Sunday, November 23, 2008

Notes on Kim Stanley Robinson's Forty Signs of Rain

I just finished reading Kim Stanley Robinson's Forty Signs of Rain, which is the first book in the Science in the Capitol series. It's really first rate science-fiction in the sense that I sometimes lament seems to be less popular, nowadays. The post-cyberpunk authors, and the new wave of space opera authors, don't seem to have a lot of interest in addressing problems in the world. Well, anyone who knows Robinson's work knows that he doesn't have that problem, but Forty Signs of Rain is about one of the most fascinating, and largely undocumented, parts of science - how political policy commands science.

The normal narrative of science is that scientists are largely free to follow their own interests. That's absolute nonsense. Science takes money to do, often huge amounts of it. Almost all of this money comes from the government - particularly the National Science Foundation and DARPA. (The distinction between the NSF and DARPA is wholly bookkeeping - they work together and for the same purposes, mostly.) The brute facts of it is that unless a scientist can convince a Washington bureaucrat to give them money, science doesn't get done. And another brute fact is that all government funding organizations have an agenda - both the NSF and DARPA were created to fund science that is useful in national defense. This is the reason why quantum physicists get billions to build particle accelerators while astrophysicists are often broke - the electronics and nuclear angles of quantum physics is seen as being better for national defense than relativity despite the theoretical strength of relativity (which largely exceeds quantum physics). As a result, government bureaucrats basically get to decide what the truth is - by funding some elements of science and neglecting others they're instrumental in creating scientific truth, in deciding what scientific truth is.

Robinson's book is the only sci-fi book I can think of that addresses the intersection between science and the government. Even tho' he doesn't really talk about DARPA and how the NSF and DARPA work together to fund projects - so far DARPA literally hasn't come up - the book talks about how science, well, gets screwed by the government that funds it. And how scientists are largely ignored by the government if the science flies in the face of government policy.

He also addresses how private science works and its effects on science, particularly in the form of biotechnology. He puts it out - that "private science" is basically anti-scientific. The ownership of scientific ideas is just bad for science, because for science to work there has to be huge amounts of openness.

He does this against the backdrop of global climate change (the most recurring theme in his work), which is where the science-fiction elements come in. He doesn't merely tell a story about the NSF and private science firms and their hijinx. He does what he does better than just about any other writer - he creates weather disasters that must be addressed. Forty Signs of Rain does not actually address them, that's for the later books in the series, obviously, so it's more accurate to say that Forty Signs of Rain is about how the government, despite overwhelming information and proof, is simply not moving to address climate change.

The book is inherently optimistic. One of the disasters that strikes is a flooded Washington, DC. Despite the book having been written in 2001, the scenes as described could be about New Orleans. As part of the science-fiction, however, he proposes that a disaster of such magnitude would actually motivate the government to do something about climate change. Well, maybe if it happened in Washington and not New Orleans it would have - but after having a largish American city all but wiped off the map the government was able to keep it's head in the sand about it.

Still, I find the book noteworthy because it attempts to address the intersection of science and government, and this intersection is absolutely vital to understand to understand how science gets used and misused in the United States. Almost all science is publicly funded, and the policymakers know next to nothing about science, and science operates on the command of people who are ignorant about science - indeed, usually science advisers are selected not for their knowledge of science but their adherence to existing policies about science. You know the sort, the Bush administration officials who have manipulated the science about evolution and the climate to push the conservative anti-science agenda, where any science that flies in the face of their religion or business model is torn down.

Beyond that, it really made me wonder why academics don't go into politics. Not just scientists, either, but also liberal arts professionals. You can be a lawyer, accountant or even an actor and be a big shot in politics - but no writers, no scientists, no philosophers go into politics. It makes me curious as to why. I know some of it is that it's considered gauche for academics to go into politics - it interferes with the purity of their research. But, with science, there's nearly no part of public policy that isn't effected by science. It seems to me that politicians with real knowledge about how science works, what science can do and can't do, who understand the process in which science gets done, well, we'd want, as a community, for such people to get involved in politics. The same is roughly true of any academian - intelligent, well-educated people with knowledge that directly intersects public policy in a number of crucial ways. Yet, none of them seem to be interested in political office. Even Noam Chomsky, amongst the most political of scientists living, has never sought public office.

Some people think that Americans won't vote for someone that educated, that an academic will make them feel stupid by comparison and they'll avoid that. Well, a lot of people also thought that Indiana wouldn't ever go for Barack Obama because he was black. I think it's an insult to the intelligence of American people to think that we, generally, fear clever people. No, I think that a great number of us would be reassured by someone who actually knew what the hell he or she was saying!

So, that said, I call on Neil DeGrasse Tyson to step forward and become a politician. He's a well spoken science educator and physicist who can speak directly to lay audiences about complex scientific issues in comprehensive and informative ways without appearing to talk down to anyone. C'mon, Neil, what do you say?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Notes on Charles Stross' Accelerando

I just got done reading Accelerando by Charles Stross and I'm gonna talk about it! Since I actually like the book, I'm not going to give any spoilers. Or I think I won't.

It's a big, sprawling post-cyberpunk novel about three or so generations of post-humans. That's the big thing with modern science fiction writers - post-humans. Y'know, what's left of humanity after we've used biotechnology and cybernetics to move ourselves well past the limitations of our flesh, and the new sentient species that will develop in such an environment, AIs, uplifted animals, things like that.

The characters are generally interesting, if not always likable, and enough happens to keep a body interested. One of the problems a lot of science-fiction writers have is that characterization is often fairly irrelevant to the book, but Stross' characters are people and he spends a fair bit of time developing relationships in believable ways (albeit with technology that is nigh magical).

Stross' language is very high brow. I actually had to look up a couple of words, which is pretty rare for me at this stage of the game. Accelerando is also written in the present tense. This makes his language a fair bit pretentious - but it's mitigated by his generally straightforward grammatical structure. Yeah, he uses a lot of big words and everything is present tense, but otherwise his writing style is pretty tight which makes it readable - perhaps even a little good, at least the big words part, because it projects competence.

It is also a book that is about a lot of things and then, curiously, nothing much at all. This is, alas, a big problem with science-fiction.

First, the book is crammed with ideas. Part of the book addresses the Fermi paradox. One day some folks were talking about the possibility of superintelligent alien life and Enrico Fermi chimed in, "Then why haven't they come around for a visit?" It's a false paradox. It's superficially easy to imagine why superintelligent aliens haven't stopped by for a visit - the universe is a big place being at the top of the list. Others include, y'know, "They have, we just didn't notice it. Or we don't believe the people who have seen it." But it's something that, when projecting oneself into the future, mentally speaking, as a science-fiction writer must often done, sounds intriguing. Why haven't superintelligent aliens come by, lately?

The second big idea that he tackles is the idea of a technological singularity. It's simply a fact that the rate of technological development has skyrocketed in the past, say, couple hundred years. People who believe in a technological singularity believe that at some point the speed of technological advance will become so rapid and deep that it is impossible to really imagine what they'll be doing with it. (Whether or not this is true depends on a great deal; I, myself, don't know if it'll happen because I don't think we have enough information to meaningfully talk about it, but it's called science-fiction for a reason, right?) What will happen to people, to humans, if a singularity hits?

There's a lot of other stuff, too. Like . . . future shock! It goes on and on.

Second, the book is full of weirdness. Which I like. The future is likely to really weird. Cavemen wouldn't understand the least little bit about our society, and it's commonplace that barbarians do not understand advanced technical civilizations - you can see the future shock in Mongol armies faced with Chinese civilization in the 13th century. They didn't understand what the Chinese were doing, and it was seriously suggested that they kill all the peasants to lessen their profound future shock. So, it's probably impossible for a science-fiction writer to write something that's "too weird". Even if they get the details wrong, and they will of course, the weirdness will probably be about right.

Third, the book is full of superhuman intelligences. Indeed, it's full of vast, inscrutable intelligences.

So, what comes out of this? The book is frantically paced. Stross keeps hitting you with weirdness and ideas, interleaved with personal melodrama, and its easy to be staggered by it all.

But, in the end, I'm not sure that the book ended up being about anything at all. Sure, a lot of ideas were touched on, but at the same time about a trillion plot threads were still in the air. And, ultimately, despite being about these post-humans, while things were weird, Stross is trapped by being a human trying to imagine things smarter than he is - smarter than anyone is. Despite the weirdness, and despite assertions of futurism, the big ideas are actually all pretty modern - stuff like anarcho-capitalism, which has been a staple of science-fiction since the first days of the cyberpunk movement (and has its roots back in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, though at the time the term anarcho-capitalism didn't exist it's clearly what they've got on Luna). But, really, what could you expect? Stross is, himself, just a human, like the rest of us.

He also seems to lack the courage of his convictions. When you have transcendentally intelligent beings, described as being "weakly godlike", it's . . . absurd for the humans to even remotely guess what they're doing. The comparison is between a human's intelligence and a tapeworm's intelligence. I don't imagine that a tapeworm goes around accurately assessing what humans are doing, but some of that goes on, too, in Accelerando.

That said, the book is smart and has interesting characters. And while, perhaps, I'm a little less future shocked than many of my peers and find many of the ideas in the book passe - for crying out loud, try to imagine a future society that isn't anarcho-capitalism! - the book is going to provoke thought from anyone who has even a passing interest in futurism. So, if you're in for a weird future in a smartly written science-fiction book with strong, if not stellar, characterizations, you should take a look at Stross' Accelerando.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

In the future, there are zombies - notes on Dead Space

I just got done playing Dead Space on the PS3. Dead Space, for those of you who do not know, is a third person shooter video game from Electronic Arts that takes place, largely, on a mining ship whose crew have been turned into zombies. The main character - Isaac Clarke - goes around dismembering them with power tools. My favorite is the remote industrial saw.

First . . . Isaac Clarke? Sheesh. Neither Isaac Asimov nor Arthur Clarke wrote horror! I think a better name would have been H. P. Bradbury. Oh, well, they didn't ask me, hehe.

Second, the consistent message from video games is that the future will bring with it zombies. Be in Halo, Half-Life or Dead Space, it appears that zombies are our future. Who knew?

Third, to get to something resembling a review . . . Dead Space is Resident Evil 4 in space. No, really! If you liked RE4, you'll like Dead Space - and a lot of people liked Resident Evil 4 so I figure this game will be pretty popular. But just about everything is taken from RE4, except the setting. The character goes around at normal speed, or running, you can't fire like that - to fire, you have to get into your firing stance, raise your weapon, which all have laser sights to tell you where you're going to hit. With your weapon raised, you move and pan slowly and your field of vision narrows. So none of the run and spray tactics that most shooters have - you generally select a position, fire, and then run to a new position if you need to.

The horror in the game is . . . well, it's pretty typical. All horror shooters just really crank up the gore, they have moody music, and Dead Space isn't any different in that regard. The sound is good. All the weapons are jarring to use, loud and sudden.

The game - like I said, a clone of RE 4 in many ways - also has monsters jump out at you from all over. While it's true that startling isn't the same as horror, there's a reason so many horror movies startle their audiences. Dead Space is an almost constant series of startling events. Monsters are constantly jumping out, jumping down, popping out from behind you. Constantly.

For me, there was a little too much jumping out. The game is clearly designed for the "hard core" set.

An aside: the people with the greatest tolerance to stress out of all professions are professional video gamers. They handle stress better than air traffic controllers and trauma physicians. So, by inference, even non-professional hard core gamers are pretty inured to stress. They don't much feel it. Which is why hard core gamers will dig on the monsters jumping out at them - they aren't startled in particular.

I'm not hard core, so after a while it was a little . . . wearing. So wearing that I decided to finish the game on the easy setting because the game is quite good at making every moment feel like it might be your last. A little too good for me.

Also, like most games that are pure shooter, there gets to be a little monotony, which combined with the constant startling nature of the game, the constant need to have your character scan the environment for enemies - the fact that nowhere, not even rooms with save points in them, are really safe - can get slightly numbing. Something other than just shooting might have been nice.

Still, the game did have nice flourishes. They do have some interesting zero gravity things, jumping around from surface to surface - but even then, maybe especially then, it was an opportunity for zombies to come at you in new and interesting ways. You had even more possible places that they can come at you from. The game also offered a few puzzles, but they were a tiny fraction of the game. It's mostly a shooter.

The game also has an inventory system. You have to choose between healing resources and ammo. I wasn't thrilled with that, any more than I was thrilled with it in Resident Evil 4. I don't think detailed resource allocation is horrific. Or even interesting. Yes, it's unbelievable to be able to carry around fifteen weapons and a million rounds of ammo and a dozen health packs. But you know what else is not particular realistic? Zombies. Zombies are not realistic. Indeed, at this juncture, they're becoming a little trite.

The game is also attractive. It has a grim, blood-splattered, moodily lit sci-fi setting. The game is also claustrophobic, reminding me of Alien - which is probably what they were trying to go for.

And, lastly, and perhaps most amusingly, other than the message that in the future there will be zombies, the game also teaches that Scientology turns people into zombies. Oh, excuse me, Unitology. I was amused at the Scientology turns people into zombies angle.

All said and done, I give the game a B. It's a well-executed game, but to get a really high mark a shooter has to have more than shooting in it nowadays. Dead Space is a little too much one note, and the stress levels on the game are outrageous which might lend a horror aspect to it but makes the game draining.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Gears of War

I'm slow. Gears of War 2 comes out in a couple of days and I just finished Gears of War. I started to play it 18 months ago or so but it didn't capture me, then. It was . . . y'know, a shooter.

For me, game play is paramount and the shooter interface for Gears of War is real good. The characters move believably from cover to cover. But, in the end, it was just a shooter game. The game play was swiped almost entirely from kill.switch - a deeply mediocre game - and with all "tactical shooters" Gears of War suffers from a lack of variety. You kill something, you go to the next area and you kill s'more guys. There are a few cut scenes, but the characters are never developed and, even at the end, I wasn't sure what the hell I was doing or why I was doing it - other than, y'know, there was an ugly alien enemy whose genocide was the point of the game. I got that.

Am I the only person who finds the prevalence of genocide in these kinds of games disturbing? Just about every sci-fi shooter there is seems to incorporate genocide as the only legitimate end of the conflict! It's pretty disturbing, but that's the goal of Gears of War. Wipe out the ugly enemies.

There's one scene where you have to drive a vehicle. One. Makes me wonder why the bothered to put it in! And just when you think you might get to drive another vehicle . . . just another lame cut scene.

So, while the graphics were good, and the shooting interface was good, the game suffers - like many shooters - from monotony. Go down another corridor. Kill another horde of faceless enemies. Move on.

That kind of ethos is becoming increasingly rare, too. Most shooter games - such as the Halo and Half-Life 2 games - throw some vehicles into the mix. Halo and the Half-Life games also have something else that Gears of War almost entirely lacks: a story. Oh, sure, Halo's story is kind of de rigeur and contrived - evil aliens to destroy in an environment that's gonna blow at any second - but it's there. Half-Life 2's story is actually reasonably cool, and it has Alix and Dog and Alix and Dog are amongst the coolest video game characters ever. But who is Marcus Fenix and why should we care about him and his tiny headed friends? What is the world they're on and why are these guys coming out of the ground to kill them? Who fuckin' knows. I don't and I played the game.

Well, not all of the game. I decided that the final boss was just too annoying to beat. Maybe if I had any investment whatsoever in the characters, setting or outcome - which I read online and is deeply predictable - I would have slogged through to the end. The final boss in almost any video game is going to be annoyingly difficult, because most game designers mistake "difficult" for "interesting". Undoubtedly, many gamers, particularly those who identify as "hardcore", like hard games, much like marathoners like running 26 miles at a stretch. I'm a pretty casual gamer and I've long learned that any cut scene I want to see I can find on YouTube, so skipping the last, stupidly difficult fight that overturns any sense of verisimilitude for being "tactical" that might have been created in the previous play of the game - like, why would a cloud of bats stop machinegun fire? - is pretty easy for me.

So, all said and done, Gears of War is about a B-. It has some pretty good parts but overall it's not really a great game, and is only barely a good one.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Dungeons & Dragons 4th

I ran a session of D&D 4 yesterday, and some notes!

The game is with adapted characters from D&D 3.5. I only have two players in the game. In D&D 3.5, one of the characters was a complex sheet of three different character classes - two regular classes and a prestige class - and the second was a paladin with a prestige class. They got folded into her being a rogue and him being a paladin. There was some concern that they'd "feel different", but I don't think that's a big problem because now by "feel different" we really mean "much more interesting combat than they were". Which is all we did - combat, hehe. We had two, as I called them, "contextless combat encounters" so that when we played the game on normal adventure stuff they wouldn't be overwhelmed by the options that their characters presented. There are quite a few options, might I add. Heck, you can just go to the wiki and see for yourselves. Antarah's sheet, in particular, is "verbose". His word. :) The character sheets are pretty rugged but I've always felt a little dissatisfied with how pedestrian D&D characters feel in terms of natural ability and don't inflict it on my players - so they're probably about a level or maybe even two "better" than their actual levels suggest.

The first encounter was the sort of generalized, fairly disorganized encounter that is de rigeur for 80% or more of D&D encounters. Y'know. The characters come on the scene with an erratically placed group of monsters and they fight. In this case, two wyverns, an ettin marauder and a poison-eyed basilisk. What were they doing in a snowy field? Who cares. Contextless combat encounters, hehe. The encounter was a normal encounter for a group of players that size.

The second encounter was a couple levels lower, but it had characters in an entrenched position - down a corridor and up some stairs to a room. The stairs had been covered with rubble to slow the characters, and at the top of the stair there was a picket. And before the rubble there was a pit trap. Whackiness ensued.

The first fight they basically just rolled over. They crushed it. In playing D&D 4, that's been my experience with encounters of equal level - the PCs generally tear through them pretty easily. The rogue sneaks ahead, gets a surprise round, probably gets a couple of sneak attacks before anyone can freakin' move to carve out a big chunk of hit points from a foe, and they're already in a position to flank with the rest of the party. It was like a meat grinder.

The second fight, despite the encounter being two levels under the level of the PCs, by far proved the more challenging encounter (a couple of orc bloodrager brutes, two tiefling heretic artilleries with a couple of levels added on them and a foulspawn grue controller). They used up virtually every healing resources they had - all their encounter powers, all their daily healing powers, almost everything. And because the enemy were alert with sentinels and a tightly controlled initial environment, the rogue couldn't do any of her tricks. They had considerable difficulty getting past the pit - an NPC was captured in the pit for, like, three turns - and over the barricade. Even once they broke through, the melee was initially contained by the monster melee fighters. It was not a meat grinder. Indeed, if the monsters had been the same level as the player characters, it might have been a meat grinder in the other direction. Which was indeed sort of the point - I wanted to see how, y'know, intelligent enemies in a fortified position would do, but weak enough that the PCs would be almost assured victory.

We played the combat encounters on our laptops using MapTool 1.2 from RPTools. It's a free Java applet that allows me to make a map on my computer over here and then they can both connect to my computer and we can move tokens on that map, etc., completely replacing a traditional battlemat. And the Internet has allowed me to download roughly two hundred maps, too.

The players said they had fun, which is good. They both liked that their characters had a lot of "things to do". The powers for the various character classes also pretty strongly give themes to the classes. Adrienne said it, herself, "All a rogue's powers are so selfish." Whereas the paladin's powers aren't. They're all about helping allies, drawing fire and such.

From the GM's perspective, when going into D&D 4 I was deeply concerned because a lot of the monsters have been changed - esp. the high level ones - to remove a lot of their supernatural powers. Almost all spells and spell-like effects are just gone. But in play, I found I didn't care - when a monster has a laundry list of supernatural powers, well, you don't end up using most of them, after all. And for non-combat purposes there's always GM fiat! Rather than saying the monster used their charm person spell, I can say they charmed the person some other way. And the monsters are divided into roles that make it easy to build a "monster party" with the soldiers and brutes protecting the artillery and controllers. Additionally, adding in the concept for minions, elites and solo monsters provides even more utility and flexibility for the monsters.

This is where the game has been most obviously influenced by MMOs, too. Minions allow a GM to create trash mobs while elites and solo monsters allow one to create mini-bosses and bosses.

And I LOVE minions. They can be of any level, but they are dispatched by any successful attack executed by them. So you can finally have the king's elite guard be all 12th level fighters without all the burden that brought in previous games - like the rogues' being unable to incapacitate them in one blow, which made stealth-based games almost impossible. Guards rogues could kill in one blow wouldn't ever notice a rogue and if a guard saw a rogue, there was simply no real way for a rogue to stop that guard from alerting other people. But now a rogue can get spotted, and if they win init most of them can be removed in one quick strike. You can now sorta play, y'know, Sam Fisher characters, and everyone should know how I have a boy crush on Sam Fisher!

So, all in all, I think that - at least in terms of combat - D&D 4 is simply a clear and obvious improvement over D&D 3.5.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hot Wet Planet

Thanks to the beautiful people at Fandom Wank, I discovered this thread over at about a game called, ahem, Hot Wet Planet. It's pretty much as horrible as it sounds. Or as Darren MacLennen put it, "You can develop your writing skills by playing a dumb barbarian, a rape victim or a tentacle monster."

Here are two "attribute scores":

Attr = Attractiveness, beauty, appearance. It's chosen as -2, -1, +0. +1, +2, etc... It may not be more negative than a -2 for any player-character. +0 is normal, but still considered attractive by human standards. For female characters, Attr adds to Def when they are attacked with harmful intentions (such as somebody trying to kill them or injure them), but subtracts from Def when they are attacked with lustful intentions.

So, if you're a woman, being hot means that you can't be killed, but you can be raped.

HWPE = Hot Wet Planet Effect, which is an overall level of the Hot Wet Planet's mysterious energy influence upon the character. The higher the HWPE, also the higher the character's libido & constant arousal (more than exponentially increased for each level up), but also HWPE can add to Psi for "danger-sense", and makes it less likely that the character will be attacked for the purpose of becoming a meal. On the negative side, a higher HWPE makes it more difficult to resist the Hot Wet Planet's mental & emotional effects. A higher HWPE for the guys makes them more aggressive, domineering, sexist towards the girls, more likely to fight each other, etc... A higher HWPE for the girls makes them more submissive, more shy & easily embarrassed, a lot hornier & wetter (all the time), less able to cover themselves, and overwhelms their willpower to force them to flirt & sexually expose themselves - even when they don't want to, nor intend to - and magnifies pleasurable sensations. The mental & emotional effects can be countered by Det.

And some more game text!

In addition, some unidentifiable element of the environment is changing the survivors, eroticising them, making the females constantly horny yet more shy at the same time, more youthful, more like a guy's wet-dream fantasy, and removing all their body hair from their neck to their toes. The guys get bigger dicks, muscles, a penchant for crude violence, and that sort of thing, as if the planet was turning the men into barbarian warriors.

In the background, unknown at least at first to the Offworlder survivors, the planet's higher lifeforms have a simple mass-mind that is using it's powerful psionics to mentally influence and sometimes dominate the humans in lecherous ways, having it's strongest effect on the females (who gain the benefit of being occasionally protected, & subtly forewarned about real dangers); many of the younger (or younger appearing) women discover they are incapable of wearing underwear, or any kind of pants, or even anything more covering than an indecently short tunic or mini-dress...and the effect is becoming stronger with the passing of time.

Then there are the Tentacle Monsters to contend with....the size of a small car or as large as a house, in many shapes and forms, but always having phallic tentacles and a sexual obsession with humanoid females.

What more needs to be said? But, on dear lord in heaven in whom I don't believe, a great deal more is said. The author of this game is offended at people's offense, apparently living in a world where publicly discussing wanting to pretend to be a rapist tentacle monster is socially acceptable. Still, it's handled with the typical subtlety of trolling the person, flaming them, and then banning them, but, hey, it's That's why people go, I guess. But, yes, a great, great deal more is said.

This hobby is depraved, isn't it?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Planet Hulk and World War Hulk

I just got done reading the Planet Hulk and World War Hulk storyline. And . . . well, I've got some comments on it and the nature of heroism and villainy in Marvel comics.

First, in Planet Hulk - or at least in the Illuminati stuff that preceded it - Doctor Strange, Mister Fantastic, Iron Man and Black Bolt decide to take the Hulk and shoot him into outer space. The only person who objects is Namor.

OK, let's make this clear. None of these people had the right to do this. They kidnapped the Hulk. That's just the plain truth. Was he a danger? Oh, sure, some of the time, definitely. He also did a number of good things, too, and much of the bad he did was done under a variety of duress.

I believe the point they were trying to raise was . . . how do you handle power when the government can't do it. That's sort of the subtext of all superhero comics. The legal authorities can't handle things so superheroes, generally unaffiliated with the government, fill the gap. Y'know, the military can't handle Magneto so the X-Men come in and do that, or whatever.

However, traditionally, superheroes were very reactive and employed a minimum amount of force to handle the situation (and place the well-being of civilians above everything else). They don't do pre-emptive strikes. They went to great lengths not to kill anyone. They took extraordinary care to avoid civilian casualties. What I would say the traditionally accepted justification for this is the authorities would regard seeking out fights as vigilantism - but a citizen is allowed to act to save themselves and others in a crisis situation. Going out and finding Norman Osborn and beating him up before he does something wrong is vigilantism. Preventing him from blowing up the Thanksgiving Day Parade is just being a good citizen.

So, Fantastic, Black Bolt, Iron Man and Dr. Strange violated that precept. Furthermore, I mean, if you're gonna do something like that . . . the Hulk? Most of of the time, y'know, the Hulk is hitting the right person or acting in self-defense. We're not talking the Red Skull, here, but a nice guy in a horrible situation. What they did was kidnapping.

But it wasn't just kidnapping. To trick Bruce Banner - a very clever person - into being shot into space, they misappropriated an android of Nick Fury. I . . . I mean, uh, SHIELD is this big, important para-military organization in the MU. They impersonated an officer, they almost certainly broke a dozen security clearance issues, they misappropriated SHIELD resources - just this really big laundry list of security violations. The kind of stuff that would get a person prison time.

Or to break it down in a different way, what would be the reaction of heroes if Doctor Doom reprogrammed an android of Nick Fury in order to kidnap the Hulk and shoot him into outer space?

Or to break it down even further: Marvel decided to turn Strange, Black Bolt, Tony Stark and Reed Richards into villains. They violated a whole raft of laws to kidnap Bruce Banner and they shot him into space.

Then it goes wrong. I mean, not even blaming those four for what happened to the Hulk on Sakaar, it goes wrong and the Hulk comes back and destroys Manhattan in World War Hulk because he's pissed off at being shot into space.

Oh, sure, he doesn't kill anyone. He does kidnap people, torture them (obedience disks?!) and destroy a major American city in the process. Yeah, they were bad guys, but two wrongs don't make a right. STILL. We all know this.

So, they also decide that the Hulk needs to be a villain, too.

I wish people actually read this journal because I'd really like an answer to why Marvel seems bound and determined to turn virtually every "hero" in their universe into a villain? I mean, you've got Cyclops ordering torture and murder, you've got Professor X having been revealed to be doing cruel mental manipulation for decades - I mean, stuff like making Scott and Alex Summers forget that they had another brother kind of horrible mental rape (and, again, not even to someone it could be argued "deserved" it like, y'know, Sabertooth or Mystique, but doing it to hide the fact Xavier was responsible for their deaths). You've got "heroes" kidnapping people and shooting them into space, or putting people in indefinite lock-up in extradimensional prisons. I mean, is there a single major hero out there, as Marvel hero, who hasn't done things that simply can't be justified as being "heroic"? And why have they decided to turn so many of their marquee characters into bad guys? I'm not getting it.