I switched themes because the other theme’s type seemed to small and set close together, and now I feel like I’m shouting. Shouting about ripping off John Scalzi.
“Simplicity boils down to two steps: Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest.” –Leo Babauta
I feel like my twenties was spent accumulating Stuff, and my thirties is going to be spent getting rid of it. I’m a writer, and accumulate paper at an alarming rate. I get supplies and ephemera and things, and plan to do projects that end up being stuffed into boxes. Instead of making a list of books I wanted to read someday, for awhile (because I worked in a bookstore that gave me a 30% discount) I would just buy the book and put it in a crate, planning to get to it eventually. This system may work great if you’re not already a busy person with a tendency to procrastinate, but I am not that person. Besides that, my living space never expanded to accommodate all my Stuff like I thought it would. Turns out that not everyone’s economic situation is a steadily increasing upward climb after college. I think I figured that by the time I got to my 30s, my living space would have expanded and stabilized, but that’s just not how life worked out. And so now I wonder why I have all this Stuff, why I pack it up and haul it around to a new living space every two to three years, why I step over it in my bedroom, why I trip over it in the dark, why I breathe in the dust it collects. I’m finally looking at fitting my stuff into the space I have, instead of the other way around. (And yes, it is capitalized in my head, this Stuff that I probably don’t need and yet don’t get rid of.)
A milk crate full of scratch paper. An old microwave. Six bags of clothes and towels. A bashed-up futon. Four pairs of shoes.
After my dad had to clean out his mom’s house after she died, he came home and started emptying out his own crawl space and filing cabinets and closets, so that me and my brother won’t have to someday. Hurricane Katrina took care of the problem at my other grandmother’s house. When I was a kid, I used to lie awake at night fearing that my house would catch fire (the school unit that was meant to empower me in case of emergency had the effect of opening my eyes to a manner of death and destruction I hadn’t, to that point, realized was possible), and I would make lists in my head of what I needed to take out of the house with me. I keep reading about Syrian refugees, millions of them, leaving behind everything they can’t carry. People fleeing from wildfires. Zombie apocalypse stories that reduce humanity to its bones. The problem of electrifying India and China while not cooking the planet. Why do I carry all this stuff. The objects, the lists, the tasks, the anxiety. The stuff. It’s all ephemeral anyway. Just one fire away from being ash and memories. Just one hurricane away from being black sludge. How much of it do I really really need?
A DSLR camera. An electric guitar. A 12×1 amp. A saxophone. A 12-channel mixer. Old art supplies. Old blank books.
This isn’t entirely the way I was raised. My parents are tidy people, my dad especially is budget-minded, and they didn’t just buy stuff willy-nilly. But neither did they throw anything away that might be useful (or rather, in the case of my dad, he doesn’t buy anything that he doesn’t think he can get at least ten years of good use out of). They didn’t police my own ability to control my bedroom space and accumulate possessions. Even as a little kid, I liked garage sales. I grew up reading Ranger Rick and its elementary-level precautions against how fast we’re filling up all of our landfills. So for as long as I can remember, I have been both surrounded by stuff and worried about it. Full bookshelves, full garages, full crawl spaces, full drawers of random crap that don’t have a place. I used to keep a milk crate full of paper that was blank on one side that I used as scratch paper. I carted it around for over ten years; it turned into a sort of sediment record of my academic career going all the way back to high school. I finally chucked it out last summer. As a friend of mine said, if you haven’t used it in ten years, you’re not going to use it. So out it went. And now it’s one less thing, physically and mentally, to carry around.
I was raised in Quakerism, and one of Quakerism’s founding principles is Simplicity. The definition I was told as a child, that I’ve always connected to, is that Simplicity isn’t about the amount of stuff you have or don’t have. And it’s not even necessarily about how busy you are, something that those of us in the 21st century probably find comforting. The way Simplicity was explained to me is that you need to have space in your brain and your heart to be able to listen to God in your life. For me, it happens to be true that a cluttery living space contributes to a cluttery headspace and a cluttery religious practice. On the other hand, some of the most cluttered houses I was around growing up were houses owned by Quakers, because we tend to save everything in the hope that it might be useful someday. It took me a long time to realize that I can’t save stuff hoping I’ll use it someday. It takes up too much space in my head. When I imagine my best living space, or when I try to imagine my life feeling caught up and simple, I’m in something like a log cabin with no extraneous furniture and simple tasks to do and I just move through life, doing one thing at a time. I keep daydreaming about putting my stuff in storage and going and teaching English in Japan, or even just getting a long haul trucker’s license and living in the cab of a truck with a dog and a small bookshelf with books and a laptop. (My need to collect books will probably forever stand in the way of my desire to live in a tiny cabin with no extraneous possessions.)
How much of my life is just extraneous? What could I do without? The vast majority of it. Easily. The question is, will I do without it because I want to, or will I wait until I have to, until the entropy of the universe takes my decision to own stuff out of my hands?
Paystubs from 2005. Old pots and pans from Wal-Mart. Three boxes of books. Two boxes of old magazines. Old candles.
Why do I save objects thinking I’ll use them someday? Wouldn’t it be better if I sent it back out into the world where someone who might be able to use it now could maybe find it? As a country, we’re drowning in stuff. We could stop producing jeans and shirts and shoes right now any everyone would still be able to walk around fully clothed for years. 40% of the food purchased nationwide gets thrown away. The problem of people not having stuff isn’t a problem of resources; it’s a problem of distribution. As I get used to being able to find everything online, and at my local library, trying to build my own archive of useful Stuff seems like a futile endeavor. I don’t have the time or the space or the filing system.
And so, a little at a time, stuff has gone out the door. To Goodwill and onto Amazon and ebay and into Little Free Library boxes and used book stores. I still have a box of records (music records I mean) to sell on ebay. I could probably stand to get rid of more clothes. I can’t quite stand to get rid of my old Nintendo, even though I don’t have anything to plug it into. There’s another drawer of audio cables and chargers that I could chuck out. These days, ironically, my problem is cardboard boxes, which I don’t want to throw out because I could fill them with stuff I’m throwing out, but I’m not sure now if I have more cardboard boxes than stuff to put in them.
Piles of bumper stickers that I don’t have a car to put them on. My childhood dog’s collar. A box of Mardi Gras necklaces.
I’ve been reading books like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, listening to podcasts like The Minimalists, to get me in the right mindset to throw stuff out. I’m realizing that material simplicity–the sort of simplicity where you approach your possessions and schedule with mindfulness and intention instead of just automatically going wherever your impulses lead you–is one of those things that you approach entirely differently depending on your income level aand class privilege. What, for some folks, is a way to improve their life is for other people just life. I had an economic upbringing that was set to a packrat/accumulation default, and much of my adulthood has been spent unlearning that behavior (it says something about the creepy power of American culture that I learned this behavior in spite of my parents’ best efforts to teach me otherwise). If you don’t have money to buy that book you want to read, even at a 30% discount, you don’t buy the damn book. If you don’t have a closet or floor space in which to cram all your scrapbook supplies (that you had the money to buy), you don’t even start out with crafting supplies and half-done projects.
But even more than that, minimalism as a philosophy has a certain class-based bias. Maria Kondo, the tidying guru of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, recommends that throwing things out be the default setting, and that you only keep things that give you joy. Alright, okay. One of her anecdotes involves getting rid of a screwdriver, and then trying to use other household objects in the place of the screwdriver, before deciding that life really needs screwdrivers and buying another one. The idea of throwing away (or giving to Goodwill) a perfectly good screwdriver and not replacing it until I find a joy-causing screwdriver is bonkers to me. The fact that the Minimalists (bloggers Josh and Ryan) left extremely well-paying corporate careers to be bloggers, and to have that blog be about the joy of less stuff, is bonkers. Most of us can’t leave our jobs, no matter how much we want to. I just started listening to the Minimalists podcast, and on one level I love the idea and the content and the process, but on another level I really hope they acknowledge at some point that just the fact that they were able to make that choice at all is an extraordinary level of privilege and class and education in and of itself. I have maybe $200 left in my bank account at the end of every month; no way can I quit my job and be a blogger. They talk about their desire, early on their minimalism journey, to quit their jobs and be baristas. My reaction (because I was a barista for ten years) was, “Yeah, that’s not living simply, that’s just being poor.” What’s the difference between being poor and living simply? Even being a barista is a manifestation of privilege, because it means you’ve spent time in coffee shops, which means you have an extra $5 a day to spend on coffee and muffins. Nobody ever advocates quitting your corporate job for the joy of being a Wal-Mart greeter, even though the two probably pay roughly the same. The Minimalists said no to $10k a month by refusing to put ads on their site. I don’t know how much either of them has that they can say no to $10k a month, but holy shit, I would love $10k a month. Almost anyone would, and it’s not because we’re greedy or have no values, it’s because so many Americans feel fucking broke all the time.
But, y’know, maybe I could. Because that’s the thing, when I’m annoyed by shit like this, it’s often either because I recognize myself in this classist weirdness, or because I want to. I want a website that’s popular enough that someone will give me $10k per month for ads. I’d do that for six months, pay off all my debts, donate money to a scholarship fund for kids who don’t have money for college, and then go back to my ad-free model. I want to be the asshole that considers being a barista to be artful and working at Wal-Mart to be drudgery. I want to make choices about my life, not have those choices made for me either by economic limits or by cultural inertia. And one of the deepest inertias, one of the biggest lies told to us, is that we don’t have choices about things that we actually have a choice about.
I don’t know. I really don’t. I’ve been working on this entry for weeks, and while it’s gotten longer, I don’t think I’ve reached any more clarity on the whole thing. Maybe I should just stuck with throwing stuff out, and not thinking about the lifestyle implications.
I’m near the younger end of my cousins. I have four cousins younger than me, and twelve that are older, so when I was a kid and we went back to Louisiana to visit them, I was almost always one of the youngest ones there. So sometimes, while my parents talked with their siblings, I ended up doing not-entirely-age-appropriate stuff to entertain myself. Like when I was seven or eight and ended up in my cousin Daniel’s bedroom digging through his X-Men and Spider-Man comics and reading them. I didn’t know anything about the X-Men canon. It was in the middle of Chris Claremont’s epic run on the series, and a lot of it went over my head, but a lot of it settled in my subconscious, and planted seeds in my memory. I certainly learned the names of Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, and Jean Grey. When Fox started airing the X-Men animated show in 1992, I was all over that shit like white on rice. The universe became clearer, and I started reading X-Men comics more regularly (but still pretty piecemeal, since I didn’t have access to a comic book shop) and assembling the universe in my head. The X-Men and the Evil Brotherhood of Mutants. Sentinels. Senator Kelly. William Stryker.
(Note: It was a mystery to me what X-Men story I had read first, because all I had was a memory of a single panel: of Nightcrawler lying unconscious and bleeding from his ears while the other X-Men stand over him in concern and a vague understanding of mutants as an oppressed minority rather than a crew of superheroes. It wasn’t until recently that I read God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and realized that that was the comic I had read decades earlier at my cousin’s).
Early on in the Fox series, there’s a plotline in which two scientists discover a “cure” for mutantism. I forget how the X-Men find out about it, but they do, and their reactions all fit their personalities and personal histories. Wolverine immediately sees it as a tool to eliminate mutants’ powers and neutralize the perceived threat of mutantkind; Rogue, not so much. As one of the mutants whose powers are both an ability and a curse, Rogue (as well as Beast) tend to be the most ambivalent about their mutations, and tempted by the idea of a cure. Peaceful, optimistic Charles Xavier disagrees with the very premise. “Don’t say ‘cure,’ Moira. Being a mutant isn’t a disease. It’s something you’re born with,” he tells Moira McTaggert, one of the scientists. (This is the same plot line that Joss Whedon would handle for his run writing the Astonishing X-Men comics in 2005). It is, basically, the neurodiversity argument, only written in 1992 for a grade school-level audience.
I think it’s this storyline (and others like it), rather the ones that deal with a planet in danger or intergalactic space war, that drew me to the X-Men. Pretty early on, I picked up on threads that I translated into the X-Men being code for people with disabilities. One of the earliest questions that I remember being asked about my sister (besides “What’s wrong with her?” and “What’s it like having a sister with Down’s?”) had to do with whether I would change her if I could. Magically suck the extra chromosome out of every single one of her body’s cells. I don’t remember how young I was when I first heard about the high abortion rates for fetuses with Down’s, but it’s been in my head since at least middle school. And even though I never witnessed people being cruel to my sister, I did witness neurotypical classmates of mine being cruel to disabled kids at my school, and being mocking in general of anyone in special ed or remedial classes. It became really easy, in my head, to equate “Do mutants have the right to exist?” and “Do people with disabilities have the right to exist?” To see “retard” and “mutie” as linguistic cousins. The fear and hostility that mutants experience when they interact with regular Homo sapiens sometimes feels familiar when I hear people talk about people with disabilities. The parallel ran so deep in my head that I was honestly surprised when I got to high school and college and started talking about the X-Men with other people and realized that for them, the parallel was between straight people and queer people, or white people and people of color. That there might be many parallels had honestly never occurred to me, so deep and solid was my understanding that “mutant” was code for “disabled.” (This was before I read Chris Claremont’s statement that for him, mutants could stand in for any outsider population. In the introduction to the trade paperback version of God Loves, Man Kills, Claremont says, “Mutants in the Marvel Universe have always stood as a metaphor for the underclass, the outsiders; they represent the ultimate minority.”)
It crystallized slowly for me, over the course of years. Not all–or even most–storylines have to do with mutaphobia, after all. The X-Men fight against Magneto and fight against the Shi’ar (and fight with the Shi’ar), and there’s the Phoenix Saga and numerous interpersonal dramas and secondary mutations and all that. To read the X-Men is to get to know them from the inside first, their individual histories, their powers, how they feel about those powers, their flaws and foibles, their courage and tenacity, their creativity at solving (or blasting through) problems. You know the X-Men as individuals, make friends with them, and as the stories pile up it slips your mind that the rest of the comic universe world doesn’t see them as individuals, but as a blanket population. You don’t always have to be aware of the fact that a small but significant percentage of the non-mutant population hates mutants, fears them, and wants them dead.
I came to knowledge of my sister’s disability in much the same way. I was three–almost four–when she was born, so I didn’t have any concept of what Down syndrome was. She was just an eating, pooping, crying (and eventually giggling) machine. Your basic human baby. By the end of elementary school (when she would’ve been around seven and me around eleven), I had a pretty good handle on the definition of Down syndrome, but I had an even better knowledge of my sister. I knew how much she loved Barbie and Full House and that cheese was a fundamental dietary building block. I knew her love and her smiles and her stubbornness. I knew how much she was distressed by bees (and flies that might be bees) and automatic garage doors and anybody crying. I knew her. It’s hard to put all that aside and look at my sister from an outsider’s point of view and remember that there’s people who think that my sister is a waste of space. That she’s stupid. That she’s a burden on society and/or my family and that she shouldn’t exist. And there’s people out there who don’t think those things, but who are happy to tell me such things over the Internet because they know it’ll get to me.
I truly believe my sister is a gifted person, though not in the academic way that most people think of when they label kids “gifted.” Her gifts are of a more abstract sort: a deep and instinctive knowledge of chesed, of loving-kindness, of human joy. But the same genetic error that gave her those gifts also gets in the way, too. Gets in the way of her desire to live independently and have more friends. Gets in the way of my family’s desire that she live with economic stability and a reasonable amount of personal safety. Would she welcome the chance for a cure? I honestly don’t know. Like Rogue, her extra chromosome is both a gift and a curse. She can do many amazing things, but also misses out on a lot of opportunities that are easily available to “normals.”
It wasn’t until much, much later that I realized the other parallel. The angry one.
Because people with disabilities get abused at disturbingly, shockingly, unacceptably high rates in modern America. And every time I see it, in the news or wherever, it makes the muscles in my arms harden, and I stop breathing, and start looking for something to hit. Of course there’s never anything to hit. In those moments, though, I wish I was the mutant Pyro, so I could literally set the world on fire. In Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, when Dr. Rao announces a cure for the “mutant disease” on television, Wolverine’s claws come out and he can’t retract them. “She called us a disease. Do you know how that feels?” he says.
Yeah, Logan. I think I do, at least a little bit.
I would set the whole world on fire. I understand Magneto’s fury in the face of human intolerance and bigotry, and why he’s given up on humans and on Charles Xavier’s idealism. Xavier wants to teach people tolerance and compassion, but that is the long fucking way around the problem, and in the meantime people are straight up fucking dying and why do I have to talk to you about not calling people retards when those same people are getting murdered? I don’t have time for that bullshit. It would be so much easier, so much more satisfying, to just throw cars at people and silence them.
When it was my own sister that got hurt, it didn’t feel like enough. Her getting hurt by somebody else felt like the end point of a long chain of dealing with the stupidity and apathy of “normals” and the inevitable vulnerability and invisibility that disabled people experience because of it. There had been decades of people asking, in so many words, “Why does your sister exist?” And then someone came along and decided that she existed to be his victim. He picked a vulnerable, invisible person, and he did it on purpose, because he knew he could get away with it. He thought she wouldn’t fight back. And he was largely right, because how do you teach somebody to defend herself when her default setting is that everyone is her friend?
And that is when I understand the anger that allows Magneto to channel enough power to lift an entire football stadium into the air.
That is when I understand the Scarlet Witch’s anger and desperation when she says, “No more mutants.”
That is when I understand Pyro throwing fireballs, because that’s what I would do, that’s what I wanted to do, to set the whole fucking world on fire for leaving my sister helpless and invisible and vulnerable to somebody who decided to hurt her.
I want to incinerate the world. I want claws like Wolverine’s. Because that’s the biggest thing that X-Men in the Marvel Universe have going for them, that’s their trump card. They can do astonishing things. Uncanny things. Amazing things. They can save the world when no one else can. And that’s a really good argument in favor of their right to exist. When all else fails, when morals and ethics and human compassion fails, mutant usefulness is still there. My sister, and people like her, aren’t stupendous. They aren’t awe-inspiring. They do not astonish, unless you’re willing to examine something quieter and more subtle than telekinesis. Given the chance, much as I like to imagine myself as one of Xavier’s noble X-Men, I’m probably closer to one of Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. More interested in defending, in fighting, than explaining. At least where my sister is concerned. Because it makes me so, so angry, the way this world treats the most vulnerable people in it.
But there’s this: I think Magneto feels very alone. At least, on days when I want to blow up the world, that’s how I feel: like nobody cares about this–either not enough or not at all–except me. And if their apathy was neutral, it wouldn’t matter. But apathy isn’t neutral. In the vacuum of apathy, people like my sister get hurt. They die. They’re left all alone. And that is when I have to go for a walk and calm down until I can hear the Charles Xavier voice in my head again. The one that insists that normal humans are worth teaching. The one that believes that humans and mutants can co-exist. The one who would never commit genocide, even though he has the mental power to make everyone’s brains ooze out of their earholes. I remind myself that I’m not alone. That there’s a lot of people–and not just in my family, either–who love my sister, who want to help her, and who are helping her.
My sister loves me. And I love her. She never gives up trying to do anything you ask her to do. There is nothing on this earth that could shake her faith in me. And maybe that makes me selfish, to want to keep that. Almost certainly it is. No more selfish than keeping her around because she’s the only one powerful enough to fight the Brood, but hey. We haven’t had much luck with convincing the world that the ability to love is enough of a utility to exist in a capitalistic society.
Sometimes I think about Ian McKellan (who is, as far as I’m concerned, Magneto’s alter ego) and the fact that, despite dealing with homophobia on a personal and professional level his whole life, he has not himself turned into a supervillian. The fact that, in spite of all they’ve been put through, oppressed minorities in this country (whether it’s disabled folks, LGBTQ folks, mentally ill folks, people of color, etc etc) have, without exception, never turned into evil supervillians. (I know I’m generalizing here, but keep in mind that this is what I tell myself in order to not let my heart get eaten by a murderous rage that burns with the heat of a thousand suns and cut me some slack.) Sure, there’s warlords in Africa and drug cartels in Mexico and Kim Jung-un in North Korea, and they cause enormous amounts of heartache and human damage, but they’re not exactly on the world-endangering level of Dr. Doom or the Red Skull. From a power and world domination standpoint, Barack Obama is the closest thing we have to a supervillain. Maybe Donald Trump. From the oppressed minority contingent, we don’t get Magneto. We get Martin Luther King, Jr.; a human of intelligence and courage that we certainly did not ask for, let alone deserve, but are so fortunate to have had in our midst. We get Helen Keller and Harvey Milk and Nelson Mandela. Bayard Rustin and Vincent Harding and Temple Grandin. Artists like Toni Morrison, Leslie Feinberg, Maya Angelou, Jeremy Brett. We get the beautiful people that I know from the progressive/leftist/anarchist organizing community in Denver, who have taught me about putting love into action and validating and standing up for yourself and others. We get community groups like the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement and the AIDS Quilt and the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. And that’s just in this past century. The world is full of thousands and thousands of heroes that we don’t deserve, and often don’t recognize while we have them among us. And that is the truly amazing, awe-inspiring, human superpower: The fact that, in the face of oppression and systematic violence and apathy, more often than not, humans choose to love and hope. They default to trying to teach other humans to be better. The fact that we have as many heroes as we do should send us all to our knees.
Thousands of Charles Xaviers walking among us, disguised as regular people. I like that.
Episode Four: Not-Chris-O’Donnell’s cover is blown! Oh noes! His life mission to anonymously bring Justice(!) to Starling City lasted like a month. Peter Parker is making Judgment Face at you, not-Chris-O’Donnell. Be ashamed.
Okay, so actually, not-Chris-O’Donnell’s bodyguard got shot, and so not-Chris-O’Donnell brought him to his Secret Justice Lair to fix him (because Starling City doesn’t have hospitals?), and the bodyguard’s immediate reaction (even though he’s been shot and poisoned and is still metabolizing an antidote) is to try and hit Ollie. Because everyone in this universe is pissed off at Ollie.
I must also point out this excellent dialogue without comment:
Not-Chris-O’Donnell: I found a couple things along the way.
Mr. Diggle: Like what, archery classes?
Not-Chris-O’Donnell: Clarity. Starling City is dying.
Mr. Diggle (I’m just going to call him by his actual name because it’s amazing) calls not-Chris-O’Donnell a criminal and a murderer and leaves him. All alone. So. Very. Alone. So not-Chris-O’Donnell goes back to his big empty house and puts on a suit, and after some unknown period of time Laurel comes to “check on him,” because she has excellent boundaries and is totally on top of all of her shit.
Apparently Laurel has decided to be not-Chris-O’Donnell’s mommy since his actual mom is kind of an emotionally absent sociopath. She guilts him into not telling his family that he was okay after getting shot at, which is totally legit, but she also calls him selfish (and other synonyms) to make him feel guilty. Because guilt is the best way to encourage people to change their behavior. At this point, Laurel is just lashing out, and should probably move on, but she won’t, because…something.
Oh, and the sister saw it all! Lucky not-Chris-O’Donnell isn’t wearing his Arrow hoodie or he would’ve been outed twice tonight. She seems understanding and calm…she’s probably stoned. She dispenses with advice like a reasonable person.
Okay, next morning, Mr. Diggle has phoned in his resignation, apparently effective immediately. I hope he sells his story to the tabloids, because it’s a good one. Also I hope he got medical attention because he got shot. So not-Chris-O’Donnell’s mom called Bodyguards R Us and had them send over another one. Not-Chris-O’Donnell immediately ditches him.
Not-Chris-O’Donnell is investigating his own Making A Murderer-esque miscarriage of justice into a convicted murderer. The convicted murderer is not on Oliver’s list of people who are murdering Starling City, but the name of his employer is, so not-Chris-O’Donnell concludes is that the convicted murderer was framed. Obviously. So not-Chris-O’Donnell goes and talks to Laurel (who is a lawyer, remember) about proving his innocence. Can I just point out again here that a hoodie is actually a terrible disguise? And he walks right up to Laurel like she can’t see his face and recognize him. (Also, you can tell that his Batman voice was done in the studio post-production and it’s very annoying.)
Laurel is now investigating the murder, because apparently there is still a hope to get a new trial declared? Stay of execution? Commuted sentence? I’m totally unclear on the legal process here. Is she even his lawyer?
Okay. I got distracted. Not-Chris-O’Donnell went to talk to Mr. Diggle to try and enlist him, again, into joining Team Vigilante For Justice. Roommate wants me to point out how creepy not-Chris-O’Donnell is when talking to the waitress who is also Mr. Diggle’s family member (which not-Chris-O’Donnell knows, I’m assuming, because he went snooping through Mr. Diggle’s personal life. You know, like friends do). Mr Diggle is not amused, and does not want to join Team Vigilante for Justice, and so Oliver uses emotional blackmail by telling him that the assassin that he “stopped” the other night had murdered Mr. Diggle’s brother. This is a compelling argument because…reasons? I feel like people who are against vigilante justice feel that way because they believe in the legal process, and justice, and staying within the law. Not because they have a stake (personal or otherwise) in deciding whether the vigilante’s victims deserve to be targeted or not. But that’s just me. Maybe there’s people out there who think that vigilantes only kill innocent people and are fine when they find out that vigilantes only kill people who deserve it?
Not-Chris-O’Donnell seems to rely on force of will and non-sequiters to persuade people to his arguments. Mr. Diggle says he doesn’t respect him, and not-Chris-O’Donnell responds by pulling his dad’s journal out of his pocket and shows it to him because…I don’t even know. Not-Chris-O’Donnell makes a lot of anti-capitalist arguments, and portrays the plight of the underprivileged in shockingly bad Batman voice, and argues that the plight of the underprivileged can only be avenged by murder. (Also if, as Roommate argues, Starling City’s manifestation of a capitalist system is not unusual–that is, that exploitative capitalism is a feature and not a bug–not-Chris-O’Donnell is really just getting started at just getting started. I look forward to the Starling City/Gotham crossover, and after that…the world!) “People like my father, they see nothing wrong with raising themselves up while stepping on other people’s throats.” Was this kid reading Trotsky on his desert island?
OKAY NEW THEORY: The show so far hasn’t actually done a fantastic job of showing us the human cost of living under the heel of the evil Starling City capitalists/evil doers. Like, watching any number of Batman movies or reading Batman comics, I totally understand, really quickly, why Gotham is not a great city to live in. I totally understand the human cost that the corrupt police department and rampant crime has cost that city. I don’t have that sense with Arrow, so far, which leads me to the entirely reasonable conclusion that Ollie actually went mad on the island and is enacting some kind of insane murderous delusion that he thinks is saving the city. We only have his word and his dad’s that the city is being poisoned from the inside out, after all. (Also, poison? Has it gotten into the water supply?).
Okay. We need to pause and talk about torture…
……So. Who wants to start?
Skipping over a couple of scenes of the B plot that don’t matter, Arrow has gotten information from Laurel about the murder victim’s boss, who testified at the husband’s trial that the victim had never reported fraud to him (or whatever she reported) (the husband was convicted of his wife’s murder; Arrow is attempting to prove that the murderer was actually the wife’s employer. Arrow says that they have to get him to testify (again, AT WHAT? The trial is done, the execution is scheduled, there are no more hearings to testify at.) Not-Chris-O’Donnell basically says that he’ll do whatever it takes to get the boss to confess to perjury, and then channels his inner Spider-Man and sort of…grapple-arrows his way across the downtown Starling City skyline.
Not-Chris-O’Donnell then kidnaps the boss and chains him to a train track and threatens to put Boss on the 10:15 to “Bloodhaven” (is that an actual city that exists in comics or was not-Chris-O’Donnell making a funny?). Boss confesses to keeping evidence of corporate wrongdoing and murder in his desk. At work. His corporate bosses, who had his subordinate murdered, are working in the same building where he keeps evidence of her murder and their corporate wrongdoing. Also this evidence is three years old, and just hanging out in his desk.
Oh, and torture. If there’s anything that I’ve learned from the last 15 years of the existence of Guantanamo Bay, it’s that torture works. As not-Chris-O’Donnell is demonstrating here with his murder train.
We detour to a bad wig flashback. A random man is rescuing not-Chris-O’Donnell, sort of, except his method of rescue is to give not-Chris-O’Donnell a caged live bird for him to kill and eat himself. Not-Chris-O’Donnell does not want to kill the bird, and it’s the saddest thing in the world. Poor sad, uncorrupted, innocent not-Chris-O’Donnell. Also the kid who is shipwrecked on a desert island has his shirt buttoned all the way up to his neck and it’s making me really uncomfortable.
Roommate wants to talk about the awesomely-written dialogue for a moment. Specifically the line, when Arrow hands her evidence that he stole after committing a violent felony that nearly ended in train murder, that, “as a lawyer, [she] never would have gotten a file like this.” Minds are changing as we watch, guys. You can see her opinions changing right in front of her eyes and it’s clearly a confusing experience for her. Like, of course you never would have gotten a file like this as a lawyer. Know why? Because it’s ILLEGAL AS FUCK AND NOT ADMISSABLE IN COURT. Laurel. Come on. You’re supposed to be the smart, down-to-earth one here.
I’m derailing talk of the amazing dialogue to talk about the legal system: We have illegally obtained files that are about corporate wrongdoing (not murder!) that Laurel can apparently use in the execution hearing that doesn’t exist to get a convicted murderer freed. Also she’s not even his lawyer. Also the files were stolen! From a guy who almost got murdered by a train! What is this justice system that exists!
You guys there’s still 17 minutes left in the episode and I’m getting really exhausted by this whole thing. Things are happening and half an hour ago I would’ve told you about them but I just can’t. Not-Chris-O’Donnell has frolicked off to torture a confession out of a corporate magnate and I just don’t care. Torture. Meh.
Final fight scene is the worst ever. I can’t even. There’s still ten minutes left in the episode but I’m done. Guy in prison gets magically released. Laurel is falling in love with the masked vigilante. The end.
Roommate says: “If I could fart right now, I would.”
This review was first published on my Goodreads account over here.
Sigh. I really wanted to like Armada. I really, really did. I thoroughly enjoyed Ready Player One, and was looking forward to Armada, like, a lot. I had multiple coworkers (I work in a public library) on the lookout for Express copies for me (new books that have a different code in the catalog so they can’t be put on hold; they are grabbable on a first-come-first-served basis), and eventually got an ARC from the purchasing department.
But Armada fell completely flat for me. It disappointed me on so many levels. And I want to make this clear: It’s not disappointing just because I had high hopes and it didn’t measure up. It’s disappointing on an objective level. The narrator character (Zack Lightman) is kind of a terrible person (it’s one of those things that could be mitigated by a secondary character pointing out his shortcomings, which would at least reassure me that Cline knows what a selfish shit his main guy is; but since he doesn’t, the jerkiness is just left hanging out there with no repercussions which makes it annoying. More on this later), and the plot is predictable. Horribly predictable. Like my friend who read it predicted the ending when she was maybe 70 pages in, and when I got to the end and told her she was right (I read faster than she does), her response in Google chat was, “UGH! what? no. what? UGH. but also sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
ooooooooooooooooooo predictable.” She did not finish the novel.
Okay, so. I will try to avoid spoilers insofar as I can, but I’m also feeling like avoiding spoilers is kind of silly since, if you have any knowledge of science fiction tropes/classics at all, you will totally see the end of this book coming.
Zack Lightman is a high school senior. There is a spaceship shooter game that he spends all his free time playing (Armada). Then one day a flying saucer lands on the lawn of his school, and Zack discovers that Armada is a real battle against real aliens, and an international coalition of space ship fighters needs him to enlist in the real fight and save the Earth. This is probably as good a place as any to get into my “Zack is a selfish dickhead” argument: Zack establishes at the outset (and at every possible point thereafter) that his dad died when he was a baby and that Zack has spent a significant amount of his youth digging through boxes of nerd memorabilia that his dad left behind, in the apparent notion that knowing what movies your dad liked is the same as knowing your dad. He’s been raised by his mom, who has never remarried, and is still obviously in love with Zack’s dad. So when a flying saucer lands on his school lawn and Ray (Zack’s manager from his part-time after school job) steps out and says he needs Zack to join an intergalactic fight against aliens who want to destroy Earth, what does Zack do? Does he think, “No, I can’t do that, I’ll leave my already grieving mother all alone”? Does he say, “Hang on, let me talk about this with my mom, since we’re a family and our decisions effect each other”? Does he voice one single thought for his mother at all?
No. No he does not. Just fucks right off onto the spaceship. Look, I know teenagers are selfish jerks (I was a selfish jerk when I was a teenager), and Zack in particular spends way more time talking about and thinking about his dead dad than his live mother, but it seems like maybe Ray, or somebody, would have been like, “Oh yeah, and dude, before we join this deadly battle, let’s at least make sure your mom knows where you are so she doesn’t panic when the school calls her and tells her that her only son left school after almost getting into a serious fight with a classmate and that nobody’s seen him since.” But no. Everyone just fucks off to the battle and doesn’t tell his mom anything. When he does finally think of his mom, it’s to use her loneliness and grief to manipulate and hurt another character, not out of any spontaneous and standalone feelings of love or loyalty.
Speaking of the fight that Zack had been about to get into when the flying saucer landed. That fight? He’d been about to brain a rival classmate of his with a tire iron. Now, granted, in his viciousness and stupidity, the classmate in question is reminiscent of Biff from Back to the Future, but still, a tire iron? This after almost begging to get into a fistfight the day before, and several mentions of “The Incident,” a previous feud between Zack and neo-Biff, which was memorable enough that all of Zack’s classmates are demonstrably still afraid of him (and which, seriously, Zack should have been arrested and/or put into cognitive therapy over). Guys. This is not how you introduce an audience to a hero, even a nerd-hero who is meting out vengeance to a jock-villain. There’s a concept (and a book) in scriptwriting that is embodied in the phrase “save the cat.” I’m going to go ahead and cut and paste the definition from wikipedia: “a term coined by [scriptwriter Blake] Snyder and describes the scene where the audience meets the hero of a movie for the first time. The hero does something nice, e.g., saving a cat, which makes the audience like the hero and sympathise with him. [Snyder’s] inspiration for this was the movie Alien, where Sigourney Weaver’s character Ripley saves a cat named Jones.” Ernest Cline has apparently never heard of this concept, since he introduces us first to Zack’s rage and second his daddy issues. If nothing else, this book takes place post-Columbine and every other damned school shooting, and my ability to tolerate cartoonish levels of violence and stupidity in stories set anywhere in the vicinity of a high school no longer exists (I’m from Littleton, hi, nice to meet you).
Just about every review of Armada I’ve read talks in depth about Cline’s constant referencing of nerd books/movies/video games, so I won’t go into it much here, except I agree that a) it’s everywhere and b) it adds nothing to the narrative. In Ready Player One, the nerd nostalgia added to the narrative. It moved the plot forward. Here, it does nothing but save Cline the effort of having to actually describe things, and frustrate the hell out of me because telling me that a spaceship hanger looks “straight out of Battlestar Galactica” tells me precisely absolutely nothing because I haven’t seen Battlestar Galactica (I know, I know. I should see Battlestar Galactica. It’s on my list). Describing things in terms of other things relies on being reasonably certain that your audience has seen those things, and in my case at least, Cline is severely overestimating his audience’s nerd-culture literacy.
I think I will spend the rest of the review telling you this list of plot point predictions that I made that turned out to not be true.
-This book could have been a surprise Ready Player One prequel. The aliens invade and, instead of humanity winning, the aliens lay waste to the Earth and several years after that Wade Watts is born. Since none of the world governments have revealed to the population that the aliens exist, we can go with the “global warming screwed up everything” reality that Wade Watts accepts at the beginning of RPO.
-Maybe Dad is really dead but the EDA (Earth Defense Alliance) killed him because he stumbled onto their plan. Zack finds out halfway through, after enlisting in the EDA himself.
-Somebody declines to join the EDA after being told of the alien invasion, or demands third-party verification of their claims of alien invasion. We find out if people are actually allowed to voluntarily enlist/de-enlist in the EDA.
-Decent female characters anywhere? Anywhere? Anyone that isn’t a love interest? Anybody?
-What if Zack and the other gamers decide that they’re not actually okay with the fact that Big Brother has been watching them and filling files on them for their entire childhoods, and rebel and overthrow the American arm of the EDA (because they’re the best gamers in the world this should be well within their capabilities), and China and Russia are like, “Well, I guess we’ll save the world from the aliens then since America’s defense arm has completely disintegrated.”
-Zack could be a female gamer who joins the EDA to save the earth, but then becomes so disgusted and discouraged by the misogyny and abuse and terrible jokes that she’s subjected to by the many minions of asshole male gamers who surround her in the EDA, so she leaves and goes home to her boyfriend (or girlfriend), who’s been wanting to spend more time with her anyway, and they have mindblowing sex until the alien apocalypse happens. SEE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU SHUT WOMEN OUT OF GAMES, GAMERGATERS? THE PLANET BLOWS UP. Also, surprise Ready Player One prequel.
Random aside: Zack’s dad’s middle name is Ulysses and Zack’s dad’s dog is still alive (though ancient) and I hope you see and are as annoyed by this obvious nod to classic literature as me. Seriously, this is why there’s no worries about spoilers. The dad’s name is Ulysses. The dog is still alive. Worst broadcast of a twist in the history of ever.
Other random aside: In a world that has a wrist-watch gadget that can apparently instantaneously translate English to Chinese for the one Chinese character in the book, I’m incredibly annoyed by all the American characters who don’t even try to get their wrist-watch gadgets to translate Chinese into English so they can have easy conversations with the Chinese kid. All the burden of translation, if he wants to participate in the conversations at all, falls to the Chinese kid. That kind of sucks. Way to be ambassadors of American hospitality and openness, guys.
Just. Fuck this book. Seriously. I really really like Ready Player One, (there’s a review of it by me floating around on this site somewhere) and I really want Ernest Cline to keep writing, because I like the place that he writes from. I like Wade Watts (the narrator from Ready Player One), who is a flawed but decent person, who wants the world to be a fair and balanced place, who believes that even the schlubbiest nerd can be a hero. That’s the best side of nerd-dom, right there. That’s what I want to read.
This episode is called, “Emo and Dramatic.” I’m pretty sure that’s the official title.
So now, in episode three, I’m starting to become suspicious of not-Chris-O’Donnell’s methods. Maybe because we open with a super dark monologue/intro about how Starling City is controlled by corrupt bureaucrats who kill people with bureaucracy and who infect Starling City like a cancer. There’s lots of talk about cancer. Maybe this monologue would work if it wasn’t VO’d over shots of not-Chris-O’Donnell readying his arrows, because all I can think about is how you don’t shoot cancer with arrows, and that if the cancer is as entrenched and pervasive as not-Chris-O’Donnell says that it is, then killing individual people who perpetuate it will do nothing to eradicate the actual system that exists. To do that I think you need to avail yourself of the police, district attorney, and media outlets in your town (all of whom, so far at least, appear to be relatively non-corrupt). Corruption, at its core, is a social and systemic issue. I googled, and none of the typical methods of fighting corruption in business and government use arrows. (A casual perusal of a couple years of data also seems to suggest that global governmental corruption is increasing, though, so who am I to cast aspersions on new strategies?)
Oh Jesus. Know what I just realized? I just realized what Oliver’s doing. He’s murdering the competition. I know he says he doesn’t want to be part of the Queen Corporation, but that’s only because he hasn’t gotten to that part of his plan yet. He’s killing all of his rival manor lords, and protecting the little people of the city, and when all of the rival nobles are destroyed he will take his place on the throne of the Queen Corp and rule like a king in a castle. And all the serfs in the Glades will give him a measure of their bread every year and everything will be happy. He’s assembling a serfdom, you guys. Feudalism lives!
While I’m thinking about that, not-Chris-O’Donnell goes to shake down a rival nobleman, but before he can finish with his shakedown speech a sniper shoots the evil gangster capitalist. Oliver also takes a bullet to the arm before he escapes to his lair, the bullet turns out to be poisoned, Oliver takes an antidote just in time to not die but still spends most of the night unconscious.
Not-Chris-O’Donnell wakes up and rushes home to find his mother talking to cops, and immediately somehow intuits that the cops aren’t there to find him (son who’s been shipwrecked for five years and already kidnapped once and who has been missing all night and shown a tendency to slip his security detail, who is in fact here in the room with mom, and who also hasn’t seen not-Chris-O’Donnell all night).
“You look like crap,” says Lil Sis to not-Chris-O’Donnell. No he doesn’t! He looks chiseled and hot and impassive LIKE IN EVERY SCENE EVER. “He actually seems to have more color than usual,” says my roommate. Lil Sis leaves the room and Oliver steps up to give his mom parenting advice, which is another thing he picked up on the island (a list that so far includes: ninja fighting, archery, computer hacking, and a master’s in business administration).
And here we find out that Oliver speaks Russian. Something else he learned on the island, I suppose. He passes himself off as a member of the Russian mafia, or something, to get the other mafia guy to find the guy who shot the Lord of the Rival Manor. Mafia guy threatens to kill not-Chris-O’Donnell and his entire family. I think not-Chris-O’Donnell might be getting to the point where that’d be okay with him. His sister is now openly abusing drugs and alcohol and mocking anyone who says offensive things like, “Hey, stop getting drunk and go to school, you’re seventeen.”
We are also discovering through flashbacks that not-Chris-O’Donnell wasn’t alone on his desert island. Instead he was captured by a sadistic madman and tortured into what I can only assume, at this point, is some kind of epic-level Stockholm syndrome madness. Maybe he’s a sleeper agent. Maybe he’s a brainwashed automaton who’s been programmed to destroy Starling City. ANYTHING COULD BE GOING ON AT THIS POINT, GUYS.
Also in this episode we are introduced to a murderous psychopath sniper who tattoos the names of his victims on his own body, but who otherwise leaves no trace of evidence against himself. Not-Chris-O’Donnell brings an arrow to a gunfight and, unsurprisingly, fails to murder. He does steal the assassin’s computer, though. So maybe that’ll give him the information he needs until he can get a look at the dude’s body and take notes from his tattoos. He takes the computer to an IT worker at the Queen Corporation who looks like ADA Alex Cabot from Law & Order: SVU and who I will be referring to as not-Alex-Cabot if she becomes a regular cast member.
Lil Sis has really good grammar when she’s mouthing off to her mother. “Important to whom?!”
Not-Chris-O’Donnell figures out that the reason why the Manor Lord was murdered was actually just a ploy to be able to murder all the other Starling City Manor Lords, who are all showing up at an auction to buy Manor Lord’s assets. Not-Chris-O’Donnell also realizes that there’s no way he can protect 50+ capitalist gangsters who are all trying to buy stuff, so instead of calling Starling Police Department’s anonymous tip line or some such, he slams Detective Dad into a parked car and tells him he needs to provide security for the auction. Detective Dad does what he’s told, since this is concerned citizenry’s usual method for reporting planned crimes.
Also Murderous Tattoo Assassin Dude has a gun mounted on his wrist like a Transformer or something. This does not actually seem like the best idea (Assassin Dude is undoubtedly more coordinated than me. I would shoot off my own hand). It does him no good, though, because not-Chris-O’Donnell shoots him in the face with an arrow because nobody gets to kill corrupt manor lords except himself. Not-Chris-O’Donnell’s security guard is unexpectedly let in on not-Chris-O’Donnell secret identity, because he gets shot with a poisoned bullet and not-Chris-O’Donnell can’t let him die. (I really should learn security guy’s name, he’s definitely one of the least obnoxious characters so far.)