Six ways to fix NEVER GO BACK by Lee Child

writing meme spiderman dear diary

Let’s say it: Lee Child has a Superman problem.

His hero, Reacher, is beloved by fans for having the brains of Sherlock Holmes and the body of Conan the Barbarian. The man never gets outsmarted and is invincible in a fight. Here’s the last post about these books: Secret recipe for any Lee Child novel

The latest Reacher book, NEVER GO BACK, slams smack-dab into the Superman problem. Because an invincible hero puts the B in Boring.

Did I enjoy the book? Yeah, it’s always fun to read about Reacher. With every new novel, though, Reacher struggles less and less to overcome the bad guys.

If the hero doesn’t sweat, the reader doesn’t worry. Or care.

Because I do care about Reacher and Lee Child, here are six ways to fix NEVER GO BACK.

Lee Child's NEVER GO BACK is something you should read. Do it now.
Lee Child’s NEVER GO BACK. Buy two copies, one of each cover, because I say so.

1) Don’t simply remake THE ENEMY

The only other novel with Reacher in the Army was Child’s best book: THE ENEMY, a true mystery with all kinds of crazy twists and turns and a real sense of menace. Just like that book, the latest novel has big-shots in the Pentagon and such as the criminal masterminds, using other officers as their puppets.

That book was first-person and visceral. It put you in the head of Reacher and made you feel what he felt, see what he saw. I’ve happily read that book seven bazillion times.

NEVER GO BACK starts out feeling like that book, with the full force of the Pentagon and Homeland Security poised to squash Reacher … until he escapes them, easily and repeatedly.

THE ENEMY was amazing, and the ending isn’t a clear win. Reacher is demoted and leaves the service. This latest novel doesn’t hold a candle to that classic.  Which proves that yeah, you should never go back.

2) Give Reacher a real daughter, not a fake one

What are the odds that the bad guys randomly picked a fake daughter for Reacher who looks like him, thinks like him and even talks like him?

I’ll tell you the odds: zero.

The fake daughter is an achy breaky big mistakey. It feels like Child planned on making the daughter real up to the end of the book, then decided nope, Reacher can’t have a teenage daughter, because that would tie him down in future books. So he turned her into a ruse.

If you’re gonna do it, do it.

3) One-sided beatings aren’t really fights

Fight scenes are a Reacher staple. A novel without Reacher getting blood on his elbows would be like a Jean Claude Van Damme movie without him doing the side splits and kicking a single guy in the face.

However: there’s a big difference between a fight and a beating. Every fight in NEVER GO BACK is a cake walk for Reacher, who doesn’t even break a sweat when he takes out two angry rednecks with both hands behind his back.

Give us a real fight. Let’s be realistic and let the bad guys land a punch for once.

This leads to Number 4.

4) Tough guy villains better be tough

In this book, there’s one thug we keep getting told is a giant muscle-freak with weird ears. A monster who looks like a match for Reacher.

So for hundreds of pages, you keep expecting the final battle between these two men to be epic. I was getting the popcorn out.

The fight between Reacher and this incredible hulk was over in about two seconds. Boring, and a huge let-down. Come on. That’s like showing us Darth Vader on screen for 90 minutes and Luke training with Yoda for 20 minutes only to have the two meet for the Greatest Lightsaber Battle of All Time … and have Luke cut Darth Daddy in half within two seconds. No.

The badder the bad guy, the longer the fight should last. Redneck idiots can get dispatched in a paragraph. Medium baddies should take a chapter. The boss villain should take a couple of chapters.

When every villain, big or small, goes down without Reacher chipping a nail, or doing anything at all (see Number 6),  it’s not exciting.

5) The Girl with a Gun has to be some kind of Challenge

It’s totally fine for Reacher to swim in a sea of attractive women, just like 007.

What’s not fine is for the Girl with the Gun to fall in love with Reacher in about two micro-seconds and be like a loyal puppy dog for 300 pages. THE ENEMY had a good love interest, with a conflict: he was an officer, and her commanding officer, and she was a sergeant. There was risk, and you got a real feel for the sergeant with them doing the investigation a long time before falling in the sack. It was credible and interesting.

A perfect woman who falls in love with Reacher instantly and never really does anything, well, she’s cardboard and snooze city.

6) Finish with a bang

So the bad guys are two high-powered dudes with insane connections, the ability to track Reacher in real-time, a lust for power and a network of thugs. It’s suicide for Reacher to go after them, right? They have the full reach of the Pentagon and Homeland Security to smack him like a fly.

Yet the final confrontation … never happens. Because the bad guys shoot themselves in the head.

What?

Maybe I’m nuts, but I believe, deep in my Swedish soul, that the end of a novel or movie should be more exciting than the beginning. The beginning was exciting. This ending wasn’t even as suspenseful as six random rednecks surrounding Reacher in the motel.

If you set up Reacher as some kind of invincible Superman, the bad guys can’t be cream puffs who fold at the end. To make it interesting, you have to make the villains even tougher than Reacher.

That hasn’t happened yet. Not even close.

I hope someday it will. Because that would be an amazing book.

Possible script for STAR WARS VII by J.J. Abrams

tinseltown tuesday meme morpheous

First of all, J.J. Abrams should direct everything.

Not just STAR TREK and the new STAR WARS: EPISODE XVIII-whatever, but every film for one entire year. You’ll say, “That’s not possible — J.J. can’t direct every film made during a calendar year.”

Sure he can. We can clone ourselves an army of J. J. Abrams, or download his brain into that Big Blue supercomputer thing IBM built just to beat Ken Jennings in a game of Jeopardy. WE HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY.

And here’s a brilliant take on how the first new STAR WARS film should go. Now that Disney owns Marvel and Star Wars, I hope studio executives take notes.

Why new STAR WARS movies by Disney are an achy breaky big mistakey

yoda after the death star blows up

Disney just bought LucasFilm for $4 billion dollars, causing a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of souls suddenly cried out in pain and anguish.

Maybe because they did cry out in pain.

Now, you can argue that this is not so bad, because (1) this definitely means George Lucas isn’t directing new STAR WARS movies, which does, indeed, avert disaster, (2) Disney didn’t do half bad after it bought Marvel and started pumping out IRON MAN movies and CAPTAIN AMERICA and THOR and such, which leads to the Ultimate Fanboy Fantasy of (3) Joss Whedon directing a STAR WARS movie, which would cause the universe to implode out of sheer awesomesauce.

HOWEVER: All those reasons are destroyed by the Death Star of one simple truth.

And no, that truth is not the fact that Disney buying STAR WARS means we will be swimming in all kinds of direct to video trash aimed at five-year-olds, along with special editions and special-special editions and God knows how much other new nonsense the Disney factory will pump out, month after month, year after year, until kids who grew up watching STAR WARS movies band together and march upon the House of the Mouse to burn that sucker down.

Here’s why STAR WARS: EPISODE 7 OR WHATEVER is a terrible idea: the hero and villain are both dead.

But oh, you say, we’ve still got Luke and Leia, Han and Chewie, C3P0 and R2-D2. They’re still alive, right?

Sure. I bet Jar-Jar Binks is still breathing after the Death Star blew up for a second time. That’s beside the point. Who’s the hero of STAR WARS? Who’s the villain?

Those two serious questions need serious answers. If the answers stink, or make no sense, the new movies will stink no matter how many dollars you throw at the screen in CGI nonsense.

Luke isn’t the hero. He’s only in the last three movies.

Obi-Wan seems like the hero, and is heroic, but he’s dead for the last three movies. He’s a glowing spectator, and his role is mentor anyway.

Han Solo is a great character, but he’s not the hero. He’s comic relief and part of the love subplot with Princes Two Buns on Her Head.

The Shiny Robot Who Complains A Lot and his pet tin can, hey, they’re in all six movies. Are they the heroes? No. More comic relief. More sidekick action.

Hmm. We seem to be stuck. The hero is AWOL … except he’s not.

This is really Darth Vader’s story. He’s in all six movies, and he’s got a real character arc: Darth is good, gets really whiny and turns to the Dark Side — that’s the first three (prequel) movies. Then he gets conflicted about the whole Dark Side thing, wants Luke to join him and kill the emperor (THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK) and finally sacrifices himself to kill the emperor and save his son.

Darth Vader goes from slave to Jedi, from Jedi to Sith, then Sith to Jedi again. He finds redemption. It’s his story.

So: who’s the villain?

Well, at first we thought it was Darth Vader, because he really was the bad guy in the first STAR WARS movie and such. The emperor barely got any screen time until RETURN OF THE JEDI.

Don’t let the sea of mini-bosses fool you. Darth Maul, Count Dooku, Jabba the Hut, the Trade Federation dipsticks, General Grevious Chest Cold — all those guys are random nonsense. They sell toys, fine.

The villain through all six movies, however, is clearly the emperor.

Accept no substitutes.

Here comes the Big Stupid Problem

And now we come to the giant flipping problem with any future STAR WARS movies: who’s your hero and who’s your villain?

Because your real hero, Anakin / Darth Vader, is a goner.

Your real villain, Emperor Wrinkly Pants, got thrown down a bottomless pit in the Death Star right before that sucker went all kabloomy for a second time. He ain’t coming back.

Unless the new movies are going to be space opera-style romantic comedies about Han and Leia’s Big Fat Alderan Wedding, or Christmas on Tatooine, you need a villain worthy of the surviving band of rebels and Jedi, seeing how they’re not rebels anymore. They won. They’re in charge.

Sure, there are all kinds of books out there, books I don’t read, that supposedly tell the story of what happens after the Ewoks do their jub-jub dance and shoot off all kinds of space fireworks. People tell me the Sith aren’t really done for, that Luke sort of turns bad, or Han Solo and Leia have a dozen kids and half of them turn into angsty teenage Vader wannabes or whatever. And that there’s some kind of thing where the emperor gets cloned, or random Sith Lords and remnants of the old Imperial army and navy and marines (no Air Force?) come back for more space battles and such with stormtroopers who can’t shoot straight to save their lives.

None of that will fly.

Why? Because the first six movies kept telling us, over and over, that Anakin / Vader was The One, just like Neo in the Matrix.

They beat us on the head with the fact that the prophecy told us Anakin would wipe out the Sith and bring balance to the Force, and peace to the galaxy. Also, that he would cut marginal tax rates by 20 percent and eliminate capital gain taxes entirely, because that’s how you create jobs in places like Tatooine.

Either they lied to us for six movies or they didn’t.

Another hurdle: Yoda and others kept saying stuff like “always two, are there” when talking about the Sith — a master and an apprentice. Now, this wasn’t entirely consistent, since the emperor had Darth Maul and Count Dooku at the same time, but those movies also included the anti-reality field known as Jar Jar Binks, which means anything that happens in those flicks doesn’t really matter or count.

A third hurdle: if you bring in a secret new villain from the outside, or invent five new villains to throw at our remaining collection of random heroes, then it just becomes an incoherent mess.

The bottom line is we’re in for more movies that may stink more than the prequels, if that is possible. And more commercialized nonsense like this Darth Vader – Emperor dance-off on Kinnect or whatever.

Hollywood: Sidekicks do NOT need their own stupid sidekicks

THE EXPENDABLES 2 movie poster.

Ever look at an overstuffed movie poster and wonder, “Is that tiny figure over on the left a man, a woman or a smudge that didn’t get properly PhotoShopped out of existence?”

THE EXPENDABLES 2 is the latest movie to stuff 40 pounds of characters into a 5-pound bag.

Here’s the movie poster.

THE EXPENDABLES 2 movie poster.
Who’s that one guy way in the back, wearing a hat? NOBODY KNOWS, but he made $15.3 million for this movie. Remember that tomorrow at work.

I counted 11 action heroes on that poster, which is 10 more action heroes than you typically need for an action film, even if eight of these guys just got broken out of the Beverly Hills Nursing Home.

Bet you anything the team of screenwriters — if I put a 9 mm to their head and started counting down — couldn’t tell you all 11 character names, and the average movie-goer wouldn’t notice if you chopped five of them from the film entirely.

This is a common problem, not just for Hollywood but for novels, especially anything involving fantasy and sci-fi, because no self-respecting Jedi or Hobbit goes off on an adventure without at least 23 other people tromping around with them, squabbling with each other when they’re not getting captured by Darth Vader and such.

IT IS A MESS.

Now, this problem also happens in comic book movies, partly because of the Comic Book Movie Laws.

Movie No. 1: The origin story of the hero along with the hero’s nemesis, the best villain. So: one hero, one villain.

Movie No. 2: The hero gets two sidekicks as he battles TWO villains.

Movie No. 3: The hero juggles an entourage that won’t fit in a Greyhound bus while he battles THREE villains.

Movie No. 4: Doesn’t happen, unless your name is Joel Schumacher and you’re making the mistake known as BATMAN FOREVER. Otherwise, the series dies and reboots.

I just watched THOR again, using the powers of Netflix over the Series of Tubes and such, and it is a fun little popcorn movie.

However, the cast of characters will make your head hurt: Thor, Hannibal Lecter, Loki, Princess Leia‘s mom, the Guardian, the Frost Giants, that arrow-shooting guy from THE AVENGERS and BOURNE LEGACY, Agent Coulson, the Frost Giant King, Yoda, the shark from JAWS and other people I’m probably forgetting.

In all seriousness: There’s a scene where Thor’s buddies are walking down the street and one of the SHIELD agents calls it in, saying he just spotted Xena, Robin Hood and Jackie Chan.

This agent is not only sarcastic, but wrong, because he’s completely forgetting Thor’s fourth sidekick, the fat bearded guy who — and this is shocking — likes to eat a lot.

In this movie, Princess Leia’s mom is Thor’s love interest, which is like a sidekick, but different, in that Thor makes goo-goo eyes at her. With his other sidekicks, he simply claps them on the shoulder in a manly way, or maybe hugs them — though he hugs her, too. IT IS CONFUSING.

Anyway, the point is, she has two of her own sidekicks: an old Norwegian scientist guy or whatever and some kind of sarcastic girl scientist who is apparently there for contrast, to make Princess Leia’s mom look even more smart and beautiful.

You heard me right: The sidekick has sidekicks of her own.

This is all too common and all too wrong.

Every movie and book could be improved by killing off every possible character.

In fact, thinking of “Who could we erase from the page?” is the wrong question. Start by saying, “Who is the ONE essential character?” and work up to the number two, the number three, pi (3.14-whatever) and some imaginary numbers.

Then break the Four Barrier and stop to reflect upon WHAT YOU HAVE WROUGHT, which is a far, far better story than what you started with.

THOR can’t exist without Thor (1) and if we need a second character, it’s obviously Loki (2). Odin (3) and the Frost King (4) would round out a top four. That story could work. Everybody else could go take a nice long vacation on a desert planet with two suns.

Going the other direction, just for fun: Say goodbye, Xena / Robin Hood / Jackie Chan / Fat Guy sidekicks (minus 4). Not essential to the story at all. See ya to Princess Leia’s mom and her two sidekicks (minus 3). Goodbye to Agent Coulson and the arrow man (minus 2). No more Guardian and Odin’s wife (minus 2). That’s 11 characters out the door, and those actors need not be unemployed: we will send them to star in THE EXPENDABLES 3: STALLONE NEEDS ANOTHER FACELIFT.

IRON MAN 2 had it much worse than THOR, with the villain played by Mickey Rourke getting buried by layers upon layers of sidekicks. I mean, look at this movie poster. All sidekicks, all the time. Villains are so boooring.

Peoples of Hollywood and writers of books, please kill off sidekicks.

Do it with a sharp pen, a 12-gauge shotgun or a red lightsaber — I don’t care.

Just do it before they make IRON MAN 3.

Surviving the coming zombie apocalypse

survival meme mad max pirate

Are you prepared?

The zombies hordes are coming. It’s just a matter of time. Maybe not today, though it is Halloween. It could happen next month, when some egomaniac scientist at a giant pharmaceutical company creates a retro-virus that cures cancer, and death, with the little side effect of turning you into the walking dead.

Preparing for the zombie apocalypse can be fun and useful. Having a stockpile of basics like food, water filters and ammunition will serve you well if (a) giant asteroids smash into Australia and turn the planet into a snowglobe, (b) some idiot dictator decides to start playing global thermonuclear war or (c) the bird flu makes sweet love to the swine flu and turns into the 99 Percent of People on Earth are Dead Flu.

(Click over here to read Zombie movies are NOT standard horror movies. Then come on back for more deep, intellectual pondering of zombie flicks.) Continue reading “Surviving the coming zombie apocalypse”