Prompt — Aenendium

“But here’s the kicker,” Lex continued, a wide grin on his face. “When she told him that they were over, you know what he said?”

“No, what?”

“He said ‘Yeah, and so are all your other relationships.’ And then he showed her the Voice he had taken from the night before. He called every other guy she was cheating on him with that morning.” By the time Lex had finished his story, he had already brought himself to tears with laughter.

Despite herself, Neda smiled. “That’s pretty devious of him.”

He wiped away the last of his tears. “Sometimes I’m jealous of how awesome my brother is.”

“And how every relationship he’s in seems to fail within a few months?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Well, maybe not that part. But at least it doesn’t bother him. Plus he gets so many good stories out of it!”

“Alright,” Neda said, setting a serious tone. “We’re here, and you need to focus.”

Lex frowned at the huge, boulder-like object before them. “Why do I need to focus? Your Scanner is going to be doing all the work.”

“Hardly,” she replied. “Tink can only examine the contents and pack it away.”

“You really named it?”

“Sure. Every Scanner has personality. Tink’s front camera is busted, so he doesn’t know when to start scanning until he actually hits the target. You’ll see. But there’s a procedure to mining. First, examine the object.”

Lex rolled his eyes. What a waste of time. “It’s a big rock that’s dark and gray.”

“That’s unusual. Most of the iron in the Needled Flats is red from oxidization. What does that tell you?”

“That we should have ‘Tink’ scan it because it can actually tell us what it’s made of.”

“You’ll never be a miner if you want to have robots do all the work. You have to look at it and know whether or not it’s worth your time before you even scan it. What if it’s just a giant chunk of iron coated in some other material?”

“How many times do I have to tell you people I don’t want to be a miner?!” Lex looked exasperated, using wide hand gestures to help convey his annoyance.

“Not my problem,” Neda shrugged. “Your mother asked me to take you, and I’ll be damned if I don’t take you back without teaching you something worthwhile. Now tell me. What else is interesting about this boulder?”

“It’s sharp. Unusually sharp. The high winds in the Needled Flats erodes the spires and makes them smooth, so even if this was a piece of one it shouldn’t be sharp.”

“And?”

“And it’s all alone. There’s no spire nearby for this to have broken off from.”

“So, what’s the diagnosis?”

“It’s out of place. It might still be iron, like you said, but it doesn’t look quite right. It does look like it’s been here a while, but it seems to have been placed here deliberately.”

Neda nodded, showing some approval for once. “Good! Is it worth a scan?”

“If I say no, can we go home?”

“The sooner you answer my questions correctly, the sooner we can go home.”

“Then yes, it’s worth a scan.”

Neda crouched down to the little rover and activated its scanning mechanism. The robot perked up almost like a small animal being roused from it’s sleep. It started rolling forward towards the boulder, submerging slightly in the small puddles.

It didn’t stop once it got close enough to scan. Instead, the robot bumped against the rock with a soft ‘tink!’, to which Neda glanced at Lex and winked. Backing up, Tink started scanning the boulder, shining a bright, horizontal light against its surface that spanned up and down with a soft buzz.

After a moment, the light cut out, and Neda jogged over to the robot and looked at the screen to examine the results.

“Gods above,” she murmured.

“What does it say?” Lex asked, following behind.

“Ninety-six percent Aenendium,” she said.

“Aenendium?”

“The strangest metal ever discovered. It is only found on Asamos in extremely rare circumstances, and doesn’t fit on the Periodic Table. Our scientists have never been able to manufacture it.”

“What does that mean?”

“With a deposit this massive,” she pondered. “We could change the world. It would destroy the economy.”

Lex frowned. “So what do we do?”

Neda pulled out her Voice and began tapping numbers into it. “I don’t know. This is big. I have to call my administrator.”

It didn’t seem as though Lex would be going home any time soon. But somehow, that was okay with him.

 

Prompt:iron_sea_kuldar_leement_by_kuldarleement-dbbn3l4

Review — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

I’m not quite sure what the general consensus for this movie has been, or if it’s one of those “love it or hate it” situations, but overall I would say this is probably the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s weakest movie to date. That said, I did enjoy it, I just think they could have done a lot better with it. Since this is a new movie, no plot-relevant spoilers ahead, though I will be talking about the first few scenes.

As far as “movie adaptations” go, I think as a general rule it’s okay for a movie to diverge from whatever the original story is, regardless of the medium it’s derived from. I’m not upset when things don’t happen in the movies the same way they happened in the comics, primarily because I’m not very familiar with the comics, but also, there will always be too many different factors at play. You can never translate anything perfectly to film, there will always be things that are different. This is indisputable by virtue of the fact that many of those mediums require imagination, and movies take that aspect away, and you can’t stay true to everyone’s imagination in any circumstance.

So I’m not upset when this movie is different from the comics. I don’t know the comics, this is the only time I’ve seen these characters. I am upset when the plot rides the back seat to let jokes steer the wheel, however. I think the first Guardians of the Galaxy had lots of humor in it, and everybody loved it, so this time around they made the movie about the humor. Now, I’m okay with comedy movies, but I wouldn’t have even put this movie and it’s predecessor in the same genre, and that’s what the problem is here. We’re sacrificing character development and story telling to let sex jokes and obscure references take the forefront, and that isn’t what I signed up for. I think anyone that is told this upfront before seeing the movie will enjoy it a lot more.

The part that I liked the most was the first scene. The team fighting that horrible beastie while Baby Groot dances to a song is I think holds true to the original movie, and I loved it (especially when Gamora yells at Groot, and then smiles and waves cause she’s talking to a baby). But when they finish that scene and get to Sovereign, we’re immediately thrown into an info dump that has no immediate relevance to the plot. We’re given a ton of backstory that didn’t even fit the conversation, let alone the scene, and that was really confusing. Any time you describe a process to your audience just to teach them how things works, you’re doing something wrong. You have to at least make it make sense with the scene!

I did enjoy seeing more of the less important characters from the first movie. We get more interaction from Yondu and Nebula, and I do like what they added to the development of things. Their character arcs were very predictable, but that’s not always a bad thing.

Overall, the thing that I hated the most were the jokes. It wasn’t that there were too many, it’s that the execution on several of them were so poor. There were lines that didn’t fit with their character and jokes that grabbed the low hanging fruit, as Howard Taylor might say. Much of the humor in this movie was pretty low brow, and I don’t think it was suited to the plot at all.

All that said, I would still give it an overall positive score. I’m still excited to see more of these characters, I just think this could have been a lot better than it was. I suppose Marvel proved that it wasn’t infallible with this movie. Okay, it already proved that with the Iron Man sequels and a few others, but I still thoroughly enjoyed those!

Prompt — A Long Life’s Work

Three, sharp knocks on the door. Brian, spooked, took a deep, careful exhale as he paused his work. He climbed down from his precarious seating atop the cupboards, down to the living room floor, and tiptoed over to greet the unexpected guest. When he pulled the door open, a stern man in a black uniform stood on the other side. He had a blue patch on one shoulder. Not a normal cop, then. A census regulator.

“Mr. Brian Fisher?” the officer stated.

“Yes, that’s me. Not so loud, please!” he replied in a respectful but hushed tone.

The officer’s brow furrowed as he glanced behind Brian to see what the cause for concern was.

“My name is Officer Morris,” he continued, voice only a hint quieter now. “Are you aware that your termination date was yesterday? You failed to report to the office.”

Brian gulped, heart rate rising. “What? No, that can’t be right! My termination isn’t supposed to be until sometime next week!”

“Boy, never heard that one before.”

“No, really! I’m completely serious. Look, I’ll get my papers. Why don’t you come in?” He held the door open wide enough for the officer. As he stepped in, Brian held a hand out, suddenly frantic. “Oh, wait, you have shoes on. Give me one second. Delicate matters, you see.”

Brian paced back into the room, looking for anything lose somebody might step on if they weren’t careful. There was nothing, as expected, but it didn’t hurt to be cautious.

“Okay,” Brian said, returning to the front door. “You can come in, just please tread lightly. And if you go upstairs, you have to take your shoes off and be extra careful. No sudden movements of any kind. I’m sure it’s quite unconventional for you, but my house, my rules.”

The officer gave him a raised eyebrow at that, but he just shrugged in response. He stepped into the house, and was finally able to see what Brian was so worked up about.

Throughout the entire room, and branching off down the hallway and up the stairs, was an enormous card castle that took up the majority of the living space, even floor to ceiling.

“Whoa,” Officer Morris breathed.

“Beautiful, isn’t it? My life’s work. This last project has taken me over forty years, you know. If I go according to schedule, I’ll finally reclaim my title as the world record holder for the largest single playing card structure. That’s why I can’t die today, you see. I’m not quite finished.”

The officer had by now regained his composure. “You do all of this by yourself?”

Brian nodded. “Had to. If it’s a group project that’s an entirely different world record. Me and Jeremy Settle, some guy in Germany have been having a competition these past few hundred years over who can build the biggest castle. He’s held the record these last twenty five years after my old castle broke, but his termination date was two years ago, so I’ll have the last laugh! You know, this castle has over two million individual cards so far. It even goes out onto the backyard patio! I have it screened so the wind can’t affect it, you see. You’ll probably be the last one to see it unfinished, actually. I could give you a tour if you’re–”

“Sir,” the officer interrupted. “This is quite impressive, but I must inform you that my papers say your termination was due yesterday.”

“Oh!” Brian jumped. “That’s right. I almost forgot. My papers are upstairs. Wait here.” Without any hesitation, he bolted up the stairs, careful to avoid the trail of stacked cards that led up one side of them.

The officer took the time to examine the castle. There were no couches in the living room. In fact, the furniture it was built around and on top of all had flat surfaces. It was stacked atop the cupboards, into the kitchen, and was complete with towers and elaborate sculptures. The living room had the largest stack. It nearly reached the ceiling, and the cards in the center were surrounded by more cards. You couldn’t reach them now, meaning they had to be placed first. Officer Morris wondered how old those cards were.

As he looked at the cards at the base of the stairs, he noticed irregular markings on them. He leaned in to inspect one and noticed it was a number. Upon further investigation, every card seemed to have numbers, and most of the nearby ones were seven digits long. In a world where death was so hard to achieve it had to be enforced, he couldn’t blame people for finding odd ways to spend their lives. He had once met somebody that collected every scent of candle imaginable. She had them organized and everything. Her house, not surprisingly, smelled terrible.

Brian came down the stairs with a stack of papers in his hands, frowning. He looked up to notice the officer leaning in close to the cards and his eyes went wide in a panic.

“What are you doing! That’s too close! You might have to sneeze or breathe or–” In his frenzy to rush down the stairs, he tripped. Falling face first, he tumbled down the remaining steps, crashing into both the officer and the cards he had been inspecting.

Without so much as a thought of concern for either person, Brian immediately stood to check the damage.

And watched as, like dominoes, the card castle toppled down, flowing over itself and the furniture like a torrent of water cascading into an empty valley. It crashed to the floor, but the chaos continued it sought the other rooms in the house.

Brian’s despair was all but tangible. The officer couldn’t help but pity the man.

But then, forgotten on the floor, he saw his termination papers, and at the top was one big, bolded date.

Yesterday’s.

“Well,” Brian said. “I guess there’s no point in even trying to plead for more time. I have nothing left to live for.”

 

Prompt: In a world where all diseases have been eliminated and it’s nearly impossible to die, everyone is allotted the same amount of time on earth. Your time is almost up, but you just need one more day…

Review — The Tao Series (370)

I recently finished the third book in Wesley Chu’s Tao series, and while it’s not my conventional reading of sword and sorcery type stuff, it was still a good read. So, here are my full thoughts on the series as a whole, treating it as a trilogy of books (even if there are technically other works that follow the third). Since the “last” book was published in 2015, I won’t bring up any spoilers here. Instead, I’ll focus on plot and character development, writing style, and story structure as a whole.

Before we get started, let me talk about genre and story premise. I would describe these books as a secret history series where the Earth is all but controlled by this alien race called the Quasing. In the context of these books, many famous (or infamous) world leaders and prominent historical figures had aliens in their heads telling them what to do. The only way for a Quasing to leave their host to move on to the next is for the host to die, and they can’t exist outside of a person for very long. Over time, these beings split into two warring factions, called the Prophus and Genjix, and now have a secret war that has been raging for centuries. All of this is unbeknownst to the public.

The series follows one particular Quasing, Tao, as its main character. He is a Prophus operative trying to stop the Genjix from doing whatever their dastardly schemes have brought them to next. He and his host meet trouble along the way (of course) and it’s up to the two of them to save the day against all odds.

The book series is pretty good. If that sounds like a premise you would enjoy, chances are you would. I personally love secret history and learning all of the “hidden truths” about past events and people. This series basically rewrites world history from the beginning by shedding light on who was really pulling the strings behind Caesar, Napoleon, Charlamagne, etc. Another great thing about this series is that it can be pretty humorous. In something like Dresden Files, it can be serious sprinkled in with hilarious situations or comments (Harry Dresden is a funny guy after all), but in the Tao series, it doesn’t take itself quite so seriously. Humor is thrown in quite a bit. It’s not the “every once in a while: comedic relief”, but rather a “humor is always a character here, he is just quieter in some scenes”. This can be taken as a negative or a positive point, depending on your preference.

My biggest annoyance with this series though is that the series isn’t complex, and on top of that broke important rules once or twice. If I were to describe to you the overarching plot of Dresden Files, or even the plot of any one specific book in that series, it would take me quite a while because there’s a lot going on the further into the series you go. Granted, the Tao series is only three books, but describing the plot development in any one of the three would take me less than a minute each. To be honest, the plot is pretty similar between all three books, as well. It’s just too formulaic for my tastes. Going back to the rule breaking, it pretty much made one big change to the way things worked just to have a bad thing not happen, and that never sat well with me, because it almost directly contradicted a major plot point in the first book.

On top of all this, the writing itself seems pretty basic. Now, I don’t feel comfortable judging somebody on this particular point, being a fledgling writer myself, but as I was reading it there were a lot of mistakes that even I don’t make anymore. Many had to do with description and word choice, but the books are predictable. This isn’t always a bad thing, but it isn’t exactly good in this case, either.

Is the Tao series worth picking up? Sure, if the premise sounds interesting, and you like a lot of action in a book. It’s not bad by any means. I liked quite a few of the characters, and my suspension of disbelief was never broken. I’d say there’s a good book for every situation, and this series certainly has a place in an avid reader’s library.

Prompt — Birthmarks

Linette stared into the mirror. Stared at the vague brown smudge that bore an uncanny resemblance to the mainland of Denmark. The one that had been getting harder and harder to see as the days went by. As she did every morning these past few weeks, she left the room to have her mother take a picture of it.

Birthmarks weren’t supposed to fade until you found a soulmate with a matching one. Single and eighteen years old, this wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. Did this mean there was no proverbial ‘fish in the sea’ for her?

Everybody had a soulmate. Dating sites often asked for descriptions or pictures of the birthmark to help you find the perfect match. Many people dated others with dissimilar soulmates anyway, just for its own sake. Linette had even had a few older friends that got tattoos over their birthmarks so they could never be tied down.

But for her, finding true love was the only way she could ever be happy. After her eighteenth birthday, though, the mark on her neck started to fade. Her mother consoled her, saying it was just something that would pass. Then when the problem got worse, they both started to worry. Just in case there was some metaphyiscal mistake that wasn’t supposed to occur, she began taking pictures of the mark every day. She could lose the mark, but she couldn’t lose it’s memory. And maybe that would be all she needed.

“Mom?” she asked, searching for her. Not in the kitchen. Not in the dining room. Not even in the living room. Was she still asleep?

Linette ran upstairs to her mother’s bedroom. Was she… crying?

She knocked on the door, gently so as not to disturb her. “Mom?” she repeated. The crying didn’t stop. If anything, it got worse.

She took a deep breath and slowly opened up the door, giving her mother plenty of time to say anything if she didn’t want to be disturbed.

As she walked into the room, she noticed that the television was on. It was too quiet to make anything out over her mother’s sobbing, but it was tuned into a news station that was, as usual, reporting bad news. This time it was about an update on a horrible car accident that had happened weeks ago.

Her mother never got overly emotional about events that didn’t directly affect her, though. It couldn’t have been the news that brought her to tears. “Hey, mom,” she said, voice calm and sweet as she sat on the bed next to her. “What’s wrong?”

In response, her mother took Linette in her arms and hugged her tight. It wasn’t an ‘I need comfort’ hug. It was a supportive hug. A feeling of dread washed over her.

She turned back to the TV, reading the headline at the bottom. Fatal Car Accident Victim Identified. The reporter was still too quiet to understand, but as Linette watched, they pulled up a picture of a handsome young man, smiling with a group of friends.

On the lower part of his neck was a birthmark that bore an uncanny resemblance to the mainland of Denmark.

 

Prompt: Everyone is born with a birthmark on their neck, which is the exact same as their soulmate’s. at the age of 18, your birthmark starts to fade, something that doesn’t usually happen until the pair is united.

Prompt — Death’s Influence

Cars whizzed by. They didn’t even slow down to read the sign. They knew what cardboard and ragged clothes meant.

“If only this rabble knew what I was capable of,” he muttered. “They would cower at my feet.”

He sat at the corner of a gas station, trying to make eye contact with every driver that wouldn’t want to acknowledge him. People were so selfish. They only lived for themselves. If only he had the power.

Out of the corner of his eye he spotted a limousine pull up to refuel. Limousines were dangerous. They never handed out money and things ended badly if you even asked. The beggar kept his head down as its passenger stepped out and stretched, suit obviously tailored just for him. Just in case, the beggar pointed the sign in that direction. Easily legible, but not demanding. That was safest.

A clatter of change spilled out from behind him, and he turned to see that his cat had once again knocked over the travel mug where he kept his money. “Mau! No!” he scolded, shooing it away when it tried to sniff the spoils of its victory.

Putting the change back into the thermos, he scanned around, checking to see if anyone was paying attention. Nobody was.

Except the limousine passenger. Was he coming this way?

Hurriedly, he straightened his clothes, for what it was worth. There was a difference between desperate and pathetic.

“Is that your cat?” the man asked as he approached. He nodded to the cat that perched on a nearby wall. The villain that only made his life harder.

“Uh… yeah,” he replied.

“You named it Mau?” the man wasn’t looking at him or the sign. He was just staring at the cat.

The beggar clenched his fists. “It’s a sentimental name. You got a problem with that?”

“No, no. It’s just that I saw a very similar cat with the same name in Italy. Maybe, three hundred years ago.”

The beggar snapped up to look at him, to inspect his face. “You with the CIA or some other intelligence agency?”

“Come now, do you really think cats are useful for information? Besides, photographs are newer technology, no organization could keep track of that.”

The beggar scratched his beard, suspicious.

“Tell me, where is Isis?”

“I don’t know who that is.”

“Your sister.”

“My sister’s name is Aset. I don’t talk to her anymore.”

“Because she has power you no longer have? You know part of the reason nobody worships you anymore is because you do not accept change, Osiris.”

“My name is not Osiris! The Greeks butchered my name. It’s like pronouncing chair ‘ka-ha-ray’ to make it sound fancy.”

“Either way, your memory and identity is attached to that name. People can’t worship a name they have never heard, even if it’s the name of a dead god they are familiar with.”

“Dead god,” he replied. “How ironically appropriate.”

The man sighed. “You may think that the ancient religions are dying, but it is only because you and your kin are giving up.”

The beggar glanced up. “Who are you?”

The man glanced around them to make sure nobody was watching. Then, he tucked a hand inside of his suit and pulled out a hammer. It hummed quietly as the runes inscribed on it glowed. It pulsed with electricity, tendrils of lightning curling around it.

“Thor!” the beggar whispered, glancing up at the man. “You… you have power!”

He tucked the hammer back into the suit. “Yes. I’ve discovered a way to reclaim our old abilities. One far easier to accomplish than convincing these mortals to revere and sacrifice to us. And I’ve come with an offer.”

The beggar had vague memories of a life where he held the power over life and death itself. It was so long ago. He would do anything to obtain that once more. “What must I do?”

“Our power comes purely from the reverence of the public. Our strength and that of other gods doesn’t have to be exclusive between each other as we once believed. I reclaimed my power from the cinema.”

“The what?”

“My likeness is portrayed in movies. Stories that play themselves that mortals clamber over each other to witness. They love me, and even if they do not believe it is a true story, I gain power.”

“So I must perform in these stories?”

“No, no. They will have somebody pretend to be you. It is easier for everyone this way. My goal is to reunite every god with the power they once held, and with that strength comes infinite possibilities. But I cannot do it alone. Will you join me?”

The beggar looked at the sign he had left at his feet. Unemployed.  Any offering is appreciated. “Let us conquer the world once more.”

Writing Prompt: Among the homeless live forgotten gods and ancient heroes of legend, unable to cope with society. Tell their stories.

Review — Star Wars Prequel Trilogy

Whenever anyone mentions the Star Wars franchise, the prequel trilogy is always scorned or its existence isn’t even acknowledged. Everybody says the movies are bad, and in comparison to the original trilogy, they are bad. But they aren’t atrocious, just fuddled. The general plot and themes behind everything that was going on wasn’t terrible in concept, simply execution. I won’t be giving each movie its own review, because frankly I don’t think each merits an entire five hundred or more words, especially since they all have the same problems. For this review, I will be spoiling stuff, because the movies aren’t recent. So in case you haven’t seen them (and have somehow managed to not know how it ends) you have been warned.

In my opinion, the single biggest problem with the movies is that there is basically no protagonist. Luke is obviously the main character in the original trilogy, but there’s nobody that fits that role here. I would hardly even call Anakin a major character in Episode I, and in Episode II he does get a lot of screen time, but his screen time is all romance stuff and isn’t really important to the major plot. (It could be argued that the development of his character is important to the major plot, but while that is true, it could have been handled better. You don’t have to devote an hour or more of screen time to show the love between him and Padme. Heck a lot of that could be done or even implied during other scenes.)

These movies had a lot of little things that either didn’t make sense or were flat-out stupid, too. Jar Jar Binks is a prevalent example, and his existence infuriates me to no end, but at least he isn’t much of a character in Episodes II and III. Midichlorians are also super dumb, because it implies there is a science behind this magic/religion, and that sort of thing must be handled very carefully, not thrown halfheartedly at the audience. The movies also didn’t do a good job developing obviously important characters, like Count Dooku, General Grevious, Mace Windu, etc. (As a side note, I understand that most of these people get a lot more love in the animated series, but if you’re going to introduce Grevious for the first time in the third episode and kill him without really explaining why he’s so important, maybe you should have just left him out of the movie entirely.)

A lot of people also bash on the politics in the trilogy as well, but I actually didn’t mind it so much. Politics are never black and white, so it’s a great way to make Anakin conflicted and for the Emperor to use that to turn him to the Dark Side.

There are two things that these movies did really well, though. First is the fact that the Emperor’s plan was executed with an efficient and flawless ruthlessness that I would expect for such a character. Forging a secret army, playing people to push him into more power, and making allies turn against each other is exactly what I wanted to see. (As for the scene where he actually turns Anakin to the Dark Side, that was kind of pathetic, but you can’t have everything I suppose.)

The second thing: Order 66. That entire scene where we see the clone troopers turn against the Jedi was awesome with how sad it managed to be. The audience watches, helpless, as the Jedi Order is betrayed and systematically killed. Especially the snippets where Yoda obviously feels something had just gone terribly wrong, those heartstrings were pulled man. This scene was by far the most powerful moment in any of the movies.

To sum this all up, the prequel trilogy isn’t awful, just bad. It doesn’t compare to the original trilogy, but at least the lightsaber battles are pretty cool. Also, there are some pretty cool YouTube videos of a guy fixing the plot of the prequel trilogy, and the script he proposes is actually really compelling! I recommend you go watch them (he does curse a bit though).