Category Archives: Sci-Fi

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Proelium Veritas by John Murphy – a Review

Vaughn Killian had risen to the top of the candidate class for Black Saber by the end of the first novel in the series. Now he’s ready to graduate…but the Brass isn’t happy with him.

Even in an elite unit like this, there’s an emphasis on by-the-book procedures. Killian is more of a field soldier–hands-on, seat of the pants. While that’s the kind of guy you want in combat, maybe he takes it a bit too far. And it turns out his instinctive warrior ways have backfired on him: because of his disregard for regulations, he’s being held back as cadre to train other candidates while his classmates get deployed. This is the last thing he wanted.

Nonetheless, he’s about to see action anyway. It seems the Carthenogans have somehow discovered the location of Black Saber’s secret training facility, and have dispatched a force of barbaric neandergrunts to capture some personnel and wipe out the rest.

With this second book, the storyline becomes increasingly complex. Murphy bounces around an ensemble cast to weave espionage, political intrigue, combat, and personal drama into the narrative. By book’s end, it’s still a mystery how some of these plot threads will tie together…and where all they will take us before they do. However it all weaves together in the third novel (???), it’s shaping up to be something huge.

It’s probably impossible for any author to write something I can’t nitpick in some way (myself included). But my biggest complaint here has to do with storytelling technique. Specifically: the cliffhanger ending. I think some plot elements could have been tied up a little better…there could have been a bit stronger sense of resolution…and likely we’d still want to read the next book. As is, it kind of feels like a much longer novel that was cut in half.

You may have read military sci-fi with similar elements before (Ender’s Game is one that comes to mind), but chances are you haven’t read a series with as much going on as this one.

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Proelium Veritas by John Murphy

The sequel to Mission Veritas is finally out. I haven’t yet had a chance to start this dystopian military sci-fi novel (my categorization–not necessarily the author’s), but will post a review once I’ve consumed it. Meanwhile, here’s the skinny:

 

Vaughn Killian knows two things: what brutal combat is really like, and that the Carthenogens are anything but benevolent.

The good news is he’s completed the elite Black Saber training and is ready to deploy. The bad news is he’s being held back from assignment due to a technicality. When disaster strikes, he helps plan a counterattack, only to wind up adrift in space, stranded half a galaxy away from Earth, where his skills are needed most.

The people of Earth are still under the Carthenogens’ utopian delusion. The Global Alliance does their bidding, carving up city after city in a grand relocation plan, but most relocated people never arrive. Instead, they’re disappearing somewhere by the interstellar boatload. But the media mentions none of that. The population is kept in the dark, and the only ones who can stop them are all but vanquished. How can one isolated fighter help his fellow citizens from the cold vacuum of space?

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Decoding the Divergent Series

Hollywood directors have been sneaking messages into movies for a long time. Two of the most talented ever were John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock. The former was obsessed with the taming of the wilderness and the establishment of civilization, framing his themes and character subtexts according to his Catholic worldview. The latter obsessed over guilt, whether caused by deed or thought.

Now why would Hitchcock have Bruno's feet so prominent in the frame?
Now why would Hitchcock have Bruno’s feet so prominent in the frame?

Both directors used visual semeiology to insert subplots and character arcs which contrasted, yet harmonized, with the main plot followed by the casual viewer. They were usually subtle enough that most people were never even aware of the additional narratives taking place in subtext.  And despite the typical socialistic leanings (Ford was a staunch New-Dealer), the subtexts in their films were rarely political in nature–especially compared to current entertainment.

Ethan Edwards, the permanent outcast and vanishing wild man.
Ethan Edwards, the permanent outcast and vanishing wild man.

Film makers today are not nearly as clever or capable, but they are predictably political–and so heavy-handed that most people have little trouble recognizing how Homowood is pushing The Narrative.

There are a couple themes slithering around beneath the surface in the first two films of the Divergent series. It is a little more subtle than the average Narrative Push…enough so that I feel compelled to point it out.

Deep State Apologetics:

(In the world of the Divergent Series, some vaguely-conceived war has caused humanity (at least in Chicago) to segregate according to personality type in order to avoid future conflicts. Yeah, I know. Anyway, the personalities are grouped as follows: Candor [the brutally honest]; Abnegation [the "selfless"]; Amity [the pacifistic flower children]; Erudite [the intellectual/high IQ set]; and Dauntless [the sheepdogs--soldiers and police]. )

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Specifics are in short supply, but the rubes and proles blame the government (controled by Abnegation) for some obscure failure to govern correctly. But Abnegation is a community of selfless, competent administrators who are actually doing a bang-up job and don’t deserve criticism.

Opportunistic manipulators among Erudite are plotting a coup, taking advantage of the proles’ discontent and assuming themselves to be better qualified to lead.

Get the idea? The de facto ruling class is competently herding us through a series of progressive steps toward Utopia, but the ungrateful rubes in Flyover Country are upset about confiscatory taxes; industry-crushing regulations; the invasion through our open borders; massive election fraud; treason from the highest offices; infringement of our inalienable rights, etc. Hence we wrongly resent our betters. Conniving intellectuals are fanning the flames, drawing attention to the habitual idiocy of the ruling class. Presumably these are figureheads in the alternative media, plus a few political rogues like Ron Paul and Neil Gorsuch.

The surprising aspect is that (covertly, anyway), the architects of this series acknowledge the intelligence of their enemies. After all, the most influential critics of the Deep State can figure out that in secure government emails, a “C” stands for “Classified,” and that Congress should read a bill to know what’s in it BEFORE passing it into law. Unfortunately for the likes of Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, they’ve found themselves in a contest of wits…and are unarmed.

THE TRANSGENDER SUBTEXT:

The world of this series is stiffly organized into factions, according to the personality types listed above. However, certain rare individuals can’t be funneled into rigid categories according to such narrow-minded cisnorms. They are called “divergent”–get it?

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The soon-to-be amazon superninja and main character, Beatrice, starts out very feminine by today’s standards in the West. But she chooses to join the Dauntless (no doubt she, and the author of the fiction series, are Secret Warrior Queens deep inside their oppressed ids), and soon sheds her dress for Emo pants and vest (sometimes a black wife-beater/muscle shirt). She also changes her too-feminine name to the androgynous “Tris” moniker as she is gradually empowered by combat training. (Well, at least she, unlike the amazon superninja in the latest Star Wars abominations, had to actually train before becoming the Greatest Badass in the Galaxy.) Toward the beginning of the second movie, Insurgent, for no obvious reason, Tris cuts off her hair. The actress already had the masculine frame that is supposedly sexy for modern women, and the butch haircut is the final touch that visually transforms her into a boyish other.

This is not an exhaustive analysis–there is more evidence to examine for those who are interested. The third film (Allegiant) takes a turn into another thematic reinforcement of The Narrative.

But maybe I’m wrong. After all, messages like these are so antithetical to what the cultural svengalis want and believe.

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Marvel Comics Regains its Senses?

Probably not. This is more likely economic reality putting the temporary kibosh on their agenda.

Comic book fans are among the most loyal fans. Few things run them off of their favorite books. For some reason, Marvel decided to do three of the most likely things to cost them fans: remove their favorite characters, tarnish the histories of those characters, and insult the fans who complained. The latter proved most insidious because the insults accused fans of racism, sexism, homophobia, and bizarrely resorted to stereotypes about comic book fans.

As Marvel did this, their new politically correct fan base proved not to be fans at all. As Marvel published book after pandering book, the books enjoyed initial high or good sales only to drop most of their audience within the first quarter. The prime example of this is the recent Black Panther book, which lost 70% of its audience in one month.

As far as I’m concerned, they have permanently lost me as a reader. Both DC and Marvel have gone too far off the deep end to ever get me back. They may dial it down a little bit for a while but I don’t believe for a second that they’re going to abandon trying to push The Narrative.

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Timeless – A Review

While watching NASCAR (almost the only TV viewing I still practice) I saw the preview for this new series. Being a sucker for time-travel tales, I decided to give the pilot episode a try against my better judgment.

The premise of this first episode is that some bad guys hijack a time machine and go back to the Hindenburg disaster to alter history for their own nefarious purposes. A trio of good guys are assembled to go back after them and stop said nefarious plan. Chaos ensues, the prime Directive is violated (for those of you who speak Trekkie), and history is altered anyway, though the bad guys are kinda’ thwarted, to an extent. And as a result…okay, I’ll stop with the spoilers.

The trio of good guys consists of a female historian, a black engineer, and a white delta force veteran. I know what some of you are thinking, but at least there is a variation from the standard SJW Narrative right there: they did not choose to insert the ubiquitous amazon superninja into the role of the “combat specialist.”

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Well and good, but the Delta veteran, on this very first assignment, lets his emotions jeopardize the mission. You would think somebody who made it into Delta, and survived it, would have a whole lot more discipline than this guy, but you can only expect so much from Hollywood.

The other elements of the series are more predictable. I don’t buy any plot line in which the Department of Fatherland Homeland Security are the good guys, or have any altruistic motives whatsoever. Yeah, there may be some “good people” working in the Alphabets, including the DHS, just as I’m sure there were “good people” in the Wermacht and the Red Army.

What would offend “alt right” bloggers the most is that the super-secret techno-creative team who designed and built the time machines seems to be staffed exclusively by women and minorities. Because, you know, there are no white male scientists (rather, they are ‘over-represented in the real world, so the Television Fantasy Factory must compensate).

And more obligatory Race Narrative: the black engineer spews commentary about how racist America is and always has been. (That must explain why he’s an engineer instead of a janitor; why the US fought a war that freed the slaves; and why so many Africans have and still come to the USA of their own free will.)

The most nauseating item, for me, is when the historian speculates about the motives of the bad guys: something to the effect that “they want to destroy America in its infancy.”

How very telling. The America I know was born in 1776 and organized as a constitutional republic where government’s purpose is to protect the inalienable rights of the people. The America they believe in was evidently born during the New Deal. ‘Nuff said.

Next.

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The Man in the High Castle

Alternate history is a genre full of potential. Unfortunately, the concepts are usually more interesting than their execution in film or fiction.

In a world…

…Where the Axis Powers won WWII, a resistance movement sparks to life in 1962.

Now that you’re hooked with that brilliant high-concept pitch, some expository details:

  • America lost the Second World War in 1952.
  • Nazi Germany got The Bomb first, evidently, and used it to force surrender.
  • Hitler is still in power, but his health is failing.
  • Goering and Goebels (maybe Himmler, too) are jockeying into position to succeed Adolf.
  • The Eastern US is a puppet German state; the western US is occupied by Imperial Japan.
  • In the middle is “neutral territory.”
  • The reason for that neutrality, how it is maintained, and what it means exactly, is not completely clear as of Episode 3.

I see no reason to continue watching after the third episode. In fact, I pretty much knew all I needed to know 15 minutes into Episode 1. Well, probably upon reading the Amazon Prime blurb. But I’m always hoping to be surprised (and am, once in a while), so I clicked on “play.” I kept it playing for three episodes because I had paperwork to do and couldn’t find much that looked better.

There’s really nothing new here. Every part of the story so far, subtly or not-so-subtly, faithfully follows the cultural Marxist playbook. Listing quibbles would be a tedious task. Let’s cut to the Groundbreaking Plot Device:

Wanna know what motivates the resistance movement against the JapaNazis? You might suppose it would have something to do with the twofold reign of terror and a yearning for the freedom that was lost.

You’d be wrong.

See, this “Man in the High Castle” is making propaganda films. (No narcissism in Hollywood. Nope, not one smidgeon of evidence of self-importance.) These films are smuggled through underground networks, and depict an “alternate” outcome of the war, where the Good Guys won. (You know, the one we in this reality believe in.)

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Without these films, Americans are unable to imagine a different course of history from the one they’ve traveled. But now, thanks to being spoon-fed what could have happened differently, it’s time to throw off the shackles of their Axis oppressors!

By watching movies.

Well, there is one act of defiance you might expect from a resistance movement…an extremely incompetent one doomed to fail, that is: an ambush of two quislings in a limousine. Despite complete surprise and a crossfire with automatic weapons (Thompsons, I think, though I wasn’t watching closely) one SS officer armed with a Luger emerges from the kill zone unscathed and takes out all 4-5 ambushers.

(Maybe the scene betrays the director’s closet belief in Aryan Supremacy?)

kinopoisk.ruIt’s a mystery how such silly storytelling can be delivered with a straight face. Perhaps the artistic geniuses behind this series assume an alternate history movie (again, not one iota of painfully obvious self-aggrandizement, here) is revolutionary because they don’t know what life is like outside their leftist echo chamber. In Hollywood (the capitol of Social Justice Propaganda) anyone who dares challenge The Narrative is apprehended by the Thought Police and summarily character assassinated…which means this plot is an example of one of the three Laws of the SJWs: they always project.

In fact, peel away some of the semantic/visual disguises, and this series paints a dystopian portrait of the fundamental transformation to be wrought on America within a few years (but already underway in the Obamanation).

You know–aside from the quibble that the USA they aspire to will not enjoy any prosperity similar to the actual America of 1962.

Truck Stop Earth by Michael A. Armstrong

A Guest Post by Jim Morris

The most important thing to know about this book is that it’s fun. It is, in fact the most fun I’ve had reading a book in a long time. Other books have perhaps explored more profound emotions but if you want to spend a few hours alternating between a grin, a rolling chuckle, and laughing out loud you probably won’t do better with anything contemporary.

What we have here is the memoir of a screaming nutjob, as told to author Michael A. Armstrong. The nutjob in question, James Ignatius Malachi Obediah Osborn is a multiple alien abductee, fierce fighter in the Resistance movement against the Alien Occupying Government. He can spot ‘em among the general population, because he knows their disguise tricks. Or maybe he’s just nuts, hard to say.

That’s where a lot of the tension in the story comes from. Some of what he believes is pretty convincing. Some of it just seems Loony Tunes.

After a scary encounter with the grays in Florida Jimmo heads for Alaska where the adventure continues. Aside from maybe being nuts Jimmo is a pretty competent fellow who can find work and do it well, fighting fires while fending off alien attacks.

He purports to be a spec ops veteran of Desert Storm, although while others were defeating Saddam he was further out in the desert, hunting grays with Delta Force. Thing is, he still talks the talk right. The guy has definitely been somewhere and done something.

Another thing this books does well is present the society of adventurous spirits who have absconded to Alaska as the last frontier where you can get a decent latte. A more brave and gaudy collection of tatted, pierced and bizarrely coifed expats can hardly be imagined. And, to paraphrase Ronnie Hawkins, Jimmo gets more trim than Frank Sinatra.

Warning: if you have a problem with people who unabashedly talk nasty, well, maybe you should read Jane Austen instead.

Michael A. Armstrong was born in Virginia, raised in Florida, and has lived in Alaska since 1979. He graduated from New College of Florida, and received a master of fine arts in writing from the University of Alaska Anchorage; his master’s thesis, PRAK, was published by Warner Books/Questar as After the Zap. Armstrong has published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Asimov’s, and Analog, as well as numerous anthologies. A writer in the Janet Morris Heroes In Hell series, he most recently was published in Lawyers in Hell.
He now lives in Homer, Alaska.

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High Couch of Silistra by Janet Morris

Guest Post by Jim Morris

High Couch is a classic. It is also, so far as I know, sui generis. In a long life of writing and editing in which I have written nine books, edited more than two hundred and read thousands I do not know of another book like it, not even remotely. On one level it is an exciting sci-fi adventure. On another it is a sword and sorcery epic, and on yet a third it answers Freud’s famous question, “What do women want?”

A brilliant woman has decided to give the game away, and guess what? Feminists have attacked her for it.

The writing style is heroic, but readable and fun. The characters are recognizable, the plot is satisfying, and the world it creates is like nothing you have seen before, but is still believable. It also contains what I consider the most erotic single sentence in all the thousands of books I have read:

“Flesh toy, come here!”

If that doesn’t set up a scene in your mind then you have no business reading fiction.

I’m not going to give the plot away. I’m just going to recommend it. Highly.

Janet Morris began writing in 1976 and has since published more than 30 novels, many co-authored with her husband Chris or others. She has contributed short fiction to the shared universe fantasy series Thieves World, in which she created the Sacred Band of Stepsons, a mythical unit of ancient fighters modeled on the Sacred Band of Thebes. She created, orchestrated, and edited the fantasy series Heroes in Hell, writing stories for the series as well as co-writing the related novel, The Little Helliad, with Chris Morris. She wrote the bestselling Silistra Quartet in the 1970s, including High Couch of Silistra, The Golden Sword, Wind from the Abyss, and The Carnelian Throne.

This quartet had more than four million copies in Bantam print alone, and was translated into German, French, Italian, Russian and other languages.

In the 1980s, Baen Books released a second edition. The third edition is the Author’s Cut edition, newly revised by the author for Perseid Press.

The IX by Andrew P. Weston

Guest Post by Jim Morris

The IX is the most inventive science fiction novel I have read since Stranger In a Strange Land. That’s saying a lot. The plot is highly complicated, and yet so clearly and gracefully written that it is easy to follow.

In the far future in a galaxy far far away the Arden are besieged by the Horde and though it will take a long time it is clear that their defenses will eventually crumble and they will be destroyed … unless.

The Ardenese, in an act of creative self-immolation sacrifice their lives to save their DNA, in hopes that someone will eventually reseed the planet with its original inhabitants. Their lead computer, The Architect, also recruits defenders through time and space, specially selected for qualities that are not apparent to the Ardenese, from a far off planet called Earth. They snatch great fighters from different eras just before they were about to die anyway. So they’re thrown into a probable suicide mission with their bonus time.

There are problems integrating fighters who were snatched in the act of trying to kill each other, and from far different times, the IX Legion of Rome and Scottish tribesmen, the US Cavalry and Indian tribes, and 22d Century Royal Marine Commandos and terrorists, all welded into an integrated force.

The ending is to wildly inventive and too brilliant to give away here. Suffice it to say I ended the book with tears in my eyes.

Andrew P. Weston is a Royal Marine and Police veteran from the UK who now lives on thel Greek island of Kos. An astronomy and law graduate, he is the creator of the bestsellers The IX, and Hell Bound, (a novel forming part of Janet Morris’ critically acclaimed Heroes in Hell universe). Weston is also a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the British Fantasy Society, and the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers.

When not working he devotes spare time to assisting NASA with two of their remote research projects, and writes educational articles for Astronaut.com and Amazing Stories. He has also been known to do favors for friends, using his Royal Marine Commando skills.

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Batman Vs. Superman is a Mixed-Bag Epic

And I do mean “epic” in the classic sense. The Lex Luthor character (more on him later) can’t stop reminding us that Superman is a god; that he must battle against man; and Lex makes repeated references to Greek mythology that must have also been on the minds of Siegel and Schuster when they dreamed up their “super-man” some 80 years ago.

By the end of the movie, the last son of Krypton does prove himself to be a Messiah figure of sorts…again.

Mythology was certainly on Frank Miller’s mind some 30 years ago when he set about changing the Batman mythos forever. Big-screen Batman adaptations have paid homage to The Dark Knight Returns since 1989. But none more than this one. The showdown between the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader was ripped almost directly from Miller’s mini-series. Both the catalyst and the result were different, and the Batman was determined to win this time (rather than intentionally taking a dive and faking his own death as in Miller’s yarn).

Retro Batman costume on the left; powered armor on the right which he wore to battle Superman in this movie and in Dark Knight Returns.
Retro Batman costume on the left; powered armor on the right which he wore to battle Superman in this movie and in Dark Knight Returns.

Also, having been something of a superhero afficionado up until the time of Dark Knight Returns, I am pretty confident that Miller was the first one to overtly depict Superman as an earth-bound god.

Dawn of Justice is a symphony of spectacular destruction with a lot going for it. First of all, as desperate as they must be to duplicate the success of their rival, DC did not cut-and-paste the Marvel Studios formula and insert their own characters. I was a little worried that a Justice League flick might be a thinly-veiled Avengers clone (and the next one might very well prove to be), so kudos to DC for telling their own story about their three all-time most stalwart characters.

Second, although there were smatterings of action along the way, the director opted for a slow, tense build toward the epic finale. It reminds me somewhat of how Akira Kurosawa paced some of my favorite samurai films, driving viewers to the edge of their seats, begging for an explosive, violent extravaganza to settle the conflict. (And boy, this movie delivers, with the stunning visuals and rip-snorting special effects comic book fans want in a film adaptation, but were simply not possible technologically until relatively recently.)

galgadotMy reaction to the casting leans positive. Superman/Clark Kent was portrayed well–it’s a darker, edgier Superman than the historical model, but the actor pulls it off adequately. His physical movements do seem a bit stiff, however. The actress who plays Wonder Woman/Diana Prince also did quite well, though she is such exquisite eye candy that her acting is something of an afterthought to a red-blooded heterosexual male. I have a lot to say about her (the character, more than the actress) that I’ll probably reserve for a seperate post. And the hot topic ever since casting was first announced, of course, is Batman/Bruce Wayne. It’s really not as bad as some might fear. I would have preferred someone other than Michael Keaton in 1989; and I would have preferred someone other than Ben Affleck in 2016. However, Affleck did OK. He was much less situationally aware (especially during fight scenes) than the Batman of comic book canon…but really, all the screen versions of the character have been.

I already mentioned that the tension builds quite nicely to the climax; but the plot is not without its weaknesses. The whole thing seems like a forced contrivance if you examine it too closely. And the flashbacks/dreams/visions were a touch overdone–with the Batman, particularly. Superman does undertake a successful vision quest in the midst of the film, which I would have appreciated more, had I not already been overexposed to the unnecessary (and at one point, confusing) visions/nightmares/flashbacks of Bruce Wayne.batmanvssuperman

There were some impediments to the suspension of disbelief. For instance: if nuclear weapons work differently in this alternate universe (where masked vigilantes and “meta-humans” exist) than they do in our universe, then that should really be established beforehand.

Every director wants to put his/her “own stamp” on the material s/he’s adapting, and this movie was no exception. This is unfortunate with regards to two characters in particular.

ALFRED: Certainly the character has evolved. Again, the first and biggest step may have been in Miller’s mini-series when he revealed that the Wayne’s butler was a “combat medic” who apparently was a Wayne household staple all Bruce’s life, instead of coming on the scene after the war on crime began and discovering Bruce’s nocturnal activities later. The Gotham TV show took it another step by making Alfred a former British Commando who teaches young Bruce how to fight. And this movie picks up from there, basically turning Alfred into Batman’s command center, and at times the brains of the operation. Yawn. Maybe the transformation of Alfred into Jarvis will be completed in the next character reboot and he’ll simply be an artificial intelligence in the Batcomputer with a British accent. Neither comic book writers nor Hollywood directors ever tire of fixing what’s not broken.

MARK ZUCKERBERG I mean LEX LUTHOR: I’m not sure if the actor was trying to channel Heath Ledger’s Joker performance or Jim Carey’s abysmal Riddler interpretation. Whatever he was going for, it was lame. Luthor has historically been an evil genius, and that is how the character works best. Some left-wing “visionary” in the 1980s turned him into an evil capitalist caraciture from Karl Marx’s dystopian fantasies, and over time the criminal genius aspect of the character has been forgotten. With this movie the next step has been forced in his devolution, so that now he is an evil capitalist LUNATIC with an abusive father, tortured childhood, blah blah blah. Certainly there are supervillains which this cliche fits. Lex Luthor is not one of them.

Oh yeah: there’s also another bad choice in this category.

SOME SENATOR WITH A WEIRD VOICE: A character made necessary only by an unnecessary subplot that was tacked on and is redundant of the Batman’s motive for opposing Superman. She’s a Democrat who is the opposite of any real-life Democrat (she’s concerned about individual rights, Constitutional limitations on power, etc.) but exactly the image Democrats attempt to portray to the gullible electorate. And the masquerade usually succeeds, with the abettment of the press, academia and pop culture (including/especially Hollywood).

There’s a lot more I could say about Dawn of Justice, but this should be enough information for you to decide whether it’s worth the time and ticket price. Wonder Woman will get her own post.