A Writer’s Guide to…Surviving the Wilderness!

Writers can get people into and out of trouble with a handful of eloquent words and some convenient coincidences. It’s no wonder then that we are the first people you turn to for advice on how not to die and stuff. With this in mind, I have decided to take on the heavy burden of writing some guides for that very purpose – to save lives!

Disclaimer: Following these guidelines may result in death.

Next up on the list of things you, the Hero, may get into trouble with is surviving the deathly grasp of nature.

Mount Baker

Problem: The great outdoors
Goal: To not die
Description: Wild. Scary sounds. Outside
Difficulty: Difficult

Disaster! The private jet carrying you and your promising but ruthless protégé has flown through a swarm of angry ducks, blowing out the engines! In a terrifying blur, the metal tube has plummeted to the ground and crashed in the middle of Endor/a large forest, a hundred miles from anywhere. Upon waking, the first thing you see is the dead pilot (because when do they ever survive?); the next is your protégé running at you with the fire axe that all jets definitely have aboard. A minute of dodging, screaming, and appealing to what little humanity still resides in this rabid stockbroker/your daughter’s gold-digging husband leads you to a fall over the inevitable cliff edge into the even more inevitable fast flowing river. Thrashing, swimming, and not breathing water eventually saves you and you emerge from the water miles downstream with one singular thought: you have to get the holy hell out of there; also why do jets have axes; and also are there bears in this forest; additionally, did you remember to insure the jet.

The bad news is, yes, there are bears in this forest. Of course there are bears in this forest. The good news is the jet’s insured and there aren’t any tigers in this forest.

Note 1: You are wet. In your fright and rush of adrenaline, this might not seem too terrible. It is. It is terrible. Night will soon come and even if you are lucky enough to have crashed somewhere decently warm during the day, wet clothes at night will be bad.

Note 2: First things first. Drink plenty of water from the clean river and collect any if you happen to have a container. Take a swig from your hip flask you think is secret but everyone knows about for warmth, then empty it and fill it with water. Avoid standing or slow-flowing water, as it will possibly kill you. If it is standing up, it may be sentient. Boil water where possible, collect rain and dew, tie a plastic bag around something nice and leafy and collect its sweat.

Note 3: Second things second. You need to find somewhere to spend the night so you can recover and set out at first light. The plane would have been a decent prospect if it weren’t for the madman who wants your head and subsequently your job. Head for higher ground. Ideally, you want to find a balance of natural shelter from the elements and distance from natural dangers such as falling rocks, branches that may fall on your sleeping head, cougar nests, etc. Go higher to avoid flash floods and mole people.

Note 4: You need two things to stay alive and dry out overnight: shelter and a tumble dryer. Failing the latter, a fire will suffice. Use branches against a boulder or tree to create a lean-to, then use smaller sticks and branches to fill the gaps. Finally, use moss, grass, leaves, etc., over the top of it all, cementing it with mud or clay if possible (be careful not to make it too heavy). Now coat the inside floor with more branches and leaves/moss/grass so that you won’t be sleeping on the cold, damp ground. Also hope lightning doesn’t hit the tree.

Note 5: Build the fire. If you are a man, society would have you believe you should inherently know how to do this; if you are a woman, society would have you believe you’re &%$! out of luck and should find a man. They’re wrong. You’re a Hero: you either know it all, or you know nothing but it magically works anyway. Unless everything is wet. Then you’re &%$! out of luck. Place a larger log or two on the ground, which you have cleared of anything that will catch fire and spread it, and away from same. Place tinder – dry grass, leaves, moss will do – between the logs and have small twigs ready.

Light the fire with your lighter, laser eyes, lesser arcana, dragon’s breath, or matches. Failing this, do you have a battery you can short with steel wool? Why the hell not? Flint and steel? Something like glasses to harness and concentrate the sun’s mighty power? Well, then it’ll have to be the drill method. Get a straight stick and either cut a notch in something big, like a thick branch, or gather heavy rocks to fashion a slot that the stick can go through. Place your tinder in and around the notch or under the slot, followed by the stick, which you will roll quickly and smoothly between your hands to create friction at the tip. Better still, use your shoelace and a bendy stick to make a bow. Hold down the straight stick with a rock and use the bow to spin it.

As the fire catches hold of the tinder, help it to spread throughout with gentle blowing. Stack small twigs over the logs and tinder, allowing room for oxygen. As the fire grows, add larger twigs and sticks. Eventually, you will be able to add larger logs. Dry thine clothing.

Note 6: Eat edible plants. Don’t eat poisonous plants. Dandelions are edible, so are lettuces. There is usually no need to go after animals, but you are unusual and the Hero. Fashion a hunting bow. Mine nearby ore, smelt, blacksmith. Forge a mighty sword. You will probably need it for that bear of unusual size and aggression who has caught your scent and is hunting you for miles upon miles entirely against its nature. Also the protégé who went mad with bloodlust surprisingly fast – remember him? Perhaps the two problems will take care of each other at the last moment.

Brown Bear

Note 7: The bear is Man’s greatest foe. When Man is faced with a hungry, angry bear, anyway. Do not attempt to cuddle it. When you finally come to the final showdown with the bear, do not try to run. That is cowardly, and also it will outrun you. Assess what kind of bear it is and recall the different approaches that you memorised for no reason:

  • Black bear – These are more timid than other bears. Make lots of noise and they will often lose interest. Fighting back when one actually attacks may also cause it to give up. Don’t bother trying to climb trees to escape – they are better climbers that you.
  • Grizzly bear – This will be the kind of bear you encounter, as it is most heroic. Probably a Kodiak. Back away carefully, without turning or running. The bear may charge you, but it may be a bluff. Stand your ground, you’ll probably be fine. The further back the bear’s ears are pushed, the more likely it is to be attacking. If it is attacking, drop to the floor in the foetal position and play dead. It will probably leave after throwing you about a bit. Stay down, as it may be hiding behind a tree, ready to jump out at you when it sees you’re not actually dead.
  • Koala bear – You will die.
  • Polar bear – What the &%$! is it doing in a forest?!

Naturally, this is a merciless killing machine that wishes to feast on your insides, so your only option is to fight. Use your sword. Good luck.

Note 8: If you are still alive, it means your protégé conveniently attacked you at the same time and is now in the bear’s stomach and it no longer cares about you. Now you can concentrate on being rescued. Find north by pointing the hour hand of your magically-still-working watch at the sun. The midway point between the hour hand and 12 is south. Hopefully you will have memorised a map and this will be helpful. If you intend to try hiking out, go back to the plane and build an arrow in the direction you are heading, using stones and stuff. Now that the bear and protégé have been fought, however, rescue should be arriving any moment.

Note 9: If the forest canopy is particularly thick and the rescue planes and helicopters won’t see it, head again for high ground. Find somewhere high and clear of trees. You can build a signal fire here and it will look particularly dramatic when you are rescued. The signal fire will be built the same way as the campfire, but…bigger. When you hear an aircraft, pile on anything that will make smoke. Technically, you could also use the signal flare from the jet.

Note 10: Remember to collapse to the ground laughing like a cringe-inducing idiot when the helicopters swoop in.

Signal Fire

Congratulations: Nature are stupid and you is smart; killer bears are laughable and nobody laughs at your jokes. Your daughter will be happy to hear that you helped a bear eat her gold-digging husband who tried to chop you into firewood. You’ll return home realising there’s more to life than money and you’ll live life to the fullest from now on. Except the after-credits scene shows the bear coming across your address book in the plane’s wreckage: It will find you.

Next time on A Writer’s Guide…something else!

A Writer’s Guide to…Escaping a Sinking Car!

Writers can get people into and out of trouble with a handful of eloquent words and some convenient coincidences. It’s no wonder then that we are the first people you turn to for advice on how not to die and stuff. With this in mind, I have decided to take on the heavy burden of writing some guides for that very purpose – to save lives!

Disclaimer: Following these guidelines may result in death.

Next up on the list of things you, the Hero, may get into trouble with is attempting to operate a vehicle in deep water.

Quayside Sign

Problem: Water (in your car and lungs)
Goal: To not die
Description: Wet and not dense enough to drive on
Difficulty: Difficult

We’ve all been there: We’re at a party in a generic approximation of the Hollywood Hills at some famous person’s party – perhaps our own – and got drunk, had a public argument with our lover or agent or (twist!) both, jumped/fallen into our Ferrari to have a drive to clear our head, and lo! a wide-eyed deer in the road makes us swerve and crash through the barrier into an inconveniently placed lake or reservoir.

The natural instinct is to panic. This is good. It means you’re alive, and it might sober you up just enough to keep yourself that way. Scream. Scrabble. Claw at the glass. If you cry loud enough, God might hear you. Conversely, something else might hear you, in which case be extremely careful with the wording of any deals you may make. Failing this, it is time to regain your Zen.

Many people die every year in car accidents involving a submerged car, so it is important to understand what is happening, and know in advance what to do. If this is not the case and you are currently sinking, you might like to take time to read this guide; however, remember that the car will sink in a maximum of two minutes and the average person cannot hold their breath for long even without the strenuous activity of trying not to drown, so speed read.

Note 1: As you scream at the rapidly approaching water, keep your hands firmly on the steering wheel to A) brace yourself, and B) ensure the airbag does not force your hands into your face and cause you punch yourself unconscious. This would be embarrassing.

Note 2: As soon as you are in the water and the airbag has broken your nose and potentially caused you to inhale the toxic chemicals inside it, unfasten your seatbelt. If you have a knife handy, it may be more heroic and dramatic to cut yourself free and then place the knife between your teeth.

Note 3: If there are any children or anyone else needing assistance, unfasten their seatbelts and calmly explain to them that they need to refrain from panicking or else their selfishness will use up the air and kill you all. All the while there is air, breathe calmly and deeply, preparing your lungs for when you have to hold your breath.

Note 4: Open your window. This is particularly important to do as soon as you and your passengers are free because the electrics will stop working after two or three minutes (although, by this time you’ll have sunk anyway). Don’t bother with the door unless you have superhuman strength or are some kind of cyborg – you will not be able to open it.

Double Jeopardy Car Underwater

Note 5: If you are unable to open the window, you will need to break it. Side windows and the rear window are breakable, but the windscreen is not. If you are a real Hero, you can punch it. If you are rubbish Hero you can kick it close to front edge where it is weakest (like you). If you are a total basic, you may need to use a tool to break the glass.

Shooting it out may redeem you a little, but do so up close as the bullet will only travel a couple of feet. Otherwise, use something hard and heavy, like the hammer you carry around in your door compartment. Pulling out the headrest of your seat might give you access to a pointed metal spike of sorts. Aim your tool for the centre of the window and thrust hard, unafraid of glass shards because you are a Hero. And because car windows break into neat, safe pieces, not shards.

Note 6: If you are feeling adventurous, wait until the car has entirely filled with water and it hits the bottom. Don’t forget to take a deep breathe while there is still air left. At this point, the pressure inside and out will have equalised, and you will be able to open the door. This is boring, so heroically break the window.

Do not attempt to breathe the water. Yes, it is more readily available than air now, but it may prove detrimental to your health.

Note 7: Children are dim. If you have any, make sure they take a deep breath before they submerge (unless you left them at home). If you have a self-inflating dinghy handy, give it to them immediately outside so that they can get to the surface easily. Failing that, ensure children too young or unable to swim are with an adult.

Note 8: Use light, bubbles, sinking objects, and anything else about you to determine which way is up, and swim in that direction. That is where air is. Also potentially your armed attackers. Remember, bullets don’t travel far in water, so don’t worry about being shot. Yet.

Note 9: Swim at a shallow angle to the side so as to avoid breaking surface near the mafiosos/terrorists/assassins/shark-bears with laser guns. Do not waste time feeling relieved at fresh air – get to land before exhaustion causes you to sink all over again or someone spots you.

Note 10: Take revenge. Or call an ambulance/flag down a passing car.

Underwater Gunfire

Congratulations: Gravity is weak and you are strong; water is…wet and you will be dry when someone gives you a towel. This will teach your spurned lover or agent, or unfortunate circumstance, or those meddling kids. Unless those airbag chemicals get you.

Next time on A Writer’s Guide…something different to this time!

A Writer’s Guide to…Escaping a Fire!

Writers can get people into and out of trouble with a handful of eloquent words and some convenient coincidences. It’s no wonder then that we are the first people you turn to for advice on how not to die and stuff. With this in mind, I have decided to take on the heavy burden of writing some guides for that very purpose – to save lives!

Disclaimer: Following these guidelines may result in death.

First on the list of things you, the Hero, may get into trouble with is fire. This guide covers the likes of house fires, warehouse fires, fires in the villain’s lair because he discovered your intentions moments before you arrived and set a trap, but does not cover the supernatural fires of hell or magic.

Tombstone cowboys walking from fire

Problem: Fire
Goal: To not die
Description: Most often yellow and orange. Variably useful and ouchy. You’ll know it when you see it
Difficulty: Difficult

Note 1: A Hero knows that danger lurks around every corner and under every cheerful welcome mat. He or she should be ready for anything, including instantaneous infernos. Plan the quickest routes to multiple exits and note the obstacles – the smoke my reduce visibility to zero. If you intend to start the fire, do so far away from your exit. If you are an action Hero, windows between the ground floor and the fourth floor are acceptable exits, with the fifth and sixth floors viable when directly above a vehicle on which to land. If possible, know whom you will encounter along the way, which of these people can easily be shoved the ground and which will need to be dodged. If this is a house fire, Grandma will slow you down if you try to help her; but fear not, for the frigid embrace of the Reaper will soothe her burns.

Note 2: Stay low to the ground to avoid smoke inhalation. Smoke and chemicals will rise, so the cleanest air will be closest to the floor. Since visibility will be better down here, you could try shooting the ankles of random henchmen to counter the big-sissy-ness of crawling along the floor.

Note 3: As in any situation in which you are in a house with Macaulay Culkin, you must check door handles before you open doors. Do so with more sensitive skin, such as that on the back your hand or a small child if available. If the handle is hot, there is most likely fire on the other side, and you should not open it. When you do open a door, do so slowly and with your shoulder braced against it in case of pressure differences, and be prepared to close it again before the fire spots you. Fire cannot open doors.

Note 4: If you find yourself trapped, call your team of ex- special forces soldiers of fortune, a friend with superpowers, or the fire service. Do not hide under beds or behind curtains – the fire will look for you there. Douse any material you have handy in water and hold it over your face. Altering the pressure with which you do so will cause the sweet release of death will come for you or keep smoke inhalation to a minimum.

Note 5: Remember, do not use the elevator in the event of a fire. Wrap your shirt sleeves around your hands and shimmy down the elevator cable instead. Avoid falling elevator cars and do not climb as far as the basement. Alternatives include the stairs.

Die Hard Elevator Shaft

Note 6: Locked doors can be kicked open by driving the heel of your foot into the door as close to the lock as possible. If the door opens towards you, don’t be stupid. Close doors and windows as you go. Rather than allowing smoke to escape, they will fuel the fire. It will also slow the spread of the fire. Fire can’t go through doors, stupid; it’s not a ghost. Shoot a hole in any fire extinguishers you pass, thus creating your own sprinkler system.

Note 7: If you must go up rather than down, as the best Heroes do, try to pick up an incapacitated civilian along the way. Should the fire catch up to you, dropping the civilian will slow it down and give you the chance to escape. Alternatively, once you reach the roof, news helicopters will record your heroics. On the roof, leave the door open to help clear smoke from the building, and walk towards the wind, so as to give yourself the best chances of survival. If a strange bald man has been telling you you’re The One, now is the time to jump to another building.

Note 8: Once out of the burning building, do not, under any circumstances, let anything stop you from re-entering. Firefighters may get in your way and will only slow you down. They cannot possibly carry out all their heavy gear and the little girl crying for help from the top window. But they do have ladders, so maybe wait to see if you can procure one.

Note 9: The penultimate consideration is health care. During a fire, the average person will have breathed in carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, cyanide, soot, various aldehydes, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, acid gases, toluene, benzene, styrene, metals and dioxins. As a Hero, you are not an average person, and should belligerently wave away any paramedics and light up a cigarette.

Note 10: Fire engines are fast and people get out of the way of their sirens. Should you still need to give chase to a villain, they are a good choice. Ensure no firefighters are still in or on the vehicle, and if possible cut the fire hose being used to fight the building fire, or it will trail behind you and get caught on something or cause the city millions of dollars in damage, and you may have to hand in your badge until you are the only one who can stop the next villain and have to come out of retirement. After all, you were the best damn whatever you were that someone or other has ever seen.

Con Air Fire Truck

Congratulations: The fire has been outsmarted and your spouse/partner/mentor/cat has been avenged!

Next time on Writer’s Guide…something else!

Wonder, Marvel, and Survival

wondermarvelsurvival

For me, when a female-led action movie is done well, there is something a little extra special about it. Perhaps it’s because they are comparatively rarer for the time being. Let’s put aside the obvious Star Wars Episode VIII and Rogue One, the brainlessly whitewashed Ghost in the Shell, and some others. There are three main, female-led potential blockbusters that I’m very much looking forward to.

These three not only have the potential to be brilliant movies, but also to show the morons- powers-that-be that there is just as much a market for female-led movies as there is for male-led ones. That market is, of course, people who like good movies! These idiots powers-that-be seem to be about the only ones that don’t realise that it doesn’t matter who leads a movie – what matters is that it’s entertaining, exciting, thrilling, funny, sad, GOOD.

But that’s not the point. The point is, these are those three movies.

Wonder Woman

Gal Gadot seemed like an odd choice to play Wonder Woman at first. While the likes of Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck were busy growing to twice their normal size at the gym so they could look the part, a spindly model only really known on screen for her part in a Fast & Furious movie was cast as the third of the Trinity. But out marched Batman v Superman, and it was terrible. But Gadot’s Wonder Woman was, for the brief appearances she made, one of the best things about it.

Granted, how good she was will have been exaggerated a little by how terrible the eponymous leads were. She didn’t whinge and whine and boo hoo her way through her cameo scenes; she was there for a reason and she got on with it. She was, as far as anyone can be in such a short time, Wonder Woman. (While the leads failed utterly to be Superman and Batman, but that’s beside the point).

Sadly, Zack Snyder still has his grubby hands on June 2017’s Wonder Woman solo outing, with IMDb listing him under ‘story by’. But he isn’t directing (that’s Patty Jenkins) and he didn’t write the screenplay, so there’s hope yet. The trailers keep looking better and better, and there’s a slightly Marvel flavour to them, which isn’t a bad thing after an okay Man of Steel followed by two woeful outings from the DCMU.

I’ve always considered Wonder Woman to be Superman’s equal. While he has more raw power, her being a magically-created demigod and warrior balances the scales. When Superman goes bad, who do you call? Wonder Woman (also Batman, obviously). So far, it’s looking as though Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is going to be that equal, with the actress  easily embodying Power, Grace, and Wisdom.

Captain Marvel

I don’t actually know all that much about Captain Marvel, being neither a comic reader nor a Marvel fan outside of the screen, but I look forward to her introduction to the MCU more than most of the other Marvel movies coming up.

So far, all we know about the movie is that it is scheduled for release in March 2019, is being written by Nicole Perlman and Meg LeFauve, and will star Oscar winner Brie Larson (who I have only now realised was Abed’s girlfriend in Community!).

Captain Marvel is one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel universe, and according to the Marvel Studios’ president, Kevin Feige, the MCU’s version of her will not only be more powerful than the rest of the heroes ‘by far’, but will also be more powerful than fans are used to seeing her. So, she’s taking the Hulk’s heavyweight belt and then some.

brie-larson-captain-marvel-1

In the comics, as the character progressed through the usual iterations, she gained the ability to tap the power of a white hole, allowing her to manipulate gravity, heat, and the electromagnetic spectrum. Though she lost this connection, Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel’s base powers include flight at around Mach 6 (light speed with the white hole connection), the ability to survive in space, superhuman strength and durability, a limited precognition, and the ability to blast energy from her fingertips. She can also absorb energy to augment her power to the point of unleashing a nuclear warhead level energy blast, and can throw a 92-tonne punch.

In short, even if these are the highest levels her power reaches in the film, she’s going to be insanely powerful. So with a strong choice of actress, good source material, and Marvel’s mostly solid track record, I don’t need a trailer to know that I want to see this, now!

As a side note, I’m interested in seeing how she’s used going forward. Up till now, Marvel has been mostly trying to keep a balance between the heroes’ power, with them coming out of every scrape pretty much equal (even if it doesn’t always make much sense): Captain America v Iron Man; Thor v Captain America; Thor v Iron Man; Iron Man v Hulk; Thor v Hulk, etc. So it will be interesting to see how Captain Marvel is incorporated in later films, which she will be given that she’s set to become one of the most important characters in the MCU. In the comics, she has had affiliations with pretty much everyone from SHIELD and the Avengers, to the X-Men, to the Guardians of the Galaxy, so we could be seeing a lot of her.

Tomb Raider

Again, we know very little about 2018’s Tomb Raider, except that it will star Alicia Vikander and will be based to some degree on 2013’s Tomb Raider game reboot and sequel. This is what IMDb currently says about it, if it means anything:

Lara Croft sets out on her first expedition to finish her father’s archaeological research and uncover ancient secrets in order to clear his disgraced name. Tragedy hits when her adventure turns into a fight for survival.

This sounds made up to me, but it would make sense. While the 2013 Tomb Raider game was about Lara Croft taking part in an expedition that goes wrong, its sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider (yes, stupid name), was a more personal story about Lara trying to complete her father’s work and clear his disgraced name.

Written by Rhianna Pratchett, the reboots were far more story driven, and introduced a more human Lara Croft. Initially, she doesn’t believe in the more supernatural elements that gamers were used to her battling, she was barely out of college, and certainly didn’t somersault all over the place firing two guns at once. She was a young woman way out of her depth, concerned only with trying to rescue her friends, and has to adapt radically to be a surviver.

alicia-vikander-tomb-raider-645x370

While Angelina Jolie was a good choice for the big screen’s somewhat entertaining first attempt at the character, it’s easy to imagine Alicia Vikander (another Oscar winner) bringing the young, innocent, and vulnerable Lara Croft through the tragedies, tortures, and trials that will forge the Tomb Raider.


So these are, aside from Rey and Luke, the characters and movies I’m most looking forward to seeing in the next few years. If they’re done right (and I think at least Captain Marvel and Tomb Raider will be), they could be brilliant.

What movies, female led or not, are you looking forward to most before 2020?

My 11 Force Awakens Questions

X-Wings

These might not be the most burning questions everyone has, but they are ones that I hope will be answered in the next film – but some I fear won’t be answered at all. I had a few others, but they’re answered in books and whatnot.

SPOILERS, obviously.

Who are the Knights of Ren?

We know, thanks to Supreme Leader Snoke, that Kylo Ren is the ‘master of the Knights of Ren’. But who are they? Is Snoke their leader as well as the First Order’s? Did he poach Kylo from them? Did Kylo create them himself?

My previous theory regarding them was that they were the remnants of Luke’s new Jedi Order – those who sided with Kylo when he turned on Luke. It doesn’t seem likely that he would have left the Jedi to become one of them before becoming Snoke’s apprentice (assuming he is Snoke’s apprentice – I don’t recall either of them using the terms ‘master’ or ‘apprentice’ or anything similar), as Leia says that Snoke seduced Ben Solo to the dark side.

We heard before the film that the Knights of Ren were obsessed with the Sith and spent their time hunting for Sith artefacts, but we learned absolutely nothing about them from the film, bar that Kylo is the master of them. Perhaps the biggest question regarding them is: are any of the other Knights of Ren Force wielders?

I’m going to add to this the question of Kylo’s lightsaber: why is it the way it is. Why is it so unstable? Why does it have the guardy bits?

Why does Kylo Ren’s power falter?

When Kylo tries to pull the lightsaber to his hand, he fails. I mentioned this before and concluded that it could be one of two things. Either Rey’s attempts to pull it were disrupting his, or that the crystals in it are so imbued with the light side that they resisted his dark side power. Most likely the former.

However, Adam Driver has said that his lightsaber is a metaphor for the character. That it is unstable and could stop working at any moment. The unstable part we saw, but the ‘stop working’ part we did not – for the saber or Kylo himself.

Perhaps the question is redundant, then, and Rey is the reason he fails to pull the saber. But having killed his father and thus completing his journey to the dark side, and being wounded and surely fuelled by pain and anger, he should be more powerful than ever.

Kylo Ren

Why did R2D2 wake up?

R2 was in low power mode since Luke left, but conveniently wakes up at the end of the film and happens to have the rest of the map that the Resistance needs. Is there a reason for this or is it just a pitiful plot point thrown in for convenience? Unfortunately, J J Abrams’ answer seems to say the latter.

Apparently R2, in his low power mode, heard that they needed the map piece and that eventually leads to him waking up. It’s a case of, after a sad death, the audience needed someone to ‘come back’. I can’t help but feel this is just bad writing.

I was thinking that perhaps Luke somehow activated him from a distance, or that he detected Rey’s arrival and activated, or…something. It’s still possible there is a reason that would be considered a spoiler, and so J J is keeping it to himself, so let’s hope so.

Who left Rey and why?

Rey calls Jakku home. According to the wall she marks at the start, she has done for a long time. More specifically, according to her vision she was left there as a little girl of, I’d guess, between six and nine. But who left her? Why did they leave her? And why did they never go back for her?

The answer could be anything, of course. Her parents may be people we’ve never heard of and they left her for reasons we couldn’t possibly know yet. Or perhaps we do know her parents. The main theory seems to be that Luke Skywalker is her father, but I don’t know what I think about that.

Could she have been at the new Jedi academy when Ben turned into Kylo and destroyed it? In her vision, he does walk towards her – but is that just a fanciful vision-y flair? And if she was there and was somehow rescued or something, why would she not remember? Was her mind wiped? That would be a pretty cheap and poorly written trick to play on us, I think.

The Force Awakens Rey

How does Rey use the Force so easily?

I know she is strong in the Force, but how does she go from thinking the Jedi and the Force are a myth to using a Jedi mind trick on James Bondtrooper? Twice. And Force pulling the lightsaber to her hand.

Channelling the Force mid-fight is understandable enough, because Maz Kanata tells her to close her eyes and feel the Force, or whatever, and that’s what she does. It did take me two viewings to make that connection, though.

Again, perhaps she was already being trained by Luke and her memory was wiped but, again, that would be weak in my opinion. Besides, a padawan of that age surely wouldn’t have been taught mind tricks.

My theory on this is that when Kylo Ren dived into her mind, something of his Force power imprinted on her. But it wasn’t mentioned or explained in any satisfactory way. ‘I can’t explain it’ is the closest we get to any explanation.

Who calls Rey in her vision?

There are voices in the vision Rey has while in Maz’s basement. Yoda is the main one. But as she finds herself in the snowy woodlands, someone calls her name. Who? It sounds remarkably like Alec Guinness’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, but it’s hard to tell with only one word. Plus, we don’t yet know what Luke Skywalker sounds like these days, so it could be him.

Luke looks a little shocked and/or confused when Rey turns up at the end. Would he look at her like that if he’d been calling her through the Force? Perhaps his subconscious was doing it. If it was him, how does he know her name? Thanks to the Force?

EDIT: I could have deleted this part. Apparently it IS Obi-Wan – they took his voice and cut it to make him say ‘Rey’, and had Ewan McGregor record ‘these are your first steps’. Which is interesting, since Obi-Wan doesn’t say those precise words anywhere in the originals (or the prequels, I think), thus meaning he must be actually speaking to Rey.

Why does the lightsaber call to Rey?

‘That lightsaber belonged to Luke, and his father before him. Now it calls to you.’ That is, perhaps not word for word, what Maz Kanata tells Rey. But why does the lightsaber call to her? And what does that actually mean?

The lightsaber presumably doesn’t have a consciousness and is literally calling her. ‘Psst! Hey! You with the hair! …….touch me.’ So I presume it’s the Force guiding her to the saber. But why? Why does the Force care about her picking up a lightsaber. So is it the power imbued in the saber by the grace of it being constructed by a powerful Jedi and then wielded by Luke? But again, why her? Simply because she’s strong enough in the Force to hear it? …I may have answered my own question.

The Force Awakens Lightsaber

Why is there a map to Luke?

And why is the main part of it in the Imperial archives? Surely the point of him going into hiding is that he’s hidden. Why would there be a map at all, let alone one that’s broken into two pieces? Or is the map actually to the first Jedi temple, which Han says Luke went looking for. That would make a little more sense, though the island doesn’t exactly look much like a temple to me.

That still doesn’t explain why there is one piece taken out of the map. Luke could conceivably have somehow done it to cover his tracks, but why wouldn’t he just delete it?

What exactly is the awakening?

Yes, we all assume that it is the Force awakening in Rey, but is it? The Force almost certainly guides Rey when she flies the Millennium Falcon. It probably guides her when she slams the door on the…rathtar? Raktar? Tentacle thing. I don’t think she does anything else before Snoke asks Kylo if he’s felt the awakening.

But surely, the Force has been guiding her before that. Perhaps she has done nothing quite so intensive up until then. Or perhaps she isn’t the awakening at all.

Why is Luke looking for the first Jedi temple?

Okay, he’s run away. The Jedi seem to do that a lot. But why go looking for the first Jedi temple? A nice day out? Does he feel like he can be closer to the Force and the essence of the Jedi? Does he think that he will find Jedi teachings there?

And where is the temple? It seems like an incredibly quick hyperspace hop, compared to the other hyperspace journeys. Look how long they were in hyperspace between Han and Chewie’s freighter and Maz’s place. You’d think the first Jedi temple would be somewhere a bit further away and hard to get to. More interesting, in short.

Where has Snoke been hiding?

Granted it isn’t mentioned in the film, but we know that Supreme Leader Snoke is ancient. Even if we didn’t, he’s clearly older than 30. So where has he been all this time? Where was he when Darth Sidious was prancing about as Palpatine? Did he know that the Emperor was the Dark Lord of the Sith? If not, why didn’t he try to seize power?

I suppose it depends a lot on what Snoke is. If he is a Sith, he should be governed by the Rule of Two: one master, one apprentice. So, perhaps he was hiding from Sidious and Vader, knowing that they would want to kill him if they knew of his existence. But don’t we want someone who we feel is more powerful than the enemies who have come before? So why wouldn’t he have done Sidious in and taken power for himself?

Has he come from outside the galaxy perhaps? Is he, as many have wondered, actually Darth Plagueis, Sidious’s master? Andy Sirkis says no. There must surely be a reason that no one has heard from him until now.

Lastly, if he is ancient, does that mean that his species is long lived? That the dark side has kept him alive? Or that he has mastered ‘essence transfer’ – immortality through taking over another’s body? Is that what he is grooming Kylo Ren for?

Supreme Leader Snoke

What questions were you left with? Do you know/think you know the answer to any of mine?

The Force Is With Leia – But Which Side?

Force Awakens - Leia

Recently, I saw someone on Facebook complain mention that Leia’s poster for The Force Awakens doesn’t have her holding either a blaster or a lightsaber. According to some who responded, it’s because she’s a woman. Not because she’s a politician, or because her brain and her words are her weapons… No, not holding a weapon is just outright sexism. But out of this came a question: Why was Leia not trained as a Jedi, but Luke was?

So why was Luke chosen over Leia? Is it really necessary to point out that these are only my opinions?

Let’s start with the fact that he was not chosen over Leia. He was barely chosen at all. Remember the start of A New Hope, where Leia is asking for Obi-Wan’s help? She doesn’t stand in front of him asking for help only for him to tell her, ‘Okay, but you’re not going to be a Jedi – that’s for men’. No, she sends a message through R2D2. Luke buys the droid, finds the message, and later relays it to Obi-Wan.

It is, therefore, Luke who is sitting beside him when he realises he needs to help Leia. So it is Luke whose training he begins by handing him Anakin’s lightsaber, because Kenobi himself is too old for this shit. Not once does Obi-Wan come into contact with Leia in order to give her, or indeed deny her, Jedi training.

Then comes Yoda. Luke finds Yoda because Obi-Wan tells him to. Could Obi-Wan have told Leia to go there too? Perhaps. Would she have believed the disembodied voice of someone she’s never met? Unlikely. Could he contact someone to whom he doesn’t have a connection and who has had no Jedi training yet? Would she have left the Rebel Alliance, where she was a very important figure, to go searching swamps for someone to train her in some mystical nonsense that the galaxy no longer believes is real?

Obi-Wan and Yoda

In the original trilogy, Obi-Wan doesn’t seem to know that Leia is Luke’s sister. He tells Yoda that Luke is their only hope, only to be told ‘There is another’. The prequels clash with that, so maybe his memory just isn’t what it used to be. Or maybe Lucas made it all up as he went. …nah.

In short, Leia was never in a position to be trained as a Jedi. Even Luke only received very basic training. Return of the Jedi has Luke telling her, ‘You have that power too; in time, you’ll learn to use it as I have’. Very clearly, he intends to impart his training to her.

However, there are some reasons that it would have been potentially disastrous to train Leia as a Jedi. Though she grows as a person throughout the films, she certainly doesn’t display any kind of personality traits conducive to being a Jedi. In fact, could she have ended up being too tempted by the dark side?

Leia is incredibly arrogant and hot-headed. She is spiteful. She’s borderline racist towards Chewbacca. She is very reminiscent of a certain Anakin Skywalker.

When Luke and Han find her, there’s no word of thanks. Just complaining and insults. And let’s take a moment to remember that she was not the damsel in distress. Not only does she immediately take over her own rescue, but Luke and Han didn’t go there to rescue her in the first place – they’re trying to rescue themselves.

Remember when Lando comes to apologise and explain his ‘betrayal’ to them? Leia doesn’t care about Lando’s plight and the difficult situation he’s in, trying to protect a city full of people. No, she just wants Chewie to choke him to death. At no point does she care about all of that suffering. Instead, she stands over him while he’s on his knees, gasping for breath. Does it remind you at all of Vader choking the Rebel at the start of A New Hope?

Leia lacks the humility that Luke has. While he was raised as a farmer on a backwater planet, working hard for his family, Leia was raised as a princess. She thinks of herself as hugely important and superior. He looks up to Obi-Wan and Yoda; Leia looks down on people.

In short, Luke displays many qualities of a Jedi. Leia displays many qualities of a Sith.

leia

And to complete that journey to the dark side, what would have happened if Leia had confronted Vader and the emperor instead of Luke? Yes, Luke tried to kill the emperor, but he believed fully that Vader could be redeemed. He threw aside his lightsaber and put his life in the hands of his mortal enemy, believing that the light in Vader would overcome the dark. And he was right.

But what if it had been Leia? What if the man – the monster – who, for her, embodied the Empire even more than the emperor himself lay helpless at her feet? The man who stood by while her entire planet, her people and her family were obliterated. Would she have done what Luke did? Or would she have given in to her hate and killed the man she despised more than anything?

Either way, I suspect The Force Awakens will see Leia with a little more knowledge of the Force. I doubt she’ll be a Jedi – I don’t think she’d even accept the training – but the Force will be with her.

Tips For Your Trip To Space

Trip To Space

I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.
Neil Armstrong on looking back at the Earth from the Moon in July 1969

So, you’re planning on becoming a space pirate. Or an intergalactic bounty hunter. Or an astronaut, maybe…if you’re boring. Maybe you’ll be an entertaining one like Chris Hadfield. But things aren’t quite like the films and books. I should know: I’m a sci-fi author, after all, who doesn’t do much research. I shouldn’t have said that…

Before you climb aboard your death-trap of a spacecraft, there are some things you need to be aware of. You should probably do some research and ask a professional to accompany you. For now, here are a handful of useful titbits:

You’re Probably Going to Die

Yep. Space hates you and wants you dead. It’s a harsh and unforgiving place, much like the internet. If you go there, you might die. I don’t have the stats, but I’m going to hazard a guess that there’s more chance of you dying than not. Nevertheless, good luck out there!

Ignoring xenophobic aliens and black holes, there are some far more mundane things out there looking to kill you:

  1. Dust! Moon dust is lethal to human lungs, and it’s so fine that it can creep into your spacesuit and so abrasive that it can wear through even Kevlar-like material (and it has done – three layers of the stuff, in fact). And that’s just the moon. Other planets with little-to-no gravity might have even more dangerous, homicidal dust.
  2. More dust! But this time in orbit around Earth. Clouds of it, travelling at phenomenal speed, are enough to rip off pieces of your spacecraft and alter your course. So what about the 5000+ tonnes of space junk littering our orbit? Also pretty dangerous, funnily enough. If a cloud of dust particles can do the aforementioned damage to your craft, what do you think the leftovers of the last space mission, travelling at 17,000 mph could do? Wait…do space toilets flush stuff into space?
  3. If your chosen professional is annoying you, rub a balloon on his suit. Static electricity in the ultimate dryness of space could short-circuit said suit and he’ll die horribly. Or she – professionals can actually be ladies these days! How the times have changed. Also look out for solar storms for similar reasons.
  4. Systems failure. Explosion. Fire. Decompression. Spacesuit failure. Manoeuvring controls failure. Your spacecraft hates you, too.

Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.
Apollo 13’s John Swigert when an oxygen tank exploded on April 13 1970

Fashion Police

So the typical Michelin Man/Stay Puft Marshmallow Man spacesuit might not look cool. You might not attract any green alien women/men whilst strutting about in it. But that suit stops you freezing. It stops you overheating and suffering heatstroke. It gives you air to breathe. It stops the sun burning your skin. It’s pressurised. It lets you drink water and even go to the toilet. It also has lights and a camera to record your microgravity exploits. You can even strap into a rocket pack, kind of like a fat Rocketeer.

If, however, you fail to heed this warning, you’ll die. Permanently! You’ll lose consciousness first, luckily for you. You won’t notice, then, when you swell up to twice your size, the sun’s UVs cook you, and the various forms of radiation mutate your DNA and give you cancer.

So leave the leather jacket at home.

No Captain Kirking!

Captain Kirk

Don’t choose an attractive co-space-farer, lest you get bad ideas. Gravity changes the way blood flows. Upon contact, you could send your attractive person sailing across the spacecraft and into the airlock. But, on the plus side, they won’t be so attractive with the sticky and disgusting sweat-film that will be covering them by the time you’ve tied yourselves together and tethered to a wall.

Also, don’t get pregnant. Especially if you’re a man. Without Earth’s gravity, a baby will not develop correctly, and that’s before the issue of radiation.

The probability of success is difficult to estimate; but if we never search the chance of success is zero.
From the paper ‘Searching for Interstellar Communications’, September 1959, regarding the search for extraterrestrial intelligence

Fine Dining

(Food + drink) – gravity = problem.

But don’t let my complex scientific equations confuse you. What it means is there’s nothing keeping water in your cup. Nothing stopping particles of food, crumbs, from floating around and getting inside equipment, potentially damaging it. ‘Oh, crumbs!’, you’ll exclaim to the amusement of everyone while the electronics burst into flame. Then who’s laughing?

While the favourite pastime of throwing small items of consumable matter at each other’s mouths would be considerably easier, it poses quite the problem if you don’t want to wreck your spacecraft and get stranded in space. And die.

Assuming this is not one of your life goals, take note.

One thing to remember is that, in space, you will need more calcium and vitamin D, because your bones are WEAK LIKE LITTAL GORL. But ignore the difficulty of using the bathroom and drink plenty of water anyway, because you probably don’t want to die an agonising death by kidney-stone-induced kidney failure.

Eating in Space

You can get plenty of food freeze-dried, including ice cream. Freeze-drying was invented for space travel, after all. But not everything is edible when freeze-dried. This is where your professional can help with meal selection. Generally, it means rehydrating dehydrated food and heating it in a forced-air convection oven. Very carefully, and with special Velcro-fitted trays and the like, you can then eat the same way you would in a fancy restaurant, where people are watching you.

Water is easier, as its stored in a pouch with a straw thing.

Are You Crazy?

You will be. YOU WILL BE! Or you might be. The stress and frustration of being in a confined space for a long time, especially with someone else annoying you, can easily get to you. You may find it hard to sleep, become fatigued. The lack of gravity will be hard to get used to, may make you quite nauseous, makes simple tasks more difficult, and you might not get used to it at all.

Imbalances in your brain stuff could occur and you might have a full-blown mental breakdown and start worshipping the sun. Which is fine as long as you keep your distance. From the sun and from people.

Simple mood and anxiety issues are less simple in space, where you have few ways to relieve stress. Punch your professional.

Not to mention your insignificance. Space is quite vast, and once there, you’ll quickly realise that you are quite tiny. So tiny in comparison, that you might as well not exist. That’s not a comment on your worth, of course. But a sand grain on a beach isn’t even a good comparison.

It might be difficult to come to terms with the unending, black vastness of space. Your little mind might not be able to take it. Again, not a slight against you, really.

From out there on the Moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch’.
Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut, April 8 1974

Newton’s Apples

There are a multitude of things, as mentioned earlier, that you may wish to know before setting forth on your interstellar adventure/colonisation effort/Green-Lantern-cosplay-gone-to-far, but the final one from me is Newton’s Laws of Motion.

– Newton’s First Law (law of inertia):

Superman Baseball

Every object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed on it.

In other words, everything Superman has thrown into space – including that baseball Mr Reeve hit – is still going, unless it has impacted with another world somewhere, causing death and destruction, and possibly its total annihilation.

In terms relevant to you, when you take off, your thrusters must have enough power to get you off the ground, push through air resistance, and into space. Once in that vast darkness, there is no resistance. All you need the thrusters for then is to reach your optimal speed. And to stop again! That’s an integral part of not dying or getting lost in space like Gary Oldman did. And he turned into a big spider-man thing and not in a superhero way.

Make sure you don’t run out of fuel getting your fat ass off the ground, because you’ll be needing it to stop when you reach your destination.

– Newton’s Second Law:

The acceleration of an object as produced by a net force is directly proportional to the magnitude of the net force, in the same direction as the net force, and inversely proportional to the mass of the object.

The simplified equation to go along with this is f=m*a (force = mass x acceleration).

Basically, this is how you work out what kind of energy (thrust) you need. It’s important for getting off the ground, getting into orbit and staying there, etc. Of course, the problem is that, as your fuel depletes, your mass decreases. Ask your professional for help.

– Newton’s Third Law:

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The most well known. It takes two to tango. It also takes two to create a reaction. This is how you move in space. If you want to stop, you’ll want an action that will create enough of an opposite reaction to stop you. In other words, reverse thrust. This is why you need to not run out of fuel while still moving.

Some people have a hard time understanding how this works in the vacuum of space, where there is nothing for the craft to push off. It is simply that the thrusters push the exhaust gasses, created by burning fuel, in the opposite direction to where they want to go. Newton does the rest. The gasses going one way is the action, the craft going the other is the equal and opposite reaction.

This also means you have to be careful with seemingly mundane things. If your robotic sidekick runs out of batteries and you need to take out a screw to put the new ones in, you’ll need a special screwdriver so that you don’t spin instead of said screw.

Newton's Cradle Planets

So, that’s about it. You’re now less unprepared to take a giant leap for mankind. Have fun. Make us look good if you run into any aliens. Don’t forget your lessons, always ask your professional if you’re unsure, and go to the bathroom before you leave. But you’re still probably going to die.

When I first looked back at the Earth, standing on the Moon, I cried.
Alan Shepard on his time on the moon during the Apollo 14 mission, February 1971


This blog was originally written for Uproar Comics.