Thursday Tropes: After the End

I love a good post-apocalyptic story. Hell, I even enjoy ones that aren’t that good, because just the hint of one will perk my ears. And given the proclivity of this kind of setting lately, it’s safe to say I’m not the only one. Just

It’s Ellen Page in the post-apocalyptic future! (Actually, the resemblance is a coincidence, but I’m sure she’d have something quirky to say if it were her.)

yesterday I came across some trailers for an upcoming game, The Last of Uswhere a version of the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the fungus that can create a zombie ant, has jumped to humans and created zombies and lead to the collapse of civilization as we know it. I know so very little about the gameplay, the plot, anything, but I know it looks gorgeous and I’m suddenly we’ve got a PS3 and I’ll be able to play it! I’ve also written before about another such setting I ate up (a coincidentally interesting choice of words on my part) when I wrote about Feed by Mira Grant, which features fantastic world-building. The third book and final book in that trilogy, Blackout, releases later this month and I can’t wait to read it.

When reading up on TLOU the other day, a few things occured me. One, this was a perfect topic for my next Thursday Tropes post! Two, I clearly have an itch to write my own post-apocalyptic story, so I should work on that at some point. And three, why are we obsessed with post-apocalyptic stories? I’ve come to at least one conclusion: it’s real-life fanfiction crossed with cautionary tale. Read more


Thursday Tropes: Pretty Hurt

Part of my new attempt at a schedule, I’m going to aim to talk about a TV trope on Thursdays. I say “TV” because it’s largely inspired by the website TV Tropes, but these might come from books, movie, TV, games, any media or entertainment for mass consumption there is, really. Plus, Thursday Tropes has some nice alliteration to it.

I know, I know, today’s Friday, deal with it. I’m just getting this thing started! (Glee and The Killing spoilers ahead.)

Also, check out the new look! What do you think? The background is from Cutest Blog on the Block.

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T-Boned: The Uncomfortable and Ultimate Glee Fail

Spoilers, if you care.

A few weeks ago, while watching Glee:

Me: *bitch bitch rant rant*
Brandon: “We hate this show now, don’t we?”
Me: “Yep, pretty much.”
Brandon: “We’re still gonna watch it though, right?”
Me:  “At least until the end of the season.”

In its tradition of bringing public attention to tense matters facing high school students today, Glee explored a new dark side of teen bullying and homophobia: teen suicide as a result of bullying for one’s non-heterosexuality.

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Our Trolls Are Different

Just like The Passage had a Backdoor Pilot, I found a book exemplifying Our Trolls Are Different! Though it’s almost more of a variation on Our Elves Are Better. (And no, it’s not Twilight, ’cause c’mon, we all know their vampires aren’t Better, nor are they really vampires.) A while back, I downloaded the free sample of a book called SwitchedBook 1 of Trylle Trilogy, to my Nook.

And be warned, here there be spoilers.

“Trylle” is a fancy word for troll in this book, and the main character Wendy is a troll — excuse me, Trylle — princess who was switched at birth with a human. The problem came in when her human father killed himself and her human mother went nuts, convinced Wendy was not her daughter at all and tried to kill her at her sixth birthday party. The mom went to the looney bin, and Wendy and her older brother live with their aunt. Apparently due to Wendy’s attitude and scholarly problems, they’ve had to move around a lot because she keeps getting kicked out of school. And she’s also learned she can persuade people into doing things she wants them to do when she concentrates on it hard enough.

Now, this is a pretty interesting premise. That’s all a great set-up for a really f*cked up life and some serious issues to explore through an urban fantasy setting. But the author, Amanda Hocking, gets in her own damn way too much with cliches, poor writing, and an abundance of tell don’t show. Taken as a whole, it adds up to a big fat case of Twilightitis.

Enter the mysterious handsome boy, Finn, who catches Wendy’s attention. Cliche, but fair enough–these YA paranormal books are expected to have a

I KNOW I've heard this one somewhere before...

romance plot or subplot. It’s not like I shirk it in the one I’m working on, after all. However, and stop me if you’ve heard this one, the handsome boy is unreasonably weird and rude and stalkerish towards Wendy, while Wendy is whiny, bitchy, and ungrateful to everyone around her, and obsesses over the guy who’s being a dick to her.

There are a few other points where it could, again, be a better book: Wendy confronts her not-real-mother in the asylum and it’s a decently interesting scene. Wendy and Finn get attacked by rival trolls in the street, and at this point she finally agrees to leave her aunt and brother for her ‘real’ family because these attackers will continue to come after her. And she does realize, on leaving them, how much she loves and misses these two people who have stuck by her through everything.

Then she finally gets to the Trylle homestead and troll society completely sucks. Since my sample ended a handful of chapters after she got there, I wasn’t able to see how this panned out. And while Wendy is a princess, her mother is an ice queen, and she learns that trolls as a species make a regular practice of stealing rich human children so they can be replaced with their own kids, and then when they hit 18 more or less, they steal their kids back, expect them to integrate and hand over their inheritance to the troll society. Not that her troll mom has made any effort to check in on her in the last 16 years, or make sure she was okay, or just check to see that no one else noticed her female troll baby had replaced an expected male human baby and that her human mother hadn’t tried to kill her or anything. Nope! Nothing of the sort. Oh, and trolls also have a hierarchy that places those stolen human children (who live with them, but are not regarded as family, or returned to their rightful ones) only just below the breed of trolls who are able to find the scattered troll children when it comes time for it.

To her credit, Wendy seems to find this all pretty despicable, and quietly promises that her troll mom will not see one cent of that money, which she’ll make sure goes straight to her brother and aunt.And she wanders around Trolltown (my name, not theirs) with no one really telling her a whole lot about who she is, what that means, etc. She’s just…seeing some pretty plants, and expected to know everyone around here without anyone telling her. Basically it’s like she just went and arrived at her destiny to sit around like it was any other day.

There was some build-up happening to some debut ball and her possible death being foretold, but I wasn’t interested enough to buy the book and keep reading to find out. Which shows how there were some serious flaws here–there were a dozen or more plot points that could have made this fascinating but it just wasn’t. All of the interesting things were ignored in favor of a Twilight-romance rehash, trolls who really should’ve just been called elves, the boring details of every day activities, and the awful headspace of the whiny Wendy.

Overall, not a book I’d recommend. Trylle’s trolls may be different, but they certainly aren’t unique.

Terra Nova Episodes 3 and 4: “What Remains” and “The Runaway”

A busy few weeks have happened, so here’s me catching up on Terra Nova.

Episode 3, the one about the virus that erased people’s memories? Actually wasn’t as terrible as I anticipated. Now, I’m not sure how accurate the science of this virus is (my guess, not very!), but here’s how it went: a scientist with not-Alzheimer’s (because why use a perfectly real disease that’s universally recognized as tragic and whose symptoms are very well known when you can make up one just like and give it a fake name?) is tampering with gene therapy to cure his condition at an outpost. It doesn’t work–the virus he creates regresses a person to a previous time in their life and then starts bringing them further and further back from there until they’re hysterical and then catatonic. Or something. I just realized they kept saying it affected short term memory first, but then how was everyone not acting like they were in Memento?

Doctor Wife gets whammied, as does her old college boyfriend Malcolm (let’s just call him Old Flame, shall we?), and General Toughguy. Cop Dad (who, FYI, has a cold, and in case you forget that when he shows no symptoms at all, he’ll remind you with horribly fake sneezes when the plot demands it) goes to find them when they don’t return from inspecting this outpost. Long story short, his cold is somehow incubating him from getting this virus, and they can then manufacture a cure for not-Alzheimer’s.

Gee, if only the common cold could cure regular Alzheimer’s, maybe science isn’t trying hard enough! Ugh.

"See, we're totally married!" "I want a restraining order."

So, I asked Brandon (my boyfriend, and a science guy) if this was likely to really work. In theory, he said, yes, because if you’ve got a cold then your body is primed to fight off sickness with T-cells and white blood cells riding high. I’m pretty sure the disease itself was still a load of bullshit, and how does one reverse brain damage like that anyways? But, I give them points for it kinda sorta being true, and also for NOT letting Doctor Wife magically get her memories back when Cop Dad returned her wedding ring to her. Smaller bonus points for Toughguy going Apocalypse Now on Terra Nova itself, thinking he was back in the ‘Nam (or future equivalent).

There was a side story about Rebellious Teen kissing Troublemaker Orphan then telling he really wanted to get his future girlfriend to Terra Nova. Since conflict doesn’t exist on this show, she was totally okay with all of this and hooked him up with a sketchy dude who claims to know how to get people here. No one seems interested in asking HOW. But we the audience know (a) because it’s obvious and (b) because the denoument of the episode shows Sketchy Joe (that’s his name now) taking to the Sixers about getting a girl from the future here. Because, duh, they obviously have some kind of gate of their own. This isn’t confirmed yet, but I’m pretty sure it’s true. So this storyline, which was given all of, hm, two minutes of screentime (Teen Wangst does not count towards that total), was the most interesting and lasting plot in the entire episode.

Episode 4, “The Runaway,” wasn’t great. Now, I’ve read a few reviews that are saying this episode was good because we found out more about the Sixers. We did, but we really didn’t. I personally learned their leader’s name is Mira, not Mila, and that they live in trees. Oh, and they send moppets to do their dirty work.

"Don't like pronouns."

So the Moppet is a runaway, supposedly, who wants to go back to Earth. She in truth is here to find something in Mira’s old house, some weird glass-ish looking box thing that has no discernible opening mechanism. Puzzle box time! But she’s doing this because Mira has said her Moppet Brother will be harmed if she doesn’t. Cop Dad hunts down the unfindable Sixers somehow, gets caught in a trap, and wakes up in a big treehouse. Mira says some cryptic stuff but never actually tells him anything. All we do is get more confirmation that Sixers don’t like the General, and that Terra Nova’s purpose is something other than what everyone’s been told. WELL, DUH. Thanks for restating what we already learned in the pilot, jackass. Cop Dad asks what this is and because the plot requires he remain in the dark until sweeps, Mira only says “You’ll see.” Then lets him and Moppet Brother go free. The Moppets are adopted by some other nameless woman which means we’ll never see them again.

Obviously, I find it an irritating problem that we learned nothing new at all. Mira and the Sixers had weird war paint on for some reason, and the Moppet’s poor excuse for “character development” was speaking with poor grammar and constantly telling us things she didn’t like. “Don’t like combs,” “don’t like chases,” “don’t like bad men,”– yeah, I “don’t like” your shitty excuses for lines! Girls her age can in fact speak in full sentences, writers! This is not making a character three-dimensional and interesting!

In the end, Cop Dad doesn’t tell Toughguy that Mira mentioned Terra Nova being a fortress lies. But why? Why doesn’t he tell him? What reason has Cop Dad got to not trust Toughguy, the man who let him live and gave him a job and has been nothing but great to him, other than a vague, unhelpful statement made by a woman who threatens kids into doing her bidding? None! He has no reason to hide anything from this man, other than that being what happens at this point in a completely predictable narrative.

Oh, and there’s a throwaway waste of time plot about Hermione not liking blood and her military boyfriend being more outdated than any reference I can possibly make by using terms like ‘courting’ and ‘call upon’. It’s called dating, Chivalrous Dumbass, and you were already in the middle of doing that, so why are you asking now? Was that intended to be him saying let’s make it Facebook official? Chivalrous Dumbass is too long. We’ll just call him White Knight, ’cause that’s the role he’s been given.

As Brandon put it, one thing that’s wrong with Terra Nova’s storytelling is that it’s the opposite of what LOST did right (mostly). LOST would tell you just enough of the story, show you just enough of the story, and not show you what you didn’t need to see. Terra Nova does exactly the opposite of all those things.

Terra Nova, Episode 2 “Instinct”

This isn’t getting any better.

First things first: title cards/sequences are very important. They need to be interesting, speak to the content and character of the show, and do something to hook you. The trend of the last five years or so has gone from credits sequence to title cards. Though it started prior to LOST, I believe LOST is what made this so very popular. Among the shows that do this well: LOST, Supernatural,  and Gossip Girl. Each very different (heck, Supernatural’s changes each year, and that’s one of the best things about it), but simple, to the point, and you get a pretty good idea what the show is about.

On the flipside, check out the nine seconds of suck that Terra Nova has come up with. Okay, I know you guys put most of your money into your dino CGI (and definitely not into actors, writers, directors, cinematography, etc), but this is embarrassing. This isn’t much better than what someone could’ve come up with in the mid-90’s. I actually burst out laughing when I saw this! And it’s not the family walking shot–that’s fine, if not terribly inspired. The CGI of Pangaea reforming is obviously a graphic you tossed off to some student intern to complete, and then forgot to have someone else make it look good before you threw it up on screen.

Moving on, we get into the story. Remember how I got irritated at the overused call-out to Chaos Theory and stepping on a

Our manly hero, folks. Oh no you didn't!

butterfly in the pilot? Right.

In Episode 2, we appropriately have two big ones! First up, birds aren’t scary! I admit I’ve never seen Hitchcock’s The Birds, but I have no doubt it managed to make birds terrifying in ways this episode did not. Birds, on their own, just aren’t scary. Visually-speaking, that is. If a real eagle or hawk or owl was diving for my face, yeah, I’d be scared as hell. But the things we’re shown here just aren’t hitting that note, and here’s why: they are poorly-implemented CGI. Good CGI implementation means you can’t even tell that’s what it is, because they make the interaction of CGI and humans intricate and hands-on. These birds just dive bomb at people and those people fall over. Uh…seriously? This one guy flips ass over tea kettle in a crowd scene from a bird diving at him. It’s far too ridiculous to be realistic, and I never bought into the premise that these birds killed three armed guards in the opener.

Second, the eventual fix for this situation is stolen from a number of sci-fi movies, but among them is Mega-shark vs. Giant Octopus.

Unless you're borrowing this, because this is GOLD.

Great schlock for a drinking game, but something you want to draw parralels to on your prime time network show? Nope! The trope is this, that they can lead these millions of breeding birds away by reproducing their pheromones, spraying it and getting them to follow Pied Piper-style to a new breeding ground (because Terra Nova was built on their previous breeding ground). And it freaking works. Man, I sure hope THAT spot isn’t one they decide they want to settle on later.

The pheromone science storyline is…aggravating. Whatever movie or TV show dreamed it up first may have done it well, but it’s become a laughing stock of a trope at this point, and it’s use, especially this early on, does not reassure me that this show will improve.

One of the other two biggest issues with this episode is that all of the really interesting scenes take place off-camera. Cop Dad needs to go hunt down some samples of the supposedly-killer birds so they can be studied, so he and the Colonel head on out in the rainy night and…well, I guess that went just fine, ’cause they’re back and they’ve got some birds. Okay, uh, sure. Well, back to the humdrum of the market scene with Teen Boy and Every Girl and oh noes! The birds are attacking en masse, flipping over soldiers with nary a dive bomb! Every one ducks under cover while this happen, and we cut to commercial on people huddling for safety. When we come back, there’s…oh. There are no birds of the dozens who filled the air before in sight, crisis averted, and though there were some scraps and awesome prat falls, no one is dead. Guess they found a way to clear them out pretty easily after all.

Well, now Jim & the Colonel need to start spraying the pheromones, driving off into the brush and leading a flock of instantly horny-for-this-ATV bird reptiles with them. But will it work? Where will they lead them? How will they get back, surround by such deadly avians? This is going to be some tense driving…oh. Uh, nevermind. They’re back now, I guess that was no problem at all.

Terra Nova, I don’t know if you know this, but…you’re a show about people trying to live in a world of dinosaurs. HAVE SOME ACTION SCENES ON CAMERA.

World's Worst Scientist, pictured here with Poor Man's Michelle Rodriguez.

And finally, the pseudo-science continues to be full of crap. Terra Nova was intentionally settled on a spot where they found thousands upon thousands of egg shell fragments in the dirt, because it made the soil fertile. They assumed that whatever laid these thousands of eggs had moved on. I’m no scientist, and you seem to have a few supposedly smart ones on your staff, so if even I think that’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard all episode (prior to the pheromone plan, of course), you’ve been duped by a resume full of lies, my friend. Additionally, no one’s come up with a better tire that’s more resistant to plot-contrived flats by 2149? And it bears repeating, three armed men can’t stop these bird-reptiles from plucking out their eyes and killing them?

You know, here’s the real problem with Terra Nova so far. It’s plot twists are completely unoriginal. We need a flat tire to be what strands our pre-credits victims in the forest? Why not have one of the birds fly at the vehicle and bring it to a halt? Why not have a Sixer attack leave them bereft of transportation, and thereby forward two plots? Actually, make that one plot, because the A-plot of this episode has no signs of bearing any thing to come in the future, except that World’s Worst Scientist wants to steal away Doctor Wife from Cop Dad, which was the B-plot at best and in no way thematically reflected in the A-plot. Interrupted sexy times for Cop Dad and Doctor Wife lead to discovering the reptile birds…and not, y’know, science or anything.

But hey, maybe they wanted to take it easy in the first couple of episodes. Not get too plot-arc heavy because it’s a prime time show on Fox, and shows that display intelligence early on die quickly on this network. Maybe come Episode 3, we can finally sink our teeth into something new and interesting and…

“While investigating radio silence at a nearby outpost, Elisabeth, Jim, Malcolm and Taylor discover an outbreak of a mysterious and fatal virus that causes memory loss.”

Oh, f*** you, show!

Meanwhile, in some other story…!

Like many, I love getting caught up in a story. And I love unexpected twists! Challenges I would not have forseen being thrown at the characters, turning the whole thing on its head–it’s great!

Except for when it’s not.

One such twist has happened in a book I’m currently reading called The Passage. And spoiler warning, though I will try to keep this fairly vague for those who may read it. The first portion of the book I very much enjoyed. Small town people collide with government conspiracies, a hint of mysticism that may just be insanity, big consequences for small actions, and clear tones of mystery and horror. Good stuff, and I wanted to read more.

(Okay, and really, here be spoilers)

Then the book took a drastic turn, jumped about 90 years into a future that was, due to international disaster, more like a throwback. Antiquated lifestyles, simpler living in smaller and more contained towns, horseback instead cars, bows and arrows instead of guns…all things that make sense give what’s happened, but it was incredibly jarring. There are two strikes against it here. One isn’t the book’s fault exactly, but it reminds me a lot of what happens in Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling. Also not a bad book, but I grew very tired of the characters and series as it clunked it’s way closer and closer to a headlong dive into fantasy after starting off as science fiction. Second, which is the book’s fault, at least thirty pages into this new section and it has yet to connect directly with the characters from the first chunk of the book. It lost that connection between one

Jess: Epitome of whiny bad boy asshole teenager, but still somehow a better boyfriend than Logan.

scene and the next, and rather than feeling like I’m seeing a natural progression, I feel like I’ve been

Then again, if Dean had stayed on Gilmore Girls, we would have been denied hotty Sam Winchester, so, thanks for your terrible taste in men, Rory!

unwittingly sucked into a spin-off of the show I was watching without anyone telling me. Aha! It’s a

Backdoor Pilot! (Or a Poorly Disguised Pilot, whatever you prefer.)

I’m trying to continue on–this section I’m in isn’t on it’s own all that bad, it’s just that the transition was so jarring and disconnected that it hasn’t really worked for me. I do want to know what comes of the stories unresolved from the earlier section as well, so it’s still worthwhile enough for me to push through.

The other thing that often jars me too much to keep reading is when a main character is suddenly just not who they are anymore. Something happens to change them–and that’s just fine, that should be happening–but when the change is too much, it’s hard to keep reading. You’ve been misled, the hero is not the person you spent the last half of the book reading about. And you just might not like them anymore, to boot.

This has happened to me twice. Both in my teen years. Spoiler alert again, this time for Mary Brown’s Master of Many Treaures and Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule. MoMT is a sequel, and I found the first book, Pigs Don’t Fly, to be really fun. This was a while back now, so my

Is it just me, or was there only one person drawing dragons for fantasy novel covers in the 90's?

memories of it are vague, but I recall enjoying it and liking the characters quite a bit. It had a cliffhanger ending, so I jumped into Book 2. And the characters got really annoying…I forget exactly why and how, but Summer, the protagonist, was just irritating and stupid, from what I do remember.

Somehow despite that she finds her true love in the end, and then suddenly there’s a really weird epilogue where….I think they got eaten by other dragons? Maybe? It was hard to figure out, but on top of everything dumb that had come before, this was the big ending for this pair? Seriously? No thank you! I actually think I skipped to the end, read that, and gave up on the rest of the book. The dumbing down (this may have been my first encounter with the Idiot Ball) and then quite literally even more character assassination, was jarring, annoying, and I had no interest in continuing on. There was just no point to the story at all. They did some stuff, and then they died, summed it all up.

The second instance was the opening novel of the Sword of Truth saga. Richard is all stalwart and heroic, he and Kahlan are in love, things are going alright halfway through even if he hasn’t killed the bad guy quite yet! Then he gets captured–ooo! This should be exciting, heroes rarely get captured, so I was expecting something good.

Uh…instead, I got leather-clad dominatrixes (dominatrices?) with magical pain sticks.

Yep. In a sword-and-sorcery fantasy novel. Evil dominatrices, out of nowhere. Wait, was this filed under the right section in the store?

So the Mord’Sith, as they are called, capture Richard, torture him with their pain sticks, break him entirely, have him basically begging for the pain from his mistress eventually, and I stopped

Hi, I'm here for the audition for--sorry, am I in the right studio? Are you sure?

reading. I’m told this was important because it enable him to kill out of love and not hate. Of course, I’m also told Richard, the good guy,  went on to use the enemies’ peasants as a meat shield further down the line, so all-in-all, I think I got out of that series at exactly the right time.

It’s worth noting, however, that despite the Mord’Sith, the TV show Legend of the Seeker knows exactly what it is and it’s a hilariously campy romp. I’m pretty sure Zed’s actor is constantly drunk.