Monday, April 6, 2020

Fan Novelizations of STAR CONTROL II Online

Back when I was a wee lad, my parents bought a personal computer that ran Windows 3.1 and one of the early games I had was Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters, which had a more explicitly "fun" starship-combat simulator I remember playing with my cousins and a prolonged story-based game that I never actually finished--I just kind of wandered around in the spaceship harvesting minerals from planets to buy ships and occasionally fighting the bad aliens. Eventually, as what often happens with childhood toys, I lost interest and the original disks, if they're even still around, are buried in my parents' house somewhere.

(I eventually learned how the game ended sometime in college or post-college. I won't bore you with the details, but there is an actual storyline and sequence of events.)

Well over the last couple days I got curious about good old Star Control and did some digging online. There's actually a dedicated Wiki for Star Control and quite a bit on the almighty TVTropes. It turns out that there's actually a novelization of the game's storyline written by uber-fan Tommi Salminen. Two 400-page novels, one covering the beginning of the game where you arrive at Earth and find it under an Ur-Quan slave shield and the other covering the later part of the story, once alliances with different alien races have been made and the truth about the Ur-Quan's motivations is revealed.

Here's the first one, Groombridge Log. The second one is Eternal Doctrine. Although I'd have preferred more description of the technology, characters, etc.--that's a problem with fan-fiction, the writer assumes everybody knows what everything looks like--they're still pretty entertaining.


Sunday, March 29, 2020

After-Action Report: Facebook Advertising for BATTLE FOR THE WASTELANDS

Once upon a time, I used Facebook to advertise this very blog and all was well, getting me 3,000 hits in a month. When the time came for me to promote my independent fantasy novel Battle for the Wastelands, I decided to go back to Facebook advertising. I created a new Facebook Page in order to use it, but owing to a clumsy and bizarre ad interface (the one I used years ago was much simpler), I ended up making two ad campaigns by accident. One was targeted too broadly (at pretty much everybody in the United States if I remember right) and although I did manage one sale, I shut it down pretty quickly to keep it profitable. The second campaign was more narrowly targeted, focusing on adventure fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic, fantasy, steampunk, and e-books and didn't turn out very well. I spent $8.96 and made, as far as I know, no sales whatsoever before I shut it down.

After the failure of my initial Amazon ad campaigns, I decided to give Facebook another try. I went to my Facebook fan page and boosted a post pushing Battle that said it was free for the Kindle March 15 and March 16, although the ad campaign was slated to run for five days.

(By the way, using "boost post" on your Facebook page allows for much easier targeting than the ad interface. Furthermore, getting into Facebook ads through the Facebook page rather than going into the ads directly also allows access to a much easier interface. Perhaps Facebook has tweaked its operations again, or the easier ad campaigns I remember from years ago were done through my now-defunct "Matthew W. Quinn: Speculative Fiction Writer" page rather than directly in the ad system.)

For my free-book campaign, I targeted people in the United States interested in "steampunk" and "Western." I budgeted $50 for that ad campaign in hopes of moving a lot of freebies and thus getting a lot of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads in addition to helpfully providing people in coronavirus lock-down something entertaining to read.

And in that respect, my campaign succeeded massively. Although I also shared the link around to certain Facebook groups (skewing the numbers and also-boughts--for example, sharing in the Facebook group dedicated to author S.M. Stirling meant a lot of Shadows of Annihilation also-boughts), my ad reached 6,609 people and got 402 clicks. I moved 233 free e-books and at least five people on Goodreads marked it as "currently reading" or "to read," with one person giving it a rating (3/5 stars) on Goodreads 3/19/ If only five percent of the people who got the free e-book decide to review, that's 11 new reviews, something I very much need. During this period, I also got 470 Kindle Unlimited page-views, which comes out to be $2.68, even though since it was free on Amazon they didn't need to spend any money at all. And in the remaining days of the campaign, I also sold seven e-books ($19.18 royalties) and got 508 Kindle Unlimited page-views ($2.44). Although this combined $24.30 covered slightly less than half of the advertising cost, I'm hoping the additional reviews generated from the freebies  will set Battle up for long-term success.

Then I decided to see what Facebook advertising alone could do, avoiding the confounding variable of posting the freebie link in different Facebook groups, on Twitter, etc. After giving it a couple days for the sales to cool off (I still made one e-book sale, one paperback sale, and got twenty KU page-reads), I created two new Facebook ads. One was a retread of the original ad focusing on Western and steampunk, while the other was more ambitious, targeting people interested in fantasy books, dark fantasy (although Battle is not supernatural dark fantasy in the vein of Hellraiser, it's bleak and morally gray like A Game of Thrones), and Stephen King's Dark Tower series and The Gunslinger. After all, my sales pitch for Battle (which got me some print sales at Days of the Dead this past year) is "Dark Tower meets Game of Thrones." I led my ad copy with "Free on Kindle Unlimited" so people wouldn't think they were clicking on an ad for a video game or film, something I learned from one of my podcasts. I budgeted $150 for the first campaign, given its predecessor's success, and $60 for the second, not wishing to spend too much money overall and wanting to keep my ads fairly focused.

In terms of sales made, the campaign was a massive success. Although there are still some confounding variables (like a purchase that might have been from a member of my writing group reading my twice-a-month newsletter rather than through the Amazon campaign), I sold fifteen e-books ($41.10 royalties) and two print books ($5.81 royalties) between the ad's premiere on March 22 and its conclusion on March 28. In that same time period, there were 2,790 Kindle Unlimited pages read for a total of approximately $13.39. I also saw an uptick on sales rank for my first novel The Thing in the Woods and The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2, a collection I have a story in, on March 23 and March 24. The first ad campaign reached nearly 21,000 people and got 655 link clicks, while the broader second one reached a little over 9,000 people and got 247 link clicks.

However, the gross revenues came out to be roughly $60.39 against the $215 I ended up spending. That actually represents a much larger net loss than my Amazon campaigns, although I brought in around four times more gross revenue. Although paperback sales don't post until they actually ship (and the coronavirus situation means shipping books is less of a priority), I doubt I sold enough paperbacks to make a significant difference. Hopefully this campaign will generate some reviews once people have time to finish reading--after all, four people on Goodreads marked it as "currently reading" in the 3/22-28 range and I got one rating (4/5 stars) on 3/25.

In conclusion, although Facebook advertising is still a money-loser overall (at least if I've got just one book in the series), I was able to move a lot more copies than using Amazon's advertising platform. This knowledge will come in handy when I post my own edition of Thing and its forthcoming sequel The Atlanta Incursion, since those who buy Thing might in turn buy TAI. Once I get "Son of Grendel" posted and especially once the second Wastelands novel goes up, then Facebook advertising Battle again might be a good idea.

And if I decide to go with another Facebook ad campaign for Battle, I think I'll use the first ad but narrow it further. In addition to "steampunk" and "Western," I'll add "Kindle Unlimited" and "Kindle" to the keywords keep the focus on e-books. Also a lower budget so it's easier to cover the costs--the first campaign covered half its costs (when two of the five days it was making KU peanuts), while the second campaign only covered a little over a quarter.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Adventures in Amazon Advertising: BATTLE FOR THE WASTELANDS

One of the reasons that I independently published Battle for the Wastelands rather than continuing to submit to traditional publishers is that I wanted to use it as a test-bed for various book-marketing plans I've learned via writing podcasts like The Sell More Books Show and The Six-Figure Author (successor to The Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast). Although the coronavirus outbreak has scuppered my usual strategy of "sell books at lots of events and get lots of e-mails for the newsletter" (seriously, that's how I've made most of my money from 2017 when The Thing in the Woods came out until today), on the bright side that's given me some very strong incentive to try other methods.

However, even before the outbreak I ran a series of Amazon advertising campaigns using relevant keyword sets for searching like "post-apocalyptic," "western," and "steampunk." I also attached Battle as a sponsored product to similar books like William R. Forstchen's the Lost Regiment series, books like the Atomic Sea series by Jack Conner (who blurbed it), etc.

Results were mostly negative, although they did help me learn a bit about keywords that might be more successful. Here's a breakdown:

*One Amazon campaign using various derivatives of "western" like "western books for Kindle" and "western weird" got me three Battle sales for a total of $11.97 at a cost of $17.88. Battle is in the Kindle Unlimited program and I do remember upticks on Kindle Unlimited page-reads during this period, but I don't think it's enough to cover the difference. Plus $11.97 divided by the three copies is $3.99, the e-book list price and not my net profit, so the profitability gap is even larger. The "western weird" keyword set got me two sales totaling $7.98 for a spend of $0.51, which to quote the great Borat is "very nice," but "western books for Kindle" got me one sale for $8.60 spend, a substantial loss. And two variants of "Western Kindle" spent $8.77 between them for no sales at all.

*Another advertising campaign ate $28.73 for no sales whatsoever. That one was focused on post-apocalyptic fiction with military fiction as the follow-up. A keyword related to steampunk that was almost an afterthought spent $2.55 for no sales and that was the best performer in that campaign. 😭 This was the first ad campaign I straight up shut down to stop the bleeding money-wise.

I think the reason that happened is that post-apocalyptic readers prefer stories that take place immediately after the apocalypse or within a relatively short time (think The Walking Dead, Zombie Road, or various EMP-type books), while the apocalyptic event in the Wastelands world was centuries in the past. This is more secondary-world fantasy with an apocalyptic background--Lord of the Rings had the Fall of Numenor and the decline of its colonies/successor states like Arnor and Gondor in Middle-Earth as the background and my short story "Lord of the Dolorous Tower" has a comet impact the medieval-ish society remember as "the Hammer of the Heavens." Meanwhile, Wastelands has...well, I can't get into that for spoiler reasons. :)

*Another ad, with a focus on steampunk, netted one sale at a cost of $18.94. The keywords that got that sale are "steampunk fiction" (broad), while "steampunk fiction" (phrase) lost money and "steampunk books" lost lots of money.

*An ad campaign focused on steampunk books, in particular higher-selling ones, only got clicks on three of the six books and made no sales on those and straight up lost nearly $7 on "steampunk fiction" as a category.

I think there's at least one more ad campaign there, but I'm pretty sure you get the point. As a result of all this, I shut down all my Amazon ad campaigns, period. Although Kindle Unlimited pay-reads--and those did go up--does provide a bit of "fudge factor," the profitability gap was so large that there is no way hundreds of pages at half a cent each was covering them.

In some discussions online about Amazon and Facebook advertising, someone I've talked with said that AMS ads make a lot more sense if you've got a series rather than just one book. That way, even if only 10% of people who click buy your book, if a bunch of those go on to buy later books, that ad is a lot more likely to pay for itself. This bodes well for my planned related novella "Son of Grendel," which will probably be out sometime in the spring once I make some revisions and get it formatted.

And if I do give Amazon ads another spin before I have another Wastelands story out, "Western weird" might be the way to go. 😎

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Selling My Own Books, In-Person or Online

I once heard the reason Taylor Swift is so rich is that she knows that musicians don't get most of their money from record sales, but from touring. And she likes to tour. Consequently, she is probably one of richest 30-somethings on the planet rather than some forlorn artist who made a lot of money for the record label but not much for themselves.

The same logic applies to books. Once the retailer, distributor, and publisher get their share (and I'm not faulting them for wanting to be paid for their portion of the work, especially low-margin small presses), there's less for the author. One solution for authors looking to make more money, therefore, is to sell direct. I've heard of more complex methods of doing this, such as selling bookmarks with a QR code linked to a one-time e-book download, but the method I settled on was buying lots of my stock wholesale from the publisher and hitting up event like science fiction conventions, gun shows, local festivals, etc.

Then I moved onto selling directly online, selling my wholesale copies of Little People, Big Guns and Battle for the Wastelands to people I knew online or in real life. Some bought through Amazon, while I made individual arrangements via PayPal or Facebook (which now has a "send money" option).

That's come in particularly handy this weekend, which was supposed to be the Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo. I first attended that event in 2018 and that was the first event where I sold through a complete print run of The Thing in the Woods. The second event in 2019 was less successful because the only new thing I had was The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2, in which I had only one story and people from the previous year were expecting new stuff. I was looking forward to this year's event because I had new books like Battle, LPBG, and my reissued short-story collection Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire, but then the coronavirus outbreak happened.

(Not really blaming them for canceling--not only do medical professionals recommend avoiding large crowds at the moment, but on a more self-interested level if they went through with it, attendance numbers would likely crater and nobody would make any money. Better to wait.)

So although it's unfortunate the event got canceled, I've got the infrastructure in place to sell signed copies to anybody in the United States. If you wanted to attend the Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo (or the Dalton local-author festival that got canceled 3/21) and are interested in a signed printed copy, go to the Amazon page for the book you'd like and find the $15 "collectible" signed book sold by MatthewWQuinn. Alternatively, e-mail me and we can work something out via PayPal or Facebook.

One person has already contacted me about a two-book deal, so let's get this going. :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Putting Novellas In Packages...

At some point in the next few months, I'm going to put out a new novella "Son of Grendel," which is set in the world of my novel Battle for the Wastelands roughly a year or so before the book begins. The cover has already been completed by artist Matt Cowdery, who did the cover for Battle and the upcoming sequel.

However, in order to get 70% royalties on Amazon, one has to charge $2.99 or more per book. That's easy to justify with a full novel, but harder with a shorter work. A 70% royalty on a $2.99 e-book is $2.10 or so, but 35% royalty on a $1.99 e-book is $0.70. That's no way to make money. And if I've got a quality cover and had the formatting done professionally, that's a lot of costs to cover even at a higher royalty before I make a profit.

Consequently, although I'm going to release "Son of Grendel" as a standalone since most of the work has already been done (I just need to do writing group revisions, perhaps add a couple new scenes, and then have it formatted for e-book), future novellas set in the worlds of Battle or The Thing in the Woods will be released in packages of three.

(I've got to give credit to Delilah S. Dawson, Kevin Hearne, and Chuck Wendig for the concept--they released three novellas in a package called Three Slices.)

Not only can putting three novellas together into something approximately novel-length justify charging a novel-equivalent price, but I can print the book to sell at conventions. That's how I make most of my writing money anyway, so having more to sell is always a plus.

I even have ideas for what the first three-novella package will look like. It'll be entitled Warriors: Three Novellas of the Wastelands or something to that effect and will feature the following stories:

*I'd lead with "Son of Grendel," since it would be the first one published. Falki Grendelsson, heir to the first lord of the Northlands, is sent on a counterinsurgency mission and things don't go according to plan.

*Next comes "Ruled in Rage," which is approximately a fifth written right now. It's Grendel's origin story--how he adopts the name, how he meets his right hand Alexander Matthews, and how he begins to walk the trail of blood that will someday make him the ruler of the known world. Although he's in his teens, we'll see a lot of the traits that mark him in middle age--his cunning, his lechery, etc. The title is an allusion to Beowulf, which is heavily tied into the Wastelands' series overarching plot.

*The third novella is tentatively titled "A Valkyrie Is Born," but that's probably going to change. The Valkyries are part of Norse mythology and thus more associated with Grendel and his Sejeran (Norse) allies, plus the title is a bit on the long side. This is a story of Alyssa Carson, Andrew's love interest from the first book, and her family's...grotesque...encounter with the cannibalistic Flesh-Eating Legion after the fall of the Merrills.

*Alternatively, the third novella could be "A Creature of the Fall." This one takes place over a decade before Battle and will feature Alonzo Merrill in his very early teens and his serious-minded elder brother John. There will be battle with the Flesh-Eaters, a great big hint as to what happened to end the Old World, and perhaps the dirigible bombing of the Flesh-Eater capital that gives their overlord Jasper Clark such a massive grudge against the Merrills.

Given the potential for some of these stories to grow into full novels (most likely to happen with "Ruled"), having different options for the third novella is always a good idea. I could make a package of four--two stories from the villains and two from the heroes--but that'd risk it getting too long. Realistically I'd probably save "Creature" for a future installment, especially since including an Alyssa story would prevent the collection from being a boys' club and I want to foreshadow the reason for the Fall closer to the final book.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Myopia, Patreon, and "How I Would Have Done It"

As most of you know, I am a regular participant in the film podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood, now in its fifth-ish year. In order to get the podcast to its next level, we've created a Patreon with lots of different rewards. Reward tiers include access to exclusive series on the James Bond and Alien franchises, exclusive one-off episodes like one on the James Bond film soundtracks, live riffs on movies like we did late last year with The Black Cauldron, and for the top-paying patrons, picking movies for us to do episodes on.

All patrons, however, will receive the monthly newsletter "Myopia Prescription." A major feature of that newsletter will be a monthly long-form article from me. February 2020's article was how I would have done The Guyver, which draws heavily on ideas from my review of the first one and my review of the second one. The next one, slated for March, will be how I would have done The Last Starfighter. Other "how I would have done its" for further out include the 2007 live-action Transformers, the 1990s live-action Mortal Kombat, and the original Friday the 13th from the 1980s.

(New patrons can access the newsletters and bonus episodes from earlier months, so if you're finding this now, don't worry about it.)

These "how I would have done it" film treatments will be longer (both the Transformers and TLS ones are 2,500 to 3,000 words long) and more detailed than the "how I would have done it" blog posts like this one on Friday the 13th VII, although I will still structure them in the three-act format.

Thing is, I don't have so much time anymore, especially now that I've independently published Battle for the Wastelands and need to put out new series content every couple months to keep reader interest and build up those precious Kindle Unlimited page-views. As a result, you're going to see a lot less film-related content from me here.

So if you want to keep getting those "how I would have done it" posts (and depending on how crunchy time gets, movie reviews), make sure you subscribe to the Myopia Patreon. You can still get them for as little as a dollar per month, less than a cup of coffee.

Monday, February 17, 2020

After-Action Report: Two Cons, Two Weeks

I know it's been awhile since I posted anything, but these last few weeks have been busy. In particular, I've spent two weekends in a row working conventions here in Atlanta--the horror-themed Days of the Dead and the steampunk/alternate-history AnachroCon final show.

At Days of the Dead, I split the table with Nathan McCullough, whom I know from the Atlanta chapter of the Horror Writers Association and who was selling his new novella/short-story collection Drag You Down. That was a good weekend--I got 35 e-mail addresses for my semi-monthly newsletter and sold 33 books. The Thing in the Woods dominated with over half, but I sold a fair number of Little People, Big Guns and even seven copies of Battle for the Wastelands despite it not being a horror novel. I made at least one sale by comparing it to The Dark Tower, which helped me make a horror connection even though both Battle and TDT series are primarily fantasy.

I also handed out all my remaining Thing note-cards with QR codes for the e-book, which based on my Amazon rankings seems to have led to some upticks in sales. Unfortunately the relatively high table cost, even though I split it with Nate, and the high costs of parking led to a net profit of only around $25. Still, given the large number of books sold, the addition of new people to my newsletter, and advice Nate gave me on how to fix a minor glitch in the first print copies of Battle, this overall was a good experience.

(Going forward I'm thinking of carrying books to and from conventions in a rolling suitcase and taking Lyft rather than driving myself and carrying the original shipping boxes on a hand-cart. With a more stable suitcase, I could even take MARTA even though it's slower and shave off even more dollars. That'll be really helpful with the upcoming Atlanta Comic Con at the Georgia World Convention Center.)

AnachroCon proved more profitable, since I was a convention guest. I appeared in five panels, listed here. The most lively one was the one on tropes--we got into the ones people found annoying like Tragic Mulatto (I brought up Mr. Spock as the rare male example, since McCoy gives him crap about being a Vulcan and other Vulcans think he's too human) and characters getting "fridged." I sold 19 books there (Thing was the biggest seller surprisingly enough, followed by Battle) and since I didn't have to pay any costs, I made $121.50 in profit on 19 books and got 17 e-mails for my newsletter. Although it's unfortunate that this will be the last AnachroCon, the Atlanta Steampunk Expo  is moving to February to take its place next year and I've been in talks with the organizers about attending as a writer.

Time to get "Son of Grendel" revised and posted on Amazon and get working on the sequel to Battle of the Wastelands. :)

Sunday, January 12, 2020

My Five AnachroCon 2020 Panels

The weekend of Valentine's Day 2020 I'm going to be participating in--and even moderating--several panels at AnachroCon, Atlanta's annual steampunk and alternate history convention. Here they are, along with what I anticipate discussing:

How To Write Effective Villains-Friday (2/14) at 5 PM. I've gotten some kudos for developing my villains, be they cult leader Phil in The Thing in the Woods, the military dictator Grendel in Battle for the Wastelands, and (NAME REDACTED FOR SPOILERS) in Little People, Big Guns. I always take care to remember that everybody is the hero in their own story and few if anybody truly see themselves as evil. Hitler and the Nazis viewed themselves as heroically fighting an international Jewish-Communist conspiracy, the Soviets viewed themselves as fighting exploitative and aggressive international capitalism, Mao Zedong viewed himself as fighting to rebuild China after a "Century of Humiliation" at the hands of the European colonial powers and Japan, and Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi viewed themselves as agents of the will of God. Also appearing on the panel are Taylor S. Hoch, Lee Martindale, and Bill Ritch.

To Trope or Not To Trope, That Is The Question-Friday (2/14) at 8 PM. Given all the times I've referenced the almighty TVTropes in Myopia: Defend Your Childhood and my friend Jamie and I can actually carry on conversations in TVTropes, this seemed right up my alley. Although many of my stories use common tropes (no spoilers to say that in Battle for the Wastelands, the hero's home is the Doomed Hometown), some of my storytelling ideas do invert common tropes. I wrote a whole blog post about how Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker would have been more interesting if they'd avoided Redemption Equals Death for a certain character (and had to deal with all the awkward consequences), while I've got an as-yet-unpublished short story in which the villain, rather than destroying the hero's hometown, instead makes it a major military base. The hero's neighborhood gets eminent-domained and much of the town ends up gentrifying, creating sets of winners and losers and a much more complicated situation than just the usual hero-villain. Also appearing on the panel are William Joseph Roberts, Bill Ritch, R.A. "Rob" McCandless, and Dennis Medbury.

So You Want To Go Indie: Publishing in the 21st Century-Saturday (2/15) at 11 AM. We're living in a new world with e-readers and platforms like Amazon KDP and Createspace. To use economics teacher metaphors, publishing used to be an oligopoly (harder to get into and more money for those who do), but now it's monopolistic competition (low barriers to entry and less profit). This has led to an explosion in the number of books available to readers, but also drastically increased competition for writers even as it provides a lot more opportunities for them. Also appearing on the panel are William Joseph Roberts, Mandy Burkhead, and Cecilia Dominic.

Alternate Universe Creation-Saturday (2/15) at 1 PM. One area of my writing I've been given kudos for is my worldbuilding. My "idea files" for different projects typically involve well-developed worlds just needing people to put in them. From high school (around 2000 or so) until 2015 when my new day job required more time I was a regular member of (the Internet's biggest alternate history forum), producing several alternate timelines on the site and commenting on many, many more. Even though I had site administration ban me to avoid distractions, I still blog about timelines I can read in the public section, so I'm not getting rusty. Also appearing on the panel are Taylor S. Hoch, Bill Ritch, and Cecilia Dominic. This is the first time I'm actually moderating a panel, so wish me luck. :)

How To Research Effectively-Saturday (2/15) at 3 PM. Given how I've got a history masters degree this is an area where I can put my talents to work. For those writing military fiction YouTube has demonstrations of the firing of various weapons and even footage from actual combat (like the time someone put GoPros on tanks in battle in Syria). Also it's possible to get an alumni library card for colleges you've graduated from to retain access to the library, like I have for Georgia State. Also appearing are Lee Martindale and Cecilia Dominic.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Movie Review: Beyond Skyline (2017)

Once upon a time, I saw the 2010 science fiction movie Skyline and was probably one of the few people to enjoy it. I liked the design of the aliens, the use of nuclear weapons immediately and their more realistic effects (it's not immediate death to absolutely everything and against something as big as an alien mothership with regenerative capabilities it might not even fully work), and the unorthodox ending.

So when the sequel Beyond Skyline came out, I was willing to see it, although other things took priority and I didn't get around to seeing it until Christmas break. So here's the review...

The Plot

Police officer Mark Corley (Frank Grillo), having just lost his wife, is retrieving his troubled son Trent (Jonny Weston) from jail apparently for the third time when the alien invasion from the first film starts. Avoiding immediate abduction due to being in the subway when the harvesting starts, he and some other characters like the homeless blind veteran Sarge (Antonio Fargas) and transit worker Audrey (Bojana Novakovic) soon find themselves collected by the aliens as well. They avoid having their brains harvested to power the aliens' bio-machines and after meeting Elaine (Samantha Jean) and the alien-ized Jarrod (Tony Black) from the first movie, escape to Laos when the alien ship they're on crashes.

Now they have to team up with some martial-artist Golden Triangle drug traffickers to fight the remaining aliens from the fallen craft. Said aliens are after Elaine's baby, who might not be fully human...

The Good

*For all its foolishness--I'll get to that later--it's a very fast-moving, entertaining film. I watched this on Netflix on my Kindle in three elliptical sessions at the gym and it kept me nice and focused.

*We once again see human counterattack in Los Angeles from the first movie, including a grounds-eye view of "the little UCAV that could" (there was a funny meme about that I'd link to if I could find it) that nukes an alien mothership and temporarily grounds it. They even throw in a bit of nuclear strategy--the homeless veteran Sarge, despite being mostly if not completely blind, knows that it's a short-ranged, low-yield nuke. A military commander seeking to destroy armored alien ships the size of the Astrodome without killing the hundreds of thousand of human survivors in the immediate vicinity would start with small tactical nukes and only break out the city-killers if the city and its population was irretrievably lost and there was no other way to protect the rest of the country.

*When the Los Angeles characters meet the Southeast Asian ones and hide out in what I'm pretty sure is Angkor Wat, I liked how the Laotians describe how the temples that were once built to honor the gods are now bases to fight them. Good line. I also liked how (I assume) the children of the Vietnam War generation, when the Americans claimed they're in the middle of the apocalypse, viewed the aliens as just another "apocalypse" they could survive. The various wars in Southeast Asia, if you include WWII, lasted from 1941 to 1990 and killed millions of people. An alien invasion, at least at first, might seem like more of the same.

*There are martial-arts battles between the Asian characters (and some of the American characters who have police experience or simply use handguns) and alien infantry that, despite the ridiculousness of the whole situation (the alien infantry are armored, at least 1-2 feet taller, and at least 50-100 pounds heavier), are still quite entertaining to watch. And occasionally pretty funny.

The Bad

*During the early sequences in Los Angeles it was hard to keep track of some of the lesser characters' names.

*Too much reuse of clips from the original film. It was difficult to tell when they were doing it for the nuclear-attack sequence, but it was obvious when Elaine was talking to Mark about how Jarrod was able to retain his own personality (despite being transplanted into an alien body) due to repeated non-terminal exposure to the alien hypnosis.

*The childbirth sequence is rather poorly done and entirely too short. They could have prolonged it to build suspense--perhaps alien-Jarrod is fighting off other creatures to keep them off Elaine--but it's completed in-universe in maybe five minutes and Elaine somehow has her pants on the entire time.

*The alien attack on Hawaii is a major a missed opportunity. If Hawaii was bypassed during the initial invasion, that leaves the US navy base at Pearl Harbor untouched. That's a crapton of navy ships with long-range missiles (the submarines and cruisers/destroyers all carry substantial cruise missile complements and the subs can launch cruise missiles from underwater) that could engage the aliens from beyond visual range (i.e. their crews can't be hypnotized). The military brass in Hawaii has no doubt been sitting out there getting reports from the mainland about the aliens' strengths, weaknesses, and what isn't working and planning accordingly. Instead, all we see are some of the big warrior-aliens landing at Honolulu Airport and smashing up some buildings before the alien ship moves off toward Asia. If depicting the battle is too expensive, they could just depict the Los Angeles ship arriving to clean up afterward--lots of sunken Navy ships, sailors getting sucked up from the water, some of the alien ships damaged and repairing themselves from local materials, etc. The Los Angeles ship could simply supply some extra warrior-critters to help mop up the area around the base and then move on.

(Somebody write a fan-fic called "The Second Battle of Pearl Harbor," since I don't have time. There's so little Skyline fan-fic out there you'd be a big fish in a small pond.)

*Given Sarge's apparent age, there's a missed opportunity when everybody ends up in Laos. He could easily be a Vietnam vet and could possibly recognize the place from the smells and sounds despite not being able to see. Hell, he could serve as an interpreter between the English-speaking Americans and the Laotians.

*Just how fast is the alien ship moving? It gets from Los Angeles to Hawaii (2,558 miles) in what seems like an hour or two (an airplane flight would take around 5.5 hours) and then travels the 6,500-ish miles from Hawaii to Laos very soon after that. Something that big moving that quickly shows how advanced these aliens are (after all, one of the Los Angeles ships is able to repair itself and fly again after being grounded by a nuclear strike), but it came off to me as the writers not having much of a sense of scale. Especially the latter part. They could have had the damn thing crash in the Philippines, except even that is still over 5,000 miles from Hawaii. The Pacific Ocean is freaking big, people.

*Where are they getting the clothes for the rapidly-growing baby? She gets from a newborn to looking like a preschooler halfway through the film--in-universe that's only in a day or two. Are they stopping by houses along the way to trade clothes?

*And speaking of the baby, she becomes a Macguffin with a bunch of science so weak it would make Star Trek blush.

*There's a big time skip at the end and events taking place after said time skip that don't make a lot of sense.

*There's a weird flashback/flash-forward thing that doesn't really work that ties in with the above.

The Verdict

An improvement over the original if you don't think too hard. Will see the upcoming sequel (yes there is one). 7.5 out of 10.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Future STAR WARS Plot Ideas If (SPOILERS) Had Lived

As those of us who spend way too much time on social media know by now, there's a lot of discussion out there about The Rise of Skywalker and in particular a lot of fans are upset that


Ben Solo, aka the Dark Jedi and First Order Supreme Leader Kylo Ren, dies using the Force resurrect Rey, who fell in battle against her undead grandfather, none other than Emperor Palpatine. Given how The Last Jedi converted me to the "Reylo fandom" and the two of them are absolutely Adorkable when they have the Big Damn Kiss, this was a tad bit disappointing.

(Seriously, look at their facial expressions. It's so cute.)

However, given the magnitude of Ben's crimes, it would have been really awkward for him to just show up at the big Resistance victory party, especially given how many people he'd grievously wronged (mind-raping Poe, killing Chewbacca's best friend, lots of battle casualties for the characters without names) are all there and happy. That's why Redemption Equals Death is such a common trope--someone who'd done that much bad, even if they switch sides and do something useful (kill Palpatine the first time for Anakin, revive the dead or dying last Jedi for Ben), isn't going to be readily accepted by the good people.

That said, if one is willing to put in the work, one could come up with all sorts of interesting plots:

*Ben, owing to his brief tenure as the Supreme Leader, provides the intelligence necessary to more quickly destroy the First Order forces that weren't involved in the battle at Exegol. Realistically they'd be overextended (the movie references "free worlds" so the New Republic hasn't yet been completely conquered) and there's a major leadership vacuum with General Hux, Allegiant General Pryde, and Palpatine dead. Given how the First Order was formed out of Imperial survivors who were allowed to remain, albeit disarmed, or die-hards who fled to the Unknown Regions, nobody is going to want a negotiated peace or anything resembling the First Order left intact. Think WWII unconditional surrender.

If you want to torture Ben, this means he has to sell out people who were loyal to him when he was evil, including people who might well have been actual friends. Furthermore, as my uncle pointed out, "no one trusts a traitor" and Ben has betrayed both the New Jedi Order/Republic and the First Order at this point. He'd need to provide some really good stuff, with independent backup. If you want to crank the awkwardness up, he might even have to work with Finn, whom he'd deliberately sadistically injured but not killed in The Force Awakens, to engineer defections of stormtroopers from First Order armies units he knows are prone to discontent and mutiny. More on the drama with Poe and Finn next...

*Although Poe, Finn, and Rey are the new power trio in the vein of Luke, Leia, and Han in the original trilogy or Ron, Hermione, and Harry in Harry Potter, Rey's romance with Ben could destroy this. In The Force Awakens, Ben mind-raped Poe in what's clearly an extremely unpleasant process and let's not forget the lightsaber-to-the-spine with Finn. Although Poe only saw Ben with his mask on, it's my recollection he was unmasked when he fought Finn and Rey the first time. They're going recognize Ben (or at least Finn will and he'll tell Poe) and they're going to feel massively betrayed. Given how they're two of if not the two senior leaders of the Resistance at this point and will likely have correspondingly high positions in the New (New-New?) Republic, Ben might end up exiled or even a fugitive and Rey will have the sadistic choice of abandoning him to stay with her Resistance friends or joining him.

*When Chewbacca learns of Leia's death, he falls to his knees in agony and pushes away any attempt to comfort him. As someone pointed out on Twitter, this is the third friend he'd lost because of Ben--Han got straight-up murdered, Luke burned himself out Force-projecting to distract Ben from finishing off the Resistance at Crait, and Leia burned herself out Force-projecting to jump-start Ben's redemption. Although Chewbacca flew Rey to the First Order fleet in The Last Jedi in order to facilitate what everybody hoped would be Ben's defection, at this point he may well be of the opinion, "Screw that kid." He might be violently (emphasis on violently) displeased to see Ben again. I recall Han's comment about Wookiees pulling arms out of sockets and depending on just how remorseful Ben is for his bad deeds, I'm imagining him letting him do that.

*Per the above, the fleet that arrives to relieve Poe and his pilots over Exegol seems to have been organized by Lando. Lando, Han's longtime friend, friend enough to Luke to help him with his "rebuild the Jedi" project, and given his past I'm pretty sure "send Leia my love" was him trying to hit on Leia like in The Empire Strikes Back now that Han is no longer in the picture. Even though per some of the new-canon material he was a sort of uncle to Ben as a child, he's not going to be happy with him either. Since it was Lando who brought the fleet to Exegol and he has actual governing experience (running Cloud City), I'm imagining him as the new Chancellor (with Poe probably being naval commander and Finn being the commander of ground forces) once the Republic is re-established and he'll be able to express his displeasure far more forcibly than just punching Ben in the face until he wears out his arm.

*Given how Snoke had forbidden Ben's true name from being spoken by the First Order and most of the galaxy might be only vaguely aware of him (as opposed to Kylo Ren), he's not going to be most hated man in the entire galaxy, at least right away. However, word is going to spread and then he will be.

Perhaps the Resistance leaders agree to accept him back to help clean up the First Order survivors (depending on how well-known his defection is, he could order surrenders or withdrawals out of Republic territory as Supreme Leader in addition to the intelligence he can offer), but as word spreads, popular outrage builds. Think how in the new-canon novel Bloodline, the revelation that Leia concealed that her father was Darth Vader caused a massive popular outcry and derailed her political career. And in this case, said outrage would be far more justifiable given Ben's actual crimes.

Ironically enough, if a surviving Ben works with Rey to rebuild the Jedi Order, a separation between the Jedi and the New Republic--either the Jedi Order has to be rebuilt outside the Republic's borders because one of its two new leaders is going to be shot on sight or Rey and Ben are allowed to remain (probably as a favor for Rey rather than out of any love for Ben) but the Republic's leadership doesn't like or trust them--might be for the best. The Jedi aren't going to be part of the political system with all its distractions and corruption and can basically serve as an order of teachers, mystics, and knights-errant (I'm thinking a visit to Canto Bight to free some child slaves and recruit broom-boy for the New Jedi Order is a good idea) rather than a close ally or arm of the state.