Monday, June 5, 2017

The Mud Cat

Today marks the day the Geauga Park District announces their winners for the 22nd Annual Nature Writing Contest. As my piece did not win, I have decided to post it here instead so you all may read it. The winners may be read here: [1] [2] [3]

The Mud Cat

Jacob P. Silvia

Barry had decided to treat himself to a challenge. His hiking boots were now broken in, so when he picked his route through the woods, he picked one he had never done before. It promised lots of up- and down-hill steps, narrow paths, and the best thing of all: complete solitude.

As he walked down the trail, he took in the fresh smells of spring. The earth was loamy with a recent rain. That, mixed with the scent of maple and pine energized him on his trek. He took a deep breath, enjoying it.

When he reached the top of a hill, he rested beside a gulch and took a moment to appreciate the engulfing nature. He closed his eyes and listened. He listened to the wind rustling the leaves, the birds calling in the distance, and the panicked meows of a cat.

That didn’t seem right. He listened again. Sure enough, another pitiful meow echoed through the forest. He followed the sound until he came to the edge of the gulch. In the distance below, he saw the creature making the cries. The cat was covered in mud, and trying in vain to scale the wall of the ravine. He looked up and down the gulch, but close-packed rocks prevented much travel in either direction.

Barry pulled out his phone, ready to dial the ranger’s office. His phone, however, told him that it had no service. The cat meowed again.

Scanning the edge of the ravine, he looked for the best way down. A combination of tree roots and rocks line the wall. He gave the nearest root a tentative step. It seemed sturdy enough, so he proceeded downwards. All the while, the cat meowed at him.

When he climbed to the bottom, he hopped from the wall, his boots making a wet smack in the mud. The cat backed away from him.

“Here, kitty, kitty, kitty,” he called, wiggling his fingers together as he did this. “Tsk, tsk, tsk.”

The cat meowed, but still kept its distance.

Barry reached into his pack. He pulled out a stick of jerky. From this, he tore off a small chunk and tossed it to the cat. The cat backed away further when it landed, but after a moment, slowly crept towards the piece of jerky. After a brief sniff, the meat disappeared into the cat’s mouth. Barry watched as the cat gnawed the piece on its back teeth. When it had finished, it looked up at him and gave another meow, this one less frightened.

He  tossed another piece, which the cat ate. After repeating this several times, the cat had managed to wander within arms’ length of Barry. He crouched down, and while making soft cooing sounds, scooped up the cat. The cat began to wiggle and squirm, but another piece or two of jerky gave it sufficient reassurance.

Clutching the muddy cat to his chest, he began his ascent. It took much longer to scale the gulch wall, being as one hand was occupied with cat wrangling, but soon, he had made it near the top. However, once his head, and the cat’s head, poked over the wall, the cat sprung from his arm, pushing off of Barry’s shoulders as it leapt.

This caused Barry to stagger back. Reaching out and grabbing at the closest thing he could, he clutched at a nearby root. This, however, being pulled with such unfamiliar force, fell free from the dirt wall. Waving his hands and knocking forth more roots and rocks, he fall backwards. After a short fall, he landed with a splat in the mud. His ankle hurt, sprained from the fall, leaving him unable to stand.

He sighed, the cold, wet mud seeping into his clothes. A slight meow echoed from above. He looked up. The muddy cat’s head peered over the edge. It meowed again, almost as a question.

“I’m all right,” Barry said. “Just hurt my ankle.” He let his gaze drift down the gulch wall, fresh holes indicating where climbable roots and rocks once protruded.

The cat sat down at the edge and began cleaning the mud from itself. When it had made satisfactory progress, it gave one more meow before disappearing down the trail. Once it was gone, Barry looked around the gulch floor, trying to find anything that might help him out of this mess.

He sighed.

Monday, January 11, 2016

My Crackpot Han Solo Theory (and Bonus Crackpot Predictions for Episodes VIII and IX)

I just recently watched the new Star Wars movie. Now, I’m not a huge Star Wars fan, but I do have a strong foundation upon which my Star Wars fandom is built upon. For example, I grew up watching the original trilogy. Every time Lucasfilm released a new edition, I’d usually get it (and only if I could get it in Widescreen). I would watch the movies when they’d play them on TV, even though I could skip the commercials by watching my own copy. I even read a lot of the books and comics and whatnot. At my last job, there was a company-wide Star Wars trivia contest, and I won.

But I don’t consider myself a huge Star Wars fan. I don’t have any of my action figures anymore. Really, the only Star Wars ephemera I still have are my Star Wars CCGs, which I stopped collecting after I realized it was getting expensive (I have two Yodas, FWIW). I also have each movie on DVD. However, I haven’t seen things like the Holiday Special, or the Droids/Ewoks cartoons. I saw the movie with Wilford Brimley in it, but only once. And I haven’t seen the Clone Wars or Rebels series.

So, I’m not a huge fan. Right? Still, I’m probably more of a fan than most people. Thus, it’s with these credentials I present my crackpot theory regarding Han Solo. Keep in mind that I will be openly discussing the events in The Force Awakens, so be warned.

After watching TFA, I’m left with conflicting emotions. I liked Han Solo, and now we’re strongly led to believe he’s dead. And while I lean in that direction, I have a few problems digesting that tough bit of cheese.

Han’s death, while predictable, also was presented in a way similar to Sirius Black’s death in the film adaptation of The Order of the Phoenix, that is, presented in a way to tone down the true emotional grit of what’s happening, to the point where people make crackpot theories regarding how that character is still alive.

I know Han’s dead now, at least, I have to believe that. Otherwise, I’ll get disappointed to have it confirmed later. But the part of me that wants to deny it spent a good chunk of time this weekend figuring out how Han survived.

In the movie, we see Han get stabbed with a lightsaber, and then flung into a chasm. Within the hour (or a similar short length of time), the entire planet blows up. In order for Han to survive this mess, a few things would have to be true:

  1. The lightsaber wound wasn’t fatal
  2. The fall wasn’t fatal
  3. The planet didn’t blow him up too

So, we’re left with a particularly chunky predicament if we want to prove that he’s still alive. The simplest, yet least plausible way to explain it away is this:

The Han that died was a clone.

No, that’s stupid. That totally takes away the gravitas of the whole scene. And I would think Kylo Ren would know the difference. Sorry for even coming up with that theory. That’s not my theory. Mulligan!

An actual, reasonable crackpot theory is instead this:

  1. Han made a lot of enemies, as can be seen shortly after his meeting with Rey and Finn.
  2. Some enemies are offering a large sum for Han solo.
  3. “He’s no good to me dead.”
  4. Wait, who said that?

Are you ready for this?

Han get stabbed with a lightsaber. It misses all of his vital organs. He falls down a chasm. A man, about the same age as him, wearing a battle damaged set of green armor and a jetpack, flies past at the last minute, grabs the falling Han, and spirits him away to his lamp post bulb-shaped ship, which we’ll call Slave II. The ship leaves the planet, and onwards to fulfill the bounty.

Yes, that’s right, Boba Fett saved Han.

This of course assumes that Fett survived the events of Jedi. Search your heart, you know it to be true.

Let  me walk you through it from Fett’s point of view. After Han’s escape aboard the Millennium Falcon, one of his creditors gets so ticked off that he posts a ridiculous bounty. This attracts all the bounty hunters of any merit, but also attracts the attention of Fett. Han is the one that got away. This is the thing that will redeem him, if not to the others, then at least to himself.

Since the Falcon is the loudest ship in the galaxy, it’s fairly easy to find. Fett tracks it to Starkiller Base. After the shields go down, he makes his approach. He follows Han to the generator, where he lies in wait, possibly down the shaft, ready to swoop in and get his quarry. However, due to his daddy situation, he totally understands letting Han and Ren have their moment, and maybe he too thinks that Ren has turned over a new leaf. Though I doubt that.

Ren stabs Han, and since this is a long time before OSHA started monitoring workplace safety conditions, he tosses him over the handrail-free platform, into the chasm below. Distracted by a raging Wookie, nobody sees Fett catch Han, get to his ship, then escape the planet before it asplode.

In his ship, he stabilizes Han enough to get him to the highest paying customer and seek some form of closure over a shadow that had lingered over his Mandalorian visage for the past three decades.

While this probably isn’t true, it’s really the best way I could figure out how Han was still alive.

Now, for my crackpot predictions:

  1. I previously thought that Rey was Ren’s twin sister (look at the poster!). Not so sure anymore. I think now they might actually be cousins, withLuke being her father. It makes sense, as each Star Wars trilogy is basically a Tale of a Skywalker. (Also, I bet Mara Jade is her mother.)
  2. Finn has the force. I mean, he used a lightsaber pretty well. There will be an attempt to drag him to the dark side, possibly with information about who he really is (I’m thinking something like The Man with the Thistle-Down Hair’s conversation with Stephen Black in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, where Finn is Black and Snoke is the Man). He’ll overcome it, obviously.
  3. Kylo Ren will look a bit more like Vader in the next film. By the end of the series, he’ll be a walking hospital ward.
  4. We’ll probably see Lando Calrissian in the next movie, possibly at Han’s funeral. Maybe some other people in Solo’s life, maybe Sana Starros (wait, is she still alive?).
  5. Hopefully we’ll see Fett again, as he tends to make an appearance in the middle movies of each trilogy.
  6. We might see Wedge Antilles again (the actor, Denis Lawson, declined a role in TFA, but maybe would reconsider considering its success).
  7. If we see Han again, as played by Ford, it will almost certainly be in flashbacks (because I know my theory is probably not true). Otherwise, we might see a Han clone in Episode VIII, which will feature the actor selected to play Han in the 2018 film. This will most likely be to make you more accepting of another actor playing Han. VIII should come out in 2017, one year before the Han Solo solo (sic) film.
  8. There will be something much worse than Starkiller Base in Episode IX.
  9. If Han is truly dead, Leia will probably be next.
  10. And then possibly Luke.

Well, that’s all my crackpottery. Feel free to disagree with me as much or as little as you like.

Monday, August 18, 2014

On Hold

It was requested of me to halt publication to my blog while I have an ongoing lawsuit. As such, once it is resolved, I shall resume posting. Until then, a million more apologies. So sorry.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Lists Considered Harmful

If you're anything like me, I'm sorry.

Let me provide you a glimpse of my mind: if I start making lists, especially lists of things that are related, or that have sublists, my mind does a crazy spiral off into oblivion until I can get to a good stopping place in my mind.

It's not so bad, as it helps me visualize problems on a larger scale, but at the same time, it's unpredictible, like an elemental force, and I can only direct it and hope it does the right thing

So, if you ever see me sitting there, quiet, and there's something clicking in my head, you can be sure that it's because I made a list recently.

That's all.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Using Layers of Relative Reality to Measure the Validity of Fictional Crossovers

What a mouthful… The point of this article is to discuss a matter that causes my brain to overload when it considers the possibilities and implications. That matter is: fictional crossovers. A fictional crossover appears when a character or other identifiable element appears in a different piece of media as that same character.
What prompted this was the concept of the “Tommyverse,” that is, a single show that unites about 90% of television shows, according to certain claims. I find this part of the theory fascinating. I find the part about St. Elsewhere taking place all in Tommy’s mind, therefore all the related shows take place in Tommy’s mind pure poppycock.
For the sake of argument, I’ll define the following terms (and I’ll make them relative to TV series, since that’s my primary focus):
  1. A sequel is a show whose narrative continues the main narrative of the original show, but is itself a different show.
  2. A spinoff is a show that splinters off a character or aspect of the original show. It either runs alongside the original show or can happen much later. It differs from a sequel as it does not follow the core narrative.
  3. A remake is a show that effectively “reboots” the narrative and characters. This may have the same characters, but they are not the “same” characters that appeared on the original show (e.g., they are multiversal aspects of the same character, just placed in a different era).
  4. A crossover is an appearance of a character or other element appearing in its non-native show.
  5. A splinter is a show that, like a spinoff, derives its origin from something else, but unlike a spinoff, does not mutually share the universe with its parent.
  6. An homage is a sort of reference in one show to another media. Whether it establishes a shared universe is yet another matter.[1]

Now, the important thing to remember in this discussion are things I like to call “layers of relative reality.” I’ll call them “layers” to make things easier. Typically, there are three types of layers:
  1. A sublayer is a layer whose existence is entirely within another layer.
  2. A main layer is a layer in which an entity exists.
  3. A metalayer is a layer that contains the entity’s main layer as a sublayer.

There are also two flavors:[2]
  1. A shared layer is a layer with multiple observers
  2. A private layer is a layer with only one observer

So, to make it seem less ambiguous, let’s give some examples:
  1. A dream is a private sublayer (as far as I can tell)
  2. A real TV show is a shared sublayer of our main layer
  3. Your life is your main layer.
  4. If you had a life similar to The Truman Show, your life would still be your main layer, and the outside world would be a metalayer.

Okay? Cool. So now, I’m going to break down what I consider a “shared universe.” Here are my rules:
  1. Fan fiction doesn’t count
  2. In fact, only “authorized” or “licensed” matters should count
  3. Parodies don’t count
  4. Dream appearances are hard to justify
  5. Celebrity guest stars are hard to justify
  6. Public domain is hard to justify
  7. It’s easier if the characters make reference to it in their respective shows
  8. Cartoons are okay[3]
  9. Context matters!!!
  10.  All the while, consider the layers

So, let’s take a look at one particular franchise: X-Files.
The show had two spinoffs: Millennium and The Lone Gunmen. Further, it had crossovers with both Homicide: Life on the Street and The Simpsons. If you delve into the comics, you’ll also find crossovers with 30 Days of Night and Ghostbusters.
Let’s analyze this, then. If we assume that characters aren’t multiversal and admit that their appearance on The Simpsons was not parodic (it may have parodied the tropes of X-Files, but it was not exactly a parody of the characters, otherwise they would have names like Sana Dully and Mox Fulder or something. It would be more of a satire). Further, since all the appearances I mentioned were authorized by some authority of X-Files, we can then say that these events all happened on the same sublayer. It’s a no-brainer to say that Millennium and The Lone Gunmen share a universe with X-Files, and it’s just a little more to say it shares a universe with Homicide: Life on the Street (which has crossovers with all those initialism shows: CSI, et al.). Once you get over the hurdle of including Springfield into the mix (and it’s not that hard to assume that the events of The Simpsons could totally happen in the same universe as X-Files), you only have to then assume that there are vampires in Alaska and ghosts in New York.
One thing worth noting on the The Simpsons episode is the appearance of Chewbacca, Gordon Shumway, Marvin the Martian, and Gort. These can safely be argued as “parody,” and therefore, X-Files doesn’t in fact share its universe with Star Wars, ALF, Looney Toons, and The Day the Earth Stood Still, at least, not through this aspect.
Now, let’s look at another show: The Big Bang Theory.
Now, this show is a Chuck Lorre production, as is Two and a Half Men. In both shows there exists another show (a sublayer) Oshikuru: Demon Samurai. This shared sublayer of main layer of the shows. We could then argue that this shared sublayer indicates that two shows are a common main layer (which could be complicated by Sheen’s appearance in The Big Bang Theory). Two and a Half Men also has had crossovers with Dharma and Greg, therefore one could argue that these three shows exist on the same layer.
Now, the main reason why I discount celebrity appearances is because, on some level, most shows are splinters from our main layer, and as such, are likely to have the same celebrities and cities.
The main reason why I discount the public domain is because there is no control over “the canon.” While I really don’t care about “canon,” for the sake of determining “shared universes,” this is important. However, if the same version of a public domain character appears in two different media, then that could arguably link them.
There are few things, though, that break our ability to cleanly show shared universes.
  1. If one show that has a crossover also features people watching the show in which the crossed over (this is hard to argue).
  2. Contradictory things, like if an alien invasion happens on one show but doesn’t even get noticed on the other show.
  3. Quantum silliness, such as time travel and multiverses. These can really mess with a unified argument, as each time you travel through time, you potentially alter the relative future timeline, and you create forks in the space time continuum.

The strange thing that comes from this grand unified theory of television is the fact that there are so many people that look like each other and have the same mannerisms. For example, the Tommyverse can link to both I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show,[4] which both feature Lucille Ball playing a woman named Lucy complete with Lucyisms, and in both series, she’s friends with a character played by Vivian Vance. It’s a strange world that has both Lucy Ricardo and Lucy Carmichael.
While multiverses help invalidate most claims to a shared universe, it’s handy to have to explain away contradictions. You could say, then that Show X exists in a layer with an aspect of Show Y, but Show Y does not exist on the same layer as Show X.[5] In many ways, then Show X is a splinter of Show Y, much like most real shows are splinters of our own.

Layers, hopefully, can provide a useful argument tool in determining the validity of a shared universe claim. They are flexible enough to allow for normal use, but also can incorporate multiverses.[6] I certainly hope that this paradigm allows for more reasonable debate on the subject.
Other shared universes of note beyond the Tommyverse are:
  1. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
  2. The Wold Newton Universe
  3. Anno Dracula

Also, I believe that the writings of Stephen King and his son Joe Hill share a universe, or at least reference each other a whole heck of a lot.

[1] Think, for example, the company Yoyodyne. Originally from a Thomas Pynchon novel, it’s been referenced in Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Star Trek, and Firefly, but is not necessarily indicating that all these things take part in the same shared universe.
[2] There may be a third flavor, depending on whether or not you consider your present layer “observable” by its residents.
[3] People don’t like to include The Simpsons in the Tommyverse, as it’s a cartoon. I say that if you apply the rules above and argue layers, it’s not that big of a deal. If it helps, just think of the cartoon as a different viewing aspect of a real-life version of the same show.
[4] I Love Lucy to The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (sequel) to The Danny Thomas Show (The Williams family rents out Lucy’s home once) to The Andy Griffith Show (Andy Taylor arrests Danny Williams in Mayberry) to Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (spinoff on Gomer Pyle) to The Lucy Show (Gomer Pyle appears in “Lucy Gets Caught up in the Draft”).
[5] Do I need to draw a Venn diagram for that? I think I’d need to use non-euclidean space to do so…
[6] Think about those “what’s different between these two pictures” kind of puzzles you find in childrens’ coloring books.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Miner - Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by C. S. Lewis


I have a plethora of C. S. Lewis books lying around the house (quite literally, as I am currently without bookshelves for my library of several hundred books). Among the stacks of my “green”[1] books was this thin tome, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer.
While Lewis is known for his Chronicles of Narnia series, he’s also know as an epistemologist, his letters having been collected in countless tomes. In this book, though, the letters aren’t real. Much akin to the Screwtape Letters, Letters to Malcolm features letters to a guy named Malcolm regarding theological issues and concerns.
I was interested to read this, as while at times Lewis can be an annoying writer, he also makes some excellent points and traverses territory where most Christian authors tend to avoid.
Be mindful that in the discussion that follows, I am most likely going to address some theological issues from the perspective of a theist. If that sort of thing doesn’t appeal to you, you have been warned.


As I mentioned above, this book takes place in a series of letters to a fictional person named Malcolm, and old school chum of the author’s (presumed to be Lewis himself for the purpose of this discussion). While we only see Lewis’ responses, we get a picture of them having a lively discussion of prayer, including the big questions like “Why bother if God already knows what you need?”.
The discussion drifts from speculative to real as one of their close friends suffers a malady, for which they pray.
In the end, Lewis presents Malcolm a wonderful overview of the whys and wherefores of prayer, even if he sometimes ventures into territory that some (i.e., protestants) might consider against what they believe (including an interesting support of the concept of purgatory).


I was going to write out an analysis of each chapter, but let’s face it: I’m too busy. Instead, I’ll do my best to cover the things I found interesting and noteworthy in the book.
In one letter, Lewis balances the importance of living a Godly and Christlike life versus observing all the sacraments. While some may see these as mutual things, his point is not to stop observing communion, but instead to not let the observation of communion from getting in the way of making you a good Christian.
In his discussion of “canned” prayer, he made a wonderful allusion to marriage. If you’re no good at writing poems, reading poems to your spouse can be just as romantic. Likewise, in your relationship with God, a canned prayer may be just as sweet to God’s ears as one you laboriously piece together. However, Lewis points out later that this does not mean that prayers are recipes or incantations that get God to give you what you want.
In the Bible, there is a passage about prayer, and how you should lock yourself in your closet and be alone when you pray. Lewis, though, points out something that I too struggle with when I’m alone with myself doing anything: all that silence and solitude is distracting. We need “the right amount of distraction” to help us stay focused. This part really intrigued me, as I could totally relate.
Lewis also covers other aspects, like the Lord’s Prayer (though, unlike Phillip Keller, he does so in a single letter). Things that I thought were interesting were Lewis’ take on the temporal nature of God (That is, the general belief is that God knows the future, and therefore, why do we even pray? God knows what’s going to happen, etc., etc.), as well as Lewis’ claim that we should pray for the dead (something Protestants really don’t do).
The argument for this, as well as for purgatory, were rather interesting, and a little complex. They deal mostly with the difference between “Heaven” and “New Heaven”.
All in all, I enjoyed this book, even if Lewis can be stodgy at times, telling jokes that, let’s face it, only he finds are funny. In the end, though I find epistolary works to be one of the least interesting forms of writing, I found Lewis had a lot interesting and informative things to say.

[1] This is my attempt at humor, to distinguish unread books from read (“red”) books.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Turkey City Lexicon

[Editor’s note: A million apologies for not writing the first chapter of The Gingham Sword. I could explain, but it would sound like an excuse. Assuming my life has a tolerable amount of chaos in it, there SHOULD be one next week, or another million apologies.]
I’m a writer. At least, that’s what I try to be. I started a writer’s critique group in Houston, and I regularly sharpen my writer-fu by reading, reading, reading, and seeing what I like.
My reading shows me what I like in the same way that a car enthusiast would look at cars to see what he or she likes. I like stories that get good mileage, are sleek, quirky, unique, and colorful. I like them to have a nice sound system, and to have some of the cool bells and whistles. If I have to work hard, I want the story to pay off. Stuff like that.
So, in my critiquing and my reviewing, I find myself often citing a particular indispensable tome: The Turkey City Lexicon. I highly suggest you read it, study it, know it, and most of all, follow it, when you write. Of course, much like Kurt Vonnegut’s rules to writers, you are welcome to break these rules, if you have a good reason to.[1]
I find that the most common malady in self-published and small press writing is exposition. This is referred to as “show, not tell” in the Lexicon.
As a brief example, here’s the difference.
The Scene: A man walks into a room, where a woman with a gun is already waiting there for him.


Detective John Everyman entered his office after a long day scrounging the docks for clues regarding Mrs. Felicia MacGuffin’s husbands supposed infidelities. He still smelled of the fish and fowl, and salt seemed to crust his skin and sleeves. He was unable to find any clue of infidelities, but he did find a great seafood place he’d have to take Marcia to on their anniversary, if she could get over the ambient smell of the sea.
        When he flipped on the light, he saw a medium-height woman standing there. She had blonde hair, blue eyes, red lips, and a red dress. In her hands she held a Walther PPK, and it was pointed at his chest.
He had no idea who this woman was, or whether she had the determination to pull the trigger. He felt the reassuring weight of his own Magnum in its shoulder holster next to his good luck charm, a medallion with a seven pointed star and the latin phrase En Vitus Vitum printed on the front, a gift from his deceased father.
“Who do I owe money to this time?” he asked.


He flipped the switch when he entered the office, and a flicker of light illuminated the room. A blonde woman in a red dress stood before him. She had a grin on her face and a gun in her hands.
“Who do I owe money to this time?” he asked as she leveled the gun at his chest.
While it may not be the best example (I’m pressed for time), do you see the difference? Which one leaves a more lasting impressing in your mind? Which one was easier and more interesting to read?
It’s just my opinion (as someone who reads significantly more than 50 books a year) that the second example, while shorter, leaves me with a whole lot more intrigue than the previous one. Especially if any of the details included in the text are completely irrelevant or have a more natural way to divulge later in the prose (e.g., through realistic conversation, not as-you-know-bobs). I feel that sparse writing that tells you more is more valuable than infodumps.
Though I will admit, there are some times where infodumps are useful. I would refer you to the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien and Neal Stephenson for practical applications of the infodump.

[1] This was, if I’m not mistaken, the last rule, but I can’t seem to find it written anywhere...