Sunday, May 22, 2016

This Google Chrome App Blocks Trolls AND Their Followers

Internet harassment is a growing problem, especially for women. Unfortunately, it is often very difficult to deal with these characters legally owing to jurisdictional issues, lack of technical knowledge by law enforcement, etc. Since there are few consequences for death threats, rape threats, and general ugliness, people are more and more inclined to do it.

The antics of the #GamerGate mob are the most well-known (and seem to be the most prevalent), but there are also the so-called "Social Justice Warriors" and, more recently, vicious Trump supporters. For all the good social media does, it has allowed for a lot more ugly behavior too.

Well, thanks to Celeste Ng (who posted the original Tweet) and Daniel Abraham (who retweeted it), I learned about this Google Chrome app that can block both abusive troll-types AND their dog-piling followers. It's called Twitter Block Chain. If an Internet hate mob is coming after you, this will lock them out and you won't have to deal with their crap.

So if Internet pests are so taxing that you're tempted to stop speaking your mind, here's a chance to get rid of them. Although it won't protect against some forms of attack (like doxing), it keeps the verbal abuse and threats away.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A History Podcast You Might Enjoy...

My friend Tom strongly recommended I listen to podcasts to make my lengthy work commute tolerable. I'd only listened to a few podcasts before, but given how listening to writing-related podcasts when I'm half-asleep in the morning is rather wasteful (I risked not remembering useful advice), I soon found comedy podcasts like Myopia: Defend Your Childhood were the ticket.

My friends Jon and Nick recommended a history podcast called The Dollop, in which comedians Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds discuss American history. I started listening and soon I was hooked. The very best episode I've listened to so far is entitled "Disco Demolition Night" and describes this incident in Chicago in the late 1970s. It is absolutely, positively hilarious. Of particular interest is Steve Dahl, a radio DJ and current podcaster who organized the event and was willing to make parody songs about darn near anything, including serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

Another episode of interest is "The Jones County Deserters," who focuses on a group of white men from a largely anti-slavery county in Mississippi who deserted the Confederate army and became a band of Unionist guerrillas. This band was the topic of the book The Free State of Jones, whose movie adaptation comes out this summer. The episode "Oil Boomtowns of Texas" is full of useful information I might apply to later installments of my Wastelands novel series. I also liked the "Battle of Brisbane" podcast Anthony and Reynolds did live in Australia--seriously, the two of them went to Australia and did a podcast that seriously mocked Australian men during WWII. That takes guts.

I'm often not fond of the duo's politics (one of them is convinced Bush didn't actually win Ohio in 2004 and one or both of them mocked Cold War union opposition to Communism in the "Hard Hat Riot" episode, forgetting that Bolsheviks aren't fans of independent unions), but they do point out in the episode "The Racist Record-Keeping Of Virginia" how government gathering information on citizens can be abused even generations later. That's something to keep in mind, especially in the age of Trump.

In any event, they're both pretty darn funny and I recommend this podcast for those who like good comedy, who like history, etc.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Starship Troopers (1997)

For the podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood, we decided to watch the 1997 Paul Verhoeven film Starship Troopers, an adaptation of the Robert Heinlein novel. Nick had intended for the podcast to be split up between himself and Daniel, who loved the movie, and a friend of ours and I, who didn't like what Verhoeven did with the movie. Sufficient to say, real-life intervened, but we still managed to get four people on-panel. You can listen to the podcast here.

And now for the review...

The Plot

In the 23rd Century, humans have begun colonizing other worlds under the auspices of the Federation, a rather strict government in which the right to vote and other rights are dependent on serving in the military. The humans encounter another race, the insect-like Arachnids, and soon war breaks out. A group of friends from Buenos Aires--Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien), Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards), Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer), and Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris)--enlist in the military and soon join the fight.

The Good

*The movie has a great soundtrack. I was not allowed to see the movie in theaters when it came out, but I did get the soundtrack for Christmas this year. I particularly like Klendathu Drop.

*Although I complain mightily about Verhoeven mocking the book's ideas (at least some of my complaints might have been edited out at my request to avoid being too rant-y), the movie was far more faithful to the book than I remember. The novel starts out with Rico and his comrades dropping into battle before beginning his story in Buenos Aires and the film starts out with the rout on Klendathu before shifting "one year earlier" to Rico and his friends in high school. Also, Rico's dad is an egregious pill in the film, just like in the book, while his mother is more reasonable.

*There are some decent character arcs. Johnny begins the film as not really believing in the Federation's ideology of citizenship--his teacher even points out that he's repeating the textbook verbatim when he's asked what differentiates a citizen from a civilian--but by halfway through the film, when a character close to him dies, he's coming to believe in civic virtue, sacrifice, etc. wholeheartedly. Zander Barcalow (Patrick Muldoon), who starts out the film a rival for Carmen's affections and is kind of an a-hole, informs her that Johnny actually did survive Klendathu, gets both of them to safety during the attack on Planet P, and goes out defiant before nothing less than a tractor-trailer-sized swarm-leading Brain Bug.

*Some characterization is done very subtly. Dizzy has a crush on Rico from the beginning, which is exposited via some long glances and rather catty, high-school-girl type behavior toward his then-girlfriend Carmen. And we see shades of Barney from How I Met Your Mother in Carl when he dances with Dizzy when Johnny rejects her. For a gay guy, Mr. Harris is really good at playing heterosexual womanizers for some reason.

*The film has some well-done battle sequences. Although a lot of the film is rather dull (more on that later), the fight scenes aren't.

*One of the great writing maxims is, "Show, don't tell," and Verhoeven illustrates the ugly side of the Federation without explicitly saying "THIS IS BAD! THIS IS BAD!" A criminal is tried and sentenced to death far too fast for a proper investigation to take place (and I say this as a supporter of the death penalty) with the execution being televised for good measure, the government is obviously spinning a natural disaster to justify a war, one character openly admits she's serving so she can get permission to have children, there's some incredibly goofy propaganda involving children, etc.

*Verhoeven does retain the multinational/multiracial character of the Federation from the novel. In the book the protagonist is Filipino, he has Turkish and even Japanese comrades (the book wasn't written long after WWII so this is especially significant), etc. With a downright alien foe like the Bugs, prejudice-prone humans have a more other-y "Other" to hate on and stuff like racism, sexism, etc. seem really petty. The film's main cast is entirely too Anglo for people who live in Buenos Aires, but there a fair number of background characters (fellow high-school students, various soldiers) who aren't white.

*Although in the book the Bugs had roughly the same technology humans had, including energy weapons, the Bug designs are generally pretty cool. I especially liked the warrior bugs with their coloration and sharp edges. Slap some laser cannons on them and they'd be perfect. I'm glad the television series Starship Troopers: Roughnecks retained the design, even if they skipped out on the "Bugs have guns" stuff too.

*Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers in the post-WWII era and although the war saw women serving in military roles like the WACS, WAVES, etc. I don't think the idea of women in combat would have occurred to most Americans. Verhoeven depicts the sporty Dizzy Flores as a capable fighter and Carmen, despite not being a trained infantryman, can hold her own even while wounded. I'll give him points for that.

*The scene where the telepathic Carl prompts his ferret to harass his mother was pretty funny. So is a scene where Rico is handing Carmen dissected Bug organ after dissected Bug organ, oblivious to her growing disgust, until things get a little crazy.

*In one of the boot-camp scenes, one trainee questions why they're still training with knives. In the climax of the film, a knife comes in very handy. Chekov's Gun. :)

The Bad

*A lot of the film is really quite boring, especially the high-school and boot-camp sequences. I understand their importance for characterization, but they just were not that entertaining. And they took up a lot of the film.

*Xander is Carmen's flight instructor once she starts actually navigating capital ships, but he's around the same age as her and Johnny. He's explicitly depicted as being a football player for a rival school when Johnny and Carmen are seniors. If he were, say, the older brother of a friend of Carmen's who shipped out for the military some years before and is back in town on leave, that could explain Carmen's "man in uniform" attraction to him and how he's realistically that much more experienced.

*Carmen takes a wound that should either kill her or at least cripple the affected limb, but she's able to run around, fight, etc. not long afterward.

*It's generally a bad idea for a director who hates a book to do the adaptation. Verhoeven only read part of the novel and didn't like it. Don't take my word for it--check out the relevant Wikipedia section here. Verhoeven had his own vision--to satirize militarism, right-wing politics, etc--from the beginning and only shoved Starship Troopers in after pre-production began. He didn't like the message of the novel and deliberately mocked it by associating it with fascism, aggression, etc.

(No fascist book would pity "the poor bloody infantry" who are all that stand between home and "war's desolation" the way Heinlein's novel does. A fascist book would glorify death in battle, and the book does not. Heinlein and Verhoeven would agree that war is awful, but Heinlein would recognize that it's necessary sometimes and Verhoeven likely wouldn't. I can understand why Verhoeven would see all sides in a war as morally the same--he grew up during WWII seeing Dutch civilians killed by Allied air strikes against occupying German forces--but he had to totally warp Heinlein's Federation into a bunch of Nazis and then make them the aggressors against the Bugs in order for this to work.)

For my left-wing readers, I imagine if I produced a film adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale depicting the Republic of Gilead as a Christian utopia in which women are happy to be at home and out of the rat race, various minority groups are better off "in their place," the persecuted Quakers are dangerously naive idiots, and the Baptist guerrillas in the Appalachians and the "Libertheos" (I'm guessing some relation to Liberation Theology) fighting the regime are murderous war criminals who aren't really Christian at all. Fans would justifiably howl. That's how fans of Starship Troopers feel when faced with this "adaptation."

(For the record, I actually liked THMT, even though the idea that the U.S. military would overthrow the government to install a Christo-Taliban regime in which women are forbidden from reading and writing is ridiculous. It's well-written and far more nuanced than I'd expected when I started reading it. I still wouldn't be the best director for it, even if I wouldn't deliberately do a hatchet-job the way Verhoeven did.)

We need to move on, but I'll leave you with this criticism of the film and its differences from the book. And if you want a more overtly antiwar military sci-fi novel, check out Joe Haldeman's The Forever War. Starship Troopers is the better book, but TFW has much better characterization. I've got a spoiler-iffic review of TFW here.

*Per Verhoeven's hatchet-job, the History and Moral Philosophy class depicts the notion of voting equating to force, the idea that "violence never solves anything" as naive at best, etc. in the most vicious, bloodthirsty light possible. Funny, I remember violence solving the problem of Nazism very well, and only the most ardent "violence is wrong no matter what" pacifists would disagree with me there.

Furthermore, as has been pointed out, the boot-camp sequences are full of needless sadism--in the book, for example, when someone wonders why they're still training with knives, the sergeant explains the appropriate levels of military force for different situations instead of pinning the recruit's hand to the wall with a knife. And Johnny is flogged for something completely different in the book, not for getting a soldier under his command killed in a highly questionable live-fire exercise. The scene where Sergeant Zim breaks a soldier's arm for challenging him is much uglier than in the book--in the novel, Zim breaks his arm in the process of beating him, but in the film, Zim puts him on the ground and then breaks his arm to make a point.

*The book was notable for introducing the trope of powered armor into science fiction, but there isn't any. People are wearing what look like SWAT gear and small arms and trying to beat an enemy with inexhaustible numbers by attrition. There's air support in one scene, but no artillery or tanks. Seriously, the Federation's military tactics and equipment really suck, and this is a society that has really cool prosthetic limbs for Michael Ironside. The book depicted initial assault on Klendathu as a disaster, but it didn't fail for lack of proper equipment on the soldiers' part.

The Verdict

Daniel makes a good case that this is a great satire that was ahead of its time. However, I don't like how Verhoeven deliberately mocked the source material and a lot of the movie just isn't that entertaining. See it once. 5.5 out of 10.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Two New Cool Alternate Timelines For You...

I'm still self-banned from the alternate-history forum until sometime in June at least, and I might re-up said ban until the end of the summer at least in order to focus on finishing Little People, Big Guns over the summer (the small press I've been in contact with says 30,000 words max). However, I do drop in from time to time just to read and found a couple cool ideas.

*Here's the first one, Twilight of the Valkyries. This is a super-detailed account of what have happened if the July 20 plot had successfully killed Adolf Hitler. A former member of the site (he got banned, although I can't remember why) proposed that the ultimate beneficiary of the plot would not have been the Schwarze Kapelle anti-Hitler conspiracy within the military but the ambitious Panzer commander Heinz Guderian, who had a substantial force of tank trainees nearby and could crush the SS and Home Army both. The timeline's creator has clearly done his (or her, although almost all site members are male) research. There are hints that he's using the "Salt the Earth" scenario I posted about earlier as a model--the French Communist resistance leaders in Paris are watching the inter-German fighting eagerly.

I'm using a Guderian-rides-Valkyrie-plot-to-power scenario as the basis for a dieselpunk world I'm fiddling with, so I'm definitely watching this one eagerly.

*This is a more obscure one, based on a little-known mutiny by the Force Publique against King Leopold's rule in the Congo. It's called Mameluke Congo and postulates that if the mutineers had a single charismatic leader, they might have been able to eject Leopold's regime from the Congo completely. It turns out the Force Publique in this period was ludicrously heavily armed and Soverihn makes the case they could maintain control of the entire ex-colony and deter outside intervention, especially if the European Great Powers are all trying to keep others from taking the Congo rather than uniting to crush a challenge to white power in Africa.

(In case you're wondering, the Mamelukes were a slave military caste that ultimately took control of Egypt. The Force Publique in this scenario would adopt a sort of collective identity of their own that would transcend the tribes from which they'd been recruited.)

At present the timeline goes all the way into a delayed WWI in which the Congo is allied to the Central Powers and proceeds to ravage the Allies' African colonies--until the Royal Navy swoops in and cuts off their trade. It's not clear at this point whether the Congolese will survive the wider war, even though it does look like the Central Powers are winning.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Female Doctor And Bringing Back Romana

I'm not the biggest Doctor Who fan who has ever walked the Earth, but I am tapped into a lot science fiction, fantasy, and horror circles online and I've seen a push from some quarters suggesting the next Doctor be female. Here's one, which complains that Peter Capaldi is "another white guy." Here's another article I found recently that suggested a list of actresses to play a female Doctor. 

As Ms. Reese points out in the first article, there's some canonical material that suggests it's possible. Matt Smith initially thinks he's female and then finds an Adam's apple, there are older references to Time Lords regenerating as female despite having been male, etc. The Washington Post article cites several of them, one of which dates back to 1980 when present-day concerns about diversity, political correctness, etc. were in their infancy. There's apparently a female incarnation of The Master nicknamed "Missy." If the Master, a Time Lord, can change his sex/gender, surely the Doctor could as well.

I can understand the desire of many people to have a female Doctor. If you want to portray more equitable gender relations, having an older male Doctor with a succession of younger and often female companions isn't really helpful. The "Uncomfortable Plot Summaries" website refers to the Doctor as an elderly man who serially kidnaps young women. One of the Christopher Eccleston episodes even hilariously lampshades this by depicting the Doctor interrogated by police after his companion Rose Tyler is reported missing. Ms. Reese's article complains that many female companions are lovestruck damsels-in-distress and not impressive characters willing to call the Doctor out on his crap. Female viewers are likely rather sick of seeing such characters.

However, the presence of Time Lords and Time Ladies implies that the Time Lords are male and female, like humans. The cross-gender regenerations referenced above must be fairly rare occurrences--I've never heard the Time Lords referenced as being by nature hermaphrodites, non-binary genders, etc. that, if these things were fairly common occurrence, would make them. Furthermore, the Helen Mirren comment about a gay black female Doctor comes off as trying too hard.

That said, there is a way to avoid indulging in excessive PC-dom (i.e. the "trying too hard" bit I referenced above) while increasing female representation, especially in more powerful roles. After all, from a perspective of pure self-interest alone, appealing to the growing non-white non-male fandom means more popularity and more cash. My proposal would also shake things up less, avoiding aggravating the old-fashioned fans too.

That way is named "Time Lady Romana." I only watched a little of the pre-Eccleston Dr. Who programs (i.e. I might've seen a couple minutes on TV here and there), but I remember reading about a character named Romana who was a Time Lady, as opposed to a Time Lord. As a Time Lord herself she is a female character who is the Doctor's equal (unlike his companions, or at least many of them) and in the older material, rose to a very powerful position in the government on Gallifrey. Like the Master, she could be an isolated survivor of the destruction of Gallifrey or have something to do with what happened in that episode where a bunch of older Doctors came back and the planet was put in stasis or something rather than getting blown up by the Daleks. Also like the Master (and the Daleks, the Cybermen, etc), she'd be a nod to the older series, much like how old Expanded Universe stuff has been filtering its way into the new Star Wars canon.

Now, far be it from me to let you guys think I'm a white male fan insensitive to the concerns of others. :) On the matter of the role of the Doctor himself, keeping him male doesn't mean he has to be "another white guy." He could easily be played by a Caribbean or South Asian (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh) actor. Here's a bunch of British actors of South Asian background, including Naveen Andrews, who was a major character on Lost and has won or been nominated for many awards. The Afro-Caribbean community in Britain has got Mickey and I think there've been a couple black female companions too; have the South Asians got anybody?

(I'd wished they'd cast Hrithik Roshan as Khan Noonien Singh in Star Trek Into Darkness and he's the physical model for the young Great Khan in the back-story of my novel The Cybele Incident. Could a Bollywood actor be the Doctor?)

Or if that's too radical, another idea is a Middle Eastern type who isn't outright non-white but isn't unarguably Caucasian either. Owing to recent events in Game of Thrones, Alexander Siddig has become available. :) He's originally from Sudan and is of Muslim background even if there's nothing in the Wikipedia article that indicates he's a practicing Muslim. I'm aware of other Middle Eastern actors, but they're all Americans.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Blast from the Past Movie Review: An American Tail (1986)

My friend Jamie, a noted animation buff and a major fan of Don Bluth, was back in Atlanta for Christmas and so Nick decided to host a very special episode of Myopia: Defend Your Childhood just for him. Jamie decided to defend An American Tail, which I first saw on a rented video (yes, an actual VHS tape) probably in the late 1980s. I later reported on the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival in which the movie was screened and interviewed Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, two of the masterminds behind the film.

So how did it hold up? Here's the podcast. And now for the review...

The Plot

It's December of 1885 and the Mousekowitz family, the mouse neighbors of the Jewish Moskowitz family in Russia, are celebrating Hanukkah. The festivities are rudely interrupted by human Cossacks who rampage through the village throwing torches onto the roofs and even shooting a fleeing man dead while cats in fur hats rampage alongside them. The Mousekowitz family, who are aware of a happy, safe place called "America," travel to Hamburg, Germany and set out across the Atlantic for this new Promised Land. Along the way, young Fievel is washed off the ship during a storm and must reunite with his family on Manhattan Island, which is not nearly as friendly as the naive immigrant mice think...

The Good

*Except for a bit in the third act, the movie moves along pretty briskly and isn't boring.

*There's a lot of historical humor that kids won't understand, but adults will. The mouse politician Honest John from Tammany Hall, for example, and we see that corrupt political machine in action. There's also a wealthy female mouse who seems to be a stand-in for the Progressive reformers who sought to aid immigrants as well.

*The movie teaches kids a valuable history lesson about what brought immigrants to America and their experiences when they got here, which weren't always positive. The French pigeon Henri seems to be doing pretty well, but many of the immigrant mice end up exploited in a sweatshop alongside human immigrant workers.

*There are a couple songs that are massive, as TVTropes puts it, Ear Worms. In "There Are No Cats in America," the immigrant mice of different nationalities (Sicilian, Russian, Irish) sing about the horrible conditions back in their home countries (where their oppressors are depicted as cats) and how things are better in the United States. And when Fievel meets Henri, they have a musical number about positive thinking, "Never Say Never."

*The Giant Mouse of Minsk, foreshadowed by Fievel's father early on, is really cool when it's unleashed.

*There's a scene where a despairing Fievel thinks he'll never find his family again that's genuinely sad. When I interviewed Goldman years later, he said that was his favorite part of the film.

*A cat who claims to be a vegetarian admits that he does eat fish. Given how cats are obligate carnivores, that's kind of important.

The Bad

*The third act, in which Fievel is held captive by a group of cat gangsters and has a duet with the friendly cat Tiger, kind of drags. I really didn't like the song "A Duo," even though there is a funny bit about how Tiger has three fathers that those who are aware of cats' promiscuity will find funny.

*There's at least one big anachronism--the young Fievel sees a group of American school-age mice saying the Pledge of Allegiance, which didn't exist at the time. Furthermore, they're saying the version with "under God," which wasn't introduced until the 1950s. I think Steven Spielberg's grandfather remembers looking into a school he wasn't able to attend because he was Jewish, but they could have had Fievel seeing something else.

*The radio version of "Somewhere Out There" (sung by James Ingram and Linda Ronstadt) is a beautiful song, but when Fievel and his sister Tanya sing the song themselves, I didn't find it very impressive.

The Verdict

It's an entertaining and educational children's movie, but for an adult I'd say just see it once. 7.5 out of 10.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

"Salt The Earth," Or How The Valkyrie Junta Could Undermine American-Soviet Alliance

On the Facebook alternate history group this morning, someone posted a question about how World War II could end with Germany retaining at least some territorial gains made under Hitler--think Austria (the most morally defensible, considering this), the Sudetenland, the Polish Corridor, etc. Some people thought that was basically impossible, while others posted various scenarios about the German Resistance toppling Hitler, either in 1943 (when Germany is still winning major battles) or 1944 (when the Nazis are clearly closing the war). The latter coup attempt, for the record, is the subject of the movie Valkyrie.

To contribute to the discussion, I posted a scenario I found on the alternate history forum I've been a member of since high school (that I've had myself blocked from posting on until June due to real-life obligations) entitled "Salt The Earth."

The gist of the scenario is that the military branch of the German Resistance (the only ones that had a realistic chance of actually toppling the Nazis) manages to overthrow Hitler and the Nazis. The timing of the plot doesn't seem important--supposedly the 1943 plot would also take out other top Nazis and Hitler's cronies in the military, allowing for an easier seizure of power, while in 1944 the war is obviously lost and so there's less risk of a "stab-in-the-back" myth developing afterward.

The war ends (in Europe at least) and it's all sunshine and rainbows, right? Wrong. If the 1944 coup attempt succeeds, the US, Britain, and the Soviets have all agreed the war will go on until unconditional surrender and the policy has been in place for some time. There will be no negotiated peace, no chance for Germany to rearm and do it again in another generation. And the Soviets, given the really awful stuff that the Germans did (and what they wanted to do), are going to be absolutely out for blood.

In 1944, Germany is already clearly losing, with Operation Bagration absolutely wrecking the German army in the East (80% of the German army was defeated by the Soviets) and Anglo-American-French forces already advancing in Western Europe. Even if the Germans go totally defensive and avoid screw-ups like the Falaise Pocket, the Battle of the Bulge, etc., the sheer power of the Red Army and the coming of the atomic bomb (originally intended for use against the Germans) means that a purely military solution won't save Germany. 1943 is more favorable, but the odds are still rapidly growing against Germany and some version of the following solution might still have to be put in place.

So if the Valkyrie junta wants some kind of negotiated peace, especially a peace that leaves them with any of Hitler's gains, they're going to have to earn it. And the "Salt the Earth" scenario explains how:

*Pull back to more defensible positions. River lines like the Rhine in the west or the Alps in Italy. Put as much of Germany's remaining fighting power in the East. That's something any post-Hitler junta with half a brain would do if the Allies aren't going to negotiate. Better to be occupied by the US and Britain than the totalitarian Soviets who (as I have already pointed out) also have very, very legitimate reasons to be vengeful.

Now comes the clever parts...

*Allow the Polish Home Army to take control of much of Poland, which would put the Soviets in a position where in order to take Poland for Communism they would have to openly attack the Polish government-no-longer-in-exile. In real life the Soviets fought alongside the Home Army and then betrayed them and deliberately allowed the Germans to crush the Warsaw Uprising.

(Some have made the case the Soviets at this point were not capable of helping the Home Army in Warsaw, but that doesn't explain why the Soviets forcibly prevented American aircraft based in the USSR from dropping supplies to the Home Army, which Thomas Fleming writes extensively about in The New Dealers' War. If you don't want to read a book with an obvious ax to grind against much of Roosevelt's administration if not Roosevelt himself, the Wikipedia article has both sides.)

In this scenario, the Soviets would either have to respect the independence of Poland or openly make war upon a state that is theoretically their ally that is fulfilling one of Britain's original war aims (preserve the independence of Poland), which would be much more difficult to cover up.

*Deliberately arm Communist resistance movements in non-Communist countries. Imagine the problems that would happen if the Communist French Resistance took control of Paris before Charles De Gaulle. Ugliest and sneakiest of them all would be putting them in charge of prisons full of anti-Communist resistance members whom they might be tempted to murder. Even if Stalin orders them not to, all it might take to generate a massive PR problem is one or two incidents.

Of course, the leadership of the Big Three is going to do their best to squash this. Roosevelt insisted the Katyn Massacre had been perpetrated by the Nazis, not the Soviets, and hid the evidence gathered by the Polish government-in-exile during the war. The U.S. had press controls during WWII; although a lot of it was based on the presumption of reporter patriotism, there was still an Office of Censorship. Britain had press censorship as well. Although this was focused on keeping the enemy from finding out about military movements ("loose lips sink ships"), I could easily imagine the government attempting to cover up anything that could threaten the alliance with Stalin. And the Soviet people aren't going to know anything Stalin doesn't want them to know.

However, though absolute tyrant like Stalin doesn't have the PR concerns of a democratic leader, he was also ragingly paranoid. Convincing him the Western Allies had betrayed him is quite plausible, even if a wartime American public fed propaganda like Mission to Moscow still believes in "Uncle Joe." If the Valkyrie crew can set Stalin against the West, that alone is a significant improvement over their position even if they can't successfully turn U.S. or British public opinion against Stalin.

Even if the gambit ultimately fails to significantly change the outcome of the war, the post-war division of Europe, etc., once the soldiers start returning and spreading word of stuff that had been kept from the U.S. public, there could be political hell to pay. The Democrats might never get the Polish-American community's vote back if FDR's government successfully covered up a betrayal of the Poles far more blatant and with a much higher body count than in our history, only for the cat to get out of the bag in 1946. Depending on how things shake out in Italy, France, and Greece, that's more voting blocs whose inclinations might be different than in our history, even temporarily.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

STAR WARS: REBELS Season Finale Features Vader vs. Ahsoka

The other day I found the following trailer for the March 30 second-season finale of Disney's Star Wars animated series Rebels.

I first became aware of the series when I was attending a couple friends' wedding at Disney World in 2014, but I never watched it except for some YouTube clips. From what little I know of it, it seems pretty cool. For example, it brings back into canon the Inquisitors, Imperial Force-wielders who use the Dark Side to hunt Jedi and enforce Palpatine's will.

(I didn't agree with junking the entire Star Wars Expanded Universe, but this does show that Disney is willing to bring back into canon the good parts of the EU. After all, what's the point of being a Sith Lord if you're not lord of something? Just a single apprentice doesn't seem like much.)

Vader facing off against his former apprentice looks to be poignant as hell, not just due to the relationship they had before as seen in the clips but also due to the obvious pain the situation is putting Ahsoka in. See the clips below:

I'm not sure if I'll be able to watch it when it comes out, but I'd definitely like to see how this shakes out. Given how Ahsoka is never mentioned in the original films I suspect it won't end well for her, but it could be a lot of fun to watch.

Book Review: Bigfoot Crank Stomp

I have recently decided to try to finish the first draft of my novel Little People, Big Guns, which almost certainly qualifies as bizarro, this coming summer. I decided to do some research into the genre, so I bought Erik Williams' horror novel Bigfoot Crank Stomp, which I first became aware of after meeting representatives of Eraserhead Press and Deadite Press (they're all part of the same company) at the World Horror Convention last May. It was a short novel and a quick read, so here's my review...

The Plot

A group of meth-cooking petty criminals have captured Bigfoot and for some reason have gotten him hooked on methamphetamine. They intend to get him high and then burn down the cabin around him once they're finished cooking one last batch of meth, but some drug-dealing rivals interfere. Bigfoot gets loose and goes into a withdrawal fury and it's up to some local sheriff's deputies, a traumatized Iraq veteran, and a random camper to put a stop to him. Think a deranged, comedic cross between Breaking Bad and Harry and the Hendersons...

The Good

*One thing I like about bizarro fiction, even though I haven't read much of it, is that the plots are really creative and often hilarious. For example, Eraserhead put out a novel entitled Shatnerquest in which a bunch of nerds try to rescue William Shatner after the apocalypse--only to find he's grown into a Godzilla-sized monster and is rampaging around. Bigfoot Crank Stomp certainly fits this tradition, as the plot by itself amusing by virtue of just how ridiculous it is.

*One character gets high and a significant chunk of the story is told from his point of view. I've never done any sort of drug (let me make this quite clear) so I don't know how it feels to be intoxicated, but I like how the point of view shifts all the way to bugnuts insane. And some of the decisions the character made in this condition made me laugh out loud.

*The novel is never boring. It's a quick, entertaining read.

*There are some good descriptive passages, like how Bigfoot's roars and screams sound and how a man who fell off a cliff is described as looking like "he tried to kiss the inside of a tree trunk at high speed."

The Bad

*It's never explained just how the first set of criminals captured Bigfoot in the first place, or why they decided to get him hooked on meth. People who do drugs often make extremely questionable decisions, but we have scenes from the point of view of the meth-cookers who got their hands on Bigfoot and we still don't get so much as "it seemed like a good idea at the time." A character lampshades this by saying they'll probably never know (in response to a character who's astounded someone actually did this), but still.

*The scenes from Bigfoot's point of view refer to meth as "food." But wouldn't it differentiate meth from the more normal sort of food it eats? Perhaps some kind of modifier of "food" like "happy food" or "sleepy food" or something. If anything, even if Bigfoot is a being of less-than-human intelligence, it would differentiate between the food that it eats and something that goes up its nose.

*Another group of characters are introduced a little over halfway through the story. It would have been better if they were at least mentioned earlier. Perhaps as clients of the drug dealers, or someone whom the sheriff is suspicious of? Think Chekhov's Gun.

*The novel isn't very long--according to Amazon it's 156 pages, but it cost $4.95. Marko Kloos's much-longer Frontlines e-books (as of this review Terms of Enlistment, Lines of Departure, Angles of Attack, and the forthcoming Chains of Command) are around three times as long each at the same price. Although the novel was a quick read and entertaining, it's far too short for an e-book price that high.

*Not sure how much staying power the novel has. When I reviewed Clive Barker's The Hellbound Heart (you can see that here), I criticized the purchase price for being too high for something that short, but I've re-read The Hellbound Heart at least twice. I'm not sure if I'll re-read Bigfoot Crank Stomp.

The Verdict

Although it's a fun book, it's too short for the purchase price and I don't foresee it having a lot of re-read value. If you've got Amazon's Kindle Unlimited, though, a borrow would be worth your while for a trip to the gym or killing a couple hours. Six out of ten.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Join My Mailing List!

Based on advice I've received from the podcast The Sell More Books Show and the example of my friend Alex Hughes, I have decided to set up a mailing list. I used MailChimp, something I learned how to use when I worked for Kiss The Limit Productions a few years ago.

Why should you join? Joining this list allows you to keep up with my various pursuits, including my short fiction and novels, the podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood, movie and book reviews, and interesting things I find via Twitter. You'll know when my products are available on Amazon or elsewhere for free or at a reduced cost. There will also be free fiction and background material available for subscribers only. If you're interested in science fiction, fantasy, horror, science, writing, or related topics, you'll love being on my mailing list.

And don't worry. I won't spam you with wave after wave of e-mails, I promise. :)

Here's a direct link to sign up. Let me know if you don't get the verification e-mail. I'll send out a test newsletter soon.