Monday, August 31, 2015

DOCTOR HORRIBLE'S SING-ALONG BLOG: Which One's the Villain?

 

Note: So, as you may have noticed, I’m not reviewing a book today. That’s because I’ve decided to mix things up a little. From now on, I’ll be using Mondays to review/discuss all sorts of media—books, music, movies, TV shows (basically anything I feel like).

Warning: THIS POST WILL SPOIL EVERYTHING.

           If you haven’t seen the show, it’s only 43 minutes, and you can watch it right here because I’m nice and I’ve provided the link for you. And, just as further warning, there are three mildly inappropriate bits. If you are concerned about this, all you need to do is mute or skip from 24:22-25:08, 28:20-28:34, and 31:32-31:38. DOCTOR HORRIBLE’S SING-ALONG BLOG is unrated, but factoring in violence, innuendo, and language, I’d give it a mild PG-13. And if you’re like me and you’re wondering if it’s legal for this to be online, trust me, in this case it really is fine. When Joss Whedon and his gang released this video, they released it directly to YouTube, so there’s nothing to worry about. Problem solved. [Translation: Joss Whedon might possibly be my hero.]

 


Okay, now that we’re done with the really long disclaimer, let’s get down to the fun stuff. But if you haven’t seen the show already, I highly recommend that you do so before you read any further. Seriously, I’m not sure this post will make sense if you haven’t watched the show. And it’s a really good show, even if the title is a little weird.

That said, the major question I had at the end of DOCTOR HORRIBLE’S SING-ALONG BLOG was, “Which one’s the villain?”

Let’s start with our main character, Doctor Horrible (aka, Billy Buddy). With his penchant for petty theft and his eagerness to become part of the Evil League of Evil, it seems pretty obvious that he would be our prime candidate. Beyond that strike against his character, he has a few other things going against him. Like your average creep, he follows Penny on her date with his nemesis, Captain Hammer.


           And when Hammer pushes Billy past his breaking point, Billy decides to murder the Captain. Seems clear-cut, huh?

 

But wait.

Doctor Horrible does not fit your average, two-dimensional, villain mold. Oh no. Despite his evil laugh and his mad genius goggles, he also has a good heart and an interesting (if not entirely spot-on) moral compass. And fortunately, since he’s the main character, we get a unique look into his perspective and the motivations that drive him.

           So let’s take a peek at some of the things that might make him “the good guy”. Before Captain Hammer rubs his relationship with Penny in Doctor Horrible’s face, the doctor really has no desire to kill anyone, even though he’s required to do so in order to get into the Evil League of Evil (run by Bad Horse, the Thoroughbred of Sin). Though Doctor Horrible harbors a secret crush on Penny, he doesn’t pressure her to like him back or force himself on her in any way—in fact, he can be very respectful (you know, when he’s not stalking her).



           While most villains operate with anarchy as their main goal, Billy views anarchy as a tool necessary to overthrow the broken system that guides humanity.


           Whatever the case, he has his finger on the pulse of human nature, and he recognizes the evil that lurks in the heart of humankind. He doesn’t embrace corruption—in his own weird way, he hopes to fight it.


(Also, it could be argued that, had the freeze ray not chosen to malfunction at a critical moment, it’s possible Doctor Horrible might have been unable to go through with the murder of Captain Hammer. But that’s all speculation, and it’s a moot point since the freeze ray DID malfunction. Moving on.)

Now for our next villain candidate: Captain Hammer. As the one who sets himself up against Doctor Horrible, it seems pretty obvious that Captain Hammer is our hero. After all, he continually thwarts the Doctor’s nefarious schemes, he rescues Penny, and he helps the homeless. Pretty great guy, huh?


Unlike other heroes, though, Captain Hammer is a major jerk. Throughout the story, it’s obvious to everyone except Penny that he doesn’t respect her—doesn’t even see her as more than an object for his own amusement. In fact, I find it very telling that he rescues Penny from the runaway van by shoving her into a pile of trash bags—because, had Penny lived, that’s exactly what he would have done to her in the end. He would have grown tired of her, dumped her like garbage, and moved on to the next good-looking girl.


Ultimately, he’s only concerned with what he can get and by how people see him.


           As long as the masses fall at his feet, worshiping him for his heroic deeds and his good looks, then he doesn’t worry about whether he’s doing good or not. He looks down on those he considers lower than himself, and continually reminds them of his perceived superiority. And, unlike Doctor Horrible, he doesn’t care about correcting the rampant problems in society (such as the homelessness epidemic), unless by doing so he can make himself look great.


           “Wait Liz,” you say, “he does do nice stuff—he does help the homeless.”

           But my question is, if you do nice stuff for bad reasons, does that really make you a hero?

Right about now, you might be thinking “Just be done, okay. He’s hot, Liz, so don’t question him.”

To which I answer, “Wait, there’s more.”

As Doctor Horrible points out in his song (“Slipping”), Captain Hammer’s disguise is slipping—more and more, what lies beneath his “nice guy” exterior is becoming evident.
 

When Captain Hammer comes across true pain, the kind he has so enjoyed inflicting on Doctor Horrible, he runs screaming from the room, knocking over a lady on the way out.


           The fact that, by doing so, he’s leaving Penny skewered with death ray shrapnel, isn’t at all important to him—and maybe you could argue that he couldn’t have known so he isn’t to blame. Fair point. But if he were a true hero, even though he’s in pain (and not visibly wounded), his first priority should be the well-being of others. Considering that the death ray explosion occurred in his attempt to kill Doctor Horrible and thus is his fault, it’s his responsibility to make sure no one is injured.


           Instead he thinks only of himself, leaving Doctor Horrible to sit with Penny during her last moments.

“Okay, Liz, you’ve made your point. Can I go home now?”

Wait, I’m still not done. Because there’s one more villainous candidate.

“WHAT? ARE YOU CRAZY? YOU HAVE GOT TO BE JOKING. TELL ME YOU’RE JOKING.”

I’m not joking.

Because our next candidate is Penny—sweet, innocent, na├»ve little Penny who harbors such compassion for the dark and gritty areas of society.

“Liz, you monster, I can’t believe you. Poor darling Penny has probably never hurt anyone or anything in her life. She puts herself at risk just to collect signatures for a building she hopes to convert into a homeless shelter. Even to the end, despite the way he treats her, she still refuses to recognize the evil in Captain Hammer. She doesn’t judge Doctor Horrible. And she’s just so stinking nice. Liz, you really are a heartless, soulless, cold—”
 
All this I know.

“Didn’t you listen to the songs? Didn’t you hear Penny say she believes there’s good in every heart? Didn’t you—”

There you have it, and I couldn’t have said it better myself. Yes, Penny is a sweetie, and I’m not arguing so much that she is the problem, but that she has contributed to the problem. And please don’t assume that I’m at all victim-blaming. The fault of her death lies with both Captain Hammer and Doctor Horrible, and we can discuss the blame at a later date. But as Billy so aptly points out, Penny is treating a symptom—homelessness—rather than the problem.


           And you can’t help people until you find out what’s wrong with them. Sure, if you have a headache, I could give you ibuprofen, but that really won’t take care of your festering brain tumor. If I were truly concerned about you, I’d do everything I could to make sure someone took that tumor out of you before it killed you.

I’m not blaming Penny for wanting to help the homeless—I think that’s admirable of her, and we need more people willing to do that. Honest to goodness, that’s not the issue. But I want to challenge her ideology. If there really is good in every heart, then why do homeless people exist in the first place? When Penny dies, she dies believing that Captain Hammer is her shining, selfless hero and that Billy is her sweet laundry buddy.


            And while that makes Penny a genuinely loveable person, in order to help people, you have to see them as they really are, broken and messy and imperfect. No one is going to save the world through idealism—and rose-tinted glasses have a way of blinding people to reality.
 

So there you have it, your three candidates. Now who do you think is the true villain? Or is it fair to single out only one individual? Also, on a scale of one to ten (ten being the greatest), how mean am I for even considering Penny as one of the baddies?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Out of Coffee, Out of Mind's First Blogversary: Here, Have a Giveaway


Via Pixabay
 
Technically, my actual blogversary is tomorrow, but tomorrow happens to be a Thursday, and I don’t post on Thursdays. Which means I’m celebrating today. And just as a warning, this post will probably be a little long, but it’s my party, so I’m allowed.

When I started out last year, I wasn’t sure what I was doing or where this whole blogging thing was going to go. On the one hand, I didn’t know if I wanted to pursue blogging in the long term or if people would even be interested in my random yammerings.

Some of you may not be aware that my blog initially went by another name for a grand total of two weeks before I came up with Out of Coffee, Out of Mind. And if you want to know the only-slightly-but-not-very interesting story behind that, here’s a link to the explanation.

I’ll admit, I think I got stage fright trying to figure out some of this stuff, because the first few months pretty much went by in a haze of blind panic. Now that a whole year has passed, I still haven’t gotten the hang of everything (or much of anything), but I will say that I love blogging so much more now than I did even six months ago. Also, I just want to thank everyone who has taken the time to comment on my blog—it means so much to me. For the first two-and-a-half months, I wasn’t sure if anyone was actually interested. I mean, I got page views, but I figured they were probably from lots of disappointed people wondering how they’d found a link to a site about coffee that wasn’t really about coffee. Sorry, not sorry.

Starting out I was also, unfortunately, rather ignorant of blogging etiquette. But that’s no excuse, really, because I could have researched or used common sense or whatnot. So for an embarrassingly long while after I started getting comments, I blithely answered them and ignored the rest of the blogging community like a spoiled little princess. So, to any of you I ignored—I really wish that I had gone back and commented on your blogs to show my gratitude, and I promise I’ll make that effort from now on. I’ve only recently begun to realize that more than half of the fun comes from interacting with other bloggers and reading what people have to say in their own little corners of the world.

Anyway, enough with the boring stuff. Now I’m just going to throw a bunch of links at you, like, for instance, these blogs I’ve especially enjoyed over the past year (in alphabetical order, of course, because I could never order them by preference—I love them all):
 


I’ll admit, often when it came time to post, I didn’t feel like I had much to offer—I just grabbed at the first idea that came to mind and went with it. There were days when I worried I’d offend someone or make everyone hate me. But there were other times when I felt confident about what I was doing, times when I was surprised by how well-received some of my posts were.

According to the stats, these were my reader’s top ten favorites for the year:
 

And these were my top fifteen favorites (in alphabetical order):



And now for the giveaway!

I’ve mentioned on several occasions how much I love Ray Bradbury. So I’ve decided to give away a copy of his brilliant novel, FAHRENHEIT 451. This 60th Anniversary Edition includes an introduction by Neil Gaiman, essays by the author, and lots of other fun stuff (along with the actual story).

 
So here’s how you can win:
 
If you follow Out of Coffee, Out of Mind, you get an entry.
If you comment, you get an entry.
If you share this post via Twitter, Facebook, your blog, etc… and provide proof that you’ve done so, you get an entry.
If you tell me how you came across my blog, you get an entry.
And if you tell me your favorite post(s) of the year, you get an entry.
WHICH MEANS…
All in all, you can get as many as five entries.
Note: This giveaway is open to all residents of Earth.
 

The giveaway runs until September 15th. I will notify the winner via email on the 16th. If you do not have Google+, please include your email address in the comments.

 

Thank you again to all my readers, new and old! You make blogging ten million times more enjoyable.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Book Review: THE HOST by Stephenie Meyer

Warning: As always, I try to stay relatively spoiler free. But it doesn’t hurt to proceed with caution.

Rating: Four Stars—Great


I have mixed feelings about THE HOST—I really do. For one thing, it’s Romance, and I don’t do Romance, so this happens to be one of those rare exceptions. That said, though, I have a sort of love/hate relationship with this book, because half the time I’m like, “THIS BOOK IS THE BEST”, and half the time I can’t help rolling my eyes at the romantic side of the plot. So I’ll do my best to list what sets it apart, in my mind, from the rest of its romantic kin.

Parasitic Symbiosis. Just so you know what I’m talking about, Wanderer is a Soul, a parasitic alien that must live in a host body in order to survive. Usually the host’s consciousness fades after insertion, leaving the Soul to go about its existence unhindered. But in Wanderer’s case, her host—Melanie Stryder—refuses to fade. And, unfortunately for Wanderer, Melanie is willing to do anything it takes to rejoin her brother (Jamie) and her boyfriend (Jared) in hiding, even if it means bringing Wanderer with her.

Indecisiveness is bad enough, but it’s worse when you’re literally of two minds about something. Throughout the book, Wanderer and Melanie must come to terms with each other as they struggle to work together—Melanie with the knowledge the she can no longer control her fate or her actions, that she cannot even communicate with her loved ones unless Wanderer speaks for her; Wanderer with the understanding that, though she is falling for someone, her host is in love with another man.

Talk about drama. I mean, it’s worse than a love triangle—it’s, like, a love quadrangle, or whatever you want to call it.

So, on the one hand, this could come off as really awkward. But I was surprised by how well Stephenie Meyer deals with this issue. And I love the bond that develops between Wanderer and Melanie over time, how they begin to rub off on each other, how they learn to see the world through each other’s eyes.

Human Nature. If you’ve read many of my book reviews or discussions, you’ll know I really appreciate stories that shed light on human nature/humanity. Maybe this is because I love psychology—I enjoy peeking into emotions and motivations and actions and everything else that makes up a person’s psyche. So THE HOST automatically gains points with me on that end when it begs the question, “What does it truly mean to be human?”

Wanderer, Melanie, and Jamie. While Melanie is spirited and strong, Wanderer is the exact opposite—submissive, fearful, and altruistic. Together, they make for quite a pair. And the plot only thickens when they become reunited with Jamie, Melanie’s younger brother. I can’t even tell you how much I love Jamie—he is the most adorable, the most sweetest thing ever. Though he has every right to hate Wanderer for what she has (inadvertently) taken away from him, instead he welcomes her with open arms and accepts her because he cares for her, not just because she wears his beloved sister’s face.

Jared and “The Love Interest”. I can’t very well tell you who the love interest is, now can I? Because that would spoil it for you. But these two guys are the best, especially when they’re butting heads over Wanderer/Melanie like two rams fighting over a lady sheep. Their jealousy is so adorable, and even if they are a little unbelievable, I still half love them.

Uncle Jeb. I haven’t decided yet whether I think he’s fully sane or not. Effectively the dictatorial leader of his little tribe of surviving humans—hidden away in pockets beneath the desert—he guides his followers with wisdom and snark. He may not be blessed with an overabundance of kindness, yet he can be incredibly gentle, and no one else in the group would make a better leader. Also, he provides most of the comic relief, so there’s that.

The Feel of It. I know, very specific of me, but I love the mood and the tone—the scariness of the open spaces and the coziness of the caves, the fear of the Seekers and the daring of those who go on raiding missions. Also, I love how, while Meyer deals with invading, parasitic aliens and spaceships and cool technology, the book doesn’t actually FEEL like a Science-Fiction novel—the Sci-Fi aspect doesn’t get all in your face. (Not that I would mind if it did, but I find it an intriguing and pleasant surprise that doesn’t. Basically, it’s Sci-Fi for those who don’t do Sci-Fi, and if I’m any indication, Romance for those who don’t do Romance. Pretty much your average win-win situation.)

And if you’re doubting the emotional impact of the plot, just put yourself in Jared’s shoes and imagine what it would be like if you lost someone you loved but then had someone else return wearing your loved one’s body. Yeah, I kind of wish I could send Jared a box of chocolates and a “sorry your girlfriend got possessed by a space centipede” card.

The Souls. Okay, so the Souls are the bad guys, right? I mean, they’ve taken over the world and everything. In fact, by inhabiting the bodies of almost everyone on earth, they have effectively murdered billions of people. And their Seekers continue to hunt down and dispose of the remaining resistance. Don’t they sound so horrible?

But wait till you meet them.

No seriously, because they are INCREDIBLY NICE. I mean, they are genuinely very nice little space centipedes. They never break any laws—they don’t need a monetary system because they have perfected communism (and not Stalin’s form of Socialism, but the dream Marx had of a world where everyone shares equally and everyone pulls their own weight—note: don’t try this at home). They care so much about each other, and they are such softies. For the most part, they aren’t aggressive, and they are so selfless. Let me stress this again, THEY ARE REALLY NICE PEOPLE.

And yet they’re the bad guys—and they’re really, really bad guys, considering what they’ve done. So try figuring that one out.

Now for the stuff I didn’t like as much.

Kissing, Ew. Okay, so there was kissing, and a good deal of it at that. And I’m so unromantic, I would almost prefer it if the characters ignored each other all the time and never fell in love, so you can imagine how I feel about kissing. Also, there are a few eye-roll moments like the, “Help me, Jared, you can only save Melanie by snogging me” scene. Yeah, no. I’m sure you could think of something else, Wanderer, if you tried hard enough.

Where Are the Promised Sequels, I Ask You? So a few years ago, when the movie adaptation was just about to come out, US magazine interviewed Stephenie Meyer, and she told them that she had two sequels planned: THE SEEKER, and THE SOUL. At that point, she said she had already written about 20% of THE SEEKER. Granted, she did also tell US that it’s been slow going because she’s busy and she doesn’t work well with interruptions. But seriously, I needed the sequel, like, three years ago. And people wonder why I have trust issues.


So, all in all, I definitely felt that THE HOST was worth reading (actually, worth reading three times). Despite the eye-roll moments, THE HOST presents an engaging plot, a cast of intriguing characters, and 620 pages of well-paced prose.
 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Double Feature


So, I realized the other day that the lovely Opal @ Opal Swirls tagged me for the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award last month and I never noticed (because I am numb like that). Sorry, Opal. She also nominated me for the A Writer’s Life for Me Tag a few weeks ago, which means I have some catching up to do. Thanks for the tags, Opal!


Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award



Rules:

Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to their site.
Put the award logo on your blog.
Answer the ten questions sent to you.
Make up ten new questions for your nominees to answer.
Nominate ten blogs.


Opal’s Questions (both bold and italic):

 
Motto to live by? Silly or for real.

Well, I don’t exactly have a motto, but my family often quotes one from Robots—“Never try, never fail”—which seems like an excellent axiom.



Favorite type of cookie? The most important question.

TOO MANY OPTIONS. But if I had to narrow it down, I’d say pretty much anything with both chocolate and mint.

 
 
Do you dance in the rain? Please tell me you at least jump in puddles.  

YES. I do dance in the rain. In fact, when I was a counselor at a summer camp, most of my campers probably assumed I’d lost my marbles because I went mud sliding and jumping in puddles and all that fun stuff. (What do you mean, I set a bad example?)  

 

What do you know about New Zealand? I always have a NZ question.

I know New Zealand is beautiful, and I’m pretty sure you call people from New Zealand kiwis (which is easier than saying New Zealandishers, or something like that). I want to live there someday, and I’ve already established that, when I’m dictator of the world, I will allow NZ to continue as a free state. Also, fun fact: Of the people who visit my blog, kiwis have taken third place in number of page views since they bumped out France. (Aussies come in second, and Americans take first, in case you were curious.)

 

What do you find the hardest about blogging? Be honest.

Remembering to blog. It’s not that I have a bad memory, it’s just that I have difficulty with the concept of time (days and weeks—I’m fine with minutes and hours). A month can pass, and I might not even notice. So I’m always worried I’m going to skip a week’s post because I’ve lost track of what day it is (it’s almost happened a couple times—shhh, don’t tell).

 

Strangest thing you’ve seen in public? Yeah…

When I used to live in Africa, I went to a restaurant that had a tame deer hanging out near the tables. I also went to a gas station that had a zoo attached (but it was a really depressing zoo because the lion was dead and the giant tortoise was sick).

 

One word that describes you? A word you would use to describe you.

Coffee (don’t even question this—it’s totally an adjective).

 

Do you have a favorite poet? A poem, a poem is good too.

I’m a big fan of Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Edgar Allan Poe, but I also like Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Time Does Not Bring Relief; You All Have Lied” and Robert Frost’s “Bereft”.

 

Last book you read and enjoyed? To steal from Heather (again).

This is a hard one because I usually read (and consequently finish) more than one book at a time. So I’m going to cheat a little on this question and tell you about one I’m currently reading and enjoying. (Sorry, Opal.) I’m working on MONSTERS OF MEN by Patrick Ness (in case you were wondering, it’s the sequel to THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO and THE ASK AND THE ANSWER).

 

The best sport in the world is… soccer/horsebackriding.

Sorry, neither. I choose cross-country. I wasn’t a big fan of team sports when I was a little person, so I liked the freedom of cross-country. I could just ignore everyone and set my own pace.


A Writer’s Life for Me Tag


Rules:

Thank the person who tagged you (and link back, because that’s just good etiquette.)
Answer the ten questions.
Re-post the picture.
Tag 5-10 bloggers.


Questions:


What kind of writer are you?

An obsessed one. When I was in high school, I’d finish my work and then rush to the laptop to work on my book. I didn’t do much else (socializing, sports, eating, sleeping? Who needs all that?).

 

When did you start writing? What made you want to try it?

I started writing when I was a little seven-year-old living in Africa. My teacher was this great Northern Irish woman, and she taught the best writing curriculum ever. (Side Note: Comparing that to some of the experiences I had in American schools, I can safely say I’m not sure I would be as into writing now if I’d been first exposed in the United States.)

 

What inspires your stories?

This is a difficult question to answer because it’s a bit personal. So I’ll just put it this way: each of my stories characterizes something I’ve lost.

 

What themes do you like to explore in your writing?

This ties in with the last question. I write about loss and grief in its varying forms (loss of family, loss of friends, loss of trust, loss of country, etc…) It’s how I figure out what’s going on in my head. I also write about interesting things like psychopaths, dragons, and xenophobic cultures.

 

Are you a panster or a plotter or a bit of both?

It’s funny—I used to be strictly a panster, hands-down. I only needed to know the starting and ending points. But last NaNoWriMo, I found I needed to work up a rough outline of everything before I could write (and by rough outline, I mean very rough). Now, as I’m hurtling toward another NaNoWriMo, I’ve been getting even more into the planning mood, so I may be evolving as a writer—or I might just be going through a stage. I’m not sure yet.



Where are you at in your journey? Querying, agented, published?

I’m currently querying and working on other projects to distract myself.

 

Have you ever entered any writing contests? Finaled? Won?

I made it to semi-finals in two essay-writing contests when I was a wee little tyke.  

 

Who are your writer heroes?

Ray Bradbury. Bet you didn’t see that one coming. (And I also have to add Nova Ren Suma because she is a master hypnotist when it comes to her prose.)

 

Have you been to a writing conference? Share your best or worst conference experience.

Never been, unfortunately. Hopefully I’ll make it to one someday.

 

Top 3 tips you’d give to newbie writers?

Disclaimer: These are just tidbits I needed to hear along the way, so please take them all with a grain of salt. They may not work as well for you as they worked for me.

One: You may feel heartless and cruel, but if you can’t summon the strength to kill off or torment your characters when it’s necessary to move the plot along, you might want to think about choosing a nicer, softer profession, like botany, whale-watching, or professional croquet (if they have that). Okay, so that’s a little harsh. My point is, to be an effective writer, you have to be at least a little cold-hearted.  

Two: If you were to eat a cake made almost entirely of frosting, you’d probably feel a little sick—you might not even make it all the way through. In writing, adjectives are your frosting. And while they make a great accent, you don’t want to give your readers upset stomachs. So you’d be doing yourself a great favor if you avoided sentences like, “The girl with flowing blonde hair and rich emerald eyes flung the large, half-way deflated, orange rubber ball toward the small, tow-headed, mischievous toddler with brown streaks of crumbly, chocolate cake smeared carelessly on his rounded, apple cheeks.” If you were dressing up to go out, you wouldn’t try to wear a dozen necklaces at once (well, I certainly hope you wouldn’t)—so don’t make your reader suffer a similar experience. Make every word pull its weight.

Three: Shoot your inner editor. I’d never even finished writing an entire first draft of a novel until I participated in NaNoWriMo and just wrote like a crazy person with a posse of angry lawmen on my tail. Race toward that finished draft as if your life depends on it because—trust me—it does.

 

And there you have it. Since I’m pretty sure most of the bloggers I follow have been tagged for one or both of these already, I’m not going to nominate anyone. But if you haven’t, and you’d like to, just let me know and I’ll link back to you. (Also, just as a heads-up: Next week is my first blogversary, and there will be a giveaway!)