Monthly Archives: February 2014

Book Review: A Gate…

Star Gate

Everyone has a favorite author.  Some people even have lists of favorite authors.  In this case, I read a book some time back written by one of my favorite authors:  Andre Norton, the Grande Dame of science fiction.

I read this book for two reasons:  1) it was written by Andre Norton – that almost guarantees a good story; 2) the title of the book is Star Gate.

Stargate, the movie and the television series, refers to a circular portal that creates an artificial wormhole between planets.  According to the film and TV series, the Stargates were built by a vanished race of aliens – called the Ancients – who lived on Earth long before humans did and who populated the galaxy.  Through one event after another, however, these Ancients dwindled and died off, leaving room for humanity to move in.

I have not seen the Stargate film straight through.  However, I am a big fan of the spin-off series Stargate SG-1 (SG stands for ‘Stargate’ 1, or Stargate team 1).  Stargate SG-1 was in the top tier of my favorite TV shows when it was running; since the series finished its run, TV has gotten somewhat boring.  Nothing but crime shows everywhere one looks.

*Sigh* They just don’t make sci-fi shows like they used to.

Anyway, back to Andre Norton’s Star Gate.  I am very lucky that the book had a description inside the cover; otherwise Norton’s story might have shocked me.  Andre Norton’s Star Gate is nothing like the movie or the TV series.  I highly doubt the creators for either the movie or the series even know about the book that bore the name of their movie/series before they even had the idea for their stories.

Andre Norton’s Star Gate takes place on the planet of Gorth.  Gorth is an inhabited planet whose inhabitants are called Gorthians.  For a long time these Gorthians were a primitive people.  I am under the impression they lived like loose tribes of people who fought as much as they worked together – if they even worked together.  Norton implies that this time in Gorthian history was not worth writing home about, mostly because it’s a time the Gorthians prefer not to remember.  They seem to consider it embarrassing.  Anyway, this Gorthian ‘Dark Age’ was brought to an end by the arrival of strange beings from the stars.  These beings the Gorthians dubbed ‘Star Lords.’

Yep, you guessed it.  The Star Lords are human travelers from outer space.

The Star Lords met and tamed the native Gorthians.  By ‘tamed’ I mean they taught them metal working, farming, etc. They essentially gave the Gorthians all the marks of civilization.  By the time of Star Gate, the Gorthians are experiencing their own High to Late Middle Ages.  The Star Lords have remained with them up to this point, never imposing their will on the Gorthians.   The two races have been friends almost since the Star Lords’ arrival.

In fact, they are on such good terms that intermarriage between the long-lived Star Lords and Gorthians is not unheard of.  It’s not exactly common, since there are few Star Lords and they live a long time, but it’s not forbidden either.

The book starts out with the Gorthian protagonist, Kincar S’Rud (I think S’Rud means ‘Son of Rud’), thinking over his planet’s history and his own future.  From him we learn that native Gorthians have very pale skin – I believe their skin is almost albino white – blue/green hair, and six fingers on each hand.

This is in sharp contrast to the Star Lords, who are described as having darker skin and – of course – ten fingers between their two hands.  They are also much, much taller than the average Gorthian and live apart, in a city built around their starships.

Kincar is the son of the daughter of the ruler of his keep.  His mother has been dead for most of his life, and his grandfather appears to be dying.  But this is the least of Kincar’s worries at the moment.  His cousin and rival for mastery of the hold has come to the keep, bringing strange rumors with him: the Star Lords are planning to leave Gorth!

For some reason, this cousin of Kincar’s does not like the Star Lords.  He is not the only one, to be sure, but these haters are largely outnumbered by the average Gorthians, who appreciate the learning and peace the Star Lords have brought to them.  Kincar is among the latter group and – more to the point – he does not like this cousin a whit.  The guy apparently has a nasty attitude that could breed more nastiness if given the chance.  And what better chance would this cousin have to let loose with his bad attitude than to be named holdruler of the keep?

Technically, mastery of the hold should pass to Kincar when his grandfather dies.  But Kincar soon learns that there is a snag.  His mother was Gorthian – but his father was a Star Lord!

A half-blood could rule a Gorthian keep no problem – except that Kincar’s troublesome cousin could make it a very BIG problem.  With Kincar’s half-blood status, he could challenge Kincar’s legal right to take mastery of the hold.  A good number of the hold residents would probably support Kincar taking power, but his cousin and his supporters could take up arms against Kincar’s supporters which would lead to outright battle for the position of holdruler.  Kincar therefore has two choices before him: stay and fight his cousin, causing bloodshed and possibly kin strife within the hold, or leave and find the Star Lords with whom he will be safe from his cousin.

It’s a hard decision for him.  The hold is his home, his security; Kincar knows of the Star Lords but he has never met one.  Still, he decides that the price of remaining in his beloved hold would cause too much strife.  So he leaves.

He’s not gone long when a horn sounds, proclaiming the death of his grandfather.  He has to pick up his pace now.   As long as he lives, he is a rival for mastery of the hold.  And bad guys really hate rivals, especially when those rivals are so much better than they are themselves.

After a few days travel, Kincar meets a handful of half-bloods traveling to an undisclosed location.  The group is attacked and two Star Lords burst into the fight, rescuing their kin from danger.

Kincar is practically thunderstruck by the mere sight of the Star Lords.  After all, he’s heard about them but he’s never seen them.  A legend is much more intimidating when one is looking it straight in the face.  After beating off a second attack, the group reaches a larger gathering of Star Lords and half-bloods.  This gathering includes women and children.

During the ride, Kincar learns that the rumors about the Star Lords leaving Gorth are true.  The Star Lords have experienced a severe division of policy:  a handful of the Star Lords think that the Gorthians should become their slaves.  The rest find this idea abhorrent and are leaving to avoid the temptation to enslave the people they have helped to civilize.

This particular conclave of half-bloods, Gorthians, and Star Lords – most of them related by marriage or blood – has decided to remain on Gorth.  To them it is home.  No other planet in the galaxy could compare.  Those who are attacking them are the Star Lords who are determined to take Gorth and make slaves of the Gorthians.

Kincar finds himself ill at ease with these Star Lords and half-bloods.  Most of the people in this group know each other; most of them are related.  He does not know if any of the Star Lords are related to him by his father; they are all strangers to him.  They are strangers to be respected and obeyed, yes, but still strangers.

And Kincar doesn’t get to know any of them very well in the few minutes he is in the camp.  The Star Lords’ enemies attack almost as soon as Kincar’s group enters the camp, forcing the Star Lords to activate their escape plan before they are prepared.

What is their escape plan?  It involves two pillars tied together by a web of rainbow light.  Passing through this web, this Star Gate, the Star Lords are forced to destroy the gate to destroy their enemies and prevent them from following the escapees through to the other side – an alternate Gorth.

Aha, now you get it!  Andre Norton’s Star Gate does not make a bridge between planets.  It makes a portal through time.  But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill portal through time, the one that puts you in the far past or in the far future.  Instead this gate takes the Star Lords to a Gorth in an alternate timeline; it is the same Gorth, but someone or something in its history took a different course of action.  Thus the Gorth that Kincar and his companions have just entered is the same as the Gorth they left, but its history is not their history.  The entire thing works more like a…. Sidestep through time than a jump forward or backward in time.  It’s a little like the reality-hopping adventures which the characters in the TV series Sliders experienced.  It’s the same planet, but everything and everyone on it is different from what they knew on ‘their’ planet.

The Star Lords had hoped to land in an alternate timeline where Gorth had no people on it.  Problem is, before they could find this alternate Gorth they were attacked.  It was go through the portal or get killed.  With the gate destroyed, they may be stuck on this Gorth instead of the one they wanted.

A little recon soon shows them that not only did they find a Gorth with people on it, they have found a Gorth where the Star Lords are a lazy, cruel people.  These Star Lords have enslaved the native Gorthians, who were already civilized by this time (something like 20th century civilization was my impression).  They have walked into the very horror they were running from in their own Gorth.

Now the group has a choice: find a way to the Gorth they want and leave this Gorth as is; or defeat these evil Star Lords and free the native Gorthians.

I won’t spoil the rest of the story here.  Doubtless I have already mixed up some of the details; it has been some time since I read the book.  Suffice it to say that Star Gate is as engaging as any of Norton’s other stories; not least because the protagonist continually refers to the Star Lords as ‘aliens.’

Of course, to Kincar humans are aliens.  But when most science fiction focuses on humanity’s interaction with different races from different worlds, it is a bit of a jolt to read every few lines that having ten fingers is an ‘alien’ quality!  Norton was good for stuff like that.

Though the book does not resemble either the movie or the TV series with which it has shared a similar name, it is quite as entertaining as its ‘younger siblings.’  An enjoyable read that will keep one turning the pages, Star Gate is one of Norton’s home run stories.  I definitely recommend it for light reading.

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian

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The Best Dialogue and Lines of The Avengers

Assemble!

Yep, I’m doing The Avengers again!!  This time, though, I am approaching the movie from a slightly different angle.  I thought that this time I would ‘assemble’ some of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies, The Avengers, and share them with you.

One of the things I enjoy about movies and books are the wonderful lessons hidden in each story.  There is always a lot to be gleaned from a story, and one of the best places to look for nuggets of philosophical instruction is the dialogue.

In The Avengers, one piece of dialogue from the film is my favorite simply because of the way that Tom Hiddleston (Loki) and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) say it.  It goes like this:

Nick Fury: We have no quarrel with your people.

Loki: An ant has no quarrel with a boot.

Nick Fury: You planning to step on us?

This dialogue cracks me up.  In most movies, when the bad guy drops in unannounced, the leader of the free world tries to talk him out of squishing humanity.  Said attempt usually ends with said leader either being chased out of the room or getting killed for being a windbag.  Fury was fortunate – unsurprisingly – and had neither incident befall him.

However, the line is memorable for me because of Loki’s choice of response.  I really hate to say a villain had a great, funny line, but Loki did.  Of course humanity has no beef with the Asgardians.  Trouble is, Loki is not an Asgardian.  Never has been, does not want to be one.  He intends to be the ‘boot’ that steps on the ‘ant’ of the ‘measly’ human race.

Doesn’t really go his way, does it? J

Another line I like is also one of Loki’s zingers.  It occurs after he tells Thor that he does not have the Cube:

Thor [to Loki]: You listen well brother….

[Iron Man tackles Thor, taking him off the mountainside before he can finish his sentence]

Loki [calmly]: I’m listening.

This is just too cute!  Everyone who has ever been to a theater expects lots of speeches from the characters, bad and good alike, explaining Dark from Light.  What Thor would have said we can only suppose, thanks to Iron Man’s timely intervention.  I have to say, that is the whole reason the scene is so memorable!!

Another winning piece of dialogue I like from The Avengers is given near the end of the film.  It is delivered by none other than the Director of SHIELD himself:

World Security Council: Director Fury, the council has made a decision.

Nick Fury: I recognize the council has made a decision, but given that it’s a stupid-ass decision, I’ve elected to ignore it.

The Big Eye Patch knocked this one out of the park and had even me shouting, “Home run!”  It is high time that someone in the movies told the bureaucrats to stick it in their ear.  I am no fan of Fury; just like Cap, I would say “he has the same blood on his hands that Loki does.”  But this was a line that was well worth hearing. It was well spoken, too.

Another of Fury’s well-iterated speeches was this oration at the end of the film:

World Security Council: Where are the Avengers?

Nick Fury: I’m not currently tracking their whereabouts. I’d say they’ve earned a leave of absence.

World Security Council: And the Tesseract?

Nick Fury: The Tesseract is where it belongs: out of our reach.

World Security Council: That’s not your call.

Nick Fury: I didn’t make it. I just didn’t argue with the god that did.

World Security Council: So you let him take it and the war criminal, Loki, who should be answering for his crimes?

Nick Fury: Oh, I think he will be.

World Security Council: I don’t think you understand what you’ve started. Letting the Avengers loose on this world. They’re dangerous.

Nick Fury: They surely are. And the whole world knows it. Every world knows it.

World Security Council: Was that the point of all this? A statement?

Nick Fury: A promise.

In this speech, Fury again tells the WSC (World Security Council) they don’t know zip about what the world needs.  Here he defends the Avengers and leaves the door open for the sequel film.  And he points out that, if fooling around with the Tesseract really is a signal to the other races of the galaxy that Earth is “ready for a higher form” of warfare, then the rest of the galaxy better get the message that Humanity isn’t going to roll over when attacked.

The WSC are roll-over-and-become-dead pencil pushers.  Fury is the “come here to hurt us and we will kill you” general.

There is just one thing I feel I have to say about Nick Fury.  I like him about as much as I enjoy cleaning the bathroom.  But his strategy is the winning one; I prefer him to the WSC.  I just don’t trust him as far as the Hulk could throw him.  And Big Green can throw things a rather long distance.

Speaking of the “Green One,” another scene from the film that I enjoy is this exchange between the Hulk and Loki:

Loki: Enough! You are – all of you – beneath me! I am a god, you dull creature, and I shall not be bullied by…

[the Hulk beats Loki into the floor with repeated smashes]

The Hulk [leaving]: Puny god.

[Loki groans weakly from his crater in the floor]

As soon as Loki began yapping I thought, “Oh, great.  Another villain soliloquy.  This is going to take five minutes – at the least.”

What I forgot was the Asgardian snitch was addressing the Hulk.  I also managed to forget that the Hulk’s patience has a very low ceiling.  So I nearly screamed with laughter as I watched the Hulk “ragdoll” Loki into the floor.  I cannot tell you how long I have wanted to hear the villain in any film get cut off mid-yap like that!  I’ve wanted to do it myself for years.  The two-minute scene was extremely gratifying, and it is one of the scenes in the film that I enjoy the most.

Speaking of funny lines, here’s a zinger from Marvel’s top assassin and Master Marksman that is quotable for almost every situation:

Natasha Romanoff [about the Chitauri coming toward them]: This is just like Budapest all over again.

Clint Barton: You and I remember Budapest very differently.

I agree with Hawkeye here.  How the heck could whatever happened in Budapest be remotely akin to getting charged by hordes of ugly aliens?  Maybe Widow’s memory has begun playing tricks on her…?

Anyway, here’s another gem from the film:

Thor: Do not touch me again.

Tony Stark: Then don’t take my stuff.

Thor: You have no idea what is going on here.

Tony Stark: Mmmm…. Shakespeare in the Park? Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?

Thor: This is beyond you, Metal Man.  Loki will face Asgardian justice!

Tony Stark: He gives up the Cube, he’s all yours. Until then, (puts down his faceplate) stay out of my way.

This exchange is a hoot.  Thor is characterized these days as having a head too big for his helmet, and as prince of Asgard, he probably always has had a slightly inflated opinion of himself.  Now, billionaire Tony Stark is no slouch in the ego department either.  Like Thor, he’s had everything handed to him on a silver platter from the time he could ask for it.  That is not a condition conducive to a healthy ego.  So this banter is more than just a prelude to a clash of titans.  It’s the spark to an explosive meeting of oversized attitudes!

Another exchange to keep the audience smiling is this quip from Cap.  It occurs just as he, Hawkeye, and Black Widow are preparing to leave the Helicarrier.  Problem is, of course, they are going to need a ride…

Maintenance Guy [seeing the three Avengers climb aboard the aircraft to fly to Manhattan]: Uh… You are not authorized to be here!

Steve Rogers: Son… just don’t.

Again, this is a line that I have wanted to hear for years.  Whenever the heroes have to sneak off to fight the bad guys, someone like this poor maintenance guy has to try and stop them.  Here, Cap puts him in his place with three little words – much more comfortable for all concerned than the customary knockout punch others have received for trying to do their jobs. Or those poor souls who simply end up in the wrong place at the wrong time!

Okay, now that I have about covered all of the fun lines, on to the more serious stuff.  One of the best exchanges in the entire movie is where Tony Stark tells Loki in plain terms precisely what the Avengers are going to do to him:

Loki: What have I to fear?

Tony Stark: The Avengers.

(Loki cocks his head at him and Tony rolls his eyes.)

Tony Stark: It’s what we call ourselves, sort of like a team.  “Earth’s mightiest heroes” type thing.

Loki: (chuckling) Yes, I’ve met them.

Tony Stark: (nods and smiles briefly, his expression somewhere between angry and sheepish) Yeah.  Takes us a while to get any traction, I’ll give you that one.  But let’s do a head count here.  Your brother, the demi-god (Loki grimaces and begins pacing); a super soldier, a living legend who kind of lives up to the legend; a man with breath-taking anger management issues; a couple of master assassins – and YOU, big fella, you have managed to tick off every single one of them.

Loki: (smiling again) That was the plan.

Tony Stark: Not a great plan.  When they come, and they WILL, they’ll come for you.

Loki: (snarling) I have an army!

Tony Stark: We have a Hulk.

Loki: I thought the beast had wandered off…

Tony Stark: (angrily) You’re missing the point!  There’s no throne, there is no version of this where you come out on top.  Maybe your army comes and maybe it’s too much for us, but it’s all on YOU.  Because if we can’t protect the Earth (pauses a beat, then continues fiercely), you can be damned well sure we’ll avenge it!

This is, hands down, Stark’s best soliloquy ever.  There is nothing more I need to say about it.

The only scene that might come close to Iron Man’s address is the one which takes place in Germany; after Loki has Hawkeye acquire the iridium he needs and goes out to gloat to the crowd:

[Loki pounds his scepter on the ground, causing a shockwave that intimidates the crowd into silence; they all kneel before him]

Loki: Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.

Elderly German Man [slowly rises to his feet]: Not to men like you.

Loki [smiling]: There are no men like me.

Elderly German Man: There are always men like you.

Loki: Look to your elder, people. Let him be an example.

[Loki aims a blast of power from his scepter at the old man, but Captain America leaps in front of his intended target, deflecting the blast with his shield back at Loki, knocking him down]

Captain America: You know, the last time I was in Germany and saw a man standing above everybody else, we ended up disagreeing.

Loki: The soldier. A man out of time.

Captain America: I’m not the one who’s out of time.

The first thing that struck me about this scene was the realism: when Loki comes out to make his grand speech about his new world order, no one is paying attention.  Instead, the crowd is running about in an absolute panic.  No one is phoning for help; no one is making a break for the exit out of the courtyard; and no one is paying attention to the goon with the horned helmet.

That is exactly how a real crowd would react in a dire situation.

Of course, the next best part of this scene is when the elderly German gentleman tells Loki, “You ain’t nothin’ special, buddy.  I’ve seen your kind before.  Odds are I’ll see them again at some point in the future.  So get off your fat, high horse and buzz off.”

And thanks to Cap, this German gentleman probably will get to see the next crackpot who tries to conquer the world.

This is the other good part of the scene.  Cap dropping down in the nick of time to save a man he probably fought almost ninety-odd years back has a lot of poetic irony behind it.  I would say that was the reason Whedon added the scene; to show how much had changed for Cap and how the First Avenger was adjusting to his new century.

He adjusted pretty well, I would say.

All right, second last favorite line(s) of the movie. This exchange takes place between Loki and Coulson after Loki has jabbed Coulson with his spear and jettisoned Thor from the Helicarrier:

Agent Phil Coulson: You’re gonna lose.

Loki: Am I?

Coulson: It’s in your nature.

Loki: Your heroes are scattered, your floating fortress falls from the            sky… where is my disadvantage?

Coulson: You lack conviction.

Loki: I don’t think I…

[Coulson shoots Loki with his Destroyer-made gun, throwing Loki through the wall behind him]

Coulson: So that’s what it does.

Never mind the fact that Coulson approaches his upcoming demise with his typical cool demeanor, the fact is that he is right.  Loki has no conviction in his choice of actions; else he would not be trying to take Earth through subterfuge.  In contrast to him, the Avengers do have the conviction of their principles.  That’s why they win.  That is why they will always win.

I have to say I am going to miss seeing Coulson in the films.  When a guy can stare down the gun barrels of the Marvel villains featured in Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and Thor with the same calm one would exhibit viewing a museum piece, he is obviously made of some stern stuff.  I suppose it is nice to have him back in the new television series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but I think I will really miss him in the movies.  After Hawkeye, he had to be the most trustworthy ground force S.H.I.E.L.D. agent to date.

Now for the last, best line of Marvel’s The Avengers.  It is the line that sums up the entire movie; the line which ought to be uttered more than it has been in years.  The line that reveals why this movie is one of my favorites and what makes The Avengers one of the best films out of Hollywood in far, far too long:

Steve Rogers: There’s only one God, ma’am. And I’m pretty sure He doesn’t dress like that!

As they wrote in the comics, “’Nuff said!”

                                                                                                                        Later,

The Mithril Guardian

Never Forget

On February 3, 2014, there was a celebration nationwide at American Legion posts.  These celebrations were in solemn remembrance of four chaplains who lost their lives when in World War II their ship, the U.S.S. Dorchester, was sunk on its way to Greenland.

I read this story many years ago when I was young; while the names of the four men fled my mind, their story never left me.  So I was surprised to learn this January that the “four chaplains,” as they are known, have a day of remembrance all their own – February 3.

I did not have the opportunity to post anything about these brave men on Feb. 3, 2014.  Today I have re-posted an article from the American Legion website (http://www.legion.org/library/6245/bravery-four-chaplains) telling of their heroism.  At the bottom of the article, the writer for the American Legion was kind enough to add two other websites that would allow readers to learn more about the Four Chaplains.

May they never, ever be forgotten!

The Mithril Guardian

The bravery of four chaplains
(from http://www.legion.org/library/6245/bravery-four-chaplains)

 4_chaplains_p1

On Feb. 3, 1943, the United States Army Transport Dorchester – a converted luxury liner – was crossing the North Atlantic, transporting more than 900 troops to an American base in Greenland. Aboard the ship were four chaplains of different faiths: Reverend George Fox (Methodist), Jewish Rabbi Alexander Goode, Reverend Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed) and Father John Washington (Roman Catholic).

Around 12:55 a.m., a German U-boat fired a torpedo that struck Dorchester’s starboard side, below the water line and near the engine room. The explosion instantly killed 100 men and knocked out power and radio communication with Dorchester’s three escort ships. Within 20 minutes, the transport sank and more than 670 men died.

As soldiers rushed to lifeboats, the four chaplains spread out, comforting the wounded and directing others to safety. One survivor, Private William Bednar, later said, “I could hear men crying, pleading, praying. I could also hear the chaplains’ preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going.”

Another survivor, John Ladd, watched the chaplains’ distribute life jackets, and when they ran out, they removed theirs and gave them to four young men. “It was the finest thing I have seen, or hope to see, this side of heaven,” he recalled.

As Dorchester sank, the chaplains were seen linked arm in arm, praying.

Fox, Goode, Poling and Washington were posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart, and in 1948, Congress declared Feb. 3 to be Four Chaplains Day. The four chaplains were also honored with a U.S. postage stamp that year.

Because of the Medal of Honor’s strict requirements of heroism under fire, Congress authorized a one-time Chaplain’s Medal for Heroism on July 14, 1960. The award was presented to the chaplains’ next of kin Jan. 18, 1961.

On Feb. 3, 1951, President Truman dedicated a chapel in the chaplains’ honor at Grace Baptist Church in Philadelphia. When the building was sold, the chapel fell into disrepair, and the foundation overseeing the chapel moved it to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in 2001. The chapel was repaired in 2004 and given the name Chapel of the Four Chaplains.

In 2006, at The American Legion’s 88th National Convention in Salt Lake City, the National Executive Committee passed a resolution that supported awarding the Medal of Honor to Fox, Goode, Poling and Washington.

Every year, American Legion posts nationwide remember Four Chaplains Day with memorial services. To request information on how to conduct a Four Chaplains Memorial Service, contact Charles Graybiel (cgraybiel@legion.org) of the Americanism and Children & Youth Division at (317) 630-1212.

Learn more about the four chaplains by visiting The Immortal Chaplains Foundation (www.immortalchaplains.org) and The Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation (www.fourchaplains.org).