Feb 29, 2012

Questions of Faith

I don't talk about my faith very often on this blog. I'm pretty private when it comes to my spirituality and I don't think it's anybody's place to tell another person what to believe.

I have friends from a variety of different backgrounds and spiritual beliefs, or lack thereof. Some are devoted Christians. Some are fairly hardline atheists. Others don't give faith and spirituality much thought at all. I've noticed for a long time now that the most vocal people about their beliefs, in Ireland at least, are atheists or people who, for one reason or another, have a beef with the Catholic Church.

Ireland is becoming more and more disillusioned with the Catholic Church due to a frankly shocking amount of child abuse scandals. This has led to calls for the separation of church and state, and to a mainstreaming of atheism. I've started to be surprised when one of my friends says they believe in any kind of higher power. But that's fine. I think people should question their beliefs. How else do you learn if the path you're on is the right one unless you look into your heart and ask yourself if it still feels right to you?

I admit to sometimes feeling intimidated by the views I've seen people express. I've wondered how they would treat me if I mentioned my beliefs around them. I think people should be judged by their actions, not by the beliefs that lead to them.

So I'm going to open myself up a bit and ask some questions.

I believe in a higher power, a force that created the universe and set it in motion. You could call it God. I believe it is benevolent and loves us, like a parent loves a child. I believe there is good to be found in everything, somewhere, somehow, if we just allow it into our lives. I believe that positive thoughts can lead us to positive opportunities. I believe in the healing power of Reiki. I believe that when we die, we go on to another place and eventually come back in another life.

Do things happen that make me question my faith? Absolutely. Do I think there are people in the world who misuse others, our world and the gifts they've been given? Of course. But I also think there are people who do great things, people who I'm blessed to have in my life. And they are the people who remind me of my faith.

I'd like to ask people to share what they believe, or don't believe. How does this enrich your life? Has there been anything to make you doubt? Did something in particular lead you to this belief in the first place? And lastly, how do you feel about people who don't share your beliefs?

Feb 27, 2012

Sexism and Changing Perspectives

I'm reading Mockingkay, the final book of the Hunger Games series. I've only recently started it and I read fairly slowly so I'm not very far in yet. Still, there's something I've started to wonder.

Would I like Katniss as much if she were a boy?

Without giving too much away, Katniss has an awful lot of negative traits. She's suspicious of others, especially if they seem helpful or supportive. She casts broad assumptions about how other people deserve to be treated, even when she should know better. She can process information and deal with problems only in the immediate present, she has little to no ability to see the bigger picture or understand subtleties in conversation or intent.

All of these traits are understandable given the world in which she lives and her position in it, but I know that I've read books where male characters could be described in a similar way. Those traits, or at least how they're depicted, have bothered me. I think an awful lot of people would consider a male character with these flaws to be pretty dense and ignorant.

Is it just because Katniss is a girl that I overlook these flaws? Is it that extra level of vulnerability I feel in female characters? Is that sexist?

Peeta, on the other hand, is about the most decent person in the series. I would definitely have liked him if Suzanne Collins had chosen to make him the protagonist. But I wonder, would the first book have been as successful with a nice guy as the hero instead of a hardened girl?

Feb 24, 2012

Great Fight Scenes: Kung Fu Panda

I've previously spoken about Kung Fu Panda on this blog. Here's the final sight scene:

This is a simply beautiful sequence. It's fantastically put together, combining sweeping vista shots with close-up and personal views of both character's moves and expressions. Through both the perfectly matching music and choreographed fight moves (Po actually fights in bear-style kung fu while Tai Lung uses leopard-style), the fight feels utterly triumphant for Po, revealing both his resistance to Tai Lung's nerve attacks and the secret to being the Dragon Warrior, something so simple that an arrogant person like Tai Lung could never figure it out.

Feb 22, 2012

Great Fight Scenes: Back to the Future 3

Today I'm looking at the showdown between Marty McFly and Buford Tannen in Back to the Future 3:

This just goes to show that big effects and complex choreography aren't necessary to make a great fight scene. It's a pivotal moment for Marty, who finally gets to physically confront the worst of the Tannen family that has been a plague to his own for generations. More over, it shows that Marty has learned how to see past his impulsive urges and solve his problems through more than just rash actions, that there's more to winning than saving face.

Feb 20, 2012

Great Fight Scenes: Pirates of the Caribbean

I'm sticking with some Youtube videos this week. We're moving on to some of my favourite fight scenes. I absolutely love a good fight scene. Some stories just need a proper showdown between the hero and the villain to bring themselves to a satisfying finish.

First up is from Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

This is, I think, the best fight scene out of the entire Pirates of the Caribbean series. Watch the tension between Jack and Will, the technical detail of the choreography, the way the music works in time with the sword strikes. It's a shame none of the other fights scenes in the series can quite match it.

Feb 17, 2012

Epic Music: Rango

I love westerns, and Rango is one of the best westerns to come out in recent years. The following track is from a central action sequence involving hillbilly moles riding bats while giving chase to the heroes fleeing on a bird-drawn wagon carrying a water jug.

Ride of the Valkyries has been done to death in comedies. Ever since Apocalypse Now, the piece has been relegated to parody, and even then I often feel it's something that can be tricky to get right. When I first heard those strings I was worried. But then the banjo kicks in and takes over the lead of the music, making a wonderfully unique take on the piece. The flourish of the heroic motif at the end provides a perfect wrap-up to this great action piece.

Feb 15, 2012

Epic Music: Transformers

Continuing my week of epic music, I'm presenting a track from a movie franchise that really divides opinion. People either love or hate Michael Bay's Transformers movies. Say what you like about the movies themselves, you cannot deny the sheer awesome levels of epic in Steve Jablonski's score.

The sequence this piece accompanied in the film was where I realised this score was something special. There's a strong military march quality to the music, while at the same time retaining a strong sense of reverence, the idea that the music heralds something greater coming, something which should inspire awe and a sense of coming victory.

Feb 13, 2012

Epic Music: Skyrim

I thought I'd take time this week to share some favourite epic music. This is the kind of thing I listen to for inspiration when writing or planning a roleplaying game session.

Today's track comes from the video game Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

I'm a sucker for marches and anthems, especially when, like this, they could easily be used as the backing track for an epic battle sequence or montage. I like that the words have some meaning, too. Often a choir for a film or video game score will just vocalise wordlessly for choral melody, so it's always a treat when work has gone into lyrics (even in a fictional language) for a choir.

I don't know about you, but I wanna go slay some dragons!

Feb 10, 2012

Music For A Change

I decided to end the week on a bit of a lighter note and share some music that's been stuck in my head whenever I think of the later climactic battles of the books I  haven't yet started to write.

I have a fairly ecclectic taste in music, but my favourite will always be anything that suggests epic battles, the fight between good and evil, fate of the world in the balance. So it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that I've started to really like Nightwish. In particular, the following song really gets my heart pounding and eager to write about Nathan Shepherd fighting against impossible odds:

Feb 8, 2012

Strong Women Characters

On Monday I talked about women as a minority within certain genres of fiction. I wanted to continue on the theme and today talk about genres which traditionally present strong female characters.

These days the idea of the lone badass woman is incredibly popular. The Anita Blake series, movies such as Underworld, Resident Evil and Salt, or tv shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Alias sell themselves on having a strong woman kicking ass at the core of their concept. That said, I'm not really here to talk about these kinds of examples. These stories still contain strong elements of male fantasy - the sexy heroine who can match or outclass all the men in her world - and while the women in the stories can be examples of strong female characters, depending on your own tastes, I'd rather talk about stories where the protagonist's gender isn't used as a sexual selling-point.

I've come to the realisation that the genre which often best depicts strong women in a way that isn't overtly sexual is the crime drama, or police procedural. I love police procedurals. To this day, Bones is one of my favourite television shows. The thing which strikes me most about them is that the characters are defined first by their role within either the story or the organisation to which they belong.

You don't see Temperance Brennan bent over, showing off her cleavage while she's examining a set of remains or facing down a killer. Her first and foremost function on the show is to solve crimes that other experts would consider unsolvable. Her character is defined by her devotion to her work, her logical mind built as a defence against fear of abandonment, her loyalty to her friends.

Yet we still see that she is a sexual person. She has very open opinions about sexual relationships, even stating that she feels monogamy is illogical in an evolutionary sense. But despite this, her sex life is never the focus of the show and she is far from the promiscuous woman so often portrayed with these opinions, such as the recent incarnation of DC's Starfire, who has become nothing but pure sexual wish-fulfilment, forgetting even the names of men she has slept with, many of whom are her friends and fellow superheroes.

Likewise, Lily Rush in Cold Case is an attractive woman who has romantic relationships, yet is not defined by them. Her role in the story is always cop first, woman second.

Do I think that, in order for women in fiction to be strong, they must deny their feminine side or sacrifice it for their jobs? Not at all. I feel that every aspect of a character should be prioritised in accordance with the needs of the story and the scene in question. Just like male heroes are all business when it comes to chasing down a killer, but can be a devoted father, romantic lover, or show their insecure side in other scenes, female heroes can show their sexual side or their own fears when the right scene calls for it, while in other scenes putting those aspects aside and getting down to the business of saving the day in a non-sexualised manner.

What about you? Who are some of your favourite strong female heroes, and what is it that makes them appeal to you?

Feb 6, 2012

Women as a Minority in Fiction

Every story has a minority. I don't mean societal minorities like homosexuals or people with disabilities, I mean characters who, within the context of a given story, are in the minority. Women in a movie set during World War II, for example, an adult in a high-school drama, someone who has had to move to another country and adapt to a new culture.

For a long time, women have been a minority in fantasy and science fiction. While they have been the hero and the villain, a lot of the time their presence in a story is highlighted as something to make a story stand out, like we should be surprised that women can fill powerful and important roles in fiction. Still, in genres which have so often been dominated by male characters and male writers, it is important that our attention is drawn to strong examples of how women can play important roles in a story.

What I find more disappointing is when there a significant female character has been included in a more male-dominated story for no apparent reason. Where her presence not only does nothing to enhance or influence the narrative, but actually distracts from the core story, seemingly for no reason.

I recently finished the Batman: Arkham City video game. There will be some mild spoilers in the rest of this post.

Feb 1, 2012


Yesterday was the 11-year anniversary of the day my wife and I first got together.

It was in college. We'd met only two days earlier and spent the entire day talking over coffee. She had perched herself up on a railing in the concourse of the UCD Arts Building while some of our other friends were playing around with her wheelchair. I decided to risk offering to let her lean on me for balance, which got me close enough to put my arm around her waist. She put her arms around my neck. We kept talking like that, until I took a chance and began stroking her neck. She smiled at me and I decided to go for broke. I leaned in and kissed her.

I was terrified. I'd never been so forward in my life. But she kissed me back, and we pretty much haven't stopped since.

Jen, I love you. You make every bad thing that happens easier to bear, and every good thing a hundred times better because I can share it with you. Here's to many, many more years together.

Both Jen and I have taken this Friday off work to treat ourselves. I'll also be taking the day off blogging, so my usual Friday post will be absent this week. Have a good weekend, everyone, and I'll be back on Monday.