Solaris / The Red Turtle

I watched two movies last night: First the science fiction film Solaris starring George Clooney and Natascha McElhone, and secondly the moody animated feature The Red Turtle.

Solaris is underrated. Having enjoyed the Lem novel immensely, I was excited to see the film when it first came out. Disappointed, however, was I in the lack of positive reviews by both peers and the media.

As with most adaptations, changes were made and elements were cut from the novel. The overall mood and themes remained intact, however, and it was in these that the film shines. Clooney and McElhone are both fantastic, and behind the camera Soderbergh does what he always does well, which is to match score with visuals and to force actors to produce moments away from the action. Scifi as a genre is intrinsically well suited for themes of morality and decision making, and Solaris is no exception. You will quietly question ethics and human nature without any heavy-handed metaphors or preaching. Clean visuals compliment the experience nicely.

The Red Turtle is a French Studio Ghibli joint that delivers breathtaking visuals, top notch sound and foley work, and all the gut-wrenching minutiae of a successful character study. There is absolutely no dialogue in this animated film, and yet I found myself entranced and emotionally invested. The spiritual tone, whimsical nature, and anthropomorphic animals you come to expect from Studio Ghibli are all present, but it takes a more profound and serious edge. Themes of destiny, family structure, and forgiveness are addressed, and will stir emotions in the watcher, and at least in my case, tears.


Dark Matter

Ugh. I just found out that Dark Matter was cancelled. Welp, I guess it’s time to join in on a fandom campaign to bring it back! If you haven’t watched the show, go to Netflix immediately to watch Seasons 1 and 2, and XFinity OnDemand to watch the most recent Season 3. If you ARE a fan, please join us in this campaign on social media by getting our hashtag trending, or by sending requests to other services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video or Hulu to pick the show up (it seems that there is very little change of SyFy picking it back up as they don’t actually own the show.)

Use the hashtag #TeamRaza every Friday (at certain times depending on your region.) We need closure!!!

GenCon Film Festival

Are you gaming at GenCon in Indianapolis this weekend? Well take a break this evening to check out my Scifi Comedy feature film Dead Drift!

It’s playing tonight, Saturday August 19th at 9:30 PM in the Westin Ballroom IV.

And for those of you who aren’t there, watch it online at

Lots of scifi/fantasy/gamer culture references and goodness!

Meredith’s Beacon – Sample Chapter

Wyatt let the sabre relax in his hand now that the beast was no longer moving. Black rancid blood covered the blade, matching the stains in the dead sawgrass at his feet. He absentmindedly rubbed his shoulder where an old scar showed through a tear in his cotton shirt. It didn’t really ache, but it […]

via Meredith’s Beacon – Sample Chapter — Malaise Contender

The Finality of Death (or the lack thereof)

Let me explain where Deep Space Nine lost me.

Okay, some groundwork first:

At some point as writers we will be tempted to take the easy way out. Sometimes it can be attributed to “Writer’s Block,” that nebulous, dastardly affliction that can neither be described nor cured. Other times we have figuratively written ourselves into a corner; there is no clear path to resolution. Sadly, sometimes we simply aren’t as skilled at our craft as we hoped.

Writing anything is hard. Writing something that moves the reader, engages them in the story, and provides a unique and memorable narrative is HARD. Very hard.

So, on occasion, we find ourselves stuck in a story that we don’t know how to finish. This happens frequently in the writer’s room for an ongoing series, because generally the goal for that story is to not end. And how can you create tension, drama, and gripping character discovery week after week after week? Well, death comes to mind.

Death, especially with major characters, is a tricky subject. Killing off a beloved character will create that gripping emotional response from the audience, but committing to it is tough. Will the audience forgive you? Will their attention remain in a story without their favorite character? Writers have to deal with this fallout, and there are a couple of tricks they use to “have it all.”

1. The Twin. Surprise! Jeffrey had an identical twin this whole time, and he was the one that fell down that elevator shaft.

2. Alternate Dimension Double. Yes, that was Jeffrey being blown out of the air lock, but it wasn’t our Jeffrey. It was a Jeffrey from an alternate universe! Everything is fine! (except for alternate-Jeffrey’s friends and family, but we don’t even know them so who cares.)

3. ROBITS! It looked like Jeffrey, but actually it was a highly sophisticated robot / android / magical construct. Whew! Our Jeffrey doesn’t have all those wires and circuits jutting out of his spleen.

4. The Shapeshifter. (And this is where DS9 comes into play.) It wasn’t Jeffrey who stole the artifact, killed the guards, and then was gunned down by his companions. It was a creature capable of changing its appearance, or wearing a disguise, or had a magical glamer cast over it.

Now, it’s easy to sit here and just blurt out “That’s bad writing.” Even if I agree most of the time, sometimes these strategies can be used effectively. Presentation is important, after all, and finding an interesting new angle for a tired mechanic sometimes results in brilliance. I’m not condemning them completely.

The thing about all these writing crutches is that they only work once.

Once you’ve pulled a bait-and-switch on your audience, you have immediately scarred them. They may even appreciate being deceived the first time, but their emotional investment into the same set of circumstances will be greatly decreased in the future. It’s a trap that the writers have set for themselves. All of a sudden, any character showing atypical behavior is a clone. That’s not the real Jeffrey, he wouldn’t do that.

Now anyone can be an imposter, and the audience can’t trust what they read or see. DS9 fell victim to this. There were too many Changelings, they had too much power. How do you write yourself out of that scenario in a believable, gripping way? Well, the writers of DS9 didn’t, in my opinion. But that’s not really the point of this essay.

There’s a bigger trap here. When you explain away the life-or-death decisions of characters with clones, imposters, and doppelgangers you aren’t allowing your characters to grow, change, or evolve. Sometimes you have to let them fuck up, and if the audience isn’t buying into it because “they’ll just end up being a Changeling,” then you have overused that gimmick. You have exhausted your audience. You’ve broken your story.

Death is the ultimate emotional catapult. You want it to mean something, and you want your audience to experience it. If death is never permanent–if consequences are never paid and mortality is never risked–you have rendered it sterile. Death has to be real or your audience won’t buy into it.

So how does this relate to gaming? Simple: You, as the GM, are writing a series. You have the same obstacles and pitfalls for keeping your players interested in your campaign as a writer does for their audience. It’s easy to write ourselves into a corner, and it’s even easier to bail ourselves out with these weak escape routes. But like an audience, your players will notice, and if they aren’t gripped by the plot points because EVERYONE keeps coming back from the dead, you’re gonna lose them. It’s as simple as that.

Whether it’s a role playing game, a television series, or a collection of novels, the basic truth of castrating death’s finality is the same: don’t do it. Sometimes you just have to let your characters die.