Android Soup for the Soul: How Robots Model Humanity Aug06

Android Soup for the Soul: How Robots Model Humanity...

From the panicky, nameless robot in the original Lost in Space (reminding me to always warn others of danger) to the much more sophisticated hosts in the newest incarnation of Westworld (suggesting I should know myself and look for a way out of my loops), characters who are human-built offer a great way to explore our own issues. Comparing my humanity to various robots has certainly given me pause for thought. Unhappily Duty-Bound When I was in high school, I discovered The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I devoured the novels—there were only two at the time—and listened to bootleg cassette recordings of the radio programs over and over and over until I could perfectly quote every word. Douglas Adams’ off-beat sense of humour matched my own, as did Arthur Dent’s constant low-level frustration at life. My favourite character, though, was Marvin the Paranoid Android. Although Marvin spent a lot of his time in the background, I couldn’t help but identify with him. Nobody seemed to understand how brilliant he was and they were always giving him chores when he could be doing something more useful. I felt exactly the same! Maybe I didn’t have “a brain the size of a planet,” but I was pretty sure I was smarter than just about everyone around me. My memory is a little fuzzy at this point, but I have a terrible suspicion that I quoted Marvin under my breath—or possibly out loud when my parents told me, again, to take out the trash, or when my teachers assigned homework that I considered busy work. Looking back, I can’t imagine expressing my inner Marvin did much for my popularity. “Here I am, brain the size of a planet and they ask me to take you to...

If Thor and Loki Can Reconcile, So Can We...

It’s an understatement to say that Thor and Loki have a strained relationship in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Loki stabbing Thor during their childhood, after luring him in by transforming himself into a snake, seems like nothing after his later betrayals. After they became adults, Loki tries to steal Thor’s birthright as King of Asgard, and let’s not forget the continual lies and manipulation by the trickster god. I’m no stranger to sibling rivalry, but my brother and I never moved much beyond the “Mom! He’s bothering me!” stage. Though neither of us were in line for a kingship like Thor and Loki, their motivations feel familiar. Thor is the older brother. For his whole life he’s been told that he’ll be the one to take the throne and rule the kingdom. He may not be a born leader, but he was born to lead. I identify with that—a responsibility I didn’t ask for. Older than my only brother by six years, I tried to notice him as little as possible. If ever I turned my attention to him, it felt like I had to slow down so he could keep up. What ten-year-old is interested in playing games with a four-year-old, after all? Thor’s Inattention When we’re first introduced to him, Thor avoids any responsibility for others, including his younger brother. How might his first film have been different if he had treated Loki like an equal from the start? Against the wishes of his father, Odin, Thor takes his friends to attempt the conquest of Jotunheim—and Thor just assumes Loki will follow without complaint (he does, but not because of the loyalty that Thor assumes). Loki’s actions are his own, but Thor could have looked outside of his own interests. Focused on...

Registry Open for Secret Keeping 101 Jun08

Registry Open for Secret Keeping 101...

This course is required for all students enrolled in the Fundamentals of Superpowers program. Whether you want to dominate the world or stop someone else from ruling it, these skills are key to your success. (Note: If you’re looking for the “superhero only” track, we suggest you apply to that school in Westchester or go back for remedial instruction at Sky High.) Course Modules Part 1: Secret Identity Have you ever wondered why superheroes try so hard to maintain a secret identity? Guest lecturer Chuck Bartowski will go over the pros and cons, with special emphasis on protecting your family and how to deal with all your relatives turning out to be spies. If you insist on a secret identity, we will devote two class sessions to how to sneak away from a hostage situation so you can put on your superhero costume (or whatever) to save your friends. Part 2: Not-So-Secret-Identity Sometimes everybody thinks they’re keeping your secret from everyone else, and you just have to go along with it. Buffy Summers will guest lecture on her experience of winning the “Class Protector” award and how to misdirect outsiders who ask about the obituaries section in the school newspaper. We’ll analyze various techniques, including “hiding in plain sight” (e.g. the super-secret black SUVs with Torchwood written on the front), “wearing glasses,” and “hopefully no one notices I’m suddenly buff.” Part 3: Secret Facilities Common locations include rundown warehouses, abandoned amusement parks, and spacious sewers. Wealthier aspiring supers may opt for more elaborate facilities such as corporate towers, underwater domes, or volcano bases. We will discuss specialty realtors and contractors who can assist in this endeavor and how to clean up your tracks. Lectures will contrast the new Avengers base (not secret) with Dr....

Westworld and Basing Our Identity on Others May21

Westworld and Basing Our Identity on Others...

Spoiler Alert: This article contains details from Season One of Westworld. For the artificial hosts of the TV series Westworld’s resort, life is a daily invitation to be lied to, cheated, shot, or assaulted—all in the service of letting humans have a good time. In the first episode of Westworld, I wondered if the hosts had unexplored potential. Bernard (the lead designer of the hosts’ behavioural algorithms) is interviewing a host named Dolores. While she sits unblinking, he asks, “Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?” Author and mystic Thomas Merton writes, “Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self . . . My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love—outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion.” Living with humility is the hard work of pushing through the self-image I’ve created and deciding who I really am. In essence, when I define myself by outside forces, my “false self” conforms to other people’s ideas. The hosts of Westworld exist solely to prop up other people’s illusory selves. Similarly, we often do what we think other people want us to and let our actions define our identity. Fortunately for us, Merton suggests a way to shed the illusion and own the truth about ourselves; his solution is humility. If we are open to the circumstances of our own lives, pay attention to what really matters, and avoiding the temptation to feed our ego by imitating or placating others, we may find a more substantial basis for our identities. Living with humility is the hard work of pushing through the self-image I’ve created and deciding who I...

Let the Guy in the Chair Be Your Guide Mar26

Let the Guy in the Chair Be Your Guide...

“Can I be your guy in the chair?” When Ned finds out that his buddy Peter Parker is actually Spider-Man, he wants in on the action. He puts himself forward as Peter’s self-appointed “handler;” the guy who tracks Peter’s movements and provides information just in time. This proves both useful—and comic—at the climax of Spider-Man: Homecoming when Peter is battling the Vulture and Ned provides backup from the school library. Ned shuttles between computers using a rolling office chair, tracking Peter’s phone, calling Happy Hogan and telling Peter how to find the lights on the car he’s appropriated. Thrilled to be helping, Ned blissfully exclaims, “Guy in the chair!” Ned is just the latest in a long line of “guys in the chair” in pop culture. Where would Kim Possible have been without Wade? Neo, Trinity and Morpheus would have been lost without Tank manning the switchboard on the Nebuchadnezzar. Without Chloe O’Brien, Jack Bauer wouldn’t have made it through eight seasons and three movies. Tony Stark needed help so badly that he built Jarvis. The price of ignoring my conscience and other sources of wisdom can be high. And I’m a little jealous. What I wouldn’t give for my own personal “guy in the chair.” When I leave for work, my guy would tell me traffic conditions and the quickest route. When I need data in a meeting, he’d have it ready. At the grocery store, he could inform me if I’m getting the best deal and how to tell a ripe melon from a dud. Forget battling villains, having a “guy in the chair” available 24/7 would be a huge time saver. A “guy in the chair” is a lot more than just a source of information, though. He can also be...

The Best Superpower: ReBoot demonstrates Reconciliation Jan24

The Best Superpower: ReBoot demonstrates Reconciliation...

Forget flight, invisibility, or super speed—the best superpower is the ability to adapt to any situation. It would be awesome to know that whatever came my way, I could just activate my power and be ready to handle it. Sort of like what happens in the TV series ReBoot. In case you missed it, ReBoot was a Canadian TV show set inside a computer called Mainframe. Rendered in glorious low-poly CG, the show followed the adventures of a guardian sprite named Bob along with his friends Dot, Enzo, and Phong. Together they battled various evils, including Megabyte and his vicious sister Hexadecimal. In pretty much every episode, the “user” loaded a game in Mainframe and the characters found themselves compelled to win or be nullified. When a game launched, they double-tapped the icons on their chests, shouted “Reboot!” and turned into game sprites. If it was a fantasy game, they were equipped with chainmail. If it was a space adventure, they were in spacesuits. If it was racing, they sported helmets and fire suits. If you know that forgiveness isn’t going to make you feel better, why bother? Double-click and instant change! I kind of wish forgiveness worked like that. As a Catholic, I partake in the sacrament of reconciliation, where I tell God what I’ve done wrong, express my remorse and resolve to avoid sin in the future. Theologically, the sacrament removes the sin from my soul. What it doesn’t do is take away the real-world consequences. If I have wronged a friend, that hurt doesn’t go away. I might have spiritually rebooted with the intent to be a better person, but I still have to figure out how to deal with the damage I’ve done. Maybe rebooting isn’t quite the superpower I...

Your Time Travel Pre-Flight Briefing Dec01

Your Time Travel Pre-Flight Briefing...

*Bing Bong* Ladies and gentlemen, I’m Captain Preston, your timepilot. On behalf of myself and first officer Logan, I’d like to welcome you aboard Wells Timeways flight number ?. If you’ll direct your attention to the front of the craft, our chief flight attendant Sarah will give you a brief safety … um … briefing. *Bing Bong* Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for travelling with us today… and tomorrow and tomorrow and all our yesterdays. For those of you who are new to time travel, please pay close attention. For those of you who have travelled with us before, you already know what I’m going to say—but bear with me. Before we begin, ensure that your carry-on luggage is safely stowed in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you. Whether you’ve brought along your twelve monkeys, your source code, a ticking clock or a triangle please make certain you keep the safely stowed. In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, nothing will drop from the ceiling. This timecraft is a Hartdegen 7{x}{y} and it has several built-in safety features. Chief among these is your 12-point restraint harness. You can fasten the harness by pulling the upper straps over your shoulders, wrapping the lower straps around your waist and putting the belt low and across your lap. Connect the harness by fastening tabs A, B, C, D, and F into buckles G, H, I, J, and L. Your cabin crew will be by to connect tabs E and K to ensure you won’t be able to get up without assistance. In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, nothing will drop from the ceiling. You’ll all be pulled irrevocably into the timeline, so there’s no point...

Finding Hope the Replicant Way Nov06

Finding Hope the Replicant Way...

In Blade Runner’s world, the only thing darker than the City of Angels is the hearts of the people who live there. As imagined by Ridley Scott, the Los Angeles of 2019 is a dismal, rainy place. Unnamed environmental catastrophes have poisoned the Earth to the point that the best option—as announced by the ever-present advertising blimps—is to get off the planet. The streets are a neon-lit warren of storefronts and stalls where vendors compete for the money and attention of a perpetually weary populace.  Life seems to be a grim march toward a lonely death. It is a world devoid of joy and hope. This cold, wet hellscape is ground zero in a battle which asks what it really means to be human. As the opening text scroll explains, the Tyrell Corporation has created genetically-engineered robots (called replicants) which are virtually indistinguishable from humans. Replicants are slave labour; tasked with the most difficult and dangerous jobs and forbidden from living on Earth. Furthermore, to keep them in check, they are engineered with a four-year lifespan. They are considered mere machines to be used and discarded at the whim of their human creators. How do I hope for change in a dark world? Rick Deckard is the Blade Runner—a policeman who has the task of identifying and killing replicants who make it to Earth. Like the other humans in the film, he views the replicants as mere mechanisms. In an early conversation with Rachel, he says, “Replicants are like any other machine—they’re either a benefit or a hazard. If they’re a benefit, it’s not my problem.” He hunts and kills them with uncaring efficiency; the way a programmer might hunt down and eliminate errors in a block of code. More disturbingly, he later orders...

Logan’s Run and the Question We Don’t Want Asked Oct23

Logan’s Run and the Question We Don’t Want Asked...

No one wants to know when they’re going to die. But for some reason, I am fascinated by a society built around the notion. The novel-turned-movie Logan’s Run deals with a shiny dystopian future that indulges your every desire, but demands that you give up your life at thirty. A crystal in the palm of your hand maps out your life in colours—white, yellow, green, red, and finally black. A few citizens decide to seek escape, running from the safety of the vast, domed city. A squad of elite policemen—the Sandmen—pursue and kill them. The penalty for trying to avoid death is… well… more immediate death. The runners choose to run because they have heard of a mythical safe place called Sanctuary. The computer that runs the city selects a Sandman named Logan 5 to find and destroy Sanctuary. As motivation, the computer adjusts Logan’s lifeclock and steals his remaining four years. He goes from 26 to 30 in an instant. He lifeclock blinks red-and-black, signaling that he has just 24 hours left. Having no other options, Logan takes the assignment. Most of us don’t face the immediate deadline that motivates Logan. In high school, I kept coming back to the story because I was just beginning to grapple with the question of mortality. Logan has an innate desire to survive that drives his mad quest for sanctuary. He didn’t think dying was something he’d have to worry about for another four years. But with a day to live and very little to go on, Logan follows one clue—an ankh he stole from a terminated runner—and connects with a younger woman named Jessica. She wears the ankh and he suspects she has ties to the runners’ underground, so he convinces her he’s a runner...

In Case You Missed Your Hogwarts’ Acceptance Letter Sep08

In Case You Missed Your Hogwarts’ Acceptance Letter...

Maybe you’re not heading to Hogwarts or Starfleet Academy, but good news, everyone! There are some other amazing options out there. Jack Sparrow’s Colloquy of Sailing and Diplomacy Students at this prestigious institution will learn the basics of sailing in an authentic haunted vessel. Navigation is covered with special emphasis on using magic tools to find your heart’s desire. The basics of Caribbean diplomacy—including misdirection, bait-and-switch, and general skullduggery—are at the heart of our instruction. Whether you want to serve on a pirate crew or master your own vessel, Jack Sparrow’s school is for you! And, best of all, you can pay your tuition in rum! The Guy-in-the-Chair College Want to be part of the superhero scene without all the spandex, physical exertion, and danger? The Guy-in-the-Chair Academy is the place for you! You’ll learn valuable skills such as “looking things up on the internet” and “looking other things up on the internet, but on a different computer.” With particular emphasis on “finding the answer just in the nick of time,” our esteemed faculty include Wade Load, Chloe O’Brien, and Ned Leeds. Cypher, the founder of the college, is sadly no longer available to teach. The Hoban Washburne Memorial Flight School Tired of being stuck just watching all of those cool space maneuvers on screen? Want to get in on the action? Transmit your application today! Study the art and science of “On Time Delivery” and “Flying with Instruments” with Turanga Leela. Or spend some time on “Improvised Piloting” with co-instructors Poe and Finn. Gain real skills in “Evasion and Exposition” with Hikaru Sulu. The Winchester Institute of Monster Hunting Founded by the Winchester family, all courses at the institute are taught by Sam and Dean. Class sessions are held approximately whenever they are...

Introducing Non-Geeks to Your Fandom Aug04

Introducing Non-Geeks to Your Fandom...

One of the best parts of having a fandom is introducing new people to your favourite characters and worlds. Having someone to share your enthusiasm is great, but take the wrong approach and you’ll ruin it for them. Here are a few things to avoid when recruiting new fans. Never introduce them to the wrong point in the story—especially if it’s a series. You’re not a Harry Potter fan? Oh! Here, let me read you the best scene in book six. You’ll cry buckets! You’re going to love Doctor Who! We’ll start with the first Doctor—William Hartnell—and his granddaughter Susan. The show doesn’t really pick up until the third Doctor, but if you don’t watch the later episodes first you’ll never get all the nuances. Pro-tip: Any episode of The Starlost is the wrong episode to start with—that’s why you’ve never heard of it. Never assume that they’ll love a fandom just because it features actors they like in other properties. You like Sandra Bullock and Sylvester Stallone, right? You’re going to love Demolition Man! If you think Han Solo was a great character, wait until you meet Rick Deckard. Yeah, John de Lancie was great in Next Gen, but he was completely awesome as Discord. Pro-tip: Don’t try to sell someone on Interstellar just because Elyes Gable from Scorpion has a bit part in it. Never use their non-geek interests to introduce them to your fandom. You like weddings? You’re going to love season three of Game of Thrones. Politics is your thing? You’ve got to see the senate scenes in Attack of the Clones. Pro-Tip: Don’t try to sell them on the Saw movies based on their interest in anatomy. Never tell them they’ll like a fandom because they remind you of...

Seeing Chell: Portal and Seeking Approval...

There was a moment in the first Portal game that I remember with utter clarity. I had fired an orange portal at the wall behind me and then a blue one at the wall ahead of me. There, framed in the glowing, blue ring, I could see Chell’s back. As I moved, she moved. A strange, out-of-body feeling flushed through me and for a brief moment, Portal was so much more than a video game. It was a revelation. The phrase “seeing yourself clearly” suddenly took on layers of new meaning. I was, of course, literally seeing Chell from a new perspective. More importantly, I started to think about how others might perceive me. What did they see when they looked at me? When they interacted with me? In my own mind, I was witty and caring and generally fun to be around. Was that really true? Maybe others had an entirely different view of who I was and how I behaved. Maybe I was really a downer who made people uncomfortable or unhappy. So I started paying close attention to what people said and how they behaved around me. I was looking for clues about myself. In the game, Chell spends her time looking for clues about how to escape the Aperture Science Testing Center. The only feedback she gets is from the wicked and slightly manic AI named GlaDOS. After Chell is awakened from suspended animation, she is subjected to multiple tests involving logic, spatial reasoning, and the threat of imminent death. At first, GlaDOS seems helpful, if a bit creepy. But at some point, perhaps after she gives Chell the following warning, you realize GLaDOS isn’t all that benevolent. It says so here in your personnel file: unlikeable. Liked by no...

Understanding the World through Star Trek Jun19

Understanding the World through Star Trek...

Star Trek debuted on television two years after I was born. I never knew a world without it and, in a lot of ways, the series and I grew up together. My father served in the U.S. Air Force and we moved frequently during my childhood. Dad’s postings took us from Nevada to the United Kingdom and back across the Atlantic to Idaho and Texas. Through all of that, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest of the Enterprise crew were the fixed stars in my universe. Because I was young when I first saw the series, my limited vocabulary led me to the conclusion that the series was called Star Truck and that the Enterprise was their “truck” for space travel. When we left the U.S. for the U.K. I remember watching episodes with my babysitter. At least until we saw What Are Little Girls Made Of? and the idea of human-seeming androids scared me so badly I stayed away from the show for a while, at least until my return to the U.S. when I bonded with some local Idaho geeks over our shared love of the series. From the beginning, I loved Star Trek because of the “cool” factor. I’d watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, so it wasn’t hard to believe that we’d have crews out exploring the galaxy before long. The series opened the door for me to understand an exciting future world. It also helped me understand my own world. When I realized that I could apply the show to my life, it opened a new world of ideas for me. Growing up in a military household has its own unique challenges. The frequent moves, the possibility that the active duty parent might be sent around the world...

Surprised by Moms May05

Surprised by Moms

My wife made our youngest son a Companion Cube cake for this seventeenth birthday. Instead of singing the usual “Happy Birthday,” she delivered it to the table with a pitch-perfect rendition of “Still Alive.” Nearly a decade later, that moment still stands out in his memory. He was surprised by—and delighted with—his mom’s unexpected geek cred. Moms can surprise us if we let them. In Sing!, a movie about talking animals and a singing competition, Rosita doesn’t necessarily want to surprise her family, but she wishes she had a little more of their support. When we first meet her, she’s working in the kitchen trying to get her brood of piglets ready for school. Katy Perry’s “Firework” is playing on the radio and Rosita sings along. She even manages a couple of dance steps between the sink and the table. The mood is broken when one her piglets jumps up on the table and entertains his siblings by making fun of her singing. She appeals to her husband, asking him to tell their brood what a good singer she is. You would think that after fifty-two years, I’d know my mother pretty well. “Oh yeah you were great, honey,” he says. Then adds, “by the way the bathroom sink is blocked again.” It’s a shame Rosita didn’t sing a bit more. Maybe her family would have heard the lyrics and realized they were missing something important. Do you ever feel Already buried deep Six feet under Screams but no one seems to hear a thing Do you know that there’s Still a chance for you ‘Cause there’s a spark in you Rosita has a spark—a genuine and surprising talent—but no one in the family can see it. I wonder how often I’ve been blind...

Who Is Mira Killian? Apr17

Who Is Mira Killian?

In the live action version of Ghost in the Shell, Mira Killian believes she understands her purpose. She and her parents drowned when their refugee boat was sunk by techno terrorists. Her parents’ deaths were final, but Mira is granted a second life through the miracle of robotic technology. Her brain—the only salvageable part of her original being—was implanted in a new robot body. Motivated by her own tragedy and a desire to stop future attacks, Mira works tirelessly for the anti-terrorist bureau called Section 9. Within a year, she’s promoted to the rank of major and responds more readily to her rank than her name. Her job is her identity. Her world starts to shift when a terrorist hacker beings killing high-level employees of Hanka Robotics, the company that built her body. While working the case, she begins experiencing glitches—brief visual hallucinations—that leave her feeling uneasy. Her creator, Dr. Ouelet, erases the glitches and assures Major that they are nothing to worry about. She also encourages Major to keep taking the medication that keeps her flesh brain from rejecting her robot body. In a reflective moment in Dr. Ouelet’s lab, Major says, “Everyone around me, they feel connected to something… connected to something I’m not.” It’s the first time that Major gives voice to the idea that she might be on the wrong path—that she might not be fulfilling her proper role. She might have benefitted from the insight of theologian and author Parker Palmer: Today I understand vocation quite differently—not as a goal to be achieved, but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. So long as she doesn’t really...

Invading Worlds in Zootopia Apr14

Invading Worlds in Zootopia...

When you’re a little mammal, the world can be a big and scary place. Stu and Bonnie Hopps know this and go out of their way to emphasize the danger to their daughter, Judy. For her part, Judy courageously leaves the small town of Bunnyburrow for the big city of Zootopia. She’s convinced that she’s going to make her mark on the world as a police officer, despite her parents’ inhibitions. She plans to conquer the world by doing good deeds. As it turns out, there are a LOT of worlds for her to conquer. The boroughs of Zootopia include a variety of cultures and biomes, and each has a distinct vibe and a unique climate. Judy learns to handle the physical challenges during her time at the police academy, but learning to connect with the different species takes a little longer. Her first attempt at being a “do-gooder” doesn’t work out as expected. She encounters a fox by the name of Nick Wilde. It seems like he and his son are being discriminated against in an elephant neighborhood. Judy steps in, asserts her authority, and goes away feeling pretty good about herself. Except the good feeling fades away when she realizes that Nick is a smooth-talking con-man, his “son” is an adult, and the two of them are running a just-barely-legal scam to turn a quick buck. Staying in my own world and refusing to step into others is a challenge. Judy is furious at Nick for hustling her and at herself for falling for it. She had made one of the classic mistakes of a would-be hero; she invaded Nick’s world instead of entering it. I’m often guilty of the same thing. I reach out to help someone, but I don’t take...

Bad Blood in Captain America: Civil War Mar22

Bad Blood in Captain America: Civil War...

Did you have to do this? I was thinking that you could be trusted. Did you have to ruin what was shiny? Now it’s all rusted. In early 2016, somebody remixed the Captain America: Civil War trailer with Taylor Swift’s song “Bad Blood.” The result was amazingly effective and highlighted the film’s central theme—it’s easier than you think for good friends to turn into bitter enemies. The Avengers have fought side-by-side through two films; stopping the Chitauri invasion and defeating Ultron. Not that they always got along; Tony Stark and Steve Rogers clearly favoured different ways of doing things. When all was said and done, though, they set aside those differences and stood together against a common enemy. That camaraderie ended in Civil War. After a mission goes sideways in Lagos and several humanitarian workers from Wakanda die as collateral damage, Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross tells the team that they can no longer act independently. The forthcoming Sokovia Accords will place the team under direct UN control. Tony and Steve suddenly find themselves in conflict. The hard choice is to value the relationship over “winning” the argument. “We need to be put in check! And whatever form that takes, I’m game. If we can’t accept limitations, we’re boundaryless, we’re no better than the bad guys,” Tony argues. Steve counters, “If we sign this, we surrender our right to choose. What if this panel sends us somewhere we don’t think we should go? What if there’s somewhere we need to go and they don’t let us? We may not be perfect, but the safest hands are still our own.” Just like that, two friends—or at least colleagues—pull away from each other and start staking out territory as enemies. I’d like to think that I’m...

Danger is Part of the Journey Feb24

Danger is Part of the Journey...

In the restaurant of life, the main dish of parenthood comes with a huge side order of worry. You are also served anxiety sauce and nervous seasoning. Every time your child makes a decision, you wonder about the consequences. And when your child doesn’t listen to your wise counsel, you realize that you’ve raised someone who is headstrong and foolish. Certainly Chief Tui felt that way about Moana. She was his daughter, the light of his life, and the next chief of Motunui. She was his hope for the future of his people. All she had to do was follow the path he’d laid out for her—follow the rules, learn from him, and take over when her time came. What he didn’t realize was that his plan depended on an unchanging world. As long as everything stayed more-or-less as it always had, Moana and the people of Motunui would be fine. Things don’t stay the same, though. Centuries before Moana’s time, the demi-god Maui had stolen the heart of the goddess Te Fiti. He intended to give it to humanity as a gift to earn their love. He lost it in the sea and the world began a slow collapse. Islands died, their vegetation turning black and lifeless, and the fish became scarce. I probably advise my children out of fear. Motunui was a long way from the destruction, so the people of Chief Tui’s tribe didn’t notice that the world was changing. The destruction was spreading, though. They couldn’t escape it forever. The ocean chose Moana as its champion to return the heart. Soon after, the darkness began to touch Motunui. Vegetation died and the fish vanished. Moana suggested sailing beyond the reef, but her father forbade it. The island supplied all their...

When You Treat People as Things Jan09

When You Treat People as Things...

There wasn’t supposed to be a war that day. Captain Jankowski of the Earth Alliance cruiser Prometheus was exploring to expand Earth’s territory. He never expected to come nose-to-nose with a flotilla of Minbari warships. For their part, the Minbari hadn’t been expecting a war either. Theirs was an errand of investigation, an attempt to confirm recent sightings of a feared and ancient enemy, the dreaded Shadows. But naturally, when they encountered Captain Jankowski’s ship, they offered a greeting of respect as their tradition demanded: they opened their gunports. As a warrior and a man given to quick judgements, Captain Jankowski misinterpreted the intent of the Minbari and fired. He couldn’t have known that the ship he attacked contained the Grey Council—the ruling body of the Minbar Federation. Dukhat, a beloved leader, was killed in the attack and the council reacted with instant hatred. In a unanimous vote, they declared war upon the Earth Alliance. This battle and the ones that followed formed an important part of the backstory for Michael J. Straczynski’s series Babylon 5. A misunderstanding sent two races stumbling toward Armageddon. We mentally classify people, neatly sorting them into the boxes we have in our minds. This story isn’t the first tale of interstellar conflict born from misunderstanding. When Ender’s Game opens, humanity has survived two major wars with the alien Buggers. In the most recent engagement, the hero Mazer Rackham defeated them when he realized that they operate as a hive mind. Fearing a third invasion, the governments of Earth built an international fleet headquartered on the asteroid Eros. The stated purpose of the fleet was to defend Earth from a third invasion. In truth, the governments of Earth were preparing to end the war permanently by taking the fight...

Mara Jade, a Redeemed Villain Jan04

Mara Jade, a Redeemed Villain...

There was a time when Mara Jade had it all. She was a favoured agent of Emperor Palpatine, called by the title “Emperor’s Hand.” She enjoyed a life of privilege, which included a personal starship, a droid companion, and private quarters on Coruscant. All she had to do was carry out the Emperor’s will. Acting on Palpatine’s behalf, she eliminated corrupt Imperial officials, Jedi who survived Order 66, and anyone else the Emperor deemed worthy of death. Although few in the Empire knew about her, they would have been jealous of her if they had. She was, after all, advancing the Empire’s interests. Then Luke Skywalker and the Rebel Alliance ruined everything. When Palpatine died at the Battle of Endor, Mara’s life crumbled. She blamed Skywalker and made it her life’s ambition to kill him. It seemed like the right thing to do. Not only is she flawed and human, but she also finds redemption. When Timothy Zahn first introduced Mara Jade in Heir to the Empire in 1991, he could not have foreseen her popularity. She has become a fan favourite and has appeared in novels and comics well beyond what Zahn originally intended. Her backstory—which he sketched out in his novels—has been extensively documented in other stories. Ask any group of fans about her and one or two of them will likely say, “Mara Jade? She’s awesome! I love her.” Really? Why? She was an assassin; a tool the emperor used to destroy his enemies. That hardly qualifies her for “role model” status. I think part of the appeal is that she is a strong, complex character. We can identify with her struggles. She commits evil acts, but her heart sometimes betrays her and she is drawn toward the light. In other...