Doctor Who Review: “Into the Dalek”

Lots of spoilers this time, and I assume you’ve seen the episode, so minimal recap.

I loved “Deep Breath” for its characterization and themes, while others couldn’t get past the plot problems. For “Into the Dalek,” it’s the reverse… I loved its plot, but I’m having trouble getting past its theme and character problems. I’ve watched it twice now (and I’ll admit I greatly enjoyed it both times), so I’m able to go a little more in depth with this review. (Ended up pretty long, sorry!)

Doctor Who Into the Dalek review

“Into the Dalek” gives us a badly-damaged Dalek prisoner who wants to destroy the Daleks. The Doctor and company shrink themselves to go inside the Dalek and repair it. Shout-out to “The Invisible Enemy,” the Fourth Doctor episode where the miniaturized Doctor goes inside his own body to kill an infection! We’ve also got shades of “Dalek,” with the Doctor facing down a single Dalek prisoner, “Genesis of the Daleks,” with the Fourth Doctor having the power to change Dalek history (via two cables he may or may not plunge together!), and “Asylum of the Daleks,” with the one good Dalek. (I must spoil all your hopes and dreams… There’s no reference to Oswin. The Dalek isn’t Oswin and nobody mentions it.)

All of those are episodes I enjoyed, and “Into the Dalek” just lifts some inspiration and Easter eggs from them to enrich the story. The acting was great and the different elements played together beautifully. The basic theme, of the Doctor being just like a Dalek, has been brought up in basically every New Who episode featuring Daleks, but I actually believed it in this one. I believed that look the Doctor gives Rusty at the end, when the Doctor knows he’s failed.

But here’s my first problem with the theme. According to the definitions of the episode, the Doctor didn’t fail. From the very beginning, everyone’s amazed that there’s a “good” Dalek. What’s their evidence that Rusty is good? He wants to destroy the Daleks. At the end, the Doctor has “failed” by making him want to destroy all the Daleks. Why is it good at the beginning but bad at the end? That’s not all Rusty wants, he feels a desire for beauty and life in the universe and I do believe there was a potential to be good because of that, but the episode’s logic is broken.

Moving on. The episode asks several times, “Is the Doctor a good man?” and we’re supposed to wonder. This Doctor is cold. He doesn’t stop to worry about one man’s death, he doesn’t console the survivors. But are we supposed to worry because of that? I don’t want to be told he’s not a good man just because he makes hard decisions and keeps on going after a death, or because he’s not “nice.” I don’t want to be told he’s bad because he has no social graces. I don’t have those either. Plenty of wonderful people don’t, whether they’re neurodivergent or socially awkward or what-have-you. (Also it’s another example of the Doctor and Sherlock becoming more and more the same badly-written character.) This may just be worry-mongering on my part, because we do see the Doctor’s hatred and we wonder, after the events of “Deep Breath,” how far he’s willing to go. It’s not just his coldness that’s supposed to make us wonder, but I’m still not entirely comfortable with how it’s being done. I love the Doctor for the fact that he cares so much about people, even though he really kind of dislikes most individual humans, because I’m exactly the same way.

Doctor Who Into the Dalek Journey Blue

Next problem. This episode gives us a badass woman of color, a soldier named Journey Blue. She is SO AWESOME. She’s angry, we can see her anger spilling out all over the place, but she’s angry because she cares so much. She’s just seen her brother die, and in a war against the Daleks, I’m guessing he’s not the first casualty. She’s young and explosive, but she’s smart and strong and capable. There’s a hope in her, as evidenced by her wanting to go with the Doctor. I love her SO MUCH.

The problem is this: I don’t generally feel qualified to talk about racism because I haven’t been discriminated against, so I try to just support those who know what they’re talking about. But I felt really uncomfortable with what happened to Journey, particularly in her opening scene. She rightly demanding to be returned to her ship, but the Doctor forces her to be submissive to him before he’ll do it. I don’t know if “racist!” is really the right word because the Doctor has a history of disliking soldiers, and he probably would’ve acted like that toward any soldier pointing a gun at him, but the scene itself was almost squicky to me because Moffat has a bad history with all kinds of representation. He makes it kind of look like he’s giving us what we asked for, but then he plays it for a laugh and/or a (possibly inadvertent) dig, like the time he had the Doctor make a joke comparing Mickey to a horse.

Doctor Who Into the Dalek Danny PinkI’m venturing onto hypothetical ground here, but it’s even worse because of the new companion, Danny Pink. I love him too! However, I do not love Danny/Clara, simply because he’s being introduced just like every other male subcompanion — he’s sweet on the “real” companion. Seriously? Again? We’re doing this again? And why is everybody always flirting on this show? I guess maybe since Capaldi said he wouldn’t flirt with the companion, they wanted to bring in a separate flirting interest, which I guess is okay. It still annoys me that it’s the same thing over and over. But anyway, I really like him, and I like that he’s an ex-soldier, and I like that he’s so sweet and funny and awkward and yet has such a magnetic presence. Despite his method of arrival being the same, he himself is different from every other companion we’ve had, and he’s going to add something important to the dynamic.

The reason THAT bothers me is that, at this point, it looks like the basic difference between him and Journey Blue is that Clara likes him. So, he gets to be “elevated” to companion via Clara’s approval, but Journey doesn’t. That’s entirely conjecture, of course! I have no idea how this is going to play out, and I have every reason to hope that it’ll be a complex and nuanced story. And I didn’t miss how often they said Journey Blue’s name or how much attention she got or both “Pink” and “Blue” — I’m betting she appears again, and I’m hoping she gets another chance. If Clara does leave at the end of this season, I’d love to see Journey and Danny as Capaldi’s Tardis crew.

A few little asides from my notes:

  • I love the shot of the Doctor and Clara walking into the Tardis at the beginning. Don’t really know why, except it really felt like walking into the Tardis, being in a tiny cupboard and then going into this tinier box and then being in a huge spaceship.
  • For once it doesn’t look like Clara’s crammed into a little girl’s clothes! Are those UFOs on her shirt? Would wear.
  • Everyone’s accents were hard to understand, but easier on the second watch.
  • I’ve got my money on Missy being a crazy Tardis from the future. Not explicating that here for space reasons, but after a few more episodes, if I’m still convinced, I’ll lay out the theory. ;)

So, what did you think of “Into the Dalek”? Where are we headed, and am I overreacting?

Sunday Summary 8/31 – Coffee and Blog Chat

If We Were Having Coffee

Guzzlin’ down the real, highly-caffeinated coffee this morning even though I’ll regret it later.

Just some blog chat this week. No subheadings or nothin’, just the same info in more of a casual coffee format, because y’all are my friends and that’s what I feel like doing. :)

Y’all have probably noticed I’ve fallen head over heels with Lauren Willig’s books. I’ve now read The Ashford Affair, That Summer, and The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. Pink Carnation sets off an 11-book series! The 12th is coming out next summer, and The Bubblebath Reader is doing a readalong of all the other books, one a month starting in September, so we’ll be ready for the twelfth one to cap it off next August. I did a monthlong readalong of That Summer this month and really enjoyed it, so I was super happy to find this readalong through Lauren Willig’s blog, and y’all should all jump in too!

Moving on, I’ve added a Paypal donate button down in my footer area. I’m not expecting anyone to donate and I’m certainly not blogging for the money (ha!), but I figured it wouldn’t hurt. Support my comic book habit!

Regarding the blog schedule. My current goal is two posts a week, which actually means four. I’ll keep doing these Sunday posts, and I’ll be doing Doctor Who reactions on Mondays. Both of those just kind of happen without me sitting down and planning and writing and revising and all that. So, my goal is to write actual posts twice a week, for Wednesdays and Fridays. Obviously that’ll vary, some weeks may just have one post during the week and then others will have week-long miniseries, but that’s my goal. For what’s coming up this week, I’ll have a novel update on Wednesday. On Friday I’d wanted to post about G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man for the Lewis project, but honestly I’m having a hard time getting through it, not because it’s challenging but because it’s utter shit. This doesn’t bode well for re-reading Lewis’s nonfiction. (But of course, if you’re a big Chesterton fan, please do explain why… It helps make things more accessible to me.)

By the by, as we’re talking about upcoming things, I’m pondering something for Banned Books Week in September, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten. There’s your typical “reviews of a few banned books” or “my top 5 banned books…” I’d really rather do something interactive, but I’ve no idea what. It’s starting to get down to the wire, too, so probably I’ll think of something right AFTER the week and end up with it on a list of stuff to do next year! But maybe some kind of Banned Books Challenge? Banned Books Bloghop with questions? I’ve got a lot of followers who are book bloggers, would any of y’all want to play along if I did that?

Review: Frostborn by Lou Anders

Let’s trace this back a little ways, shall we? Lou Anders presented to Science Fiction & Politics class nearly a year ago. I think it’s fair to say he was the highlight of an already great class. Much of his presentation was devoted to the structure of movies, based in part on the book My Story Can Beat Up Your Story, (which I’ll be discussing further in a novel update next week). Then he gave us the option of hearing about the publishing world or hearing about his book-in-progress, Thrones & Bones: Frostborn. The class overwhelmingly voted for book-in-progress, and we were treated to 30-40 minutes of teaser. It was really interesting stuff from a writing/publishing point of view, and I think every one of us would’ve bought the book right then, had it been available. But it wouldn’t come out until August 2014. Sooo, I followed Lou Anders on Facebook, and kept my beady little eyes trained on August 2014. And I went to the launch party and got a book signed and it was super fun!

So, what I’m saying is, I’ve been looking forward to this book for a long time.

Was it as awesome as I hoped? Categorically YES. (And I should stress that I bought the book myself, Lou Anders probably has no idea who I am, and all the praise you’re about to hear is entirely my own!)

Frostborn cover

Thrones and Bones is a middle-grade fantasy series based on Norse mythology. Here’s the description:

Meet Karn. He is destined to take over the family farm in Norrøngard. His only problem? He’d rather be playing the board game Thrones and Bones. Enter Thianna. Half human, half frost giantess. She’s too tall to blend in with other humans but too short to be taken seriously as a giant. When family intrigues force Karn and Thianna to flee into the wilderness, they have to keep their sense of humor and their wits about them. But survival can be challenging when you’re being chased by a 1,500-year-old dragon, Helltoppr the undead warrior and his undead minions, an evil uncle, wyverns, and an assortment of trolls and giants.

Frostborn is advantageously placed in a trend of interest in Norse mythology and things involving ice, what with Thor, the Loki craze (Marvel version and otherwise), and Frozen. It’s similar enough to those things to make a good recommendation — it’s similar enough to The Hobbit to make a good recommendation! — but as with all the best books for kids, it’s full of substance, and it has a flavor all its own. It’s well-written and well-plotted. It’s clear what’s happening and accessible for those who are just getting into longer books, but it’s complex enough to get your teeth into. It’s light and fun, but it has serious themes about acceptance, family, and loyalty (both when you should have it and when you shouldn’t). None of those themes are driven in with a sledgehammer, they’re just there if you wanna talk about them.

My favorite thing is how the book is explicitly for both boys and girls, not just a “boy book” that girls will also like. Karn and Thianna always get equal billing, and they’re always equally important. They’re both fully-formed characters with their own needs, desires, skills, and agency. They both change and develop over the course of the novel. They both have presence of mind, for which I’m deeply grateful in a world full of novels about clueless idiots. Plus, there’s no expectation that “Karn is for boys and Thianna is for girls.” They’re just people. Some readers will identify more with one or the other, but I didn’t feel pressured either way, and neither character is a stereotype! There are also numerous female supporting characters in a variety of roles (although it’s a bit weird that both mothers are dead).

Karn is interested in games and mental acuity rather than farming and bartering and physical sports. His journey is basically about appreciating his family and appreciating the skill it takes to run a farm. Thianna loves physical sports and skiing, and her journey is kind of the inverse of Karn’s — she thinks a little too highly of her giant ancestry, as a reaction against her human half. She learns to appreciate other people and places, as part of her journey to accepting herself as both giant and human. Her struggle in particular really works as an illustration of the pressures on girls and women… She can never be big and strong enough for some of the giants to consider her their equal, but she can’t be small and delicate enough to fit in among humans, either. It’s a no-win scenario, but the message is that she’s okay as she is. She’s Thianna. As her father says, she IS a giant, that’s just not ALL she is!

I could keep rambling about the awesome characters and the awesome dragon and the awesome skeletons and all the other awesome stuff, but I’d just keep spoiling more of the book. Go read Frostborn, you can get it anywhere books are available!

Teachers’ guide, excerpt, games, and other stuff available at http://www.thronesandbones.com.

Semester Review: Summer 2014 (Constitutional Law)

I only took one summer class, back in June. It was Constitutional Law, a required class for my Political Science minor. It sounded super imposing — I mean, Constitutional Law! — but actually it was really interesting, because most of the time we don’t talk about the judicial system when we talk about America’s government. That’s basically what Constitutional Law was, an overview of how the judicial system works and the major court cases regarding different rights, like the right to privacy or the right to due process of law. We mostly just read court opinions, and we did have the benefit of a teacher skilled at starting conversation. Pretty interesting stuff for any of you amateur political scientists out there, and if you’re a polisci student, don’t be afraid of this class!

Other than that, I’m having one of those “What did I do all summer?” moments. You may recall that last spring was kind of awful, and honestly I think I spent most of my time just getting back to normal. That, and working to pay for this semester (done!), and blogging a lot more than I thought I would (love y’all!), and writing more than usual, too. I had lofty ambitions of writing like a maniac all summer when I wasn’t in school, and that didn’t happen, but I did write much more quickly than I have in the past (and better!), so I’m definitely calling that a win!

Doctor Who Reaction: “Deep Breath”

(low spoilers, but I write assuming you’ve seen it — you may be confused otherwise)

The more I think about this episode, the more I realize I liked it. I’d started to think Moffat and Gatiss couldn’t actually do this, that they were too caught up in trying to be over-the-top and couldn’t just write something well. But this was written well. There weren’t superfluous weirdnesses being thrown up all over the place… Although at first it seems weird, with the dinosaur and the Paternoster Gang and the steampunk and what-all, but actually there’s nothing there that’s not relevant.

Peter Capaldi in Deep Breath

I love you, Doctor.

“Deep Breath” was also written well on the small scale, with relevant themes that were explored subtly instead of conveyed self-consciously. This is also to Peter Capaldi’s credit, that he could deliver all those emotions and wham-to-the-gut lines at exactly the right moments, understating them and letting us make the connections ourselves. He made the lines really mean something because of the character saying them, because we already cared about him. But don’t read too much into that “understating” reference — he’s got just as much energy as Matt Smith, and it’s darker. It’s more focused, because he’s not a child.

If it sounds like I’m badmouthing Smith, I’m really not. I loved him. I loved him so much. But I also love Capaldi already. It’s okay to love both of them, even to love them for completely opposite reasons. That’s part of the wonder of Doctor Who, that so many people can be the same man, always, and that you can love him in so many different ways.

While I’m on the subject, a lot of comparisons have been made to various other Doctors, but I see Jon Pertwee in Capaldi the most. (And that’s awesome.) They were both older men, with the kind of experience and sadness that can bring, but also with a kind of last-minute “What have we got to lose?” wonder. Capaldi has the same flamboyance combined with a little anger, a feeling that he’s trying to hold you at a distance but only because he’s afraid of how much he cares. The story is also similar to something you might see in one of Three’s episodes, with the randomly-appearing dinosaur (who ends up making you cry) and the random machines and the larder and just the overall tone — not rushed (yay for extra-long episode) and a bit talky, in a good way. It’s people actually talking about what they want and why they’re doing it and where their philosophies clash. I love that. And of course, let’s not forget Three’s crazy post-regeneration behavior, and how Three didn’t like his new face, except for the very expressive eyebrows!

I couldn’t find the whole clip from “Spearhead from Space” but he says the eyebrows might be useful on the planet Delphon, where they communicate with their eyebrows. Here’s him saying hello. :D

I also enjoyed Vastra and Jenny. There have been moments between them that were heartwrenching, and overall they’re a great couple, but Moffat has a long history of playing LGBT characters for laughs, and that’s been done to Vastra and Jenny before too. In this episode, they were great. They seemed like a real married couple, not without their squabbles, but also full of love for each other. (And attraction for each other too, without descending into male-gaze pandering).

Still, that brings me to the glaring “Oh god why did they do that” of this episode. Clara. The script was great in how it developed her relationship with the Doctor with her as the audience stand-in, unsure of this new face. She was clever and worked into the plot, rather than being an add-on. Her relationship with Eleven was never meaningful to me, and they never had the kind of chemistry they claimed to have — it was always, always, always Eleven and Amy Pond, and Clara was just out of place. With Twelve, she fits perfectly. I love the Ten/Donna kind of adversarial equals relationship they’ve got, and she works SO MUCH better here than with Eleven. It feels like she has things to do, rather than being just a plot device.

But it was not necessary for her to accuse Vastra of being attracted to her (super narcissistic, Clara), and more importantly, of ALL THE COMPANIONS, of all the companions EVER, Clara should be the most comfortable with the idea of regeneration. Even assuming that she didn’t actually LIVE all those other lives with other Doctors, she knows they’ve happened. She’s said before that she’s seen all his faces, because she was surprised that she hadn’t seen the War Doctor. So even if she’s a little uncertain, even if Twelve is a man she doesn’t know, even if many of her reactions in this episode are valid, she knows about regeneration. She shouldn’t be this upset and act like it’s some personal slight against HER that the Doctor was DYING and had to regenerate. She shouldn’t be asking dumb questions about how to “change him back.” Clara, it doesn’t work like that, and IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU FOR GODSAKES. I know you were spoiled in the last season by actually being the main plot device and having everybody fall all over themselves about you, but GET A GRIP.

Clara and the Doctor

I second that glare, madame.

Ahem. We’re getting a second companion next week, so I’m looking forward to that and seeing not only how the relationship between Clara and the Doctor grows, but how the new guy will play into the mix. I’m excited for this season and I hope we get more good episodes. The final scene, apparently a teaser for the season villain, worries me. It seems like Moffat’s usual schtick of “flirty evil woman in love with the Doctor.” Actually it seems like he made his dumb Irene Adler character the new Who villain. But still. This episode was solidly good, so my hope is restored that maybe we can refrain from making every season finale worse than the last in the name of “raising the stakes,” and that maybe, just maybe, we can fix some of the problems with female and diverse characters in general.

The only thing left to say I’m worried about is that I don’t get BBC America. I went to a watch party last night, but I’m not sure how I’m going to see the rest of the episodes. It looks like Amazon and other places have them for streaming almost immediately after airing, though. Assuming I can see the episodes promptly, I’ll keep posting these reactions/reviews.

Did you watch “Deep Breath”? Share your thoughts below!

Sunday Summary 8/24

Cool Link:

Ongoing Worlds. This site hosts play-by-post roleplays of all shapes and sizes. I’ve solemnly sworn not to try playing anything until and unless I graduate, but it does look super fun!

What I’m Up To:

Since I did an “If We Were Having Coffee” yesterday, this’ll be short.

I did see Doctor Who yesterday and actually quite enjoyed it. It wasn’t the heights of amazement, but it wasn’t bad at all. I’m really, really glad that it turned out to just be a quite good episode of a quite good show, because I was starting to doubt that Moffat and Gatiss could actually write such things. I’ll post a longer reaction later today.

Godzilla faceAlso, I saw Godzilla at our local $1.50 theater this week! Yes, it’s got fridging and bad tropes and a dearth of Japanese actors. It’s full of cheap feels — “And now we’re gonna put LITTLE CHILDREN on this bridge that’s about to collapse! That’ll make people care!” — but by golly, I did actually feel those cheap feels. It was my first exposure to Godzilla in any form, but now I’m a fangirl. And I want a plushie.

And here’s one last plug for my Alien August entry. I’d love to see some discussion over there — where do you imagine these aliens appearing in a story? What kind of story would that be? Make me look good, y’all. ;)

Coming Up This Week:

I’m not sure what I’ll end up with this week, due to all the things I mentioned in the coffee post. I’ll have that Doctor Who reaction today. I’ll probably also do a short semester review of the summer tomorrow, and possibly a book review and short writing-related post later in the week. We may end up with more posts but shorter ones for the fall, or we may have fewer posts but longer ones… Either way, I’ll be around. :)

If We Were Having Coffee

Even though I love to read other people’s “If We Were Having Coffee” posts, I’ve never written one myself. I usually just feel like I don’t have enough feelings to fill up that kind of post. But Gene’O is having a linkup, and I realized I have enough thoughts to do one today. So, if we were having coffee…

I’d tell you I’m not even sure I want to post this post, so just skip it, I don’t mind. I just figure everybody else posts personal stuff all the time, I can manage it this once, and it’s kind of relevant. History, pop culture, and writing — the anxiety version.

I’d tell you school starts back next week. I’m terrified every semester before school starts, but this is my last semester. I graduate in December. Assuming I don’t make a complete mess of my senior paper. And that’s not going to happen, there’s no reason to think it would, but I don’t care. I’ve never done this before and there are so many other people who know it’s not going to happen that I’m afraid it will. I’m sad about leaving a school I’ve loved, and doing it a semester earlier than I’d anticipated. I’m terrified of applying to grad schools, and I’m worried I’m going to miss all the deadlines because I haven’t even checked to find out what they are, so now I’m too worried to check in the first place. And at the same time, I’m so excited that I’m almost done with my BA!

I’d tell you Doctor Who is on tonight. Doctor Who is a big deal to me, and I’m not sorry about that. One of my favorite Doctors is gone, and I have no idea what’s going to happen tonight or how I’ll react. I’m trying not to build it up into more than it deserves, this particular episode may not matter at all, but it’s no exaggeration to say that yes, I will in fact care about this for the rest of my life. “Will this matter a year from now?” doesn’t apply, the answer is yes.

I’d tell you I was in a fender bender two and a half weeks ago, and it’s my first one that counts. (First one with another driver and insurance and all that). And I thought it was no big deal but suddenly after two weeks the other guy’s calling me, and I’m having to deal with the insurance company, and when somebody asks what you’ve been doing today and the only thing you can think of is “Staring at the phone hoping it doesn’t ring” then you know you have a problem. (While this is my first car accident, I’ve known I have issues with phones for years).

I’d tell you I’ve had issues with my characters in the past couple weeks and I don’t know if it’s because I’m upset or if everything else follows from that one area. They always tell you to write every day even when you’re sick or upset, or how writing helps them cope, but I can’t. I can’t even write any more of this paragraph because writing is usually the “get to the good part” of my life and I don’t know what to do with myself when it’s not or when I’m not doing a good job of it.

I’d tell you I didn’t realize how stressed out I was until I wrote this post. So I guess that’s progress, right?

I might even tell you all the things I cut from this post for length and irrelevance, but that’ll have to wait for another time. ;)

A Writer’s Guide to Conquest and Assimilation, Part 2

In part 1, I talked about the basic options open to a group of conquerors looking to control a population: Force, charm, and the non-conquest conquest. In part 2, I’m elaborating on some specific areas to think about within those overall strategies: Intermarriage, religion, infrastructure, and education.

INTERMARRIAGE

Intermarriage is Assimilation 101. You really don’t have to do anything, and after a bit, you’ll have most of the locals firmly invested in your presence and your culture. Of course, conquerors may be vehemently opposed to the idea of intermarriage and children. If the opposition is extreme enough, it’ll have a powerful effect on social arrangements. You may have ghettos and punishment for interacting with the other race at all.

Galaxy Quest Laliari

I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but whether or not they can reproduce has no bearing on whether or not they’ll be gettin’ busy. Galaxy Quest

In an SF/F world, things may be more interesting… Maybe the two races can’t reproduce, so there’s no need for laws to prevent that, but sexual/romantic contact is socially reprehensible, resulting in a new set of social norms or complex etiquette to prevent the appearance of fraternization while working together. Of course, sci-fi or not, you might have a situation where the conquerors are fine with it but the conquerees are definitively against it, and that’ll bring about different cultural circumstances.

Still, in most instances, there WILL be people engaging in sex and romance with the other tribe. Obviously your story doesn’t have to be a forbidden romance, but even if it’s not, your character should have an opinion about intermarriage, and probably knows some people who are trying it out.

RELIGION

Ah, religion. You can just about guarantee that your conquerees will care very deeply about religion, right? Well, yes, for the most part. Maybe not, maybe they’re confirmed atheists or deeply committed to agnosticism. Maybe, like the rebel tribes of southern Chile, they suddenly adopt ritual cannibalism just because they know it freaks you out, even though they’d never done it previously. (Not even kidding, y’all).

Church of the Papal Mainframe

The Church of the Papal Mainframe. Seriously, Moffat, nothing you wrote here made any sense. Doctor Who

That said, most cultures identify with a religion of some kind, and for some reason most SF/F authors ignore religion entirely, or underestimate its power in a culture, or just don’t seem to care how religions actually work. For the purposes of this article, understanding both cultures’ religious beliefs will help you understand how the cultures will relate to each other, AND religion can be a wedge to change anything else you want to change — a mechanism to manipulate marriages, infrastructure, or anything else.

If you’re wildly advanced in comparison to your conquerees, you may be able to convince them you’re gods or god’s agents. (Contrary to popular belief, this probably didn’t happen in the Spanish conquest of the Americas, but if you’re writing sci-fi, it’s entirely practicable). You can appeal to their own legends, even if you don’t go as far as claiming your own divinity. Appeal to any pacifist strains to help keep people calm — or if you want an excuse to terminate rebellions, surreptitiously encourage militant strains of the religion. Point out how their gods encourage whatever it is you’re trying to convince them to do. You’ll find that most people are variable in their religious beliefs, and if you’re playing a long game, many (if not most) religious beliefs are negotiable.

There will be holdouts, and religious extremists will become even more extreme if they feel they’re persecuted. They may convince themselves they’re persecuted either way, but this is an area where force will probably be counterproductive. Use charm or go the non-conquest conquest route with religion and just let the people keep their own. Muslim countries did this in the golden age of Islam by recognizing Judaism and Christianity as sister religions. They had an extra tax for people who weren’t Muslim, so a lot of people converted anyway. Of course, if it’s part of your religion to convert your subjects then all bets are off, and as a writer you may have any number of motivations for NOT writing a peaceful conquest! But you still have the option of force versus economic and social pressure, and you don’t have to write a heavy-handed allegory to the Crusades either way.

INFRASTRUCTURE

For starters, your conquest will be much more successful if your own structure is already clear and reliable. (Spain’s established royal bureaucracy and urban structures meant people had experience with those things in the New World, for instance.) Likewise, it’s helpful if there’s an existing structure in the place you want to conquer. The Spaniards wanted to conquer cities with existing tax bases, not the nomadic subsistence tribes in the American midwest. This brings up a very important point — you must know why your conquerees are being conquered. There should be an economic benefit to the conquerors, and there should NEVER be an economic detriment. Existing infrastructure is attractive because you can just step into the top position.

Gaius Baltar

Use existing leaders, or install new ones. This is a great opportunity to promote locals and indebt them to you! Battlestar Galactica

In this kind of attractive community — sedentary, surplus-producing, tax-paying — there will be existing leaders to manage. You may want to follow the Versailles or Edo Japanese method, and insist leaders travel to your court on a regular basis and look fabulous doing it. This will suck up time and money, so they won’t be able to revolt, and you can keep an eye on them. Beware, bringing them all together at the court may allow them to talk to each other, and that could be dangerous. A related concept is to turn “lords” into “governors,” either by paying them, by moving them to new areas to manage, or by killing them and installing new governors who answer to you. For writing purposes, just think about who was in power beforehand, and how the conquerors would deal with those people. This is great plot fodder, because these transitions can go on for decades and can be greatly affected by the individuals involved.

One particularly creative use of infrastructure is to move people around. The Incas moved entire communities to different locations where they would be off guard. Rebellious communities lost their allies and became surrounded with loyalists. They actually combined this with charm — they moved groups to familiar climates so they wouldn’t be disadvantaged, they gave holidays and sick days to their tribute workers, and they had a complex system of land allotment that provided sufficient land and food to everyone. (How the locals actually felt about this generosity, I don’t know.)

EDUCATION

Education is part of infrastructure, certainly. How you use it will depend on how it’s been used before. Do the people expect mass education? Are they literate already? Is most education provided by the parents or by the state? Will there be segregated schools for the two cultures? And which is more important to you, a well-educated populace or simply a well-indoctrinated one? Maybe educating the conquerees isn’t important to the rulers at all, but as with religion, if you’re playing a long game, it should be important.

Language is a foundational element. If you want to eliminate the traditional languages, you’ve gotta have public education. (By the by, If your character’s ethnicity is significant, their relationship to the traditional language can be a great way to demonstrate that.) Beyond language, this is another area where you’ve got to consider your dominant culture and what’s important to them. Do they care about science? The humanities? What are the hot-button issues? There’s a temptation to forbid all discussion of alternate methods of government, but this is dangerous if you already have a literate society on your hands, so take the conquerees’ starting point into account as well.

Think of the next generation, whether you’re providing organized education or not. The Aztecs used to go around asking kids who the rightful king was, and kill them if they gave the wrong answer. Parents had no choice but to teach their children that the conqueror was the rightful king. (The Aztecs were not nice people.)

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Santa Clara in Cuzco. Wikimedia Commons

Santa Clara in Cuzco. Wikimedia Commons

I’d like to close with one example that illustrates all four of these approaches: The Convent of Santa Clara in Cuzco, Peru. Spanish conquistadors were male, obviously. They habitually took native princesses as wives, and had children with them. Who was most responsible for teaching the kids? The mothers. But the mothers were all pagan natives. So, the church built the convent to cloister the young girls. The native princesses no longer had control of the daughters’ education, and the daughters were indoctrinated into the new religion, thus also brought into the new infrastructure. Plus, they were kept virginal to be married off later on, continuing the cycle of intermarriage. In practice, ventures that combine many different elements are likely to be the most effective, and may actually fly furthest under the radar. The convent was something the conquerors wanted for many different reasons, and it had the effect of fostering assimilation, probably without many people realizing it was happening. That’s why it was so effective.

Conquest really isn’t pretty for anyone involved, but it is a common occurrence in fantasy and science fiction. I hope I’ve given you some inspiration for ways to make it interesting and realistic, whether your story is about a clash of cultures or just uses a conquest as worldbuilding in the background. The comments are open to questions, comments, further suggestions, and ideas!

Review of Loki: Agent of Asgard #4

Loki Agent of Asgard #4 cover

If you’re just tuning in, I’m doing my Loki reviews in the form of live reactions as I go along, paying special attention to Loki’s possible genderfluidity/bisexuality/etc. I jumped in late so I’m several issues behind. Skip to the Final Thoughts to avoid spoilers!

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Yaaaay, Verity’s back!

Loki Agent of Asgard #4 Verity

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Sigurd tries to steal Loki’s sword!

Loki Agent of Asgard #4 Sigurd

Now, most of the time a statement like that would indicate “Sigurd’s bi.” Which would be awesome. Since Loki and Sigurd know each other, Loki probably knows Sigurd’s history, so this interpretation is likely. Or, the statement could be there to reveal Loki’s extreme vanity, which is also possible. However, one of my favorite slogans is “Don’t assume I’m gay. Don’t assume I’m straight.” Maybe Loki is adopting this viewpoint and simply cautioning Verity not to make assumptions. That would be nice too.

Next panel, provided just so I can say I love Verity:

Loki Agent of Asgard #4 Verity

Continue reading

Review: Ms. Marvel #7

Ms. Marvel #7 cover

OHMIGAWD I LOVE THIS SERIES.

This issue finishes the Wolverine/Kamala team-up, and I am so sad to see it go. It was a thing of beauty.

Ms. Marvel #7 Wolverine

Most of the issue is about the two of them fighting the Inventor’s megagator, with Wolverine imparting wisdom as they go along. We discover that since the Terrigen bomb gave her powers, that means she’s an Inhuman. I had read a review of the new Inhumans comic (sorry I couldn’t find it to link) so I understood the reference and had already put 2+2 together, but I think it would also work as a vague reference that’ll be explained later on. (Wolverine doesn’t tell Kamala, he just knows. I’m not sure if he thinks it’s too much, or if it’s not his place to say, or what. I’ll reserve judgment for now.)

There are lots of funny parts, and one big art spread of them climbing up through the sewers that was a lot of fun, but this was my favorite panel:

Ms. Marvel #7 Wolverine

Wolverine says no, but I hope she finds a way anyway. She’s always wanted to be a hero to help people and inspire them, not to punch people. I love her.

Despite his dubious and cynical advice in this particular instance, Wolverine teaches her some valuable things. The whole time I was thinking that Wolverine really completes the ensemble, and there needs to be a character in that more mature superpheroing spot, even though having Wolverine there himself would obviously be overkill with the number of books he holds down. Never fear! Wolverine calls Captain America about Kamala, not just because she’s an Inhuman, but because he’s impressed with her, and Cap tells Medusa from the Inhumans. They send Kamala a new partner-slash-spy, but I won’t tell you who it is.

JUST KIDDING HERE’S THE SPOILER:
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IT’S LOCKJAW! The big doggy!

I screamed. I’m not kidding, I literally went “AAAAAH!” and scared my cat.

I’m so happy.

One last thing. I highly recommend reading the fan letters on the last page. I’ve enjoyed them every month. In this issue they have several different letters about representation… One guy says he’s not Pakistani or Muslim, but he is gay. He writes, “I’ve faced discrimination before, I’ve felt like an outsider for who I am so seeing a character like Kamala come to life so triumphantly … really made me feel like Kamala was in part made for me.” Their response is, “Steven, this book IS made for you.” So awesome.