A Week in Writing #3

Well the time has just evaporated this week. It seems like I’ve had hardly any chance at all to do some writing since the last of these posts.

I haven’t done a lot of writing of actual story words this week – i.e., words that might actually be part of the final book. In fact I don’t think I’ve done any. But I have done something else that’s very important – I have done planning for at least two stories.

I’ve mentioned recently how nowadays there are times when I can write out a story exactly how I want it first time. There are advantages and disadvantages to this, and one of the disadvantages is that you can sort of get used to it. If you have a few stories like this in a row, you start to expect it for subsequent ones – and that’s a problem, because it simply won’t happen for all stories.

But on top of this, sometimes not only has a story turned out well straight away, but the idea for a story had been fully formed in my head as I sat down to start writing it. This has gotten me into the bad habit of not necessarily planning stories before writing them. This is despite me being a strong advocate for planning stories. (It’s also worth pointing out that being able to write a full story without planning it is made a lot easier when it’s a short story (particularly one of my short stories, which tend to be about 3000-5000 words long).)

Writing the final two stories for OTSOT 3 has been trickier than I anticipated, so in order to make it easier, and in order to get out of this bad habit, I have made a deliberate effort to plan these final two (even though they are pretty simple stories). One of them I think I did over a week ago, the other one – the longer one – I did this week. And the value of planning is once again revealed – I was able to identify several important things that should happen early in the stories by planning them.

Also this week, I tried to do more on the audio story for Fluncg the Indignant. I did a lot of editing of the audio that I had, trying to produce the final cut. However, I found that the audio I had for the different lines in various places didn’t really ‘gel’. Some of the narrator’s lines didn’t really gel with the characters’ lines, and it occurred to me that the simplest thing to do would just be to re-record the whole thing. (It sounds like a drastic action, but I’ve gotten a lot better and faster at recording audio stories, and at least this one’s not as long as Throch the Cunning – this one’s actually quite short.)

In entirely non-writing news, over the last week I have made fantastic progress in drawing out my family tree. This is a project that I’ve been interested in and working on slowly for (I think) about two years. I had access to a lot of data for my family tree – both my parents had partial trees drawn out already, so I just had to copy the data in those. What I wanted to do was combine all of the data, and have a computer program draw out the tree.

I had previously started creating a program to read all of the data from a file, and then draw out the tree, in Python. However, Python’s built-in image-drawing abilities are very lacking, and I realised that in order to draw the tree nicely, I needed to switch to a language with better image-drawing abilities. So I swapped to using C# – a language I used to use a lot years ago, but which I haven’t used very much since. Doing this has allowed me to produce a much better-drawn tree. I also finished typing in all of the data from the existing trees. So I now have a very large image that shows the tree, and it looks quite nice.

I’ve been rather obsessed with this project over the last few days, so over the next week, when I’m not writing, I will likely be doing this. The next things to do are to improve the visual design of the tree even more, and to do more original research to find more ancestors to put on the tree.

A Week in Writing #2

It’s been a slow week. Many things have interrupted my writing.

I did write some more in Project 201811 – only a few hundred words, but they were good words. What I wrote almost certainly won’t change much between now and the final draft.

This is something that I find often now. I can often write something just the way I want it the first time. Many of the stories in OTSOT 2 and some in OTSOT 1 were like that, as well as many of the off-series short stories. This is different to Zolantis, and all of the stuff that I was writing before that, where the text changed drastically between the first and last drafts.

On the one hand, I quite like that this happens now – that I can get things right the first time. It saves a lot of time. Editing single lines to make the language better is a pretty quick thing to do, but changing the structure of a story once it’s been written, or adjusting the emphasis of a plot point or character trait, can add a huge amount of time to editing, because there are just so many things that need to be changed if you do that.

On the other hand, sometimes I try to aim to get something right the first time, and this is not ideal. When something just happens to turn out right the first time, great, but when you aim for it, you can end up spending a lot of time trying to anticipate every problem you’re going to encounter trying to write the story, and this is not so great.

Despite not writing very many words in the last week, I did do something else that was very important.

I have been trying to do the audiobook for On The Subject Of Trolls for two years. I thought it would take a matter of weeks, but it has taken years. That’s in large part because I keep getting distracted from the project – it’s more fun to write new stories than to record old ones. But it’s also partly because making an audiobook is not as easy as it seems.

Getting the right audio setup to begin with is quite difficult. Microphones can differ quite drastically in the quality of the sound that they produce – it’s only recently that I bought a new microphone that produces a really nice sound. The room that you’re in has a big effect on the sound. I do have a small, walk-in wardrobe that blocks all of the sound from outside, and which has almost no echo to it, and I did try using that when I first started trying to make the audiobook for OTSOT. However, you need to be able to sit down when recording an audiobook – it takes hours and hours to record, even for a short book like OTSOT – you can’t stand the entire time – and that room was too small to sit down in. So now I record audio at my desk (that you see in the videos). That’s in quite a large, echoey room, but with a certain arrangement of foam shields, the echo is mostly blocked.

There are many other technical hurdles to recording an audiobook, but on top of all of these, I had a creative hurdle too. I knew what the voices of Throch, Gogog, Hluthg, and Plolg sounded like long before I published OTSOT. (In fact, I knew what Throch’s voice sounded like the moment I started writing the first sentence of the book.) But with Fluncg, the voice that I used in my head when writing the story is not a ‘performable’ one – it’s entirely abstract – a voice that cannot exist in the real, physical world. So I needed to choose a real one.

I have been trying to come up with a real voice for Fluncg for two years, and none of them have been right. But this week, finally, I think I might have done it. I had an idea for a new voice, and I spent a while analysing it, to see if it really contained the essence of Fluncg. (That sounds like a rather disgusting perfume.) Fluncg has a very specific personality: Fluncg is easily offended, Fluncg is overly dramatic and self-centred, and Fluncg is infinitely spiteful. The voice must match that, but it must also be a fun voice – these stories are intended to be fun. I think this latest voice finally gets the balance between all of those things.

I recorded Fluncg’s lines with this new voice in just a few minutes. All I need to do now is edit the audio. I hate editing video and audio, so I always put it off, even though it never takes as long as I think it’s going to. But I’m going to try to drive towards finishing this audio story over the next week or two – it has languished for far too long.

A Week in Writing #1

The start.

This post is the first in a new series on this blog. Starting a new series is a dangerous thing for me. When it comes to blog posts and videos, I tend to start series’ and then not finish them. Hopefully this one will be different, and I think the format will help with that.

The idea for this series is just that, every week, I will write about what writing and writing-related things I’ve gotten up to in the last week. It will be quite similar to a journal. (I do in fact write a journal too – I write in that every day, and have done for (almost) eight years – I was doing it before it was cool.)

The reason for doing this series is partly so that I have more stuff on this blog. I don’t do very much with this blog – I want to do more with it. But it’s also because, every week, there are lots of things that I’m thinking about with regards to writing, and making videos, and all of the other stuff, that no-one ever knows about, and I think this can make it seem like what I’m doing is quite erratic and disconnected. These blog posts should hopefully connect together the various things I do.

They’ll also end up giving a look behind the scenes of the stuff I do. In the past I’ve tended to mention this sort of thing at the start of videos on my YouTube channel. However, I realised that it tends to stop the video dead if I start out with a long and rambly explanation of how the video came to be and why I wanted to make it, so I don’t do that now. I think that kind of information is better on here.

So that’s the introduction to the series. Will I make it to week two? Who knows.

Now to the actual point of the blog post: what have I been doing over the last week?

The last week has been a mixture of zero productivity and maximum productivity. During the week last week, I didn’t do any writing. Over the weekend, however – specifically, on Saturday – I did loads. I wrote over 2500 words in one story idea.

It wasn’t in OTSOT 3, however – it was in a different project. It was actually a project that I had the idea for more than three years ago. I couldn’t believe the date on Draft 1 when I came back to the project this weekend. I was sure I’d had this idea maybe only one year ago. This idea’s been swimming around in my head for three years.

I have tonnes of new story ideas at the moment. Everything about my stories stays completely secret until they are published, of course, so I can’t tell you anything at all about this one, or any of the others – I can’t even tell you the possible title or the genre. But I’ve got so many story ideas now that I’ve done something on, and may continue with, that I’ve realised that I need some codenames so that I can refer to them. The codename for this project is simply going to be Project 201811 – a name from which absolutely nothing about the story can be determined.

But as I say, Project 201811 is one that I had the idea for more than three years ago, and started writing almost three years ago. All I’d written so far was the opening to the first chapter. On Saturday, I wrote the remainder of chapter one, and started on chapter two.

This story’s just been sitting in my head for three years, and in that time, I’ve thought about it a lot – developed a very clear idea of what happens in that first chapter. So when I started adding more to it on Saturday, the words just flowed onto the page. I’m very pleased with how it’s turning out so far.

While I can’t tell you the exact genre of Project 201811, I can tell you that it is slightly comedic in tone. I seem to have ended up doing a lot of slightly funny stories in recent years – OTSOT has a slightly funny edge to it, as do many of the off-series short stories. I didn’t intend to do this at all – it’s just by accident that a lot of what I’m writing at the moment is more humorous. At some point in the near future I will pivot to more serious stories again.

As for writing-related things that have happened this week, I have continued trying to do more on the audiobook for OTSOT 1. This project has hung around for ages, and I could rant for ages about it. The first two stories for OTSOT 1 have been recorded and edited – they’re on my YouTube channel – and the fifth story has been recorded and edited too, but it’s not online yet – I’m putting them online in order. I’d previously recorded about half of the fourth story too, and that had gone well. But the third story – Fluncg the Indignant – has been a massive problem.

I have not been able to get the voice for Fluncg right. I have tried many, many times to get it right – done loads of recordings of Fluncg’s lines. But whenever I get something that I at first like, when I listen back to it a few days later, I don’t like it. It’s never quite right.

I’ve been trying to get this story right in audio form for months, and it just isn’t working. It’s this story that’s been holding up the audiobook for OTSOT 1, and consequently the audiobook for OTSOT 2. I think I’d’ve finished both of them a while ago if it weren’t for this story. (The story of Fluncg was always a difficult one to get right – even in its written form, it took longer than the others to get right.) I’m tempted to just say that it’s good enough with the last voice I’ve used. At some point you just have to stop spending time on something.

So on Sunday, instead of trying to do more on Fluncg the Indignant, I just recorded more of Hluthg the First. That went astonishingly well – I just have to edit that one now, and it’ll be done.

So that’s been the last week in writing: productive, but nowhere near as productive as I have sometimes been.

A Rebellion of Most Brave and Beautiful Persons, Non-Persons, and Entities of Unspecified, Indeterminate, or Variable Personness

Approximately 5.34 giga-light-years away, in the galaxy Kadradax, approximately 192 petaseconds ago, the Ourokamaedian Star Empire was at the height of its power. With tens of thousands of star systems and over a million cubic parsecs under its control, no-one and nothing could stand in its way.

The capital planet of the empire – Ourokamaedia – was one giant city. The surface was a forest of glass and chrome skyscrapers, the foundations of which were just older skyscrapers. (If there was mud or rock beneath it all, it had not been seen in millennia.) The people of Ourokamaedia travelled from building to building by flying car.

And those people were most varied, for, over the years, many of those of species native to other planets in the empire had travelled to its capital. Some of those aliens had green skin, while others had blue. Some had skin that was luminescent, while others had skin that was transparent on Tuesday afternoons. Some of those aliens were made of bone, blood, and brain, while others were little more than spheres of fat surrounded by a thin, greasy film – whether they had any intelligence at all was a subject of much debate. There were, predictably, robots – of many different kinds. Some were made of polymer and titanium, of transistors and electrochemical cells; others were made of brass and glass, of boilers and flywheels. Some robots were the overthrew-their-creators kind, and others were the actually-we-get-along-fine-with-our-creators kind.

Any form of life that could exist existed on Ourokamaedia. However, the species that had evolved on the planet (and which had first set out to the stars and established the empire thousands of years ago) remained the majority of the population. They were similar in appearance to us humans in a way that is narratively convenient.

It was the year 3504, and the Ourokamaedian Empire was ruled by Emperor Zhang Song, the Fifty-fourth Emperor of the Karamaxium Throne. He was old and withered; he had ruled for a hundred and twenty-nine years. His hair was as wispy as broken spiderwebs, his skin tore as easily as wet paper, and his bones were as brittle as those flakes that fall off cinnamon swirls and stick to your jumper. But his wit was still as sharp as it was when he was in his youth, and his voice still cut through the pride of most. His grip upon his soup spoon was weak, but his grip upon power was strong.

And something that must be impressed upon you, dear reader, is that Emperor Zhang Song was evil. Not the kind of evil of a politician who takes a bribe from a large corporation. Nor the kind of evil of someone who violates the unspoken rules of queuing. No, Emperor Zhang Song was properly evil – the evil of skimmed milk, or sweet potato fries, or moussaka. The evil of boiled tofu or quiche. The evil of vegan cheese. Zhang Song was a person who savoured inflicting pain on others – whether it was a physical agony or a psychological one. Anyone who dared oppose him, or even just someone he didn’t like the look of, was sent to a prison camp on one of the moons of Renlor, where they were worked to death or simply shot. When a planet rebelled against the control of the empire, it was blown up. Zhang Song was the epitome of an evil dictator. The quintessential fascist. A person upon whom history will not look favourably. A person whose moral principles were highly questionable. A thoroughly bad guy.

As such he was despised by all of the people of the empire. Every day the people of the empire spoke of how much they hated the Emperor, and of how much they wished to remove him. They went on and on about it.

One day, there was a man sitting in a café on the eight-hundred-and-eighty-eighth floor of a skyscraper who had just about had enough. He was a man without any particularly unusual traits. He was neither particularly short nor tall. Neither particularly fat nor thin. Neither particularly ugly nor beautiful. He spent a lot of time watching holographic television and he thought punning was the highest form of wit. He had spent a good part of his life working in the ice mines of Ourokamaedia’s third moon – an occupation known for being arduous and one that didn’t get you much money. His past was bleak and his future was bleaker.

‘I’ve had enough!’ this man without any particularly unusual traits said, repeating what I already said to you in the last paragraph – which is something that some authors would call inefficient. ‘And I’m going to do something about it!’ he said.

‘What are you going to do about it?’ said a character who will not appear again in this story.

‘I’m going to kill the Emperor!’ the man without any particularly unusual traits said. ‘He is the cause of all of our problems. He is evil! He must be removed!’

The people in the café cheered.

The man without any particularly unusual traits stood up, feeling bold. ‘I will kill the Emperor! And all of us will be free from his evil rule! No longer will we suffer!’

The people in the café cheered louder.

‘This is the start of our rebellion! Who will join me?’

‘I will join you!’ said a man with green skin – he was an Ooloog-ogarian – they are similar to the Ourokamaedians in almost all ways, except that they have green skin, and green blood. He stood up too. ‘I will fight for what is right! And to overthrow this evil dictator!’

‘Welcome, brother! Together we will bring justice to this empire again!’

‘I will join you!’ said a woman with no arms or legs. She did not stand up like the other two … because she had no legs. ‘I will give every cell of my body to end the House of Zhang!’

‘Welcome, sister! Together we will bring justice to this empire again!’

‘I will join you!’ said a robot (a Tzi-tzio Tiriko’ to be precise) in a voice that sounded all techno-y, but which definitely wasn’t just lazy writing. ‘I will give every wire of my body to end this autocracy!’

‘Welcome … … … you …’ the man without any particularly unusual traits said. ‘Together we will bring justice to this empire again!’

‘I will join you!’ said a fat Ganrarian, in a voice that was coarse and guttural. The Ganrarians have a strong warrior culture, and this Ganrarian, like many, wore layers of thick, black armour, and his face was covered in tattoos signifying all of his great achievements in battle. ‘I will help to defeat this fascist for the glory of Ganraria!’

‘We will join you!’ said a purple blob (an Obloobe Powemblon, to be precise – they have no arms, no legs, no head – no discernible features of any kind – they are just blobs), in a voice like bubbling yoghurt. ‘We will help to rid the galaxy of this oppressive regime!’

‘I will join you too!’ said a lesbian. She was … just a lesbian. ‘I will help to rid the universe of Zhang Song!’

‘Welcome, friends!’ said the man without any particularly unusual traits. ‘Together we will bring justice to this empire again! We will march on the Emperor’s palace, break inside, find the Emperor, and kill him, for he is most evil!’ Everyone in the café cheered. ‘But not only this! For too long, so many of us have been second-class citizens in this society! For too long, robots have been treated no better than slaves!’ he said, gesturing to the robot.

‘It’s true!’ the robot said.

‘For too long, Ganrarians have been expected to fight the empire’s wars!’

‘It’s true!’ the fat Ganrarian said.

‘For too long, Obloobe Powemblotthlo have been ridiculed by the media!’

‘It’s true!’ the purple blob gurgled.

‘But no more!’ the man without any particularly unusual traits said. ‘Our rebellion will not be like this! Our rebellion will be fair! No-one will be a second-class citizen! No-one will be looked down upon or disrespected! No-one will be made to feel uncomfortable simply for who they are! For we are all brave fighters in this rebellion!’

Everyone in the café cheered.

‘We will be accountable. If any of our group does something wrong, they will not simply be allowed to get away with it, as the Emperor and his ministers are so often. We will take swift action to be rid of such a person, and in doing so we will keep our rebellion pure! For who are we to remove the Emperor if we are no better than him?!’

Everyone in the café cheered.

‘Our rebellion will never be tainted! From when we leave this café to when we take off the Emperor’s head, our rebellion will be fair, just, and equal! No-one will be mocked or ridiculed! No-one will be disparaged or disrespected! No-one will be made to feel uncomfortable! Come, brave friends! Let us storm the imperial palace!’

And the rebels charged out through the glass doors of the café, onto a balcony in the clouds. Everyone else in the café cheered and waved to the rebels as they got into a flying taxi that hovered next to the balcony.

The man without any particularly unusual traits, the woman with no arms or legs, the man with green skin, the robot, the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian first went to the home of the fat Ganrarian, for he owned a large number of laser rifles (which are rifles that shoot high-power laser beams) and laser grenades (which in truth are just regular grenades, but it sounds cooler if you put ‘laser’ in front). They landed on the balcony outside the fat Ganrarian’s apartment. He rushed inside, and returned moments later with weapons.

‘My fellow Ourokamaedians, Ooloog-ogarians, Tzi-tzio Tiriko’, Ganrarians, Obloobe Powemblotthlo, here is where our rebellion begins!’ the man without any particularly unusual traits said. ‘We will go to the imperial palace, break through its gates, find our way to the throne room at its centre, and kill the Emperor! Doubtless our fight will be hard! There will be many obstacles in our way! We may have to climb up tall walls, leap over perilous gaps, and crawl through narrow spaces. We will likely have to fight off the many guards of the imperial palace, and we will do so with these weapons! Take as many as you can carry!’

The rebels picked up the weapons, and searched through the other equipment that the fat Ganrarian had for things that might be useful.

‘Um … excuse me!’ the woman with no arms or legs said. ‘How am I supposed to fire any of these weapons?! How am I supposed to climb up tall walls, leap over perilous gaps, or crawl through narrow spaces?! I don’t have any arms or legs!’

The other rebels all stopped what they were doing.

‘I confess, I did not say at the café, but I do not think you will be able to join us in this fight.’ the man without any particularly unusual traits said. ‘Without arms or legs, you will not be able to do these things. I do not think you will be able to help us enter the palace and kill the Emperor.’

‘This is unacceptable!’ the woman with no arms or legs said. ‘I have just as much right to storm the palace and kill the Emperor as you do! This rebellion was founded on the ideals of fairness, justice, and equality, and yet now I am being denied an opportunity that everyone else has! This is disgusting! This is disgraceful! This is discriminatory! I am being treated as less than everyone else!’

‘No’, the man without any particularly unusual traits said. ‘It’s just that in order to break into the palace and fight off the guards you need to be able t-’


‘She is right!’ said the man with green skin.

‘Yes, she is right!’ said the robot, the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian.

‘This rebellion is rotten to its core!’ the man with green skin said. ‘We cannot tolerate a leader who is so intolerant! We must get rid of him!’

‘Yes!’ the others, apart from the man without any particularly unusual traits, said.

‘What?!’ the man without any particularly unusual traits said.

The man with green skin took one of the laser rifles, and shot him in the head.

‘At last!’ the man with green skin said as red blood washed over the fat Ganrarian’s balcony. ‘We are finally free of this tyranny! Never again will we allow this poison into our rebellion! From now on we shall be pure!’ They kicked the man without any particularly unusual trait’s body off the edge of the skyscraper.

‘We must choose a new leader!’ the lesbian said.

‘Yes, we must!’ the man with green skin said. ‘We must take a vote!’

‘I vote for this brave and beautiful woman here!’ the lesbian said, gesturing to the woman with no arms or legs.

‘I also vote for this brave and beautiful woman!’ the man with green skin said. Everyone else voted for her too.

‘It is agreed, then! She will be our new leader!’ the man with green skin said. ‘What must we do next?’ he said to her.

‘We must go to the palace! Come, brave friends!’

The man with green skin, the robot, the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian lifted the woman with no arms or legs back into the taxi, and they flew off through the clouds.

Within minutes they came to the long avenue that led up to the front gates of the imperial palace. The avenue was suspended in the air, hundreds of metres above the lower levels of the city, by great chrome circles. Columns made of a marble-like stone lined the avenue, and two great iron braziers – which were lit 32/9 – stood at the end. The taxi perched right on the end of the floating avenue, and the man with green skin, the robot, the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian lifted the woman with no arms or legs out of it.

The rebels charged along the avenue towards the entrance of the palace, as the taxi flew away. The road leading up to the entrance is 2 kilometres long, so it was a while before they arrived at the gates – they should have landed closer – but when they reached them they found them to be open and unguarded.

‘Look, brave friends!’ the woman with no arms or legs said, being carried by the fat Ganrarian and the lesbian. ‘The gates are open! There are no guards! What luck that today of all days the imperial palace is unguarded! It is a sign! The black blood of the Emperor shall wash the floors of the palace today! Not a single drop of red blood – the blood of the fair, the just, and the true – shall spill from our veins!’

The rebels were about to charge through the gates into the palace, when …

‘Um … excuse me!’ the man with green skin said. ‘What do you mean “red blood”? Some of us have green blood!’

‘I confess’, the woman with no arms or legs said. ‘I forgot that not everyone here had red blood. I simply meant th-’


‘Well, technically you are an alien. We’re all ali-’


‘He is right!’ said the robot.

‘Yes, he is right!’ said the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian.

‘This rebellion is rotten to its core!’ the robot said. ‘We cannot tolerate a leader who is so intolerant! We must get rid of her!’

‘Yes!’ the others, apart from the woman with no arms or legs, said.

‘What?!’ the woman with no arms or legs said.

The robot raised his laser rifle, and shot her in the head.

‘At last!’ the robot said as red blood washed down onto the paved avenue. ‘We are finally free of this tyranny! Never again will we allow this poison into our rebellion! From now on we shall be pure!’ They kicked the woman with no arms or legs’ body off the edge of the floating road. It fell down into a street in the lower levels of the city, crushing a man’s kamcha stall.

‘We must choose a new leader!’ the lesbian said.

‘Yes, we must!’ the robot said. ‘We must take a vote!’

‘I vote for this brave and beautiful man here!’ the lesbian said, gesturing to the man with green skin.

‘I also vote for this brave and beautiful man!’ the robot said. Everyone else voted for him too.

‘It is agreed, then! He will be our new leader!’ the robot said. ‘What must we do next?’ he said to him.

‘We must find our way to the throne room at the centre of the palace! Doubtless this will be hard – there will be many guards along the way! Come, brave friends!’

The man with green skin, the robot, the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian charged through the gates.

Beyond the gates was a narrow bridge over a moat that encircled the inner palace. The surface of the grey water, flat and glassy, was a hundred metres below. The inner palace was a towering structure made of polished, veined black stone. Turrets and halls, bridges and balconies piled on top of each other. The rebels stormed over the bridge, and through the main doors, which were a glossy black, decorated with gold inlay, and wide open, into the inner palace.

They went up a wide, polished stone staircase, then along a hall. Then they went down a different staircase with rich red carpets, and through a small garden that had a fountain in the centre and violet flowers in the borders. At no point did they see any guards. Then they went up another staircase, down another, up another, and after a short while they were completely lost.

‘This palace is a maze!’ the man with green skin said. ‘Doubtless it was designed to confuse enemies of the Emperor! But fear not, brave friends! Luck has been on our side thus far, and it is only a matter of time before we find the throne room! For our hearts beat with the vengeance of a thousand conquered peoples!’

They were about to continue running up and down staircases, when …

‘Um … excuse me!’ the robot said. ‘What do you mean “our hearts”?! Some of us don’t have hearts!’

‘I know – it’s just a metaphor.’ the man with green skin said.


‘How is that committing m-?!’


‘He is right!’ said the fat Ganrarian.

‘Yes, he is right!’ said the purple blob and the lesbian.

‘This rebellion is rotten to its core!’ the fat Ganrarian said. ‘We cannot tolerate a leader who is so intolerant! We must get rid of him!’

‘Yes!’ the others, apart from the man with green skin, said.

‘What?!’ the man with green skin said.

The fat Ganrarian raised his laser rifle, and shot him in the head.

‘At last!’ the fat Ganrarian said as green blood washed across the polished, tiled floor of the hall. ‘We are finally free of this tyranny! Never again will we allow this poison into our rebellion! From now on we shall be pure!’ They shoved the man with green skin’s body into a garbage chute. It dropped down eighty floors onto a pile of rotten food, and was incinerated moments later.

‘We must choose a new leader!’ the lesbian said.

‘Yes, we must!’ the fat Ganrarian said. ‘We must take a vote!’

‘I vote for this brave and beautiful person here!’ the lesbian said, gesturing to the robot.

‘I also vote for this brave and beautiful person!’ the fat Ganrarian said. Everyone else voted for him too.

‘It is agreed, then! He will be our new leader!’ the fat Ganrarian said. ‘What must we do next?’ he said to him.

‘We must find our way through this maze!’ the robot said. ‘Maybe there is a computer interface somewhere that I can connect to, to get a map of the palace!’

The robot, the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian continued running along the hallways and up and down the staircases of the imperial palace. They didn’t see a computer interface anywhere – just smooth walls and pillars made of different colours of veined stone, rich tapestries with pictures of the Emperor woven into them, as well as oil paintings, statues, and holograms depicting the Emperor.

‘Damn it! There is not a single interface!’ the robot said. ‘The Emperor must have known that his enemies would look for one! He is most cunning!’

‘Look!’ the purple blob said. ‘It is one of the Emperor’s evil ministers!’

The other three turned and looked down a hallway, and saw one of the Emperor’s ministers walking across it. He had not seen them.

‘He must know the way to the throne room!’ the robot said. ‘Great friend!’ he said, turning to the fat Ganrarian. ‘Go and rough him up! Then he will tell us where it is!’

The robot, the purple blob, and the lesbian all looked towards the Emperor’s minister, waiting for the fat Ganrarian to charge ahead and pin him against the wall. But instead …

‘Um … excuse me!’ the fat Ganrarian said. ‘Why did you choose me to go and beat him up?!’


‘Is it because I’m a Ganrarian?’

‘No, it’s just becau-’

‘Do you think all Ganrarians are brutes who are only good for war?!’


‘You know it’s that kind of attitude that makes it so difficult for people like me to find occupations outside of the military! You are the reason why so many of my people are living in poverty, which is what leads to such high death rates among Ganrarians! You are basically murdering millions of people with that attitude!’

‘I just chose you because you were standing next to m-’


‘He is right!’ said the purple blob.

‘Yes, he is right!’ said the lesbian.

‘This rebellion is rotten to its core!’ the purple blob said. ‘We cannot tolerate a leader who is so intolerant! We must get rid of him!’

‘Yes!’ the others, apart from the robot, said.

‘What?!’ the robot said.

The purple blob enveloped a laser rifle, angled it at the robot, and shot him in the head.

‘At last!’ the purple blob said as wires, screws, and jagged, red-hot pieces of metal scattered across the stonework. ‘We are finally free of this tyranny! Never again will we allow this poison into our rebellion! From now on we shall be pure!’ They chucked the robot’s body out of a high window – it overlooked the moat. The robot’s body fell down into the steely water a hundred and fifty metres below.

‘We must choose a new leader!’ the lesbian said.

‘Yes, we must!’ the purple blob said. ‘We must take a vote!’

‘I vote for this brave and beautiful person here!’ the lesbian said, gesturing to the fat Ganrarian.

‘We also vote for this brave and beautiful person!’ the purple blob said. Since there were only three of them left, they carried the vote.

‘It is agreed, then! He will be our new leader!’ the purple blob said. ‘What must we do next?’ he said to him.

‘We must chase after that minister, and force him to tell us where the throne room is!’

So the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian ran after the minister. They soon caught up to him. The minister wore flowing sable robes. His mouth was thin, his eyes were sunken, and his jet black hair was pressed flat. The fat Ganrarian held the minister up against the wall by the neck, but he couldn’t speak when they did that, so they let him down again. He immediately told them everything they wanted to know.

‘Go down that hallway, turn left, pass three doorways on your right and then go down the fourth. The throne room is at the end of that hallway. There you will find the Emperor.’

‘Come, brave friends! We are minutes away from victory!’ the fat Ganrarian said, and the three of them ran off. They forgot to kill the minister, which was most unfortunate, as he was the Emperor’s Minister of Re-education. After he was let go, he went off to the prison camp on one of the moons of Renlor to oversee the execution of a thousand dissidents.

The fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian followed the directions that the minister had given them, and, sure enough, they came to a long hallway, at the end of which was a towering set of doors, brushed with gold leaf, and inlaid with diamonds and emeralds and opals – the door to the throne room.

‘At last!’ the fat Ganrarian said. ‘Victory is at hand! The Emperor shall bitterly regret having employed such a foolish man as one of his ministers! Such foolishness is not tolerated on Ganraria! Our fight has been hard, brave friends, but we have stayed true to our cause and to ourselves! After all our trials, I am glad to be standing here next to the two of you! Onwards, brave friends!’

The fat Ganrarian and the lesbian stepped forwards, but …

‘Um … excuse us!’ the purple blob said. ‘What do you mean “the two of you”?’

The fat Ganrarian turned. ‘What do you mean? I mean the two of you! You and this lesbian here.’

‘Are you calling us one person?!’

‘What do you mean?!’ the fat Ganrarian said angrily. ‘You are one person!’

‘How dare you! You ignorant anti-multiplist! We are a collection of hundreds of symbiotic organisms!’

‘Well how was I supposed to know that?!’


‘I can’t be expected to know everything about every species on this planet – there are tens of thousands of d-’


‘They are right!’ said the lesbian. ‘This rebellion is rotten to its core! We cannot tolerate a leader who is so intolerant! We must get rid of him!’

‘What?!’ the fat Ganrarian said.

The lesbian raised her laser rifle, and shot him in the head.

‘At last!’ the lesbian said. ‘We are finally free of this tyranny! Never again will we allow this poison into our rebellion! From now on we shall be pure!’

‘What a brave and beautiful action you took!’ the purple blob said. ‘He was probably not a good fighter anyway! We’ve never seen a Ganrarian who was so fat!’

‘How dare you!’ the lesbian said. ‘That is a disgusting remark!’ She raised her laser rifle, and shot the purple blob in the goo.

Being many organisms, the purple blob didn’t die right away, so she fired several more times, until the entire purple blob had been vaporised. She did the same to the body of the fat Ganrarian, until there was little left other than smoking blood and brains on the floor of the hallway.

‘Alas! So many of those who were once in this rebellion turned out to be just as evil as the Emperor! It is up to me to finally rid the world of this evil!’

The lesbian charged along the hallway, laser rifle in hand, and kicked open the golden doors. (They were not locked. There were no guards.)

Beyond the doors was a great crystal hall. Pillars of agate held up a roof of quartz. The floor was tiled with squares of malachite and chalcopyrite. Copper-framed windows along the sides of the hall looked out over the rest of the palace, and over Ourokamaedia. The great hall was empty – there were no tables or chairs, statues or tapestries – not even a potted plant – except for at the far end of the hall, where the Emperor’s throne stood. It was made of a single, massive diamond – the largest ever retrieved from the planet Huruigon. Its edges were jagged and sharp, and a short flight of steps led up to the seat itself.

And on that seat was the Emperor. He was having lunch. On a plate on his right were some slices of crusty bread, some slices of ham, two or three different cheeses, and a bunch of juicy, red grapes. (By sheer genetic co-incidence, they do have bread, ham, cheese, and grapes on Ourokamaedia – a planet that has no biological connection to our own.) The Emperor chose a few grapes from the bunch and ate them, and took a sip of an iced drink – apparently unaware that someone had just charged into his throne room. There were no guards, and the Emperor had no weapon.

‘At last!’ the lesbian said. ‘I have found you! Do not try to run – there is no escape! I have come to avenge all the peoples of this empire, who have had to live under your oppressive rule! I have come to restore fairness, justice, and equality to this empire! I have come to end you!’

The Emperor did not look up. He continued eating.

‘Ha! Your arrogance is surpassed only by your malice! You have been outwitted. I have fought past every obstacle you have put in my way! Your ministers have betrayed you! No-one is here to defend you! Only the cold hand of justice is left for you! Not even your wife and children shall mourn for you!’

The lesbian raised her laser rifle, ready to fire.

‘Did you just assume that I’m heterosexual?’ the Emperor said. ‘I could be gay for all you know.’

The lesbian paused, shocked. ‘I … I didn’t … … … oh no. I am just as bad as all those other people! I am just as bad as you! I am no longer worthy of being in this rebellion!’

The lesbian turned her laser rifle towards herself, and shot herself in the head.

And thus ended that attempt to kill the Emperor … just like the previous 354 attempts.

Original story and artwork, Copyright © Benjamin T. Milnes

About Magnathor the Forgetful and On The Subject Of Dragons

I’ve just published a new short story on my website, titled Magnathor the Forgetful. You can read it here.

This story is the first in a series of short stories called On The Subject Of Dragons, a spin-off series of On The Subject Of Trolls.

I’ve mentioned before in videos that I had plans for two spin-off series’ of On The Subject Of Trolls. This is one of them. (The other one has a title, which I won’t reveal yet, but it is highly guessable.) I’d normally make a video to announce a new series like this, but I find making videos rather tedious these days.

The stories in On The Subject Of Dragons will be a bit different to those in On The Subject Of Trolls. They will probably all be shorter, and they are lighter – unlike the trolls stories, they are not trying to depict an extremely unpleasant phenomenon on the internet (though they are still metaphorical). Because of this, I’ve decided that I’m going to release them one at a time on my website, rather than waiting to have lots of them and putting them in a book. (They’re so short, and I plan to do them so infrequently, that it’ll take a long time for me to have enough to make a book out of them.) Once I’ve got enough for an OTSOT-length book, I will put them into a book, which will of course just be called On The Subject Of Dragons.

Magnathor the Forgetful

On The Subject Of Dragons

a sequel to
On The Subject Of Trolls

as told by
Aelfraed of Cirneceaster

Dragons. People always ask me about dragons. They always seem to be far more interested in dragons than they are in trolls, but I think dragons are the much less interesting beings. Dragons are very annoying, of course – not annoying in the various ways that trolls can be, but still annoying.

Most of the dragons that are found in Wessex or Mercia are smaller. They can still breathe fire, of course, and their teeth and claws are deadly, but their strength does not come from their size. These are, of course, meadow-dragons. A meadow-dragon can be brought down with just one well-thrown spear.

Much more of a problem are the dragons that live in the west. These are mountain-dragons – far bigger, far deadlier, and far harder to kill. Thrulgor the Bothersome was a mountain-dragon – the biggest I’ve ever heard of (at least, in Albion – I’ve heard that there are dragons even greater than him beyond the seas). These dragons stay in the mountains most of the time, but every now and then one will fly east – they are learning that that is where men and women live, with cows and sheep and horses – and silver, which they prize above all else.

But of course, dragons are not annoying just because of what they eat. Dragons are perplexing beings, subject to whims that men and women may never understand.

This is a story about a dragon, whose name was Magnathor. Magnathor was a truly ferocious dragon – twelve yards high at the wing-shoulder. His scales were as hard as diamond – the largest four hands across. His claws were long and yellow. His tail was barbed. His breath could melt a steel blade in a second, and his roar could cut down a great oak.

But he was also rather daft.

One day, Magnathor came down from the mountains, and he saw a river that he liked. It was, in fact, the Tames, near Oxford. There was a stone bridge over the river – wide enough and sturdy enough for the dragon to sit on. The dragon landed on it, and he stared down into the water, his tail swishing from side to side. (The river near this bridge is quite shallow and wide, and there are many small rocks beneath the surface. In bright sunlight, the water glitters and glimmers, and I believe it was this that drew the dragon to the ground – they like shiny things, I think (which is, I think, also why they like silver, though it’s difficult to know – the minds of dragons are ever-impenetrable).)

The dragon sat there for hours, watching the river. After some time, a man, whose name was Aethelstan, and who travelled over the bridge most days, came to it this day.

Upon seeing the dragon, Aethelstan froze, for it was far bigger than any dragon he had seen or heard of before. He tried to creep away from it, further into the woods, but dragons have excellent senses of smell and hearing (and sight, for that matter). The dragon turned its great head, so that its large, golden eyes stared straight at Aethelstan.

‘Hello’ the dragon said.

Aethelstan felt as though he had turned to stone. ‘… Hi.’ he said.

‘What are you doing?’ the dragon said.

‘Err … I was … err … hoping to cross the bridge.’

The dragon blinked at him. ‘Why?’

‘Well … ‘cause … that’s where I’m going.’

The dragon blinked at him again.

Aethelstan blinked back.

‘Aren’t you going to cross then?’ the dragon said.

Aethelstan looked at the hulking, shimmering mass of dragon that sat on the bridge before him. ‘Well … you’re sort of in the way.’

The dragon looked back at the rest of its body and its tail. ‘Oh yes, so I am.’ And he lifted his tail off the far side of the bridge, and coiled it neatly around him. Then he looked back at Aethelstan expectantly.

‘Right …’ Aethelstan said, and he began to shuffle forwards again. He walked across the bridge slowly, careful not to make any sudden movements – dragons are easily startled.

The dragon watched him the entire time. ‘What’s your name?’ the dragon boomed when Aethelstan was right behind it.

Aethelstan nearly shat himself. ‘Aethelstan’, he said. ‘What’s yours?’

‘I am Magnathor. If you need to cross this bridge again, and I am still here, just tell me your name – I will remember who you are, and I shall let you pass at once.’

‘Oh …’ Aethelstan said, not relishing the thought that the dragon might still be there the next day. ‘Okay.’

Aethelstan continued walking slowly across the bridge, and the dragon continued watching him with big eyes, blinking every now and then. Aethelstan reached the other side, and walked backwards along the road into the woods.

‘Bye!’ the dragon said, and he turned back to look at the river.

‘… Bye …’ Aethelstan said, still half expecting the dragon to turn back towards him and pounce on him.

But the dragon didn’t.

The next day, in the morning, Aethelstan came to the bridge again. The dragon was still there. It looked like it had hardly moved – except for the swishing of its long tail. It still hung its head over the side of the bridge, so that it could stare down into the shimmering water.

Once again, the dragon sensed Aethelstan before he even reached the edge of the wood, and turned to look at him. Aethelstan felt much more confident in approaching the dragon today.

‘Hello, Great Dragon.’ he said as he strode onto the stone of the bridge. ‘It is I, Aethelstan.’

‘Who?’ Magnathor said, not moving his tail from across the bridge.


The dragon pondered for a moment. ‘No I don’t know who that is.’

‘It’s me – I walked across this bridge yesterday – you asked me what my name was.’

‘Doesn’t ring any bells.’ the dragon said.

‘I walked across this bridge yesterday! You asked me what my name was, and you said you’d remember it if I came to the bridge again, and let me cross!’ Aethelstan said. Was this dragon trying to trick him or something?

‘Well that doesn’t sound right.’ the dragon said. ‘I think I’d remember if I said something like that. Are you sure you’ve got the right bridge? Perhaps it was a different bridge that you crossed?’

‘I think I’d remember which bridge it was!’

‘Well how can you be sure?’

‘Because it was the one with a great big dragon on it!’

‘Alright, there’s no need to shout!’ the dragon said. ‘Tell me your name and I’ll let you cross. I’ll remember what your name is and if you come to this bridge again and I’m still on it, I’ll let you cross straight away.’

‘It’s Aethelstan!’ Aethelstan said, exasperated.

‘Aethelstan, Aethelstan …’ the dragon thought out loud. ‘That’s quite an unusual name, isn’t it?’

‘No, not really.’

‘No, I think I’ve got it – I’ll remember – it sounds like “tree”.’

‘It really doesn’t.’

The dragon pondered for a few more moments. ‘Very well – you may cross.’

The dragon moved its tail out of the way, and Aethelstan was able to cross the bridge. The dragon stared at him the entire time.

‘Bye!’ the dragon said as Aethelstan walked onto the road on the other side of the bridge.


Aethelstan walked away down the road.

The dragon continued to sit on the bridge and stare down into the water. It may have seen some fish – dragons like fish – they can watch them for hours and hours.

In the late afternoon, Aethelstan came back.

‘Hello, Great Dragon! It’s me again.’

The dragon turned and stared at him.

‘… It’s me! Aethelstan!’ Aethelstan said.

‘… Who?’

‘Oh my god! You saw me this morning!’

‘No I didn’t.’


‘Alright! There’s no need to shout!’ the dragon said. ‘Are you sure you didn’t meet a different dragon?’

‘Yes! It was you! On this bridge!’

‘Well how can you be sure?’

‘How many dragons do you think I meet?!’

‘Well I’m sure I don’t know.’

‘It was you! I met you! Here! On this bridge! This morning! And yesterday!’



‘Well I have no recollection of this at all.’

‘Look, both times you asked me my name, and you said you’d remember it, and if I came back to the bridge and you were still on it, you’d remember who I was and let me cross straight away!’

‘Oh that’s a good idea!’ the dragon said. ‘What’s your name?’


‘Is that a name? I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before.’

‘You heard it about a minute ago!’

‘Well I will remember it, and if you should ever come this way again-‘

‘I go across the bridge twice a day.’

‘-just tell me your name and I’ll let you cross straight away.’ the dragon said.

The dragon moved its tail out of the way again, and Aethelstan crossed the bridge.

‘Nice meeting you for the first time!’ the dragon called out.

‘That was the third time!’

Aethelstan walked away down the road, and the dragon went back to staring at the water.

The next day, Aethelstan returned. He was hoping that the dragon had gone, so that he wouldn’t have to explain to it again how they’d already met. But he saw that the dragon was, in fact, still there – its blue scales gleaming in the sunlight, and its tail swishing from side to side as it looked down into the rushing water of the river.

‘Hello, Great Dragon. It’s me, Aethelstan … again.’

The dragon turned to look at him and blinked.

‘… It’s me … Aethelstan … do you remember? From yesterday … and the day before.’

‘Have we met?’

‘Oh my god! Yes, we have met! Three times! Twice yesterday and once the day before!’

‘Oh I didn’t meet anyone yesterday. Or the day before.’

‘Oh my god! Yes you did! You met me! Do you remember?!’

‘Well I’m pretty sure I didn’t.’ the dragon said indignantly. ‘I haven’t met anyone since I came here.’


‘Such a quiet part of the country – untouched by human hands.’

‘You are sitting on a bridge that humans built!’

‘Oh gosh – I’m in your way, aren’t I?’

‘Yes! Yes you are!’

The dragon coiled its tail around itself again, and Aethelstan crossed the bridge.

‘Oh I’ve just had a thought!’

‘Let me guess …’

‘Next time you come to the bridge, if I’m still on it, tell me your name. I’ll remember you and let you cross.’

‘What a great idea.’

The dragon looked at him expectantly. ‘… What’s your name then?’


‘Got it. “Uhtric”.’


‘“Uhtric”. That’s your name.’

‘NO IT ISN’T!!!’

‘Gosh, where’s Uhtric then? He normally comes by here twice a day!’

‘So you have met other people then.’

‘Oh hello! Who are you?’

‘Oh my god.’

‘Do you want to cross the bridge?’



‘I just did!’

‘No you didn’t.’

Aethelstan just walked away.

‘Well it was nice meeting you, whoever you are!’ the dragon called out.

The dragon remained on the bridge for many weeks. He never remembered who Aethelstan was. Aethelstan became more and more frustrated. Eventually the dragon left of his own volition.

And so this is how dragons can be annoying. It’s altogether a different kind of annoying to the way that trolls are annoying.

An original story by Benjamin T. Milnes

Copyright © Benjamin T. Milnes

New Project: A Dictionary of British Place Names

I have started a new project today. In short, it is a small web-app giving information on the etymology of British place names. I’ve made it a sub-site of my main website – you can view it here: http://benjamintmilnes.com/dictionary-of-british-place-names/#/.

I decided to do this project quite spontaneously this morning. The idea’s been floating around in my head for a few days or so. I’m normally quite reluctant to start new projects of this kind nowadays – I have a lot of projects – too many, really – and each new project takes time away from the others. However, this project is quite valuable for the world-building for On The Subject Of Trolls, and it is relatively simple to do, so I decided to start it.

Amazingly, I’ve managed to get it to a ‘finished’ state in just a few hours. Now, when I say ‘finished’ here, I don’t necessarily mean absolutely complete in all ways. I find it useful to distinguish between different kinds of ‘finished’. A part of this project is actually researching and writing out the etymology for all or lots of British place names. (I may not do absolutely all British place names – I may only do a few hundred or a few thousand in total.) This is something that is very difficult to do all in one go – this is something that’s better to do gradually over time, so I don’t include this in what I mean by ‘finished’. Similarly, with any web-app, there are often hundreds of features that you could program into it – I don’t include these in ‘finished’ either. With projects like this, I generally consider them finished when I have something that I can put online, that works (even if it only has a limited number of features), that looks polished, and that contains well-formed data (even if it’s only a small amount of data). In the case of this project, I have managed to create 11 data files for place names, create the compiler (which takes those data files and outputs a JSON file that the web-app effectively uses as its database), and create a polished front-end.

So the web-app is now online and available. It describes the etymology of various British place names. In future you will be able to search for place names that have a particular suffix or that have a particular element in them. There are other fun features that it could have too – like rendering a map of Britain using the names that places had in a given century. It only contains a few entries so far, but I will add to that over time.

This is a very fun project to do. I have liked etymology for a long time – I can’t remember when it was that I started looking things up on etymonline.com several times a day – probably about seven or eight years ago – but it has been a fascination of mine for a long time. Place names is an area of etymology that is somewhat lacking online – it’s fun being able to create something new that’s useful.

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi – Review

As with the last two posts, this post isn’t going to be about meticulously analysing this film in order to explain why different things work or don’t work – it’s just going to be about making observations.

I think this is a lot of people’s favourite film out of the six. I think this is the most variable out of the original three – there are some moments that I really like, and some that I really don’t like.

I like a lot of the world design in the opening sequence. Jabba the Hutt being a giant slug was of course a change from the first film, and I think it was an excellent change. Jabba is delightfully disgusting, and even though he’s just made of rubber, they manage to add a lot of expression to his movements. I also like the fact that, when they’re on the leisure barge by the Sarlacc pit (the Sarlacc is another great bit of world design), and chaos erupts, at the first opportunity Leia strangles Jabba with the chain she was restrained by. She doesn’t wait to take action – she sees an opportunity and takes it.

The Mon Calamari are also good world design – a very unusual-looking alien, but again, they manage to make the Mon Calamari very expressive. (This was something I really liked about Rogue One too, where I assume all of the Mon Calamari were pure CGI. They really managed to make the Mon Calamari expressive in that film, which just shows what you can do even when limited by a non-humanoid face.) Though it is funny that ‘Mon Calamari’ is literally ‘my squid’ in French.

I think one of the real stand-out aspects of this film is the Emperor. We learn early in the film that the Emperor is coming to the new Death Star, and the general nervousness that the other characters have about this builds the air of power around the Emperor, and builds the tension. Later in the film, of course, we get the first scenes with the Emperor. I like the fact that he appears as this old, cloaked man. The fact that he does not try to show how powerful he is through his appearance makes us realise that he must be very powerful. It also makes it look as though he has been around for ages – that he is this immovable, mystical being who has dominated the galaxy for millennia. (Of course, we know that it’s only been a few decades – the point is the aesthetic shows a kind of permanence.)

Ian McDiarmid is of course brilliant as the Emperor – as he was (or by the point of view of when this film was made, will be) in the prequels. Every line he delivers is excellent. I’m very glad that he was able to be in both sets of films, as it makes for great continuity.

As for the things that I don’t like about this film, one of them is the speeder chase through the forest. The whole thing feels like filler. It goes on for a long time, and the entire time, we don’t really get a sense of where the Stormtroopers are actually trying to go. They never seem to escape the forest, and they change direction so many times that they must have gone in a circle by the end. This is also a world where they have long-distance telecommunication – I’m not sure why they needed to jump on speeders and go and tell someone in person. The whole thing seems unnecessary, and I don’t think it really adds anything to the film.

I also dislike the Ewoks. I’m sort of amazed that there aren’t more people who dislike them. A lot of people can’t stand Jar Jar Binks, and yet I think the Ewoks are far more annoying. A lot of people dislike the obvious merchandising of Star Wars too (I myself don’t mind it too much), and the Ewoks are an entire merchandise species. A LOT of time in this film is spent with the Ewoks, and I think the only thing I like about it is C-3PO’s interaction with them, being ordered to pretend he’s a deity.

All of the Star Wars films have missing or wrong character reactions – the prequels have more of them, but the originals have them too. In this film, I think Leia’s reaction to finding out Vader is her father is not strong enough. Leia was a member of the senate for years, and Vader was her enemy throughout. Vader imprisoned and tortured Leia. I’d’ve thought after all of that, her reaction to finding out he was her father would be a lot stronger.

The way they talk about good and evil at the end of the film – in the scene between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor – is quite daft and un-thought-out. It seems to boil down to ‘being angry is evil’ – which is a rather stupid notion. Discussion around good and evil was actually something that the prequels were far better at.

And finally the reveal of Vader’s face at the end was perfect – a mystery set up with A New Hope, now finally revealed. It is only once Vader is redeemed by finally destroying the Sith that he has become human again. The way these films did the masked character trope should be thought of as the template for all other films that try to do this trope. (The Disney films tried to do a similar trope, but to minimal effect, because Kylo Ren takes off his mask in the first film.)

So this film probably had more things in it that I dislike than the previous two films did, but it still had plenty that I liked. All of the films in this series have their flaws – none are perfect – indeed, a lot of them have the same flaws. Missing or wrong reaction shots and stilted dialogue exist in all of the films. I’m not sure which film I like the best – I like all of them pretty much to the same degree. I think it would be a great series to remake one day – perhaps as a long-form television series – a lot of detail and continuity could be added to the story through doing that. But I don’t think that could be done by Disney – they have shown themselves to be completely incapable of managing the franchise – I don’t think they could remake the six Star Wars films without making the same kinds of mistakes as they did with their attempts at making sequels.

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back – Review

On to Episode V – widely regarded as the best Star Wars film. Once again, the aim of this post is not to examine every facet of the story, and explain why it works – the aim is just to make some observations.

Firstly: world-building (probably my favourite aspect of fiction). The world-building in this film is excellent. This is something that I’ve said of every film so far in these reviews – and one of the things that I’m re-realising through doing these reviews – the world-building in George Lucas’ Star Wars is extraordinary. The real stand-out in this film is Cloud City – what an extraordinary environment – a city that floats in the atmosphere of a gas giant. It’s completely unlike anything we saw in Episode IV. It’s amazing that we don’t see this sort of environment more in science fiction.

Hoth is also an example of good world-building. That particular climate hadn’t been used in the previous film; we saw two unique species that live on the planet (the tauntauns and the wampa – and they weren’t just background filler or accessories – they were actually involved in the plot); we also saw several new pieces of technology used while on the planet – notably the ATATs and the ion cannon.

Han, Chewbacca, and Leia’s storyline in this film is an excellent example of realism and how to build tension. At the start of the film, Han and Chewbacca are trying to repair the Millennium Falcon. We see many shots of this and we get the sense that it is complex and takes a long time. This is realism. In the Disney films, when the Falcon gets damaged, repairing it doesn’t seem to be a difficult thing (which means that it getting damaged at all doesn’t add to the tension – it’ll just be repaired quite easily and quickly). Indeed, in this film, a big part of Han, Chewbacca, and Leia’s storyline revolves around trying to fix the Falcon’s hyperdrive, and trying to escape the Empire without being able to jump to hyperspace.

Vader gets tonnes of great stuff in this film. Even the details are great. I love the way we get a glimpse of what Vader looks like under the helmet – just a fraction of a second as his helmet is being put on. The first film sets up the mystery of what he looks like under the helmet, and this film gives us a glimpse, but no more. I also really like how Vader tells the admiral to take the ship out of the asteroid field so that they can send a clear signal to the emperor. This tells us that Vader doesn’t want to annoy the emperor – he doesn’t want the emperor to see any imperfection – he wants to show deference. This is a great way of signalling that the emperor is at the top of the hierarchy.

Also, Vader altering the deal with Lando Calrissian several times shows how the empire is used to getting its way – even when they make an agreement, they don’t have to keep it – they can just do what they want, and whoever they made the agreement with just has to go along with it. This is a great way of showing the power of the empire.

Everything with Yoda in this film is fantastic. The puppetry by Frank Oz is just outstanding – every time I watch this film I am amazed by just how much expression it is possible to put into the movement of the puppet. Despite it quite obviously being a puppet, it doesn’t break the illusion of the film. (This is quite amazing considering that in the Disney films, sometimes very detailed CGI does break the illusion.)

The opening sequence with Yoda I think is my favourite of the scenes we get with Yoda. That particular kind of whimsy – being willing to make himself look daft, quite the opposite of what a Jedi master is supposed to look like, in order to test Luke – is not something we seem to get from any of the other films.

Just like with the previous four films, some of the dialogue in this film is a bit strange. The entire conversation between Han and Lando when Han, Chewbacca, and Leia first land on Cloud City is very odd. The whole thing is stilted – as though when they were filming it, they didn’t have the other actor say their lines when one actor was doing their takes.

The interaction between Han and Leia is weird for a lot of this film too. A lot of their dialogue is quite cheesy – to some extent that’s fine – it was the eighties – they didn’t intonate words with as much precision back then. But also, Han is quite creepy in the first part of the film. Leia makes it very clear, multiple times, that she’s not interested in him, but he keeps leering over her. They get together in the end, of course, which makes it seem like Han was right to persist, but several times Leia makes it incredibly clear that she’s not interested in him – in a way that seems not at all ambiguous.

There is also one plot oddity that I was reminded about on this rewatch. Before Luke goes to Cloud City to try to rescue the others, Obi-wan and Yoda tell Luke that it’s a trap. This doesn’t seem to change Luke’s plan, nor does it change his mind about whether to go to Cloud City at all. This strikes me as odd – if I were told that something were a trap, I would very quickly change my mind about what I wanted to do. We see a similar problem to this in Episode III – when Anakin and Obi-wan get into Grievous’ ship over Coruscant, they realise that they’ve walked into a trap, but this does not change what they plan to do – they just decide to spring the trap. I dislike this in stories – when characters realise that something’s a trap, but it doesn’t change what they intend to do.

And finally another small detail I like is Admiral Ozzel taking the fleet out of hyperspace too close to the Hoth system. This allows the rebels to raise their energy shield in time. I like this because it hints that perhaps Ozzel was secretly on the side of the rebels. Perhaps he was deliberately doing things in such a way that gave the rebels the advantage in battles. This is supported by Vader saying ‘You have failed me for the last time, Admiral.’ – Ozzel has failed many times before, perhaps because he is trying to help the rebels. (Of course, he could instead just be incompetent.)

And that’s it for this film. I never got the Big Reveal moment (‘I am your father.’) when I first watched this film, because when I first watched this film I must have been twelve or something, and had seen various fragments of the Star Wars films out of order already. But this is an excellent film overall, with great world-building, some great character moments, and great details.

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope – Review

On to the originals. My posts about these films aren’t really going to be reviews, so much. Almost everyone already agrees that these are good films, so there’s no need for me to go through them and point out the good things in them. Instead, in these posts, I’m just going to make some observations about the films, and point out that some of the things that the prequels are criticised for also exist in the originals, but a lot of people are much more forgiving of them.

Watching the films in the order that is chronological for the internal universe really highlights that the original Star Wars films were very simple films. The prequels are a lot busier by comparison – a lot more happens in them, over far greater scales, and it happens a lot faster. In fact I think the complexity of the prequels is part of the reason why a lot of people don’t like them (not that I ever really hear anyone say that), whereas the simplicity of the originals is partly why they are so successful. The originals don’t try to do too much – why, in Episode V, Han, Chewbacca, and Leia spend most of their time just trying to avoid capture. In this way the originals are also unlike the main Disney films. Those films are also very busy – it seems to be a very common thing with modern Hollywood films – they don’t like to have a scene with just two characters talking or trying to solve a problem – they like to have five characters all talking to each other while trying to solve one problem while walking to another location where there’s another problem.

An example of the simplicity of this film is right at the start. When C-3PO and R2-D2 land on Tatooine in their escape pod, they land in the middle of nowhere. This is very likely, given that Tatooine is mostly desert. Their first objective is to find their way out of the desert. Even this goes wrong, and they end up being captured by the Jawas. They do eventually find Luke and get to Obi-wan, but all of this takes quite a bit of screen time. If this were a Disney film, I expect the droids would land right outside wherever it is that Obi-wan lives.

In the original films, C-3PO and R2-D2 get a lot more to do, and are a lot more interesting. They don’t get as much to do in the prequels – partly because those films are just so busy – and they are merely accessories in the Disney films. The banter between them is much better in the originals – it’s great that R2-D2 plays the fool in order to get his way, and that we can tell that simply from what he does and what C-3PO says.

Peter Cushing is just amazing. He has such extraordinary presence. Just from the way he walks into the room in his first scene, you can tell that he’s in charge – the way he walks is brisk, confident, and assured, but not arrogant – which is what you would expect from someone near to the top of the empire, and who has a lot of power and authority. Despite there being other people playing similar parts in Star Wars films since then, no-one has managed to equal that portrayal – no-one else has had that presence.

Even though it was actually different in the original version of A New Hope, when it came out in cinemas, I really like the concept of Jabba the Hutt. I really like the idea of giant slugs being the mobsters of the universe. This shows the raw creativity that went into the original Star Wars films. Again, if this were a Disney film, Jabba the Hutt would probably have been humanoid. The Disney films seemed to be very against having any characters that deviated much from humans.

As with the prequels, there are some bad reaction shots in this film. In fact there’s one particularly egregious example, and that’s Luke’s reaction to seeing his aunt and uncle incinerated. This reaction is nowhere near strong enough. This reaction is so underplayed that the first two or three times that I watched this film (many years ago now – back when I was about twelve or something), I didn’t even realise that those skeletons were his aunt and uncle. I just thought that they were two other random people who happened to be in the area – precisely because Luke’s reaction isn’t very strong. Luke is looking at the bloody skeletons of his aunt and uncle, and his reaction is to just slowly look away. It’s not strong enough.

There are also several bad lines in this film. The dialogue between Luke and Han when Luke tries to convince Han to rescue Leia is a bit unrealistic. And the dialogue between Luke and Biggs is – I dislike the word ‘cheesy’, but that’s the only word that really describes it. The performance of that dialogue is amateurish. It’s bad in the same way that some of the dialogue in the prequels is bad.

They convey the sense of scale in this film very well. This is something I’m very interested in with films that have very large objects or environments in them. In this film, the Death Star genuinely feels big. This is something that they failed to do in The Force Awakens – in that film, Starkiller Base did not come across as something planet-sized. Conveying scale well is all about physics. Large objects in large environments work differently to everyday-sized objects. Another example of a film that failed to convey scale well was Jupiter Ascending. In that film, ships go in and out of Jupiter’s Red Eye storm. The ships are shown as being comparable in size to the storm itself, but in reality, the Eye of Jupiter is 1.3 times the width of planet Earth – far bigger than the ships.

Part of how the scale of the Death Star is conveyed is the final battle of the film. The final battle has a lot of screen time, and we see a lot of the surface of the Death Star in it. This close, the surface of the Death Star appears flat. This is what shows its scale – we’ve seen that the Death Star appears spherical from afar, but when you get close to it, it’s so big that you can’t tell at all – and we see lots of positions in between these two extremes throughout the film.

This final battle also shows the simplicity of the film – which is part of its success. The rebels make multiple attempts to blow up the Death Star, and several of them fail. This raises the tension. As the battle goes on, fewer and fewer ships remain to make the attempt, and the more times they fail, the harder we understand it to be. The fact that the film takes its time in this battle is what makes it successful.

And finally, my favourite scene in this film is the final one – for one reason: the music. The music in the final scene is just fantastic. Of course, this film being the first Star Wars film, it gets the credit for all of the main music in the series, but I particularly like the music in that final scene. It’s not just triumphant, but a true finale.

So this film is good, but not without its flaws. Its main success over the prequels comes from it giving enough time for the various scenes and sequences – it doesn’t rush anything. In terms of raw creativity, world-building, performances, music – this film and any of the prequels are roughly equal, I think.