if Bishop just outright said "I can't hurt you, I'm not allowed," then this would be a throwaway line - but he phrases it in almost exactly the same way as the First Law is written; and if he is encoded with the First Law, then it isn't a huge assumption to believe he is encoded with the Second and Third laws, as well.

So what happens in this moment is the Second Law is invoked - Bishop must obey the instruction given to him by a human, even if he initially resists - despite the fact that it can cause him physical harm, because the Third Law implicitly gives way to the Second Law. So of course he will relent, and of course they know he will.

As this goes on, Drake and Vasquez, in left of shot, exchange a look - she slaps his arm and he gets up, wandering back behind Bishop casually and up to Hudson's left hand side. I like this look, because it's clear throughout the movie that Drake and Vasquez are very close, having a bond over and above that which is shared by anyone else in this unit, and one that appears to also be entirely platonic.

Then he does this.

For one thing I love the fact that Hudson grumbles at Drake for what he is doing - clearly indicating that as the class clown he doesn't appreciate being shown up by the far more confident and capable Drake - but his real surprise is shown by Bishop going along with it.

Another thing - see those brackets mounted into the table? All of the Marines are eating out of standardised lunch trays that fit into those brackets. Clearly this is a design nod to the fact that there might be a sudden shift in momentum or similar, or that artificial gravity may fail. Just a nice touch.

Here, though, could have been a moralistic dilemma for Bishop.

He's not allowed to hurt Hudson, directly or by omission of action, even if Drake tells him to - the Second Law can't subvert the First Law.

He could have refused the order, but that would also involve refusing Hudson's own order, which was made without any perceived risk to Hudson. Which he isn't allowed to do.

So he does the next best thing.

He puts his own hand directly over Hudson's, overlapping somewhat as Lance Henriksen actually has larger hands than Bill Paxton. Which is a good thing.

In this circumstance, he is obeying the First Law by placing himself in harm's way, so that the knife will harm him before it ever harms a human. In doing so, he is obeying the instructions given to him by both humans involved in this scenario - and he is invested in not harming himself as per the Third Law, which gives him further motivation to not miss.

We all know what happens next.

Look at their faces.

Vasquez and Apone are loving it - she knew exactly what Drake was planning. Drake is satisfied, amused by Hudson's constant terrified scream. Bishop is so focused on what he is doing that he doesn't have a facial expression. He's too busy not hurting himself (Third Law) OR Hudson (First Law).

It bears mention, as an aside, that this scene was shot as-is and sped up - and that while Bishop's knife trick was part of the script, Hudson's hand being involved was not. The entire cast and crew involved discussed the scene, how to do it, and agreed that Mark Rolston should be the one to force Bill Paxton's hand under Lance Henriksen's. EVERYONE knew it was going to happen...aside from Bill Paxton. So that look of terror is real. Even if the production knife is blunt, Henriksen stood a good chance of hurting both of them during the shoot. Of course Henriksen wasn't worried. He'd practiced this a lot.

Bishop gives Hudson his knife back, thanks him, and walks away. Drake puts the tray back, slaps Hudson's shoulder amiably and tells him to enjoy his meal. We're left with Hudson looking visibly shaken at his own uninjured hand.


Bishop walks back to the civilian table, offers the remains of the cornbread to those at the table, and then notices that he's nicked his finger in the showboating. Something it was entirely possible for him to do without actually hurting Hudson, given that his hands were bigger.

"I thought you never miss, Bishop," quips Burke. Which is interesting. It indicates he knows Bishop, or at least has heard anecdotal evidence of the already-established prior behaviour of the Marines and their accompanying artificial person. Arguably, he wouldn't have missed if he didn't have Hudson's hand trapped underneath his own - the necessity for protecting the person leading to a lapse of care in terms of protecting himself.

Ripley's following reaction is understandable - and Bishop's alarm at her fear of him, given that he knows he can't hurt anyone. Of course, she wouldn't know. She's been out of the loop for almost sixty years. Sigourney Weaver's acting in that moment is stellar, by the way - she glances, she realises what she is seeing, she turns to face the threat and leans back, head tilting back so far she is almost looking at him with sanpaku, her words of recrimination toward Burke coming out in a rush. It's a brilliant moment which is sold so well by Weaver that you can't help but feel her alarm yourself.

It's when he explains that he is bound by behavioural inhibitors to never hurt a human, and then rather tactlessly offers her some cornbread, that she loudly makes her feelings on the matter clear. Her precise words to him:

"Just stay away from me, Bishop. You got that straight?"

This scene alone is a goldmine for Henriksen's portrayal of Bishop. The hints all the way throughout this scene as to his nature, before the reveal of the white blood, should tell you what he is - and sets you up for the revelation, leaving you to just accept it. Of course he's an android. He's acted like one, he's been treated like one. Subconsciously the character has been set up for us to be the thing he is.

Further down the rabbit hole.

Ripley orders Bishop to stay away from her. It is done out of anger, out of fear, and out of alarm - she has an understandable suspicion of the behaviour of any android, let alone a company plant as she must suspect Bishop to be, given that he is canonically the spitting image of the man who runs Weyland Yutani in the events of Alien 3 (and presumably this movie, as the two are separated by almost no time whatsoever, perhaps a month maximum).

It is 55 minutes and 34 seconds before Bishop actually speaks to her again, almost an hour. Not to a group that she is a part of - directly to her. In that time the Marines have landed, they've made their initial investigation, found Newt, cleaned her up, entered the atmosphere processor, been ambushed, been almost wiped out, lost their Cheyenne dropship, lost their APC, witnessed Hudson's first breakdown, salvaged what they can from the wreckage of the APC, found out that they can expect rescue in two and a half weeks and witnessed Hudson's second breakdown.

He only speaks to her when the group are in a resource-restricted emergency situation. The group knowing what he is doing and where he is going is important, so there are no breaches of security, and so that his time can be efficiently used in treating a member of the group who is seriously injured and also trying to discover a way to defend themselves against the xenomorphs. Ripley's order to "stay away from me" (Second Law) is countermanded by her requirement to know what he is doing for the safety and security of the group as a whole (First Law), seeing as she has established herself as a competent leadership figure in the absence of the incompetent Lieutenant Gorman.

Likewise in a scene later, in which he is presenting his findings to the group - Ripley primary among them - he does so knowing that Ripley has shown discomfort and displeasure at his presence, but knowing that conveying the information he has is likewise important survival. It's at the end of this scene, wherein Ripley orders him to destroy the samples, that he lets slip an important bit of information.

"Mister Burke gave instructions that they were to be kept alive in stasis for return to the company labs...he was very specific about it."

This instruction he was given only gets brought up when Ripley gives him a conflicting instruction. That the samples could do harm to people isn't a metric that comes into it - fourth, fifth and sixth degrees of separation from harm done is a sticky area to get into in terms of absolute laws - but as he states later: he may be synthetic, but he's not stupid. So when Ripley states he wants them destroyed, he doesn't quibble. He immediately informs her of the vaguely potentially dangerous situation that Burke had ordered him to instate, and in doing so, forces her to resolve the discrepancy between the two instructions. He can't tell Burke no; that would break the Second Law, unless his action would directly cause harm. He CAN engineer a situation in which Burke can be forced by another person to rescind his instruction, and thus, he can conflict-free follow Ripley's instruction, which I daresay he is happy to do.

When it comes to the realisation that the atmosphere processor is set to explode, and the only way to get off the planet is to manually re-align a satellite dish at the far end of the complex, Bishop volunteers.

There's several reasons to do so. For one thing, as he says, he's the only person qualified to remote fly the second dropship from the Sulaco. He conversationally adds, after that statement:

"Believe me, I'd prefer not to. I'm synthetic, but I'm not stupid."

The balance of this is easy.

In the scenario presented, perhaps one of the marines would stand a greater chance of making it through the tunnel unmolested, reaching the satellite dish and doing the requisite technical work - Hudson has demonstrated significant electronic competency multiple times in the movie, further proven by him being one of the qualified motion detector operators.

As Bishop establishes, though - Bishop is a better choice to remote-pilot the vehicle, increasing the chance that it will land without incident and be capable of conveying the marines off-world. Also, if Bishop is ambushed and killed during his trip through the tunnel or while aligning the dish, then it is him who has died in the line of duty - rather than one of the humans.

He isn't qualified to fight. He literally rejects the firearm that Vasquez hands him, in a cinematic moment that I adore - she gives it to him without a second thought, as she is a Marine, and having a weapon to defend yourself with is second nature. He gives it back to Ripley, knowing that if it came down to pulling the trigger, he'd be dead already. The look on his face.

That's why he never volunteers for any combat operations - he would be more of a hindrance to his human team-mates than an asset, and would thus put their lives at risk more by his presence than his absence. In this scenario, though - the lives of all the humans are best served by him doing the job, a metric that balances the primacy of the First Law perfectly over his Third Law programming to protect himself.

The last thing he says before they close and seal the conduit behind him is to tell Ripley to watch her fingers, before he starts to shuffle down the crawlspace; Vasquez murmuring "Vaya con dios, man," as she welds the plate back.

He may be crawling down a two-hundred-meter choke-space tunnel toward certain death, but the last social interaction he has with the people who didn't even ask him to do this is to look out for the safety and well-being of the woman that previously ordered him to stay away from her.

In the scene earlier in the movie when Spunkmeyer brings some supplies to Bishop - who turns and looks at him in a vaguely creepy way, but Spunkmeyer's response is more akin to dealing with someone who is spacing out than an inhuman machine - wherein Lance Henriksen had suggested he wear special contact lenses to make his eyes creepy, to give him the appearance of inhumanity. James Cameron did a screen test for the scene and found that the way Henriksen played the scene out, from his coldness and distance to Spunkmeyer to his only really seeming to engage when he is studying the xenomorph under his microscope, was creepy enough.

That's the two ends of this character - a nuanced, textured individual who is a stand-out personality in a unit full of alpha gung-ho soldiers. A stellar job of character acting from a stellar actor. Both Henriksen in Aliens and Ian Holm in Alien put in simply breathtaking performances, for two different reasons - and of course, Holm's performance informs Henriksen's in terms of trying to make Bishop a counterpoint to Ash. No pretence of humanity, here - in fact, the only reason Ripley didn't know was because Burke should have told her but didn't. The Marines all know who Bishop is, and they like and respect him. He does his job, and they tolerate his personality quirks, and they trust his competencies as he trusts theirs.

Just another example of fantastic character from my favourite movie. Part of my reasons why it IS my favourite movie.