“Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS” by Joby Warrick

51Z+J9RvZJL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_For most of my adult life, the United States has been at war against radical jihadist groups. On September 11, 2001, I remember watching as smoke rose from the Pentagon. Initially, our response seemed clear: wipe out Al-Qaeda. However, 14 years later, not only does Al-Qaeda remain at large (although Osama bin Laden is thankfully dead), but jihadism has engulfed entire states in the Middle East.

When the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) captured the Iraqi city of Mosul last June, it took many by surprise. This was Islamic radicalism, but not quite the same as Al-Qaeda. Whereas bin Laden had already become infamous before the 9/11 attacks, most Americans knew nothing about ISIS.

Continue reading ““Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS” by Joby Warrick”


“Armada” by Ernest Cline


I recently wrote a review of Ernest Cline’s Armada for Mythgard Academy’s blog (available here). I am reprinting here as it is in many ways a companion piece to The Last Starfighter

In 2011, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (which I reviewed here) became a bestseller by capturing the gestalt of geek culture. For a generation that grew up during the 1980s and is rapidly approaching middle age (myself included), the book felt like a tribute to our collective nostalgia. In that book, teenager Wade Watts competes in an online video game by using trivia of 1980s pop culture to unlock hidden keys. Cline’s most recent book, Armada, is not a direct sequel to Ready Player One, but instead serves as a spiritual companion. If Ready Player One was “about” 1980s movies and video games, Armada attempts to recreate the archetypal 1980s sci-fi story in novel form. Continue reading ““Armada” by Ernest Cline”

“The Last Starfighter”

the-last-starfighter-posterI’d heard about The Last Starfighter for years, but always from people who claimed it merely copied Star Wars. During the 1980s, many studios tried to imitate the Star Wars phenomenon. Paramount pulled Star Trek out of mothballs so it could have its own sci-fi franchise. Universal’s Battlestar Galactica was embroiled in lawsuits with 20th Century Fox over copyright infringement (not surprising given that Universal hired key members of the Star Wars production team). Dozens of other copycat space adventure films from that era have faded into obscurity. Continue reading ““The Last Starfighter””

Legendarium Media: Star Wars as Pulp

In Mythgard’s The Force of Star Wars class, we’ve talked quite a bit about the influence of the 1930s Flash Gordon serials on the Star War saga. Although Star Wars (especially A New Hope) falls into this tradition of pulp space opera, it isn’t limited to that genre. Indeed, in my latest piece for Legendarium Media, I argue that the Star Wars tie-in novels moved Star Wars away from pulp and explored other literary genres, such as military sci-fi, horror, etc.


“The President and the Apprentice” by Irwin F. Gellman

51FvQHtkpNL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_History is storytelling that relates to people, places, and events that actually existed at one point in time. Yet, history is still storytelling, so our understanding of history very much depends on who tells the story and why. This means that some stories we had once accepted as history turn out to be as fictional as Star Wars or The Hobbit as we learn more and hear new stories.

The Eisenhower administration (1953-1960) has had its share of stories and histories. After he left office, most historians and much of the public viewed Eisenhower as a kindly but ineffective president (when he wasn’t playing golf). In the early 1980s, Fred Greenstein’s The Hidden Hand Presidency rewrote the narrative by showing that Eisenhower took a very active role in government, but preferred to keep policy deliberations out of the public eye. Eisenhower plotted the downfall of Senator McCarthy and passed the first civil rights bill since Reconstruction, but deliberately downplayed or hid his involvement. Continue reading ““The President and the Apprentice” by Irwin F. Gellman”

Star Wars & Tie-in Media

MickeyVaderI’ve always been fascinated by the cinematic storytelling. What we see on screen represents a compromise behind the artists (director, writer, etc.) and the studio financing and distributing the film. George Lucas and Star Wars dramatically changed this relationship, allowing producers and marketing departments to become more involved in the creative process. In my latest article for Legendarium Media, I look at the Star Wars Expanded Universe as an example of how tie-in media affects storytelling. By producing so much tie-in media, companies complicate authorship and the ability to craft a single narrative. You can read the article here.