Monday, November 11, 2019


Here's the current status of the cover for my forthcoming independent military fantasy Battle for the Wastelands. Artist Matt Cowdery says it's about halfway done.

So far so awesome. Seriously, it's going to look great when it's done. The horseman needs his rifle (probably a Spencer repeating rifle from the American Civil War) as well as a saddle and saddlebags and a cowboy hat to signal to readers that this is a Western (or at least Western-ish). I also had some quibbles about the placement of weapons on the airships' gondolas, but those are relatively easy fixes.

Definitely looking forward to the next update!

Friday, November 8, 2019

Alternate History: Japanese Avoid Midway To Attack South, Large Scandinavian Jewish Population

Went visiting the alternate history forum again and found a couple interesting scenarios that I'm posting here for your enjoyment.

Operation FS: Japan's Final Strike-One of Japan's military plans that was never actually executed was Operation FS, the planned occupation of Fiji, Samoa, and New Caledonia. The ultimate goal of the plan was to cut off Australia from the United States and force it out of the war. The plan was supposed to be executed after the destruction of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Midway. Fortunately the United States won that round and the plan, already in jeopardy due to the Battle of the Coral Sea, was shelved. In this scenario, due to some messages getting through to the Japanese high command that didn't in real history, the U.S. loses the carrier Yorktown as well as the carrier Lexington at the Coral Sea. This leads to the shelving of the Midway operation and the go-ahead to strike south. Although economic realities mean that Japan is still going to get reamed--and the timeline's opening states the operation will ultimately fail--how the Japanese ultimately fail and what effects this operation has elsewhere could be significant. And these types of scenarios are always fun to read if one is interested in the Pacific Theater of World War II.

Gy├░inga Saga - The History of the Jews of Scandinavia-In this scenario, there's a larger movement of Jews into Scandinavia earlier than in real life that leads to the emergence of a Jewish community that views itself as neither Sephardic nor Ashkenazi. The main scenario has some plausibility issues--the latter part discusses the experience of these Jews under Nazi rule, but with a divergence that far back Hitler might not even come to power in the first place--but the follow-up discussion is pretty interesting. For starters, these Jews will be much, much more European genetically (due to intermarriage between male Jews and pagan women of other Scandinavian or Baltic ethnic groups, with the resulting children raised as Jewish) than the Ashkenazi, whose non-Jewish DNA is from a different European population and stopped entering the Jewish gene pool much earlier. This in turn led to discussion as to just what the Nazis, whose anti-Semitism was primarily racial rather than religious, would make of the Gydes. After all, the Nazis largely spared the Karaites, on the grounds they were more akin to Turkic peoples. One board member theorized that the Nazis would view them as "Judaized Germans" rather than racial Jews and try to "deprogram" them rather than exterminate them. This might resemble the German abductions of Polish (and other Slavic) children of ostensibly Aryan ancestry for Germanization.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

BATTLE FOR THE WASTELANDS Is Going Indie (Here's First Phase of Cover)

Although The Thing in the Woods is my first published novel, it is not the first novel I've actually completed. Not counting my two lengthy Harry Potter fan-fics "Wrath of the Half-Blood Prince" and "Lord of the Werewolves" and my rewrite of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen so aptly titled "The Revenge of the Fallen Reboot," my first finished novel is actually Battle for the Wastelands, which can be described as "a post-apocalyptic steampunk military fantasy" or more concisely "Dark Tower meets Game of Thrones."

I completed the novel sometime in 2011-2012 and have been submitting it to different agents and publishers over the years, tinkering with it based on any personalized rejection or commentary I got. This prolonged process (plus an edit by Apex Publications boss Jason Sizemore, who offers extensive freelance services) resulted in a less wordier book--the current draft is 88.5K and the original was 101K. This was accomplished by cutting only words and phrases--not only did I not need to cut anything significant, but even I added a new scene to give the sole female POV character a more solid character arc (overcoming depression).

Unfortunately, the prolonged process meant that its window has likely passed. I was told by a fellow writer that unless one is Cherie Priest, Barnes and Noble isn't stocking steampunk books. This means publishers are not likely to buy them, since Barnes and Noble is the largest brick-and-mortar bookstore. Although Battle is more subtle steampunk--it's more of a military novel that happens to be set in a different world than "all airships all the time"--there's still airships, Babbage engines, etc. Furthermore, the steampunk fandom seems in decline--there're fewer steampunk costumes at conventions, steampunk-focused conventions are trying to expand their offerings, etc. Although one can market Battle without using the dreaded S-word, it has so many steampunk tropes and aspects that big presses are likely to turn up their noses.

Speaking of turnaround time, one publisher was reviewing the book for roughly two years (it made the second round of judging and I think there was some personnel turnover, so I'm not blaming them). Although patience is a virtue, especially if you're an author trying to get a book deal, there aren't a lot of book publishers who'd consider it left at this point. Furthermore, one of the remaining ones I was warned could take a similar amount of time. I finished this book (and a companion novella focused on the main villain's adult son) seven years ago. I'm getting a little tired.

Another big (possibly the biggest) issue with a professional sale is that it's not standalone. The book pretty obviously sets up more battles to come in a way that Thing and my forthcoming Little People, Big Guns do not. I don't have an established track record, so publishers aren't likely to take a chance on what's an obvious series starter. Many readers won't start a series unless it's already done, which a nasty catch-22 that leaves many series unfinished for lack of sales.

Finally, although Battle is a better book for years' worth of tightening, the more concise length also makes it less salable. I've spoken to many people who know what they're talking about who think a fantasy novel should be 100K words if not more. I'd considered adding stuff to pad it out, but that's the key phrase--"pad it out." It will be obvious that stuff was added to meet a word count and the quality would suffer.

So I hired Mr. Sizemore once more for proofreading--and he went above and beyond by answering a lot of my publishing questions--and I commissioned a cover from artist Matt Cowdery, whom I met at DragonCon this past Labor Day. The cover will be completed in stages--here's the first part, which in artist lingo is called a "comp."

The final product will look something like this or this in overall style and detail.

Independently publishing means I'll have to do everything myself, but I listen a lot of writing-related podcasts and know several independent authors in real life. I've got a lot of ideas on what to do, some of which I cite in the next chunk below.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

HELLRAISER as...a Lifetime Original Movie

In mid-October I watched Clive Barker's horror film Hellraiser for the first time in several years for the podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood. Here's the podcast for your listening pleasure.

Although I saw the film as an adult rather than a child or teen like most of the movies we've done, it didn't hold up as well as I'd thought. One of the big problems was pacing--the film could really stand to use a trimming. And then podcast host Nic made a comment that I can't really refute--Hellraiser came off like a Lifetime Original Movie.

(For those of you who aren't Americans or aren't super into television, Lifetime is a television network aimed at a female audience. It has a reputation for overdramatic low-budget movies focusing on women in peril from the latest in-the-news danger and/or dramatizing real-life incidents like the woman who killed her child's molester in court. Here's an article discussing the phenomenon; it even has an amusing TVTropes page.)

And if you stripped out the supernatural elements, it would seriously look like a "teen girl in peril" film more appropriate for Lifetime than, say, the horror streaming channel Shudder. Seriously, Kirsty could be an older teen (in the original script she's only twenty and she could easily be 18-19) who moves with her father Larry and disliked stepmother Julia to a new town and finds the situation so intolerable she rents an apartment of her own and gets a job she doesn't particularly like to pay for it. She finds a new boyfriend and things seem tolerable at least...until she learns that Frank her pervert uncle has escaped from prison. He's hiding in the attic of the family home and is canoodling with Julia, encouraging her to commit crimes to get money so they can run away together.

Furthermore, some of her uncle's criminal associates are looking for him (Frank in the book and film is referenced as owing people money) and if they can't have him, they'll gladly recoup their losses by taking Kirsty away for sex trafficking (with human trafficking being a major news topic I could definitely imagine a Lifetime movie about it--and I'm pretty sure they've covered this before) instead. She bargains with them by offering to give them her uncle (whom she discovered and who attacked and injured her) instead. This they go along with, arriving at the family home to find her stepmother and uncle have already murdered her father. The criminals kill both of them (or, like in the film, Frank kills Julia by accident before the criminals kill him), then renege on their deal and try to kidnap her anyway. Fortunately she's found her father's gun or managed to steal one from one of the criminals and disposes of them all like a Final Girl in a slasher film.

What do you all think? All of these elements generally line up with what happened in Hellraiser, minus the whole "resurrected by blood from sadomasochistic Hell," "evil Rubik's Cube that opens dimensional gateways,"  and "leather demons" parts. And given the greater awareness of sexual assault (Frank's rampant perving on the teen Kirsty and the very rapey flashbacks with Julia) and human trafficking, this would definitely include Lifetime movies' "ripped from the headlines" tendencies.

Furthermore, Kirsty would be a good protagonist for a film intended for female audiences. She isn't reliant on or obedient to any male character (she gently disregards her father's wish that she live with him and Julia and chooses to support herself), she fights off the rapey Frank by herself upon their first encounter, she's able to bargain with the Cenobites (or in this case a bunch of human criminals) when she can't physically overpower them, and although the film never explicitly depicts her having sex with boyfriend Steve, one of them is definitely staying over at the other's home and yet she doesn't suffer Death By (Possible) Sex like many female characters in slasher films do.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Belated After-Action Report: MultiverseCon

This past October 18-20, I sold books at MultiverseCon, a new convention at the Hilton Atlanta Airport. It was the first convention and attendance was lighter than I expected, but I still sold eighteen books, making around $75 profit. I also collected twelve e-mail addresses for my roughly semi-monthly MailChimp newsletter.

And there was plenty of cool stuff besides making money. I made contacts with some people that could lean to paneling at AnachroCon in February. I'm currently in the process of getting my "Dark Tower meets Game of Thrones" novel Battle for the Wastelands ready for independent publication (more on that later) and AnachroCon, with its steampunk basis, would be a great place to premiere it.

I also got some good advice about conventions in Atlanta whose patrons buy lots of books. CONjuration, which I thought was primarily magic/fantasy-focused, would be a good place to sell Battle even though there's no magic (I would probably describe as "steampunk" if pressed, although steampunk seems to be in decline these days). So would JordanCon, which will be returning to Atlanta this coming April. The next CONjuration in which I'll have Battle (and Little People, Big Guns as well) will be (I'm assuming) November 2020, but the next JordanCon is slated for April 17-19.

Another unexpected pleasure of the convention was meeting S. Kay Nash, who edited The Thing in the Woods for Digital Fiction Publications. She's pretty cool. :)

I'm definitely looking forward to the next MultiverseCon, since the convention will probably have more visitors and I'll definitely have more books to sell.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

How To Improve Original FRIDAY THE 13TH (SPOILERS)

As part of the "Heavy Hitters of Horror" month on Myopia: Defend Your Childhood, we did episodes on the original Nightmare on Elm Street and just recently the original Friday the 13th. Here's the Friday the 13th episode, in which you can hear us griping about how the movie really isn't that good and only spawned the sequels we know and love because it cost so little to make and made so much profit.

Well, criticism is easy. Here are some ways to make it better. Note that there are spoilers for a nearly forty-year-old movie contained herein:

*I'd begin the film in 1957 with young Jason drowning in the lake due to the counselors who are supposed to be watching him off having sex. His mother Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), perhaps sensing something is wrong, comes running from the camp kitchen where she works but is too late to save her son. She loses it, lashes out at the counselors who arrive at just the wrong time (per TVTropes, in the Pamela's Tale prequel comic Jason found the two counselors going at it and the male counselor chased him into the lake, so they're probably close by) and kills them. Then she sets the camp kitchen on fire. The fire spreads, destroying much of the camp, and Mrs. Voorhees gets arrested. She's taken off to jail or a mental institution (I doubt "temporary insanity" was a thing back then, but a newly-bereaved mother of a sickly son who died due to others' negligence is likely to get more sympathetic treatment than a premeditated stabber), but owing to the bad press and destruction of the facilities, the camp is closed. The actual movie prologue didn't really make a lot of sense. In 1958 the counselors sneak off for some lovemaking and get stabbed by an unknown assailant for unknown reasons (although the counselors do seem to know who's attacking them based on their initial reaction to being caught), then a time-jump of 20-30 years.

*The above scenario would deal with one of big problems that I and other members had with the film--Mrs. Voorhees isn't introduced until the last fifteen minutes of the film. If I hadn't already known the first movie's killer was Jason's mother rather than Jason himself, I'd have been in serious Flat What territory. If there needs to be a reference to her in the film's "present day," have the creepy trucker who drives Annie Phillips (Robbi Morgan) to the camp pass by the Voorhees family home and point it out to her and relate to how Mrs. Voorhees is in jail for the disaster at the camp back in the 1950s or was eventually released (two counts of manslaughter or second-degree murder and a couple counts of arson and reckless endangerment--she might've been released in the 1970s after serving 15-20 years) but secluded herself in the home and ultimately died. To cite the almighty Chekhov's Gun, if you fire a gun in Act 3 you need to reveal it in Act 1, and Mrs. Voorhees is neither discussed nor appears until the end of the movie.

*The first hour or so of the film need to be tightened up a bit--we see the camp getting repaired and get a little bit of characterization, but it takes too long. The scene where all six of the counselors kill a snake in the cabin after it startles one of them epitomizes the problem--were they all that bored they all had to pile into the cabin to deal with a snake?

*I was actually impressed by some of the cunning and tactical skills Mrs. Voorhees used. She's basically a 40-60-year-old woman (Pamela's Tale suggests she was pregnant with Jason as a teen, which means she could have been in her 20s when he died) and not a very big one, unlike her 400 pound muscle-mountain son of the later films. Physically overpowering most of the cast is going to be beyond her. So she strikes from ambush or uses lights (the archery range lights, her flashlight) to night-blind people before killing them with knives or other weapons. She also takes pains to cut the power and phone lines. When dealing with an alerted and younger, stronger opponent, she's notably ineffective as a fighter. My proposed new Act III would put this to good use.

*Owing to the spread-out nature of the kills and how nobody seems to be really aware of what's going on until the very end of the film, there's no tension and suspense. To remedy this and put Mrs. Voorhees' tactical skills to good use, I would have the counselors, many of whom seem to suffer from what TVTropes calls Too Dumb To Live, figure out what's going on much earlier. Perhaps when the obnoxious Ned (Mark Nelson) disappears on top of Annie not showing up like she was supposed to, they start searching the camp and find the body of Marcie (Jeanine Taylor) in the bathroom and the corpses of Jack (Kevin Bacon) and Ned in the cabin where they'd assumed Marcie and Jack were off having sex.

That still leaves half the camp staff alive and we can have them trying to hunt the killer themselves (it's ten miles back to town, in the rain no less, so they're basically stuck) or flee the campsite completely. Either way they get attacked in the dark by Mrs. Voorhees, who has just killed the new camp owner Steve Christy (Peter Brower). This would account for Brenda (Laurie Bartram), leading to a siege where Alice (Adrienne King) and Bill (Harry Crosby III) are barricaded in the cabin with Mrs. Voorhees prowling around outside. Mrs. Voorhees, going back to the arson in the new prologue, blocks the main door of the cabin they're hiding in and sets it on fire, killing Bill as he jumps out a window. Alice (Adrienne King) manages to get out of the burning cabin, paving the way for the final confrontation.

*During that confrontation in the actual film, Alice evades Mrs. Voorhees and even injures her multiple times, but Mrs. Voorhees keeps getting up and coming after her. After the second time this happens, even if Alice lacks the skill or inclination to actually kill her after all this crap, she should at least disarm her or tie her up to make good her escape. Perhaps in trying that, Mrs. Voorhees is able to injure her with a hidden second weapon or just hit her on the head really hard, leveling the playing field and putting Alice in very real danger. That would make the final confrontation less laughable and generate more suspense.

*Instead of the "dead lake Jason nightmare" and the hospital scene, end the film with police, fire, and ambulances arriving at the camp (perhaps drawn by smoke from fires Mrs. Voorhees has set) and discovering the injured Alice and the dead Mrs. Voorhees. We see Mrs. Voorhees being loaded up (in pieces) in the ambulance and cut to...

THE DISFIGURED ADULT JASON WATCHING FROM THE WOODS. Although the Wikipedia article about the first movie states the creator didn't like making Jason into the villain of the later films when he was the victim of negligent camp staff, I think the "dead lake Jason" was included as a sequel hook. This would show that Jason is not in fact dead, but grew up into the mute and vengeful machete-machine we all know and love.

You guys like? It keeps the few good parts of the film (Mrs. Voorhees as a tactical genius with a very understandable beef with the camp), but tightens it up and makes it a lot more suspenseful.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

My Next Convention: MultiverseCon (Plus Panels I Wish I Could Attend)

In my admittedly limited experience as an author, I make more money from going to events and signing books than from royalties, much like how musicians make more money from going on tours and concerts than from selling records. Consequently, I go to a lot of events--this past year's adventures included the Decatur Book Festival, Hypericon in Murfreesboro (where I was a panelist), various bookstore appearances, a gun show, and the new Next Chapter Con in Ringgold where I sold a bunch of books and definitely plan to come back.

At most book events I have two books to sell, The Thing in the Woods and The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2, which contains my short Viking monster story "Nicor." In November I will have a new book coming out, Little People, Big Guns from Deadite Press, but there's one more big fandom convention in Atlanta between now and then and that's MultiverseCon. It seems to be a relatively new event at the Hilton Atlanta Airport 10/18-20 and not only was the author table price relatively cheap but it's pretty close to my day job, so off I'm going.

Not only will there probably be a lot of vendors at the event (the vendors are sold out this year), but MultiverseCon's schedule shows a lot of really interesting panels. Given my table responsibilities I would only be able to attend the ones after the dealers' room closes, but here are some I find particularly interesting:

Friday, 10/18

Where Horror Lives (2:30 PM)-As a teen and then an adult there's not a lot in horror movies or books that really scares me, although there is stuff I do find really depressing (the unnecessarily bleak ending of the film The Mist that I have no interest in seeing comes to mind). I think the only time I've ever gotten straight-up nightmares from something was James Tuck's (as Levi Black's) first Mythos War novel Red Right Hand and my own short story "I am the Wendigo," and that's having been interested in the scary stuff since preschool (I wasn't allowed to see Arachnophobia and Gremlins 2, which was for the best). So looking for ways to crank up the fear would be a wise use of time.

Flash Your Fiction: How Short Can You Go? (5:30 PM)-I've heard that flash is hard to write but easy to sell and my first paying sale, "I am the Wendigo," isn't that much longer than flash. This might help me churn out salable material in a relatively short time.

Meetup: Podcasters and YouTubers (5:30 PM)-I'm a regular on the podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood and an occasional contributor to The Geekly Oddcast. I've also considered starting my own YouTube channel as an additional income stream and as an additional marketing mechanism. I've also appeared on podcasts to promote my work and have promotional appearances lined up for Little People, Big Guns, so this would be a good place to network too.

Pub Pitch (10 PM)-Various writers help each other refine their elevator pitches.

The Virtue of Villains (10 PM)-The villains that inspire the most discussion (and thus money-generating word of mouth) are often at least some degree sympathetic. A lot of people sympathized with Killmonger from Black Panther for example, while I've repeatedly defended Magneto from The X-Men and been very critical of his unnecessarily-evil portrayal ("Kill all humans") in the second X-Men film. I've worked hard to make the Big Bad Grendel and his son and heir Falki in my upcoming "Dark Tower meets Game of Thrones" novel Battle for the Wastelands deeper and more developed characters with understandable and even sympathetic motivations, even when they do really bad things like execute people trying to surrender, keeping defeated enemies' teen daughters as concubines, etc. This panel is noted for featuring Falstaff Books overlord John G. Hartness, whom I've met at DragonCon several times.

Saturday, 10/19

Beyond Ghosts and Goblins (10 AM)-Creating new and innovative monsters, especially ones that tap into current fears.

From Smaller to Baller: What Technological Advances Can Help Build Galactic Empires? (10 AM)-How to conquer defended planets, build interstellar polities, etc. This could be really helpful for my Federated Worlds universe, which features interstellar warfare and governance.

Publishing Q&A (10 AM)-Also featuring Mr. Hartness and writer Terry Maggert, whom I met at Hypericon over the summer.

Girls Rule (11:30 AM)-Female writers on how to write female characters. This could be useful for improving my personal writing.

Beyond Vampires and Werewolves (11:30 AM)-This is like the earlier "Ghosts and Goblins" panel, but with a focus on urban fantasy rather than horror. I don't think I've written a lot of (if any) UF, but I have written across many genres and what's one more? The more varied one's product, the more successful one is.

Teaching Speculative Elements (11:30 AM)-As you might've seen on Twitter, my day job is a high school teacher. This is something that could help me improve in that area.

Beyond the European Paradigm: Creating Fantasy Worlds for your TTRPG that Aren't Anglo-Saxon (1 PM)-I'm not a gamer, but this could be a good place to learn some interesting world-building elements.

Social Media For Writers (1 PM)-Social media is a pretty big time sink and I need to learn how to use it more effectively.

Sunday, 10/20

Let's Do the Mash! The Genre Mash! (10 AM)-As the panel write-up points out, mixing sci-fi and horror created the wonder that was the Alien franchise and I explicitly describe Battle for the Wastelands as "Dark Tower (Weird Western) meets Game of Thrones (deliberately subversive high fantasy)." I've also supported the idea that horror is an aesthetic more than it's own genre--Alien, Terminator, and the works of Lovecraft are sci-fi, Hellraiser is fantasy, etc.

ASK ME ANYTHING: How to Get Into Working on Licensed Properties (11:30 AM)-I've written for the BattleTech fictional universe before with my short story "Skirmish at the Vale's Edge," but that was a very long time ago. Scoring a gig in an established property like Star Wars or V-Wars like Delilah S. Dawson and James Tuck (whom I knew when we all lived in the general Atlanta area) would be awesome.

Craft of Writing: Characterization (11:30 AM)-Although I've gotten better at it, I remember writing-group critiques of "make us care about them before you kill them" and this would be a big help.

The Many-Faced God: Unraveling Sub-Genres in Fantasy (11:30 AM)-Lots of potential market research here.

Advanced Craft: Characterization: Writing the Anti-Hero(ine) (1 PM)-This ties in with my desire to improve my characterization--flawed heroes and sympathetic villains are more interesting characters. Some of my favorite fictional characters (Magneto, Snape) would fit in this category. Hell, in my Harry Potter fan-fic "Lord of the Werewolves" I took the kindly Remus Lupin of all people in this direction.

Pushing the Envelope: Religion, Politics, and More in Horror Fiction (1 PM)-Although I don't buy the adage that "all art is political," a lot of time the arts are more political than you think. Hell, my novel The Thing in the Woods deals with "retro vs. metro," religion, racial and class prejudice, etc. I've even written an article about it. And Little People, Big Guns deals with religion, disability, etc. These days when there's an increased awareness of that sort of thing, this could be useful.

Unless the vendor's room is truly dead I'm not likely to abandon my post to check these out, but the rest of you might find this interesting. So if you're in the Atlanta area 10/18-10/20 or are able to come down for the weekend, definitely check out MultiverseCon.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Both My Supervillain-Protagonist Stories Are Now "Wide"

Back in 2013 when I was in graduate school, I wrote two short stories featuring Indian-American supervillain Andrew Patel as the protagonist, "Ubermensch" and "Needs Must." Although I would consider myself a political conservative, I do agree with the concept of more minority representation in speculative fiction, not just on the grounds of giving children the chance to see themselves as superheroes but also because members of these groups have money to spend. Look at the success of Miles Morales, the Afro-Latino hero of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse or the Muslim Miss Marvel who will be getting her own Disney show soon. When I first tweeted them out, none other than Muslim fantasy writer Saladin Ahmed retweeted the links for me.

Although I had plans to write more stories featuring Patel, there wasn't a whole lot of reader interest compared to my alternate history and straight science fiction and fantasy projects. I've got a draft of a third story that actually links Andrew and his world with The Thing in the Woods in a Stephen King fashion (I got the idea from my friend Nic, overlord of Myopia: Defend Your Childhood), which I might include in a collection someday. However, that's likely all we'll ever see of Andrew Patel until we get to that future Thing sequel where he makes an appearance.

In the meantime, although I do make sales now and again (I sold a copy each yesterday, for example), the Kindle Unlimited borrows really dried up. According to one of the writing podcasts I listen to, one should stay in KU until the borrows stop coming in and then one should go wide on outlets like Kobo, Barnes and Noble, etc.

To that end, the two tales of supervillain Andrew Patel are now "wide" on non-Amazon markets. "Ubermensch" can be found on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and Apple here and "Needs Must" can be found in these markets here. They are also various library markets like Overdrive, but they're not live there yet.

So if you're interested in the tales of an Indian-American biomedical engineer who read a little too much Nietzsche in college and has transformed himself into a cyborg to achieve transcendence, enjoy!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

How To Improve WILD WILD WEST (1999)

For the 200th episode of Myopia: Defend Your Childhood, our mighty host decided we ought to do Wild Wild West, the Will Smith and Kevin Kline vehicle based on the 1960s TV series). I'd only seen some bits of the movie on HBO at my parents' house long ago and I'm an aficionado of steampunk, so this was something I wanted to see. Here's the podcast. Although I found much of the film hilarious--the only member of the crew to do so--I admit there were some areas that needed improvement.

So here's how I would have improved Wild Wild West while keeping as much of the film intact as possible. Here there be spoilers for a movie that's 20-odd years old, so be ye warned...

*Instead of the prologue with the scientist being killed by the flying blade pursuing the magnetized collar around his neck, have a flashback to the end of the Civil War in which Confederate General "Bloodbath" McGrath (Ted Levine) and Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh) attack the free black town of New Liberty with their steampunk war machines. Fortunately a nearby detachment of black cavalry including Jim West (Will Smith) is nearby and is able to relieve the town. In the process Loveless loses the lower half of his body and this can be played for laughs. I'm thinking some kind of explosion triggered by West blows Loveless in half, with body parts flying through the air.

(Given how the podcast group objected to the mood whiplash between silliness and serious James Bond-type spycraft, combining a massacre of civilians by evil racists with said racists getting hurt in hilarious ways would be tricky to pull off. Still it's probably doable.)

*Trim down the opening credits. They're more entertaining than the over-long opening credits of Spawn, but they go on and on and on...

*The first chunk or so of the film is generally good, with a lot of goofy humor, fight scenes, and the introduction of steampunk techie Artemis Gordon (Kevin Kline) but it reveals one of the film's major flaws. Many of the jokes in the film are funny, but they go on too long. We're talking Family Guy level of jokes going on too long here. The scene where West is having sex with a woman in a town's water tower is amusing, but the joke about him pretending to kiss her when he's really kissing empty air and she's getting progressively more annoyed goes on much longer than it needs to. The point has been made; let's get to the gunfight in the bar.

*In general, more practical effects. A lot of the CGI in the film is simply bad.

*Nixing the opening with the fleeing scientist losing his head means we lose the "that's a man's head" scene between Gordon and West, but perhaps someone else can lose their head instead. Somebody at the bar at the beginning, perhaps? McGrath is there and he's intent on running nitroglycerin to Loveless in New Orleans, so perhaps one of his minions' corpses is captured? That scene was pretty funny and it would be a shame to lose it.

*Considering how one of the guards on Loveless's estate accosts West and berates him using racist language (calling him "boy") when he sees him skulking around outside, I would expect him to have a much more hostile reception inside. Instead none of the Confederate die-hards attending his ball seem to care that a black man (and a member of the current U.S. Army no less) is roaming about armed and talking to white people as an equal rather than a servant, at least until he gropes a white woman he thinks is Gordon in disguise. Given how he absolutely refused to go as Gordon's manservant--his explanation allows for both humor and to show how incredibly degrading that would be. Perhaps instead he could have gone in disguise as some kind of African prince, Coming To America style? Ex-Confederates would disdain former slaves but might think somewhat better of a wealthy foreigner.

*When we first meet Rita Escobar (Salma Hayek) she's being held prisoner by some scantily-clad entertainers. The vibe I was getting was that Loveless had hired prostitutes to keep his captive scientists entertained, with Rita pretending to be a more respectable actress or singer who refused to participate. The idea that Loveless is using the carrot as well as the stick to control the scientists--and especially the particular nature of the carrot--could be played for more comedy.

*Although most of the group objected to the scenes where Loveless needles West about being black and West in turn needles Loveless about being disabled, a lot of that I actually found pretty funny. Not only does it appeal to my sense of humor, which relies heavily on wordplay and tasteless, shocking comments, but it would be realistic for its time. Loveless, being a Confederate die-hard, would be incredibly racist, while West would retaliate using the most obvious avenue, especially given how sensitive a subject this is for Loveless.

*The way they talk to each other implies they've interacted in the past, although there's really no reason for them to have. Perhaps they fight, or at least talk to each other, in the new prologue?

*That said, the attempted lynching of West that's played for comedy (!) doesn't go well at all. Gordon deliberately set it up (!!) to distract the guests from his searching Loveless's estate to find the captive scientists and it does allow for some amusing Will Smith jokes, but they're not going to be letting a man they intend to murder talk for so long like that. I would have made it so Gordon just needs to distract the party guests long enough to rescue Rita and then the two of them quickly intervene to keep West from being killed. Searching the estate would take hours and West would be long dead by then, but springing Rita from Loveless's sex-dungeon bedroom and then saving West is much less risky. Later in the film, West can in turn put Gordon at gross risk of bodily harm that's both funny and makes the point that what nearly happens to West is serious Dude Not Funny territory. Given how West absolutely refuses to pretend to be Gordon's servant we know that enslavement left a mark on him even though he escaped as a child, and lynching would be a much more fearful possibility for him than for a white man like Gordon.

*West references having been raised by Indians after escaping slavery as a child, but nothing about Native Americans happens at all even though they're in the Old West. His revealing how he was separated from his parents and how they were killed by McGrath at New Liberty was necessary plot-wise to get Gordon to stop feuding with him, but there was no need for the Indian back-story unless it was relevant--say if his adoptive Indian tribe showed up to help fight Loveless or something. I'd just nix that completely because bringing in an Indian war party on top of everything else would make the whole thing needlessly complicated.

(Unless of course West sets up Gordon to be scalped or undergo something like the "sun vow" scene from A Man Called Horse in revenge for Gordon trying to get him lynched earlier. That might actually be funny.)

And that turn ties in with my next point...

*Loveless's plan to divide up the United States between various former colonial powers makes things needlessly complicated and raises some awkward questions--namely an alliance of Mexico and various European powers supporting a terrorist to break up the United States would be grounds for immediate war if it went wrong. And given how President Grant knows the various European countries are involved, that's the obvious sequel and people would be wondering. I'd have just stuck with him trying to kidnap and/or kill President Grant, perhaps using McGrath and his Confederate die-hards as cannon fodder to punish them for losing the war. After all, I did like that Loveless hated the Confederates for losing the war and making his crippling ultimately pointless as much as he hated the Union for crippling him--it shows how much of a narcissist he is. Loveless's betrayal of McGrath and the murder of his men could be here instead of much earlier at the estate.

*Given how much West needles Gordon about dressing in drag for his missions, West having to dress in drag to rescue Grant and Gordon is an amusing ironic punishment. However, like many of the film's jokes, the scene goes for way too long. Yes, Will Smith pretending to be a sassy belly dancer in a veil to secretly unchain some people is funny, but get to the point already.

*The big reveal at the end that Rita's "father" isn't really her father but her husband would've been a lot funnier if the actor was someone younger and better-looking than Gary Cervantes. As someone pointed out on the podcast, perhaps Antonio Banderas? Given how West and Gordon are competing for Rita's affections the entire time, I get they were going for the shocking reveal she was married, but it would have been funnier if it was to a man widely-regarded as a sex symbol in a way Kevin Kline is not. And as they leave at the end, perhaps Mr. Escobar can wink at them? That would be pretty funny, plus it shows he's perceptive enough to know that his wife had been playing them the entire time and he's gloating that at the end of the day, it's him she's going home with. Maybe that'd make him a bit of an Ungrateful Bastard, but it'd be funny.

Hopefully all these suggestions would tighten the film up and fix some plot holes all while preserving the good bits.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

A 1632 War Between the Spanish and Tokugawa Japan?

Although I'm self-banned from the alternate history forum to keep myself from wasting too much time online, I do drop in the public forums to check for interesting new material. Here's one new story, "Reconquista Basara: A 1632 Spanish-Tokugawa War TL."

It diverges from real history in 1632 when Matsakura Shigemasa, a strongly anti-Christian daimyo (Japanese feudal lord) escapes an assassination attempt that might have been ordered by the Shogun due to his misrule and brutalization of the peasantry. Per the Wikipedia article he was planning to launch a maritime invasion of the Spanish colony of Luzon in the Philippines!. Not being dead this time around, he's able to launch the campaign with the assistance of the Dutch, who would welcome the chance to open up another front against the Spanish and don't like the Jesuits much more than he does. Luzon falls, but the Spanish (and the Portuguese, with whom they were in a dynastic union at the time) strike back, landing an army in Japan proper and gaining  support from the Catholic peasants and ronin (masterless samurai), who in real history would soon launch the Shimabara Rebellion.

Some highlights of this timeline include:

*Early modern Japanese expansion outside of the Home Islands, which with the weakening Ming Dynasty in China and the relatively weak European presence elsewhere in Asia would have been something they'd have a strong chance at pulling off. Yes, they failed in real history to conquer Korea the first time, but Korea was a well-organized state backed up by Imperial China. The Philippines are farther away, but the Spanish and their local allies are far weaker on the ground. Although the Shogun knows there's going to be hell to pay for this, the other lords of Japan view Matsakura as a hero and Japan as whole is now in on this for reasons of saving face if nothing else. That in turn has consequences--see below.

*When the Iberians strike back, the Shogunate gets what is coming to it for its mistreatment of Japanese Christians and squeezing of the peasants more generally. Although I have a fairly high tolerance for movie violence, one film I'm not interested in seeing is Silence because based on the trailers it looks like a cavalcade of "Japanese Christians getting tortured and murdered by the Shogun." The near-genocide of Japanese Christians is proof that one can kill an idea (although "hidden Christians" survived here and there until the end of the Shogunate Christianity was effectively obliterated) and the fact that some idiotic modern people view this as some kind of anti-colonial campaign or an attempt to protect traditional Japanese religion from the Inquisition is even more galling. This time around Japanese Catholics might be on "the right side of history" and the Shoguns on the wrong, even though as a Christian I'm inclined to think Judgement Day will see the Church's ultimate vindication.

*This additional front in the worldwide war between the Spanish and the Dutch and the Protestants and Catholics in turn has some major effects in Europe. Although globalization is typically viewed as a modern phenomenon, even then the world was very interconnected--silver from the Americas funded Spain's wars against the Ottomans and Protestants and purchased luxury goods from Asia via the Manila galleon. I'm not going to go into detail for reasons of spoilers.

The last update on the timeline was last Thursday, August 22. I hope the author keeps up the good work.