Super Hot Means Super Slow

Video games are meant to transport you. There’s nothing I love more while playing a game than to feel as if I’m in the game. Whether I’m immersed in the game’s story or the gameplay itself, if I’m well and truly immersed, I’m enjoying myself.

The concept of the game Super Hot immediately drew me in. ‘Now that’s a game I can lose myself in,’ I thought.

The basic idea is that time only moves when you do. Your polygonal protagonist fights polygonal opponents, and each time you take a step, time proceeds at a normal pace. (Looking around, i.e. turning your head, doesn’t count.) If you’re not moving, time slows to a crawl.

Super Hot gameplay image
via: flickr.com

Sounds cool, doesn’t it?

When I saw some footage of the gameplay, I was thoroughly impressed. It looked like you were in the Matrix. Check it out here.

But you know how sometimes clothes that look really nifty on the hanger look like a floppy mess when you put it on your body? That’s kind of how Super Hot was for me.

I’m not trying to say the game is bad! Not at all. The slowed-time mechanic is downright innovative and should probably replace all quick-time events forthwith.

The process of playing Super Hot is just…slower than I thought it would be.

A level consists of dropping into random settings (an office, a bar, an elevator, and a bus stop, to name a few) and then having to use your slowed-time ability and the items around you to defeat the bad guys who spontaneously appear. These items that you use can be as rudimentary as a bottle (classic) or as powerful as a machine gun. Grab the good ones while you can, because otherwise, the bad guys will nab them for themselves.

The majority of Super Hot is played while standing still and observing a situation. The trailers will make your movements seem fluid, but I’m telling you, I survived tough levels by inching one step forward, looking around me in all directions, and then inching another step forward.

If you’re not observant, you’re going to get beat.

My controller’s walking thumbstick has never seen less action.

So, if you’re interested in the game, bear in mind that it functions as a really interesting puzzle shooter, not a run-and-gun.

That said, it was always super satisfying to demolish a bad guy. They shatter into a million pieces, like glass. They’re also easy to see because they’re glowing red people in an environment of pure white.

After each level, the game also includes a replay of how the level went down, so you can witness your painstaking progress in normal time. I don’t think my replays look as cool as those from someone who has played the game more than once. My replays basically show that my guy has a nervous tick whenever he moves forward, glancing wildly all around him like a madman before progressing.

I’m not the best of gamers, I’ll say that right now. But I do love games.

Super. Hot.

 

What’s the Elvish Word for Friend?

I first met Mia Sara Moreno when I was six years old and she was five. Both of our parents were teachers at the same elementary school, so they thought it would be a great idea for their kids to hang out together. Mia’s mom brought Mia to my mom’s kinder classroom before the school year started in order to acquaint her with my sister and me ahead of time. Mia was shy at first, hiding behind her mother, but eventually, she was coaxed into playing with some building blocks with us.

Mia, my sister, and I became a trio that day.

We all had similar interests (Lord of the Rings nuts, the three of us), and if we could, we would spend hours together. We made up games of tag that involved throwing footballs at each other. We pretended to be wolves roaming Middle-Earth. We slept over at each others’ houses and watched scary movies. We picked oranges from Mia’s grandparents’ tree.

Alya (my sister) was the leader. Mia and I would follow her anywhere, while also trying to caution her against bad ideas. We called ourselves the Wright Brothers Organization. (Yes, we were aware that there were only two famous, flying Wright Brothers, but we meant it more in the spirit of adventure.)

To this day, there is no one who is more comforting or relaxing as a friend to me, than Mia.

Mia and I walking down a sidewalk

Mia is simultaneously the gentlest person I know and the most stubborn. She cares deeply about the people she is close to, almost to the point where she excuses any shortcomings they might have. (Loyal is an understatement when it comes to describing the kind of friend she is.) At the same time, she holds on to her ideals of fairness with an iron grip.

Alya, Mia, and I once categorized the strength of our respective levels of determination. Alya’s was rubber, elastic yet firm. Mia’s was steel. Mine was Play-Doh.

Mia is quiet when you first meet her, but a natural enthusiasm for her interests resides in her heart, and if you ignite it, she rises to the conversation like a flame. Her laugh is infectious. I’ve never heard her fake-laugh. It’s always a genuine, hearty chuckle.

Mia is an avid reader. She’s the only person I truly trust to lend one of my books to. She would protect it to the point of not even letting it get dusty. She never leaves her house without having a book on her; she carries one with her at all times.

You will never meet someone as logical or as reasonable as Mia. I think horror movies actively annoy her (bad decisions get under her skin). We once spent hours talking about how Anakin Skywalker is an idiot, and then we discussed all the ways he could have proceeded to solve his problems in Revenge of the Sith without ending up as Darth Vader.

When we play Dungeons & Dragons, she never lets loose with a goofy character. She always creates these sedate, practical characters. This ends badly for her since everyone else in our D&D group is an utter goofball when it comes to making a character (including me). Mia’s character always has to be the level-headed one who has to get the rest of us out of trouble.

It’s not often that a childhood friend remains in your life for so long, and I never wish to forget to appreciate Mia for being who she is. One of my greatest joys in life is to share a coffee with her in the early hours of the day while playing a friendly game of Scrabble, some original Star Trek episodes playing in the background.

Not only is she a good friend, she’s a good person. She’s one of the best persons I know.

She’s my mellon. 

Halo for Beginners: A Short (Not Really) Summary of the First Halo Game for Those of You Who Are Curious

I love Halo.

It’s my absolute favorite video game of all time, and it holds a very special place in my heart. As such, expect more posts about Halo in the future.

Today, I thought I’d provide a commentary-laden synopsis of the first game’s story, just in case you don’t know squat about Halo, but you really want to fill that empty place in your soul that you never realized was empty until now, so of course, you want to fill it.

I am not in any way sponsored by Microsoft or anything, but I highly recommend this game to anyone who has a love for:

  1. Immersive sci-fi universes
  2. Faceless protagonists
  3. Celtic music
  4. Space vehicles named after animals
  5. One hell of a good time

Anywaysies, let’s begin!

Me wearing my Master Chief helmet and T-shirt
Aw yeah, let’s do this

Our story starts in an unknown region of space. A giant space-ship flies closer to us. This is the Pillar of Autumn (which is one of the best names for a spaceship EVER). We hear two voices from on-board discussing whether or not we “lost them.”

The first voice is that of Captain Keyes, the captain of the fine, rectangular ship we’re seeing. He’s a gruff-looking dude, but he’s just dripping with honor and duty and all that jazz. He’s a stereotypical ship captain. The next voice is female, and it is from the ship’s AI, Cortana. (Remember her, she’s important.) AIs get to select how they appear to people, and Cortana chooses to show herself as a naked, gorgeous-looking woman who is blue and covered in lines of data.

Apparently, Keyes, Cortana, and everyone on the ship is running away from an enemy alien force known as the Covenant. (Why the aliens would name themselves the Covenant is beyond me, but that’s what they’re called.)

The Autumn made a jump through slipspace (think hyperspace from Star Wars), but Cortana fears that the Covenant, with their uber-advanced space technology is going to follow them. Sure enough, Covenant ships appear, and there is no way the Pillar of Autumn can outmaneuver them all.

In front of the Autumn, Keyes and Cortana spot a strange object. (I’m gonna let you know now, it’s Halo.) It’s this giant ring-shaped world just floating in the middle of space. Since there’s nowhere else to go, Keyes decides to land on that.

(Honestly, I would have been a little more hesitant to land on a humongous ring. How would you even land on that anyway? The inside of the ring is covered in oceans and landmasses, and the outside appears to be made of this vibrant metal.)

While Keyes is readying the ship for the battle ahead, he tells Cortana to wake up the Master Chief, and the way he says it, you know that the Chief is going to be this bad-ass guy who solves everyone’s problems.

Master Chief is in some kind of cryo-sleep pod, but he was frozen while still in his suit of armor, which is fortuitously lucky because he’s thawed and woken up without so much as a cup of coffee, let alone a shower. The Covenant has begun their attack on the Pillar of Autumn, and some of them have boarded. Chief has to rush through the halls of the Autumn weaponless, dodging plasma fire left and right. He makes it to the bridge without a scratch because he’s awesome.

Once he appears in front of Keyes, the Captain tells him the situation. Since they’re landing the ship on the ring-world, Keyes wants Master Chief to take care of Cortana and stop her from falling into enemy hands. Cortana’s like this detachable hard drive with a personality, so if the Covenant got a hold of her, they could learn a bunch of human secrets, which would be not good, to say the least.

Master Chief’s armor comes complete with a USB port kind of thing, so he takes Cortana from the Pillar of Autumn’s control board and plugs her into his helmet. From this point on in the game, Cortana can speak to Chief (and us, the player) directly, telling him where to go and highlighting points of interest on his faceplate/visor/heads-up display.

Keyes then hands the Chief an unloaded pistol and sends him on his way. (We find ammo soon enough, but seriously, Captain, you just sent your best soldier into certain danger with an unloaded weapon. Shame. Shame. Shame.)

Chief and everyone else on the Pillar of Autumn make their way to escape pods and jettison themselves toward Halo.

Except for Keyes. He tries to land the Autumn manually. Those kinds of giant ships were probably not meant to land on a planet ever, but Captain Keyes sometimes makes decisions that aren’t rational. (Like giving his super soldier a pistol with no bullets.)

The escape pod the Chief is in makes a rough landing, so rough, in fact, that everyone else aboard it dies from the impact. Master Chief and Cortana have to behold the splendor of Halo all by their lonesome. (And I’m telling you, it looks phenomenal. When you look up in the sky, you can see the inner surface of the ring stretch up to each side of you. It’s freakishly beautiful and unforgettable.)

They don’t have long to take in the surroundings. The Covenant, damned fast bastards that they are, have landed on Halo too. They hound the Chief everywhere he goes. Cortana leads the Master Chief to several pockets of human survivors, and it’s while they’re getting them to safety that Cortana overhears from some Covenant chatter that Captain Keyes has been taken prisoner. He managed to land the Autumn, but the Covenant got to him before he could regroup with Master Chief.

The game then takes the Chief to this midnight mission where he has to sneak aboard a Covenant cruiser and take back the Captain. He gets to use the sniper rifle prolifically, picking off Covenant Elites (the tall human-ish aliens), Jackals (the shield-carrying aliens), and Grunts (the pathetic small aliens).

Master Chief meets Hunters on this mission too, these giant armor-covered aliens that shoot giant, green blasts of plasma at him that can take down his shield faster than Cortana can scream, “Chief!”

Once on the Covenant cruiser, Cortana and the Chief make it to the brig. The cruiser is a damned maze. Without Cortana, Chief would have gotten lost. And every surface appears to be purple. (Is purple the Covenant’s favorite color?)

Chief rescue Keyes. While he was in captivity, he learned from his Covenant captors that Halo is a weapon, and they want to use it against humanity. Keyes can’t have that happening, so he decides that they (and by they, he means the Master Chief) have to get the controls to Halo before the Covenant do.

Keyes then sends Master Chief and Cortana to look for a Map Room, which will tell them the location of Halo’s Control Room. Without any breaks, he sends them to the Control Room as soon as they know where it is. Master Chief is a one-man army. (Some of the credit goes to you, the player, for handling the role of the Chief so well.) He takes on waves of the Covenant. Friendly soldiers might join him occasionally, but they drop away like flies. (Especially if you’re playing on the Legendary difficulty setting.)

Once Master Chief and Cortana get to the Control Room, he plugs her in to the system. (I don’t know how or why a human AI is compatible with the console, but that’s just how the story goes.) Turns out, Halo was made my an ancient race of beings called the Forerunners, and they built it for a specific purpose.

Before Cortana can tell Chief exactly what the purpose is, she flips out. She starts shouting at him to find Captain Keyes and stop him from whatever he’s doing. (Apparently, there was no time for a simple explanation.) But Master Chief is an awesome super solider, so he just runs off to do as he’s told.

Cortana sends the Chief to Keyes’ last known location. It’s in this weird, swampy area. (The environment is clogged with moss-draped trees and eerie fog, and you immediately start getting the heebie jeebies.) To make matters worse, Keyes was checking out an underground part of Halo, so the Chief has to take an elevator down to these gray, subterranean hallways where everything looks the same.

As he makes his way through these hallways, he catches sight of Covenant bodies. They’re just lying everywhere. Master Chief just arrived, but already, it’s ghost town. (No way, you think to yourself, did Keyes take care of all of these guys.) Since Master Chief left Cortana plugged into the Control Room, she’s not around to tell him where to go. (You really start to miss her nagging and bossiness right about now.)

Eventually, he enters a room sees a collection of dead human soldiers. He goes to an abandoned helmet nearby and watches a recording of what happened. Keyes and company stumbled onto a door the Covenant had apparently been trying to lock immediately after opening it. Not using any sort of logic, Keyes ordered his soldiers to open the door again. Inside was something worse than the Covenant. A bunch of skittery little creatures with tentacles that can worm their ways inside your body start pouring out, and you watch in horror through the recording, as Keyes and his group is overrun.

Enter the Flood.

The small Flood creatures that infect people (humans or Covenant, it doesn’t matter which) are known as Infection Forms. Once they’re inside you, they turn you into these zombie-like creatures, known as Combat Forms. Instead of Covenant, Master Chief now has to fight these guys.

(Once the suspense is gone and you know what you’re fighting, the Flood aren’t that hard to deal with. They’re still creepy and gross, don’t get me wrong, but you’re the Master Chief. You don’t need to panic when you’re the Master Chief.)

After getting a bit lost a couple of times, Chief makes it back to the surface. The Flood are attacking from all sides now. It was preferable fighting them in the metallic hallways underground than in the misty swamp above. But suddenly, as if from nowhere, these floating machines emerge from the fog and start zapping away at the Flood.

Another machine appears, happily humming, and it tells the Master Chief that the Flood has broken out and it needs his help to contain it. Then, without permission, it teleports him away.

This machine is called a Monitor. It’s a robot the Forerunners (makers of the great Halo, remember) made to keep an eye on the facility. His name is…343 Guilty Spark. (I know, it’s a weird name.) The other machines zapping the Flood are called Sentinels. They just seem to exist to zap things.

Guilty Spark teleported Chief to a place called the Library, so that he can collect an Index. This Index, when placed in the Control Room, will activate the Halo and then destroy the Flood.

Spark seems a little off-kilter as he leads Chief through the Library. He keeps humming to himself and randomly saying, “I am a genius.” Meanwhile, Master Chief has to fight a flood of Flood around every corner. The Library is infested with them.

After what feels like hours following 343 Guilty Spark through countless corridors, the Chief finds the Index, and Spark teleports him back to the Control Room.

(Wish he could have teleported us right to the Index, but then a whole mission of the game would be gone.)

Once at the Control Room, Chief walks right up to the panel where he plugged Cortana in and puts the Index there. The rooms buzzes with some kind of energy, but then the buzzing fades away, like something was turning on and was then turned off. Guilty Spark is confused, but then lo and behold, Cortana appears, royally steamed at Chief. She was the one who stopped the activation of the Halo from within the system.

She berates the Chief for being a moron (essentially) and tells him that Halo does not destroy the Flood. Rather, it destroys the Flood’s food. Any living organism that the Flood could infect within 25,000 light-years is eradicated with a single burst from Halo.

Chief is like, “My bad.”

Spark doesn’t see what the big deal is. He insists on firing the Halo. However, with some quick thinking on Cortana’s part and some quick moving on the Chief’s part, the two run away from the Control Room with the Index still in their possession.

So now, not only does Master Chief have to fight the Covenant, he also has to fight the Flood and the Sentinels (those machines that zap the Flood, but now have no compunctions about zapping Chief).

Quite randomly, Cortana gets a message from Keyes. (He’s alive? What? How did he survive the Flood? Short answer: he didn’t.) He was absorbed by a Hivemind, a goopy collection of Flood parts. The Flood, as a collective, wants to know where more living and infectable organisms can be found, so they’re trying to probe Keyes’ mind to discover where Earth is.

Like a champ, Keyes holds on to that information long enough for Cortana and Master Chief to make it to his position. Once there, Chief punches a hole through Keyes’ skull, removing the Captain’s neural implants (which have the codes to the Pillar of Autumn, conveniently enough).

The Chief and Cortana return to the downed Pillar of Autumn. Cortana’s master plan is to blow the ship up, which will cause a large enough explosion to destroy the ring-world and everything on it.

The last battle is a tough one. 343 Guilty Spark sends a gazillion Sentinels Chief’s way to stop him, but with enough perseverance, he and Cortana set up the ship to explode. Master Chief then has to race through the ship to get to a hangar bay before the ship blows up in order to find a ship that’s capable of flying in space. (You literally race through the ship. You get in a vehicle and drive your way to the end. It’s funny, but when we were walking through the ship, the hallways didn’t seem large enough to drive through.)

The Pillar of Autumn blows up.

Halo is destroyed.

Master Chief and Cortana live to fight another day.

Phew! That was a lot. But you just can’t condense greatness.

Raiders of the Lost Tomb: Tomb Raider (2018)

Let me say this right off the bat:

I’m not a discriminating moviegoer. I will watch anything, good or bad, and most likely enjoy it.

I enjoy good movies because, obviously, they’re good and that’s quality entertainment. I enjoy bad movies because I dearly love to laugh, and nothing gets me laughing like a real corny line or a nonsensical bit of plot. It’s rare when a movie utterly pisses me off, and when it does, it’s for subjective reasons (such as, the book was better).

So I’m letting you (meaning whoever happens to read this) know that if you ever read a “review” of mine, it’s mostly going to be about things I liked about it.

Enter the new Tomb Raider movie.

If you’re a fan of the 2013 game, you should know that this latest movie is kind of based off of it. Gone is the busty Lara Croft with the gravity-defying boobs and twin guns, and instead, we have a younger, slimmer Lara who is struggling to hold her own against much tougher opponents, and yet, still manages to come out on top.

Here is a short (not-so-short) summary of the movie, so if you want to avoid spoilers, I suggest you stop reading now.

Lara Croft’s father has been missing for several years. His disappearance and supposed death have put Lara’s life on hold. She refuses to believe he is gone. His business partner approaches her about finally signing off on his death so that his company can move on with things and the Croft mansion won’t be sold off. Lara reluctantly agrees to this.

Upon signing, Lara is given a puzzle which leads her to a secret room her father kept on the mansion grounds. There, she discovers her father traveled to an island called Yamatai in search of the tomb of Queen Himiko. Himiko is rumored to have powers over death. More than anything, Lara’s father wishes to keep Himiko’s tomb and her mystical powers out of the hands of this secret, sinister group called Trinity. In a video recording/will, he begs Lara to burn all of his research so that Trinity can’t find the tomb.

She doesn’t burn the stuff.

Instead, Lara hires herself a boat and makes her way to Yamatai in search of her father. She doesn’t believe that this Himiko has supernatural powers that could threaten the world. She is driven by the slight chance that she can find out what happened to her father.

The boat crashes. Lara makes it ashore. She meets the villain, this dude named Vogel. He works for Trinity and has been stuck on the island for seven (I think) years because they won’t let him come home until he recovers Himiko’s body. As such, he’s volatile and pissy and willing to do anything to find the tomb.

Since Lara did not burn the research and instead brought it with her, Vogel is able to use it to find the tomb. He has problems opening it because of a complex locking mechanism on the door. Lara runs away from the group, gets into a lot of trouble, and eventually (surprisingly) runs into her father. He had faked his own death at Vogel’s hands and had been living in secret on the island, making sure Trinity did not get their hands on Himiko.

Despite a supremely touching reunion, he’s none too pleased that Lara did the exact opposite of what he wanted in regards to his research.

In order to get both her and her father off of Yamatai, Lara needs to go back to the bad guys’ camp in order to get Vogel’s satellite phone so she can call for help. Her father does not want to risk it, so Lara decides to do it alone.

Since her dad is not a complete asshole, he follows after her. However, since he’s not a veritable bad ass like Lara, he gets himself caught by Vogel. Vogel tries to get him to open the tomb for them, but Lara’s dad won’t. Lara has no compunctions about doing it (magic isn’t real, dad), so she opens the tomb and leads everyone inside.

We find out that Himiko does not have supernatural powers. Instead, she has this disease that turns you into a 28-Days-Later kind of creature if you touch someone who has it. Lara’s dad gets touched, it’s sad, boo hoo, so then Lara has to stop Vogel from taking any samples of Himiko that he collected to the surface because clearly, it could be used to dangerous effect. She beats Vogel in a kick-ass way, she escapes, she goes home, and she silently vows to chase after Trinity and stop them, therefore completing her father’s life’s work and beginning her own.

That was a tad too long…wasn’t it? Anyways…

I loved Alicia Vikander’s performance. She’s great. No matter how bad the lines she was given or how awkward the story beats were, she did the best she could and made it work. She perfectly embodied the Lara we met in the 2013 game.

Part of the game’s appeal came from the fact that we were meeting a new Lara. This was not the experienced raider of tombs we had met in previous games. This was an uncertain explorer who was just beginning to find her place in the world, and we got to go on that journey with her.

The movie tries to do the same thing, and in terms of physical exertion, yeah, I think Lara achieved whole new states of being an athletic tomb raider. You really get the sense that Lara is going on this adventure alone. She has a couple of she-should-not-have-survived-that moments, but I appreciated that it didn’t look entirely effortless.

However, I don’t really feel that Lara gained that desire to explore after all was said and done. She was motivated to find her father, but I never truly felt she was driven by the actual draw of exploration.

But the father-daughter moments were real. I mean, it was ludicrous that her father was alive in the first place, but I still felt touched by their reunion. When he sees Lara on the island, he doesn’t believe she’s real because he’s imagined her being there so many times. Lara, on the other hand, has been hoping he’s been alive this whole time, so she looks at him with such joy, it’s heart-breaking when she has to convince him that’s it’s actually her.

Their reunion only lasts about a day, since he’s killed off by that disease that Himiko has. What kind of disease is only communicable by touch, unfolds instantaneously, and is ultimately fatal? I’ll tell you what kind. The magic kind.

His death hits you in the feels, but it’s followed by some fan service, so it smooths over any remaining sadness you might have had lingering. If you played the game, expect the following fan service:

  • The slow-mo jump from a wrecked boat, just like we saw at the beginning of the game.
  • Climbing monkey-bar style over an old, rusted airplane.
  • A potentially deadly ride along a raging river’s currents. (I seriously half expected Lara to get impaled by river debris a million times).
  • Bow and arrow moments.
  • The climbing axe thingamabob that is stronger than adamantium.
  • And, of course, a very small scene with twin handguns.

Despite ragging on this movie, I really enjoyed it. It was fun. I would classify it as a see-it-once-in-a-movie-theater-and-then-only-catch-it-on-cable-forever-after movie or as a rent-it-at-a-Redbox-for-a laid-back-night movie.

If you’ve seen it, feel free to let me know what you thought of it. If you haven’t, I’m sorry if I spoiled it for you. I’m posting this waaaaaaay after Tomb Raider comes out in theaters, so hopefully if you were going to see it, you already did.

Advice about Rejection from a Current Reject

I’ll sometimes see someone like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling send out a message (or Tweet out a Tweet) of hope to struggling writers. “I’ve been rejected this-and-this many times, but I eventually made it. So don’t worry. You just have to keep going.”

(I’m paraphrasing here. I’m fairly certain they were more eloquent than I was.)

Their advice of perseverance is supposed to make you feel better about getting rejected yourself. You’re supposed to say, “Stephen King once got rejected by agents and publishers too. Just like me. One day, I’m going to catch a break just like him.”

Problem is, my own thought process goes a little something like this:

Holy shit. What the fuck. If Stephen motherfuckin’ King got rejected a gazillion times before he got published, what possible chance do I have?!

The answer is none. I have no chance.

Or rather, I have the slimmest of slim chances because I don’t want to commit to being a fatalist.

I know that words of comfort from seasoned writers are supposed to be…well, words of comfort, but I have a really hard time digesting them as such. I seriously look up to writers like Stephen King. Talent just oozes out of every paragraph he writes. My writing just doesn’t compare. I know it doesn’t. My friends might tell me that I’m being too hard on myself, but I know I’m only being realistic and self-aware.

I’ve read what I’ve written, and I’ve read what Stephen King has written. There’s no comparison.

Surprisingly, this isn’t supposed to be a pity party.

I didn’t want to be a writer because of the perks of “making it.” (Though I’m sure those perks are nice.) Writing has always been a labor of love for me. That phrase, “labor of love,” is a common one. It means you’re doing something not because of what you might earn for it, but because you actually enjoy doing it. I also like to think of it as actual labor. Writing is work. It’s a skill you have to hone. Words don’t just flow out of nowhere. They’re a composition of your thoughts that you have to organize into a coherent structure that other people may enjoy taking in.

I may never end up publishing a goddamned thing. That’s a possibility that I’ve had to swallow when contemplating my choice in career. It’s a real sucky thing to think about. But I have to remind myself of a very important fact. I love what I do.

No matter how difficult or unrewarding writing is, I want to keep doing it. Writing is work, don’t get me wrong, but it’s work I love. Part of the journey of writing (gag, that sounds so corny, but just stay with me) is knowing that you’re going to have to put in a lot of effort in order to get results. And I’m willing to do that.

So every rejection letter I get, every query letter that goes unanswered, is just another notch on my belt. For my fellow writers out there who are reading this, look at your rejection letters right now with pride. Don’t look at them with the expectation that you’ll eventually be famous and can look back on them with fondness. Those rejections are accomplishments in and of themselves. They are wounding, hurt-filled proof that you are striving to reach your goal of being a writer.

Haven’t you heard that old literary adage? It’s the journey that matters, not the destination.

So, if you’re a struggling writer and you want to hear advice from another struggling writer who has in no way “made it,” this is all I have to give. Keep trying for the sake of trying and, more importantly, for the sake of writing.

Feel free to share the amount of rejections you’ve received. And by rejections, I mean badges of honor.

But the Book Is Totally Better

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard myself say that after stepping out of a theater.

But come on, it’s totally true 99.99% of the time.

The majority of movie adaptations based on books would have been better off left as words on a page. For a number of reasons, these attempts to capture the complexity and goshdarned wonderful-ness of the original books simply fail to captivate me.

My number one example of this phenomenon is the Harry Potter series.

No collection of books is so beloved as J.K. Rowling’s magical masterpiece. The world she crafted was impeccably alluring, and her characters were relatable (well, as relatable as teenage wizards could be). And while it was nice to see Harry’s world brought to life through the prowess of different filmmakers, the films still left much to be desired.

I’m okay with the first three films. I was practically a child when I saw The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets. I went to go see the movies on a class field trip. (Isn’t that neat? We saw a movie for our class field trip.) I had read the books, and the movies were more or less as enjoyable as the books were.

By the time the fourth Harry Potter movie came along, I was spotting flaws right and left. The vast and detailed plot of The Goblet of Fire did not fit well into two hours and thirty-seven minutes. Contradictions began to run rampant with no explanation offered for them, and the lack of development for some secondary characters (and even some primary ones) physically hurt me.

That is what happens when books are made into movies. It’s like playing Russian Roulette. Occasionally you’re lucky, and the movie ends up being everything you hoped for. Other times…

There are three movies I love (technically five, but I’ll get to that later) that equaled or exceeded the books they were based on.

  • The Lord of the Rings (made up of three movies)
  • Cloud Atlas
  • Jurassic Park

I was very young when I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I think I was about six years old (I liked to read, sue me). However, my parents did not think it was appropriate for me to see a PG-13 fantasy movie at such a young age. So they waited until The Fellowship of the Ring came out on DVD, and then my father watched it alongside my sister and me, supervising us to make sure we were not unduly influenced by fantasy violence. (We had so much fun; we pretended to be Ringwraiths for the next couple of days. We’d grab the pillows from our living room couch and imagine they were our horses. Then we would shriek the highest note we could reach and run around the house. Just like the Nazgûl, get it?)

J.R.R. Tolkien’s incredible work of fantasy was a deeply written collection of lore. As such, the descriptions of places and events were extremely wordy. Entire chapters could have been devoted to describing the city of Minas Tirith. Tolkien gave every race a history, and those histories went back generations. I believe that the movie captured that fantastical history and made it engrossing as hell. Instead of reading paragraphs about, say, the customs of the Rohirrim, we got to observe them in action and learn their customs through their wardrobe and behavior. Not every person could pick up the books and get into them. But the movie delivered the same content, while making it easy to understand and enjoy.

The story of how I got into Cloud Atlas is hilarious. Well, to me, at least. I was in my college computer lab working on a paper. I was listening to music through Youtube, and the trailer for Cloud Atlas came on before one of the videos . Intrigued, I paused my essay-writing to watch it. And just the initial concept of the trailer floored me. It was so cool! It’s almost indescribable. Don’t believe me? Check it out here.

Upon finding out that it was also a novel, I went to Barnes & Noble first thing that weekend and got myself a copy of the book. It was fantastic. I then only had a couple of months to wait before I could see if the movie lived up to its progenitor’s greatness.

And it did.

Some people may not agree with me. I know that a lot of film critics did not look too kindly on the movie. But I’m no film critic. I loved the book, and I loved the movie.

The interesting thing about the book version and movie version of Cloud Atlas is that they feel like different animals. The book is a ziggurat. You climbed up the first half of the story, with each timeline representing a step forward. Then you climbed down the ziggurat, each story-line getting resolved into a graceful denouement. The movie version was more like a tapestry. We got to visit each timeline one after the other, like threads interwoven together to make an intricate weave. The story feels kind of spiritual without being overly preachy. It stimulated my heart and my mind at the same time.

So, while the book and the movie feel dissimilar, they’re both equally enjoyable and, more importantly, equally meaningful. I would highly recommend both to anybody.

I was a total dinosaur kid (and am now a dinosaur adult), so it’s no wonder that Jurassic Park made it onto my list of favorite books turned into movies as well. I have nothing against the Michael Crichton novel. I think he’s a great sci-fi writer with the ability to ramp up tension like nobody’s business. But Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park had what Crichton’s book didn’t: heart.

That movie was made for people who loved dinosaurs. While the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the raptors may have been the antagonists of the movie, they were what made me sit straight in my seat with my eyes glued to the screen. Hell, anytime a dinosaur appeared, my heart skipped a beat. Alan Grant’s face when he rests his body on the triceratops is mine every time I decide to re-watch Jurassic Park. 

And that theme music! My soul sings that melody every time I go to a dinosaur museum. (Or whenever I’m doing something super majestic, which is, sadly, not often.)

So, it is possible to make a great movie based on a book. It’s just not something you see every day. If you have any recommendations for movies based on books that you like, let me know! I’m always on the look-out for fresh attempts.

What can I say? I’m a closet optimist.

O Sister! My Sister

Sibling rivalry is a foreign concept to me.

do have a sibling, an older sister, but we’ve never been rivals. Psh, we’ve been the opposite of rivals.

She’s my best friend. No contest.

My sister and I

Her name is Alya (pronounced uh-LEE-uh), and she is about two years older than me. She doesn’t look it, and she sure doesn’t always act like it. She’s more carefree than me. Where I’m the slow, methodical, and stodgy one, she’s the buoyant, spirited, and adventurous one.

Despite our difference, we’ve always been close. We never really had friends when we were little kids, so our go-to person for fun and excitement was each other. Alya was always the “idea” person. She still is, come to think of it. I’m never bored when I’m hanging out with her because she’s always ready with a potential plan for the day. It’s as if her default setting is to be as enthusiastic as possible.

We went to San Francisco about a year ago in order to see Hamilton. It was hella awesome. (You can strike me down for using the word “hella,” if you want to.) But even though this trip involved seeing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece of a musical, my favorite part out of the week-long trip was the drizzling morning I spent exploring the city with my sister.

We had breakfast at a diner that served fairly adequate breakfast food, and then we made our way to a coffee shop for some darkly-brewed goodness. (Alya would have gotten herself lost if it hadn’t been for me and my impeccable sense of direction.) Then we went to a furniture store and ogled at all the modern concepts for home decorating. After that, we pranced our way through the misting rain to the Disney Store, where I shamefully got suckered in to buying two Star Wars action figures (K-2SO and Poe Dameron). No matter where we went, we had a blast simply because we were in each other’s company.

Alya shopping

From a very young age, Alya was an artistic soul. Her preschool drawings put my current attempts at sketching to shame. (I stick to adult coloring books now.) Her creativity knows no bounds. She’s an artist in her thoughts and in her actions.

Because of this, I think, she can be wonderfully messy at times. I know this is an artist stereotype, but hey, these things become stereotypes for a reason. Back when we shared a room together, I’d have to slog through piles of her dirty clothing to reach the closet. Now that we’re no longer living together, I kind of miss the mess.

Alya painting

When Alya was in middle school, she suffered the cruel abuses that stupid classmates decided to shoot her way. These prepubescent girls thought it was the height of cool to make fun of my sister for her roller backpack or for the baggy shorts our mother would sometimes make us wear. (Alya and I distastefully called these shorts that reached to our knees and bulged out at the hips the “Puffy Shorts.”) They would laugh at Alya as she passed them by and they would kick her backpack, leaving dusty footprints on the surface.

Girls can be utter dicks sometimes.

She never told me what she went through until we were both out of high school. I don’t think she wanted to appear weak to me. Or unhappy.

But trust my sister to turn the situation around. Almost as soon as she entered high school, she just…blossomed. There’s no other word for it. Her self-confidence skyrocketed. With some amazing inner strength, she bolstered her spirits and disdained to even think about the kind of girls who would make fun of someone else because of their clothes or their backpack.

Honestly, because of this, my sister became the most beautiful girl at school. Seriously. She was/is gorgeous. She grew into the envy of all because she became this pillar of self-esteem.

Alya and I as kids

Alya is the one person who I entrust with the entirety of my being. I can be a flawed human being around her, and she can be her messed-up self as well. We can be goofy, serious, sad, relaxed, excited, scared, enraged, or content around each other, and it will always be a blast.

She’s the one person I miss constantly when she’s not near me. I can tell her anything and expect absolutely no judgment (okay, well, maybe some judgment, but it’s an acceptable level). Plus, it’s impossible to lie to her because she knows me so well.

Her happiness gives me happiness, and I’m certain she feels the same way about me. There’s so much comfort knowing that someone cares about you that much, knowing that someone will always believe in you even when you don’t believe in yourself.

So sibling rivalry? Impossible for me and Alya. How can I be rivals with someone who only wants the best for me?