How Fantasy Points to a Future World Nov20

How Fantasy Points to a Future World...

I am an escapist. I spend my time thinking about other worlds, dreaming about impossible things, and playing make-believe with my friends. But it’s hard to admit that I enjoy escaping. It only takes checking my Facebook feed to see all the pain and devastation in the real world. Just when I finished absorbing the details about the truck attack in New York City, I heard about the church shooting in Texas, and my heart breaks for everyone involved. I feel guilty setting those events aside for fantasy. If I really cared, shouldn’t I live in reality? As a Christian, shouldn’t I be focusing on how to make a difference? But one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the 20th century was an escapist too. C.S. Lewis wrote a children’s fantasy series, an adult science fiction trilogy, and several other speculative fiction works. The main characters in The Silver Chair, a later volume in Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia (I’m still waiting for the movie), are forced to believe in a reality that stifled imagination. Maybe stories like Lewis’s provide a glimpse into something new and fantastic. English children Jill and Eustace have been sent by Aslan to find Prince Rillian, who was kidnapped years ago. Aslan gives them instructions and sends them on their quest, but they miss and ignore the signs they’re supposed to follow. Their thoughts wander even more when they slide down a tunnel to the underworld and are taken by gnomes through cavern after cavern, down farther and farther until Lewis writes, “And the worst thing about it was that you began to feel as if you had always lived . . . in that darkness, and to wonder whether sun and blue skies and wind and birds had not...

Ms. Marvel Defines How to Be Yourself Aug23

Ms. Marvel Defines How to Be Yourself...

Nerds may not be the long-suffering social group they used to be, but I still don’t feel like I fit in any place where Star Wars isn’t a useful conversation starter. Hanging out at a bar isn’t fun for me. Fashion doesn’t intrigue me. I get more excited about a new superhero movie than a famous singer coming to town. I find working out boring, and I don’t even like the taste of coffee! But if I think I stick out at Starbucks with my hot chocolate and Boba Fett hat, I need to remember Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel, and how drastically different she feels from everyone around her. Kamala is a second-generation Pakistani Muslim teen living in Jersey City. Sometimes her heritage isn’t a big deal, but as a 16-year-old, she’s fed up with restrictions. Her religion means she eats different foods, dresses modestly, and celebrates holidays most people are unfamiliar with. Her parents want to keep her away from boys and wild parties, but she claims they won’t let her out because she’s a girl. Plus, her nerdy interests distance her from her straight-laced family and draw ridicule. She spends her time drooling over bacon sandwiches, writing superhero fan fiction, and questioning traditions at her mosque—such as why women have to sit separately from men. She imagines that if she became a hero, she’d take a page from her role model—Ms. Marvel, now rebranded as Captain Marvel: “I would wear the classic, politically incorrect costume and kick butt in giant wedge heels.” It’s fun to spend a few hours pretending to be someone vastly different from me. Whether I’m cosplaying or playing a roleplaying game, I get to put on a mask and act in ways I otherwise wouldn’t. I...

Things You Don’t Want Your DM to Say Jul21

Things You Don’t Want Your DM to Say...

It doesn’t matter what host of deities are included in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign—the Dungeon Master is lord of them all. It’s true, we wouldn’t have a game without a DM… but sometimes we wish they were a little less exultant about putting our characters through hell (sometimes literally). Here’s a list of things we’d rather not hear our DMs say. Add your additions in the comments section! “Everyone roll a perception check.” *Everyone rolls below 10.* “You notice the sun is rather bright today.” “So, everyone’s up to level 3, right? No one lower?” *announces random encounter* *Rolls dice and looks at the result* “Ooh, this will be fun.” “How many hit points do you have left?” *To players* “What time do you all need to leave tonight?” “Oh hey, I rolled a crit.” *After a really low roll on an investigation check* “You think it’s perfectly safe.” “More damage, I like it.” *After figuring out who’s keeping watch* “So you’re the one awake at midnight then.” “I’ve been thinking about your character this week . . .” *After a critical fail on a persuasion check* “Roll for initiative.” *On an NPC’s turn* “Can I borrow eight D6 from someone?” *Posted in the group chat before game...

The Forgotten Mothers of Star Wars May12

The Forgotten Mothers of Star Wars...

As origin stories go, the Skywalker twins have it fairly rough: they were orphaned not once, but twice. I don’t know much about the Organa and Lars families, but when I watch Luke and Leia, it’s clear they’ve been taught good values, and I wonder how much their mothers had to do with it. “My wife and I will take the girl. We’ve always talked of adopting a baby girl. She will be loved with us.” —Bail Organa, Revenge of the Sith Breha Organa, the queen of Alderaan and Senator Bail Organa’s wife, appears for a few seconds in the closing montage of Revenge of the Sith. The music swells, reminding me of Leia’s journey to come, and I imagine how Breha might have mothered the iconic princess. Breha wants a daughter, not just to train as an heir, but to love. Bail would have been busy on Coruscant for weeks or months at a time, resisting the Emperor as he siphoned away the Senate’s power—hardly a safe place for a young girl. Even though Breha was queen of a whole planet, I doubt Leia was reared by droids in a lonely nursery. “As a girl growing up and seeing Star Wars, of course you want to be Princess Leia. And to know that I’m actually playing her mother . . . I just kept thinking about those buns! . . . Maybe I taught her how to do those buns!” —Rebecca Jackson Mendoza, the actress who portrayed Breha Organa in Revenge of the Sith Leia’s title isn’t “junior senator” or “representative,” or some other role connected to the Senate. It’s “princess.” Early drafts of A New Hope name Leia as the daughter of Queen Breha, almost 30 years before her on-screen debut. Leia...

From Hogwarts to Heaven Apr12

From Hogwarts to Heaven

You’ve probably seen a post like this one on social media: “Which fictional world would you want to live in?” Answers abound, from a galaxy far, far away to Middle-earth, from the Enterprise to Hyrule. Hogwarts seems like a pretty common answer. Butterbeer-flavoured drinks abound, and Facebook filters let us proudly display our house affiliations—Gryffindor for me. Part of what makes Hogwarts so appealing is how much Harry loves it. I’ll never forget the image in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone of Harry jumping for joy and swatting at flying envelopes as they fill his living room—and he doesn’t even know their significance yet. Even small glimpses of magic are better than his dull, miserable days with the Dursleys. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia pretend he doesn’t exist, Dudley picks on him, he lives in a closet under the stairs, and people think he’s a freak when magical things happen to him. When he was younger, he “had dreamed and dreamed of some unknown relation coming to take him away,” but after he receives his letter, his wildest dreams come to life. Being unable to imagine Heaven’s perfection is the point. As a fantasy writer myself, I pondered J.K. Rowling’s choice to give her protagonist such a terrible childhood. Attending Hogwarts is not a trial he has to overcome; his parents left him both his magical gifting and the funds to afford Hogwarts. And why keep any knowledge of the magical world away from him for eleven years? I realized the answer was simple: to make the magic in her books even more magical—both for Harry and for us. If Harry’s life had been easier, if Harry had loving parents, nice siblings, and hadn’t experienced embarrassing magical accidents, then Hogwarts and everything with it—leaving home, meeting new people, confronting a mortal enemy, and intense schooling—would have been an everyday matter. But to Harry-who-lived-under-the-stairs, Hogwarts is a blessing and an escape. Hogwarts represents so many amazing things to Harry—making friends, gaining wisdom from caring teachers, learning astounding skills, discovering his parents, having a house to belong to, and being treated as an equal. A giant, soft, four-poster bed awaits him every night. The food appears out of nowhere, never runs out, and disappears without leaving dirty dishes behind. Harry could never have imagined somewhere so wonderful. The mystery and magic of a place like Hogwarts make me wonder if there are similar surprises for me in the afterlife. I believe I’ll go to Heaven after I die because of my faith in Christ, but I don’t exactly know what to expect. I know a few things. There will be no pain, no crying, no shame, no death, no evil, no deceit, no darkness, and life forever, for starters (Revelation chapters 21 and 22 discuss that). Why keep any knowledge of the magical world away from Harry for eleven years? To make the magic in her books even more magical. How can I even imagine something that perfect? The answer is: I can’t. And it’s hard to get excited about it when I can’t picture it. Instead, I seek the things this life offers. I have a job, an apartment, a car, plenty of food, a loving family, and more books than I know what to do with. I have my friends, my passions, my hobbies. I don’t want to miss out on life’s experiences, because they’re all I know. Heaven is going to be great, but it feels so abstract. Picturing sitting on clouds and strumming a harp is easier than trying to grasp the truth. But if I believe it exists, shouldn’t that knowledge affect my life somehow? How do I live like Heaven is all I’ve ever dreamed of and more? I think being unable to imagine its perfection is the point. I have to act on my faith, not on what I can see now. I...

The Dark Art of Bloodbending Mar03

The Dark Art of Bloodbending...

What separates an extraordinary power from a dark art? There are enough dangerous powers in the Harry Potter series to fill a class at Hogwarts and enough in Star Wars to power the Dark Side of the Force. In those stories, darkness is characterized by how a power is used. The Unforgiveable Curses are illegal and Force Lightning is frowned upon because they lead the users down a dark path. Bloodbending is another dark power. In Avatar: The Last Airbender, bloodbending is explored in detail, including how it’s mastered. Katara encounters a bloodbender in the Season 3 episode “The Puppetmaster.” Team Avatar is travelling through the Fire Nation in disguise when they meet Hama, a waterbender from the Southern Water Tribe. Hama has been living among her enemies as an innkeeper. She doesn’t tell Katara the full story of her escape from a Fire Nation prison until the two of them are alone under the light of the full moon, the time when waterbenders are the strongest. Decades ago, Hama was kidnapped from the southern water tribe with other waterbenders and locked up. Similar to Magneto’s prison of plastic, her prison was kept entirely water-free, and her hands were bound when she was given water to drink. She finally devised an escape plan that relied on the full moon’s extra strength. “I realized that where there is life, there is water,” she says. “The rats that scurried across the floor of my cage were nothing more than skins filled with liquid, and I passed years developing the skills that would lead to my escape—bloodbending. Controlling the water in another body. Enforcing your own will over theirs. Once I had mastered the rats, I was ready for the men.” She used the technique on a...

Taking Over Artemis

The multiplayer LAN strategy game Artemis might as well be titled Enterprise. The only thing preventing this is trademark law, since the creator of game and titular ship is in no way affiliated with Star Trek. But as my friends and I opened hailing frequencies, sounded alerts for enemy ships, and fired torpedoes, the name of the ship we ran stopped mattering. Artemis lets players become crew members on a ship tasked with protecting the galaxy from invaders. It’s a video game and a LARP at the same time, if you do it right. And by right, I mean yelling, “I’m giving it all she’s got, Captain!” in a Scottish accent and punctuating all commands with “Make it so.” My first time playing was in a dimly lit basement, sitting at a row of computers with the captain nearby, giving orders while looking at a giant projection of the ship’s movements on the wall. “Give me visuals,” “Do a long-range scan,” and “Fire when ready” were actual commands given, Captain-Kirk style. I was in Trekkie heaven. “I have been and shall always be” a Vulcan at heart, so the science officer position was a natural fit. I plotted jump calculations and scanned enemy ships for weaknesses. But during occasional downtime, I learned how communications, navigation, engineering and the other stations worked. And due to my type-A personality, I found myself trying to do them too, even when I was already occupied: How well would the Enterprise function if Chekov began telling Scotty how to run his engines? “Communications, offer terms of surrender to those two enemy ships on our tail,” I would order, even though Communications can see the enemy ships just as well as I can. “Helm, we need to be set on bearing...