Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The King

Title: The King
Directed by: David Michôd
Written by: David Michôd and Joel Edgerton

Shakespeare’s plays about the life of English King Henry V receive an updating in this Netflix-produced movie, and you know, I haven’t the foggiest why.

It’s as though the writing team of the suspiciously foreign-sounding David Michôd (jk, he’s actually Australian) and Joel Edgerton sat down and thought, “What’s the one thing nobody remembers about Shakespeare—the language, right?” So they dumped all the flowery verbiage and settled on having the characters say “fuck” every once in a while.

The Saint Crispian Day speech? Well, who really wants to hear one of the most stirring battle speeches ever set down in the English language, right? I mean, look at this fluff:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Who needs that, right? I’d much rather hear the actor who played Tommen in Game of Thrones (Dean-Charles Chapman) say the “f” word.

Revisionism is the order of the day in this retelling, extending not merely to stripping away 90% of the language, but also to major character changes.

The declaration of war upon France by Henry V (a very pale and fey Timothée Chalamet) is portrayed not as a transformation, not a boy learning the brutal necessities of power, but rather an extension of the selfish, impulsive, prickly self-indulgence of his youth. John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton) is no longer boozy has-been put aside as Henry learns responsibility (“I know thee not, old man”), but becomes instead Henry’s sagacious and war-weary councilor, in a move which by pure coincidence gives the movie’s co-writer a far longer and juicier part. The wooing of Catherine of Valois (Lily-Rose Depp) is no longer played for laughs, but instead becomes a chance for Henry to get a reality check when Catherine not only proves completely fluent in English, but also schools Henry on how he has been manipulated into war by the Chief Justice (Sean Harris).

I wish I could praise some of the other elements of the film-making, but honestly after watching things like the “Outlaw King,” this feels like more of the same: Dim interior lighting, faintly silly haircuts and mud. Lots and lots of mud. There is an attempt at grittiness by slathering the combatants in a battle in the stuff, but honestly despite the commanders spending the previous 10 minutes discussing strategy, it’s filmed like a class of 10-year-olds playing rugby. Everybody sort of runs into the middle of the field and falls down. Nobody wears any heraldry, so I can only imagine the horrific slaughter the two sides must have inflicted on their own sides in this chaotic free-for-all.

The only bright spot I could find was Robert Pattinson (of “Twilight” fame, or infamy if you like) as the Dauphin, who clearly thought he was appearing in some kind of Pink Panther style farce. His accent and acting are both so wonderfully over the top, it’s the only pleasure in this otherwise dour and rather lifeless exercise. (I giggled every time two characters started speaking in French, only to say “Let’s continue in English.”)

While I also find blind hero-worship of The Leader mildly disturbing at best, an invitation to dictatorship and tyranny at worst, good ol’ Hal feels like a very odd target for deconstruction. I don’t think people out there chanting jingoistic slogans are quoting Shakespeare, you know?

What’s more, I find the “every hero you ever knew was actually a turd” school of film-making no longer terribly insightful or thought-provoking. As fans of swords’n’slaughter we’ve been through this already with Game of Thrones, and found at the end of it there was nothing, just cheap spectacle, sound and fury signifying nothing, all the while hypocritically dressing itself up in pacifist clothing while drenching the screen in 30-minute battlefests. It’s hollow, empty storytelling whose point has already been made several times by better productions.

At the time it was first staged, I’m sure Henry V was intended as a bit of nationalistic rabble-rousing, but Shakespeare is celebrated today for his poetry, not his patriotism, and sucking the language out of his plays sucks the life out of them.

Friday, October 25, 2019


Title: Joker
Director: Todd Philips
Writers: Todd Philips and Scott Silver

Incels. Misogyny. We live in a society. SJWs. Gun control. Third-wave feminism. Woke culture. Cancel culture. Culture wars. White supremacist violence.

These are just a few of the current hot-button issues and social media keywords that have absolutely nothing to do with the new Joaquin Phoenix movie, Joker.

Not that this has stopped anyone on social media from associating the movie with this or that cultural movement, but the truth is the movie has little on its mind other than letting Phoenix dance down a flight of stairs, baiting the Oscars and taking the odd, weak, mild, aimless jab at income inequality and the plight of the mentally ill.

Ever since Western civilization decided that the most appropriate amount to pay for news and information is zero dollars, pretty much every online media is now at the mercy of advertising revenue, which is in turn dependent on clicks, and every business has by now figured out that the single easiest, fastest and most effective way to get clicks is to package and sell anger, outrage, fear and anxiety. Hence the cynical attempt the label this a controversial, dangerous movie.

When it is actually just, well, a bit of a mess.

All the hot-taking and alarmist yelling obscures the fact that the movie at the center of all this is essentially “Taxi Driver” with clowns, featuring a mentally ill man whose life rapidly goes downhill on account of his illness until he turns to violence, which ironically (and predictably) turns out to be the one thing he can do that earns him social approval. There are some obligatory scenes linking the movie to the wider Batman story and mythos, but frankly they are entirely unnecessary and detract from--rather than add to--the focus of the movie. Add both “Superhero Movie” and “Deconstruction of a Superhero Movie” to the list of things this movie is not.

Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a middle-aged man living with his mother, who has a condition that makes him burst into uncontrollable laughter at awkward times. He works part-time as a clown, dreams of one day making it as a stand-up comic and fantasizes about a relationship with his single-mother neighbor. From this bottom-of-the-pole position, Fleck’s life promptly bids whatever tiny shreds of happiness it still had a not-very-fond farewell, flips his hopes and dreams the bird and leaps off the proverbial and dramatic cliff: He’s beaten up, loses his job, has the funding for his medication cut, and is finally assaulted again on a subway by three wealthy, 1% Wall Street bros before finally lashing out.

That feels like it should be some kind of turning point in the movie, but Fleck’s life goes on being ever-more horrible than before, with the added complication that he’s now under investigation by a pair of policemen who are bizarrely laid-back for guys investigating a triple homicide. There’s a vague B plot about how the murders spark an Occupy Wall Street-slash-Anonymous in V for Vendetta masks (only it’s clowns) anti-rich movement, but it just kind of happens in the background without linking to the fact that Fleck was despised for being meek and trying to get by, and lionized when he turns violent.

Phoenix has received a lot of praise for his performance, and I’d agree it’s sporadically magnetic, but a little uneven. The move doesn’t seem to quite know how it wants to show Fleck’s turn from downtrodden loser to violent sociopath. At times, it’s portrayed as a kind of evil butterfly crawling out of its chrysalis, with Fleck becoming surer, sharper and more charming the more he loses his grip on reality, but at others he reverts to awkward insecurity or frothing rage, so you’re never quite sure what the film-makers want to say or what the point of it all is.

Frankly, I didn’t feel there was anything either inventive or insightful about either the treatment of mental illness or the growing inequality of wealth. Much like the Batman tie-in of the plot, the twists (Spoilers!) that Fleck is actually adopted and was abused as a child or that his relationship with his neighbor is entirely imaginary fantasy don’t add to our understanding of either theme, and just feel kind of thrown in there because.

In the end, it’s just a kind of turgid downer, a pretty simple downtrodden man-goes-bonkers tale slathered in grease paint with the name of a beloved comic book character slapped on the poster.

Thursday, October 24, 2019


Title: Yesterday
Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: Richard Curtis

It’s 2019 and Nostalgia is king, prince, emperor and all-powerful, all-consuming dictator-for-life. In the months ahead, there’s a new Terminator movie coming, a ninth Star Wars movie, while a new version of Dune is on the horizon, and Disney continues to self-cannibalize by remaking its entire back catalog in terrifyingly photorealistic CGI. It’s as though we’ve agreed that as a culture we’re fresh out of ideas, everything is horrible, and we’d much rather ignore it all and focus on the good old days of approximately 1960 to 1985.

Remembering things has never been more popular, and remembering music is the best kind of remembering there is. There’s nothing that quite conjures the carefree, idyllic, mildly traumatizing, socially awkward and spotty days of youth more than Nirvana, Pearl Jam and, um, Men Without Hats (shit, I don’t know). The entertainment business, its fingers ever on the pulse and wallet of the globe, has taken notice. After the screaming smash success of 2018’s Queen bio-pic slash Live Aid reenactment Bohemian Rhapsody ($900M sales vs. $52M budget) and the, um, existence of 2019’s Elton John soundtrack Rocket Man ($195M vs. $40M), making a movie to flog the music of the Beatles was probably a no-brainer, the lowest of the hanging fruit on the great money tree.

To its great credit, Yesterday manages not to come across as a cynical cash grab, and more of a slightly saccharine, inarticulate fan letter. The story, by screenwriter Richard Curtis, has Jack Malik (Hamish Patel), a struggling songwriter who gets hit by a bus, then wakes up in a world identical to our own, except that nobody knows what Coca Cola, Harry Potter or cigarettes are ... and nobody’s ever heard of the Beatles. Realizing the opportunity he’s been presented with, he promptly sets out to record and sell all the Beatles songs, passing them off as his own.

The set up and opening are charmingly funny and feature some great lines and sight gags, such as Malik getting his two front teeth knocked out by the bus and calling himself a “reverse rabbit”, or Malik Googling Beatles cover-band perfectly legitimate artists in their own right Oasis, and finding they don’t exist either.

However, once Malik finds success as a singer the movie shifts gears to focus all its non-Beatles-singing time on a frustrated romance between Malik and his manager, best friend and unrequited lover, Ellie Appleton (Lily James). It is quite possibly the most boring, predictable love story ever set to film, as simple as Ringo Starr’s drumming, as deep as “All You Need is Love”, as moving as “I Am the Walrus.” As a result, the intriguing premise goes largely unexplored, just the Beatles and a couple of random other things don’t exist, but everything else is exactly the same. But hush now, dear viewer, look: People who should be together not quite connecting!

Danny Boyle, of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire, doesn’t seem to have known what to do with the material, and throws in a bunch of artsy shots like slow-motion and tilted camera angles, which add nothing to our appreciation or understanding of the scenes.That feels kind of symptomatic of the script, not really sure what it should be doing with its premise.

However, Patel plays the slightly bumbling, desperate and lost Malik with a lot of charm, and it’s really his movie, although Ron Weasley-slash-Smeagol impersonator Ed Sheeran does make an appearance, to no great effect other than for people to go, “Huh, yup, that’s him.” Especially in the scenes before Malik hits the big time, the first part of the movie exudes a kind of warm and cozy charm, and I kind of wish the movie-makers had stuck with that.

I do also kind of wonder whether, as the movie kind of hints in its first third, the Beatles would really be successful if they released an album now, in this, the year of our Lord two thousand nineteen, in competition with the Ed Sheerans and Lady Gagas and “Uptown Funks” and “Old Town Roads” of this world. Or is that a silly question? No, they wouldn’t. Of course they wouldn’t. Success in the music business is a crap shoot, a game of luck, a matter of being in the right place and time, and another place, another time, wouldn’t be the right ones. The scenes of Malik rocking Wembley Stadium are far less believable than of him playing Yesterday to an indifferent and inattentive pub crowd.

Were the Beatles even that great? There’s a heretical thought. Stripped of their historical setting and of the boyish charm of the Fab Four, do the songs really stand on their own? In this respect at least, the movie has been a success: I’ve gone back, looked up “Strawberry Fields” and “Here Comes the Sun” and “Back in the USSR” and “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” and found there’s still a lot to like, a lot to appreciate. Score another victory for Nostalgia.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Geez in Space

Title: Ad Astra
Director: James Gray
Writer: James Gray and Ethan Gross

Saw Ad Astra. Hard SF, well shot, a bit like 2001: A Space Odyssey if it had been directed by Terrance Mallick. Lots of close-ups of Brad Pitt brooding in space. A bit slow-moving if you're not into the character, but I thought Pitt played it wonderfully. The central message seems to be that people will  never stop being people, no matter how far into space we get. Which is a bit donwbeat. Some of it is gorgeous though, especially the scenes set on the Moon and Mars. Hmm/10

Prepped for it by watching Event Horizon, which is like Pet Sematery in space.

Followed up by watching Interstellar, which we as also supposed to be hard as SF with black holes and time dilation and whatnot but ends up being about the power of looove, baby. I can feel my sf softening.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Carnival Row

GOOD: Cara Delevingne's breasts
BAD: Cinematography darker than that one episode in season 8 of GoT that nobody could see anything in. Seriously, I think it's driven me blind. I think episode 3 was the best, but that might only be because at least some of it was shot in bloody daylight. Also that's the one with Cara Delevingne's ladybumps

GOOD: Not an adaptation, reboot, sequel or prequel
BAD: Story still pretty shit. Bit of a turgid mess of drawing room drama, murder mystery, on the nose political allegory and GoT-style sex

GOOD: Victorian steampunk Narnia
BAD: Used as a setting for a Jane Austen novel mashed up with a Sherlock Holmes mystery. Too many threads going at the same time with too little to connect them, and too little driving them forward. The atmosphere is only rescued at the last moment by hilariously over the top names like Vignette Stonemoss and Rycroft Philostrate

GOOD: Cara Delevingne's tits though
BAD: Orlando Bloom's ass

GOOD: Listening to Irish accents
BAD: Tryna figure out wtf they saying

GOOD: All episodes available, can binge
BAD: Keep falling asleep, so can't. Also can't remember who anybody is, since it's all so dark and everyone has such silly names (oh look, it's ArchaicName VerbNoun!)

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The thousand-yen stare

Picked up a couple of games for $10 each.

Star Wars: Battlefront II -- Campaign only so far. Ho hum, tbh. Guess it's different from a lot of shooters I'm used to--no radar, and the damage indication/direction interface isn't especially informative, so I spend way too much time trying to figure out who the heck is shooting at me. The MC is pretty fragile too, so that gets me killed pronto.

The game also tends to force you to play "heroes" of the Star Wars saga at random intervals. So you'll go to the mission loading screen and choose your abilities and weapons.

Me: Great! I'll take the energy shield and laser MG42!
Game: No fuck you you're Princess Leia now

It's a little irritating. 

Wolfenstein: The New Order aka Killing the Fascists: A New Wolfenstein. -- Now this I like. Dual-wielding guns for extra dakka. Kinetic, exciting mission and level design. Retro dieselpunk design that's clearly having way more fun with its premise than poker-faced BFII. I had a lot of fun.

I've been playing a lot of always online and/or open world stuff lately so this was a refreshing change. Lots of variety in the levels, though the plot is crazily dependent on Blastovitz getting captured twice per chapter.

And another thing: It is kind of odd how the Blammowitz maintained his muscle mass despite being in a coma ... I skip one leg day and my matchstick bones snap under the merciless pull of gravity, while my man goes full potato for a decade and gets about as much exercise as a chicken nugget, yet comes out the other end with musculature even Rob Liefeld would've called 'a bit much.'

But that's part of the charm.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Problem with "Lore"

It’s time to admit it:

Lore was a mistake.

The whole idea of lore, the idea that a work of fiction—be it a book, a TV show, a movie series, a comic book or a video game—exists in some kind of rich, detailed yet internally consistent reality has had its day, and it is time to take it out into the field, and promise to tell it about the rabbits as the gun sits heavy in your pocket.

Here’s the thing, folks. Every work of fiction was written by a non-fictional person. They made it up. All of it. None of it really happened. That is, for the academically inclined of you out there, the whole definition of ‘fiction.’ It only exists in service of whatever story is being told. The moment it ceases to do that, it becomes dead weight, a liability, dragging the story down into the bowels of Internet wikis and extremely niche discussion boards. It's fluff. Decoration. The sprig of parsley on the plate, not the main dish.

And yet. And yet, and yet, and yet. People get so worked up about it. The game ‘breaks the lore.’ The sequel ‘contradicts the lore.’ The new show ‘isn’t lore-friendly.’ Fans of the space western that heavily features supernatural mind-magic were INCANDESCENT with fury that in one scene of a science fictional movie, a spaceship which does not exist went to hyperspace which does not exist, ramming another spaceship which also doesn’t exist, destroying it in a blaze of nonexistent CG effects. Can’t do that, you see. Breaks the lore. Who cares if it looked fucking cool. Get rid of it. It breaks the lore.

I blame J.R.R. Tolkien. I mean, I love the old bastard to death and beyond, but he did give us this notion that works of fantasy and SF must have these deep and expansive background cloths hung behind every scene to give it a sense of grandeur and verisimilitude.

Which was fine for a while, as we were referring to a single property created by a single author, with a self-contained story providing finite boundaries to the tale. But now, everything must have sequels and prequels and reboots and spinoffs and everything is written by committees or writers’ rooms and multiple authors over years, even decades, often spanning multiple media and now otherwise normal, sane, sensible people argue online about whether or not fictional spaceships were fictionally built on the surface of fictional planets, or in fictional orbit.

My own pet theory is that the obsession with lore is a byproduct of the rise of SF and fantasy to mainstream acceptance. Six or seven out of the ten top-grossing Hollywood movies are some flavor of SF or fantasy. People camped out for the latest release in the Harry Potter series. Esports have been around for years, and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, much like the competitors. Episodes of Game of Thrones were shown in bars like sports games to screaming fans cheering for their team. 

All of this has opened SF and Fantasy to new fans, who engage with it the way they engaged with their other hobbies.

How? Collecting. Cataloging. Memorizing. The sports stat approach to fandom. Gatekeeping. In short, Lore. People stuffing their heads full of useless facts about things that don’t exist and trying to outdo one another in nerdy knowledge of obscure and frankly pointless trivia.

To the point now where the idea of “lore” has become this stifling, suffocating blanket of “Actually...” thrown on any story some loony faction of fans don’t like in an attempt to exercise control over the objects of their fandom, to dictate to creators what they can or cannot produce. Spaceships can’t do that. Mind magic can’t do that. So-and-so can’t do such-and-such. It’s never about opening up new possibilities, always about controlling, confining, limiting, making the ideas and stories smaller.

“It’s bad writing,” they bleat, as if the prime criteria for an exciting, emotional, thought-provoking or entertaining story were whether or not it uses whatever bullshit excuse someone came up with for faster-than-light travel 30 years ago “correctly.” Of course, lazy, tired, cliché-ridden, inconsistent writing can happen in any medium, but that’s an issue with the basics, with plotting and pace and characterization, not with whether or not the writer has memorized the complete twelve-volume history of “BattleTech Battlefield Battle: The Battle on the Battlements of Battleville”.

“It’s inconsistent, it breaks the suspension of disbelief,” and the obvious rebuttal is that if breaking Einsteinian physics in the wrong way is what takes you out of your movie about laser swords wielded by super-ninjas, you are clearly deranged and nobody should listen to you about anything every again, but also: Consistency is overrated. Consistency over the course of what, 20, 30, 40 years for some of these properties? Give me a fucking break. There are more important things to novels, fiction, shows, movies or comics. Like: Are they entertaining? Do they make you laugh, cheer, cry, or any other human emotion? Because ‘lore’ sure as fuck doesn’t.

“The lore has to stand on its own,” and no it doesn’t, no it absolutely sodding well doesn’t. Lore without a story is sterile. Useless. It doesn’t do anything. It isn’t for anything. Unless it’s for wasting your time arguing with random people on social media. (Which, OK, might be fun for some, I guess). It's an emotional and intellectual dead-end. Stories need volumes of lore like the dinosaurs needed a city-sized meteorite.

So bring back one-shots. Bring back original content. Bring back episodic, one-and-done shows rather than multi-year serial writing. It's the only thing that's going to save SF and Fantasy from extinction.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Writing Prompt: Occult Ikea

You finally find the IKEA chair you like. You mispronounce it's name however, and the ground starts to shake. You see an employee holding a giant greatsword. He mutters to himself 'Fifth time this week' as the roof caves in and a gargantuan beast roars outside.

"Excuse me," I called to the amber-clad staff. "I'm looking for the Langfjall." 

He turned around, a poorly-put-together Gruvbyn of puzzlement on his face. "The what, sir?" 

"The Langfjall." 

A frown constructed a quick Svartla of worry across his brow, then was cleared as though by a spring sale. "Ah, you mean the Långfjäll." 

"Yeah, sure, whatever," I shrugged. "The Langfjall." 

The ground shook. The walls quaked. A Flitighet set toppled from its shelf and shattered bone-white porcelain shards across the floor. 

"Did you say that three times?" The staff whispered hoarsely to me. 

I ducked as a Skymningen lamp broke free of the ceiling and plunged to the ground, trailing sparks of electricity. "All I said was Lang--" 

The employee slapped a hand across my mouth. "I knew it," he muttered. "Stay here, stay low." He sprang to a wall mounted intercom and smashed the button. "Paladin to dinnerware, paladin to dinnerware." 

"What's going--" I started to ask, when a man-length talon pierced the ceiling and carved a line across the room, peeling the roof open like a tin of Sjörapport salmon. A gargantuan shape loomed above, a thing of razor spikes and adamantine scales, a mouth full of teeth as sharp as Förnuft knives. 

"No time," he shouted, drawing a great sword with a blade longer than he was tall. "I'll handle--" 

A Vimle-sofa-sized hand slammed down, narrowly missing the staff but throwing him from his feet with the force of impact. 

"Er, right, I'll just stay here then," I shouted. "Behind the Ypperlig."

As soon as I spoke, a shimmering golden dome of cracking energy sprang up around myself and the staff. The monstrous claw reached for us, but rebounded from the field in a shower of molten sparks.

"Ypperlig?" I blinked in amazement. The field hummed and seemed to thicken.

Understanding filled me. I looked quickly about at the product labels. "Norrnas!' I cried and pointed at the beast. A green rubber boot, size 9 1/2 popped into existence at my feet. I squinted at the label. "Ah, oops. NORRNÄS!" I tried again.

A fiery javelin, incandescent as a Skymningen, flew from my hand and pierced the thing's breast. It gave a shivering cry and fell forward, crushing the entire Bedroom section.

"Whew," said the staff, picking himself up and patting the dust and plaster from his hair. "So, um, you wanted a Långfjäll?" 

"That's right," I nodded. "And a Gronlid."

The staff paled.

The ground trembled.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019


Picked up BioWare's Anthem for $20 and just finished the main campaign. This game gets a ton of bad press, but if you just play it as Mass Effect in battle armor, it's fine. Not great, but fine.

It definitely feels like a BioWare game awkwardly grafted onto social loot shooter mechanics.

For example, it's got the mission, talk to people at base, mission cycle from ME, but none of the people you talk to go on your adventures or impact the game or campaign in any way, so you wonder why you're bothering.

Dialogues give you a kind of Renegade/Paragon reply option, but again, they don't seem to make any difference (your choices are essentially things like 'agree pleasantly' or 'agree sarcastically'), so again, why bother?

There a some good things. The suits are fun, flying is cool, environment designs are nice.

Combat is okay, if nothing special. Guns are kind of dull, just shotgun, AR, sniper etc archetypes, which makes the loot (ostensibly the motivator in loot shooters) a bit pointless, but at least the special abilities are fun to play with. Combos are a thing, as they were in ME3, so you can play around with freezing, burning and shocking your opponents.

Anyway I suspect the guns all actually perform the same regardless of displayed stats, to allow high and low level players to do missions together. The only thing that seems to matter is the cooldown on your abilities.

Enemies are seriously bland. Missions either defend the point or kill the VIP style, which gets a bit repetitive, but then I suppose the grinding in any social shooter is part of the territory. With the loot being so drab, though, there isn't really much motivation to stick with it.

Some of the basic things are pretty bad though. The UI for menus in particular is pretty crap and unintuitive. Inventory is straight out of ME1.  

In general, the game does a very bad job of explaining the mechanics. Like if I level up my "Arcanist" ranking I get access to "blueprints" but I've no idea which ones. Or at a high level you get to use "consumables" but it never tells you what they do or how to access them.

But overall I feel like I got my money's worth. I don't need a game that demands I play forever to keep up. Okay story, kind of fun combat, and I'm satisfied.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Writing Prompt: Uncool Humanity

Upon contact with our first alien species, humanity learns that instead of being viewed as the youthful, adventurers of so many sci-fi works, our innate need to quantify everything from time to threadcount to the existence of money has meant the rest of the galaxy views us as dull accountants.

"Aw yas, this is gonna be SWEET," gasped the Avaloki when he saw the Galactic Ecumene's latest frigate. It twirled to give each of its 12 heads a glimpse of the craft and ran 57 of its tentacled hands along the hull. "Can't wait to put this bad boy through its paces." 

The rocklike KRUNKLTHOR first mate was waiting by the airlock. "Wlcm cptn," it said. (The krunks had this crazy accent: couldn't pronounce any vowels). "W'r 'lmst rdy fr lft'ff."

"Sure, cool, whenever man," the Avaloki patted both of the mate's granite shoulders simultaneously. "Scope out some whacko planets, score some alien babes, kick some kaos kreature butt, we're gonna have a blast my dude!" 

The KRUNKLTHOR grunted in a pebbly way, and they ducked inside the ship. 

The bridge still had that new-ship smell. Well, that, mixed with the odor of ammonia from the spherical globe the Urartian navigator swam in. 

"Bbbbl where twu kwapten?" glugged the navigator. 

The Avaloki gestured vaguely at the main viewscreen with a dozen arms. "Who cares man, let's go thataway." 

The bridge door slid open and the human engineer stepped through. "Greetings, fellow aliens!" he said. "Golly, this spaceship sure is neato, isn't it?" 

"Oh for K!k'kl8rtl's sake..." the Avaloki muttered, giving the mate a who-let-this-square-on-board look with the five heads facing away from the human. 

The mate shrugged tectonically. "Hmns r prt 'f th Glctc 'cmn," it said. "Sht hppns."

"When do we lift off?" 

"Whenever, dude, just chill," the Avaloki said. "Urarty my fishy friend, any time's cool." 

"Shouldn't you check the coord--" 

"Relax dude, live a little." The Avaloki waved him away. Then, to the navigator: "Punch it!" 

"Jwust a swecond ..." The navigator fiddled with the controls in his flippers. "Hew gwoes nofwing!" 

The starfield in the viewscreen leaped, each pinpoint star became a streak, then a line, then began to spin. And spin, and spin, faster and faster. 

"Er, my dude, not to be a party pooper or anything, but is it supposed to do that?" asked the Avaloki. 

"Awm, er, nwo, nwot exactwy," it replied. "Cwap." 

In the center of the viewscreen, a single star, once a tiny twinkle, was not spinning but instead began to grow larger and larger. Golf ball sized, then tennis ball, and still growing.
"Ah," said the captain. "Oh." 

"Fck," agreed the mate.

"Guys," said the human.

"Look two-eyes, we're about to plunge into the corona of a star. Now is not the time for a math lesson."

"As I was saying earlier if you calculate the coordinates--"

"Fwee minutes to impwact."

"Hld m bby."

"Been lit af knowing you peeps."

The star was now the size of a basketball -- big enough they could now make out the swirling dance of destruction on the burning, incandescent surface.

"--and input them into the nav computer--"

"Twu minutes."

"Still, what a way to go out eh?"

"--the autopilot will kick in and--"

The star filled the screen. It's light bleached out the bridge into glaring white and sharp, leaping shadows.

"Firty sweconds."

"--save us from crashing, LIKE THIS."

The ship shuddered, swerved. Avaloki was thrown against the first mate, breaking three of his noses.



The viewscreen was clear, showing only the normal scatter of distant light.

"You saved us!" The Avaloki shouted, pounding the engineer on his back with 32 hands, knocking the man down. "Dude, you're alright in my book!"


"H's gd lttl cnt."

"Hey, be nice when you talk about my dude here, first mate. I learned something today: Humans are ... Humans are cool."

"Wht? Sd 'cnt', nt 'cnt'."

"Oh, that's cool then."

"Awesome!" cried the engineer. "Everybody, root beers are on me!"