Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Guest Post: T.S. Dann Reviews SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK Movie

Greetings, ladies and jerks.

Apparently, the Matthew Quinn values my opinion enough to ask my thoughts after a recent trip to the moving pictures. The picture show in question is the recently released film Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. 

Why should you care what the hell I have to say about this movie? Well, let’s just say as an almost lifelong fan of the books and current author and artist, they are something I have held very near and dear for several decades. They are ingrained into the psyche of myself and many others of my generation (mid 30s now) and endure to this day for new readers. What’s more, is during the almost thirty years (as of this writing) of these books’ existence, they have survived a Satanic Panic, book bans, and other overzealous idiocy.

With that out of the way, I originally heard there was going to be a movie based on the books in early 2019. I was not optimistic. Another piece of modern Hollywood schlock that would probably be some goofy crapfest with a few haphazard nods to the books here and there. In fact, I wondered how a Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark movie could work outside an anthology of very short pieces. That being said…the part of me infused with an ever-morbid curiosity said, “If I don’t have to pay for it.”

Well, through a series of happy accidents, my girlfriend and I ended up with passes to a sneak preview on August 7 (general release was August 9). Ever the cynic, I went in with very low expectations. Well I gotta say…my pessimistic ass was not only kicked out of the olde tyme hearse, I bounced off the gravelly old road and landed smiling like that big pipe-smokin’ head on the cover of the first volume. I fucking love that guy.

The movie begins on Halloween of 1968 in a rural American town. The tale of three townie kids and an outsider is woven amidst a backdrop of the doomed anxiety of the era. Televisions broadcast about the war in Vietnam, Richard Nixon, and other political angst. One of the local jock bullies walks out of a military recruiting center jazzed about going to shoot commies. The three kids navigate adolescent tension with all this as the backdrop. Early in the movie, they end up in a rather spirited conflict with said jock bully and his crew. The rubes chase them to the drive in theater where Night of The Living Dead is playing and they hide in the car of a passing outsider. From there, they convince the outsider to go see a local haunted house. Well, you know that can never go wrong in a horror movie.

Upon entering the house, we learn the sad tale of Sarah Bellows and her high falutin’ family. Apparently poor old Sarah was not quite “normal” and was locked in the basement where she eventually died. Leading up to her death, she would tell stories to kids who would come try to talk to her through the walls. Then weird things started happening…and the whole family disappeared, leaving their Gothic mansion abandoned. The legend goes that if you enter the house and tell Sarah you want to hear a story, she will tell you one. Or…you can find her personally written book of stories in the basement and get locked in there by the local drunken jocks. The problem is Sarah is still writing in that book of stories…despite having died in 1899.

From there, the movie incorporates five stories from the original books into the plot: "Harold," "The Big Toe," "The Red Spot," "The Dream," and ultimately a composite of “Me-Tie-Doughty-Walker”, “What Do You Come For?”, and "Aaron Kelly’s Bones." While not exact adaptations, they are quite faithful to the feel of their literary counterparts. In fact, in the final segment, there is a part where a head and dismembered body fall down a chimney…and it looked exactly the way I pictured it back in the day when I first read “What Do You Come For?” and “Me-Tie-Doughty-Walker”.

The plot and action are actually quite morbid and macabre. The haunting creatures manifested by Sarah’s tales are not only scary, but lethal. This one does not play it safe. They kill high school kids and townsfolk alike per Sarah’s tales, imbuing the film with a sense of foreboding danger. While not particularly blood-drenched, the movie does not shy away from gore either. What is there is used to good effect. There is also a fair deal of profanity and the movie does not shy away from heavy subjects such as racism, widespread anxiety during war, strained family relations, underage alcoholism, and other themes not commonly explored in PG-13 horror.

I really don’t want to blather on too much about the stories for the sake of not spoiling anything. What I will say is as an avid reader of the books and someone who has gone on to own many other books illustrated by Stephen Gammell, is that the effects and atmosphere in the movie do justice to the source material. Elements of some stories are combined, I.E. the hot dead chick illustrated in "The Haunted House" appears as the antagonistic spirit in the movie’s adaptation of "The Big Toe." She’s not a graphite portrait, but the effects used create a strong representation of the original.

If you are a fan of good horror in general or an original fan of Alvin Schwartz’s retold folklore, or even just Stephen Gammell’s immortal illustrations, you will be pleased with the film adaptation of Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. I expected the worst and found my old hollow heart slightly filled by this love letter to the tales and illustrations that I fell in love with all those years ago.

-T.S. Dann is a former police detective and forensic investigator from DeKalb County, Georgia. He is currently an author and artist who is working on his second book in the brutally dark Nightmarescape series. He has shared tables with Matthew Quinn at several Atlanta area events, mainly because he likes annoying him between customers. 

You can check out his artwork and books on Amazon, Instagram, and Etsy.

Monday, August 12, 2019

My Decatur Book Festival 2019 Schedule

Last year I manned a tent at the Decatur Book Festival on behalf of the Atlanta Writers Club and Posman Books. I also spoke at the Emerging Authors Pavilion at the festival. Although I will not be participating in the EAP this year and Posman Books will not be present, I will be returning to sell copies of my two extant books The Thing in the Woods and The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2 and network with fellow authors and book fans.

Saturday, 8/31

On Saturday, I will be volunteering with the Atlanta Writers Club from 10 AM to 11 AM, signing up new members and generally hyping up the club. From 11 AM to 12 PM, I will be selling/signing books. So if you'd like to stop by to talk or get a book signed, 11 AM to 12 PM is the best bet. The Atlanta Writers Club tent will be in front of the Masonic Temple near the intersection of Clairemont and East Ponce De Leon Road.

Later that day, from 4-6 PM, I will be selling and signing books at the Horror Writers Association Atlanta Chapter's tent, which is marked 505/507 on the festival map near the Masonic Temple. The HWA has the added bonus of a gift basket consisting of signed books from many of the club members (and some other swag besides) that will be raffled off at 5:45 PM. You can get tickets throughout the day, but you must be present to win.

Sunday, 9/1

From 12 PM to 1 PM on Sunday I will be volunteering again with the Atlanta Writers Club and selling from 1 PM to 2 PM in front of the Old Decatur Courthouse. From 2-4 PM I will be signing with the HWA, again at 505/507 on the festival map near the Masonic Temple. There will be another gift basket raffled off at 5:45 PM that day. The same rules as before--you can get tickets throughout the day, but must be present to win.

For those who are interested, here's the Facebook event for the HWA event. The more the merrier. :)

Sunday, August 11, 2019

THE HUNT, or Universal Gives In To Trump

Some years ago, I wrote one blog post and then another about how Sony pulled from release the movie The Interview in which the CIA recruits a couple media personalities to assassinate Kim Jong Un. Now we find ourselves in a similar situation in which Universal has pulled its upcoming film The Hunt, in which rich liberals from the coasts hunt "deplorables" from the heartland for sport, after Twitter criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump.

(Given how the liberals are actually murdering people and I expect the "deplorables" to triumph in the end in typical Hollywood fashion, doesn't this mean the conservatives are the heroes and the liberals are the villains? Given how the main "rich liberal elites" I can think of are Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and other members of Kristol's "new class," wouldn't this be a case of Hollywood taking shots at itself?)

This is even more pathetic and cowardly on Universal's part than delaying The Interview (which was ultimately released, albeit for the most part not theatrically) was on the part of the theater companies who feared being held legally liable if someone did attack a movie theater screening the film and whose refusal to screen the film pushed Sny to delay and limit its release. North Korea has extensive hacking capabilities. It has sent agents abroad to kill and to kidnap people, the Korean community in Japan (where Sony is based) has a significant number of North Korean sympathizers who could cause problems, and in the absolute worst-case scenario, Japan itself is in easy weapons range of North Korea itself. North Korea has shown itself capable and willing of unleashing physical violence on critics abroad, especially in Asia. It's easy to call someone a coward from the safety of the East Coast of the United States; less so when one is relatively close to a country that functions like a real-life Bond villain, complete with participating in actual criminal activity like drug dealing. Although the likelihood of anything significant happening didn't seem particularly high (after all, the movie did ultimately get released and nothing happened beyond whining), at least there was precedent.

Donald Trump, however, is a paper tiger. The US's extensive free-speech protections stop him from preventing the movie from being screened, arresting the creative team or studio bosses, etc. Since The Hunt as far as I know makes no claims against him personally, he cannot sue for libel. He raged and fumed about the book Fire and Fury, threatening to sue for libel, but when the publisher refused to back down and released the book, nothing happened and the book ended up being number one on Amazon for a long time. And although Trump is often accused of inciting violence, no skinhead or red-hat type invaded the publisher's office with guns in the vein of the jihadi attack on the magazine Charlie Hebdo in France, nor did anybody attempt violence against Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during NFL games to protest police brutality. The worst I could imagine Trump doing is stirring up his supporters against Sony the way he stirred them up against the NFL and Kaepernick, but between people whose curiosity is roused by the controversy and people determined to see it to spite Trump (something I suspect is far more common among moviegoers than NFL fans who did reduce their football consumption over the issue), I could imagine even more people seeing the movie than they otherwise would have.

(If I were one of the people in charge of Universal, I'd be promoting the hell out of this as "the movie the president doesn't want you to see." But then again, if I get mad or feel threatened enough I can get a bit...abrasive.)

One would hope Universal releases the movie sometime later once the controversy about the recent mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso (another contributing factor, since this article doesn't reference Trump's complaints at all) has died down, hopefully using the controversy to its advantage in a more subtle fashion.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Tim Hawkins' Parody Songs About Chick-Fil-A

I was at a Horror Writers Association meeting the other day and a fellow group member showed me these two videos by Christian singer and comedian Tim Hawkins about none other than Chick-fil-A. Here's the first, parodying the Beatles' "Yesterday."

And here's another one, parodying Lee Greenwood's "God Bless The USA."

Is that Truett Cathy there at the end? :)

Monday, August 5, 2019

A Crossover Between THE THING and Dean Koontz's PHANTOMS?

One of the Facebook groups I follow is Stan Winston's School of Character Arts, which is always good for something interesting about movies, special effects, etc.

(When I was a little kid movie special effects was actually a field I wanted to go into and I remember reading a lot of books about it.)

The other day they had a poll on who would win, the alien Thing from 1982's The Thing and its eventual prequel or the Ancient Enemy from Dean Koontz's novel Phantoms, which was later adapted into a film starring Ben Affleck. The voting period has probably expired, but here it is b/c it includes snazzy monster GIFs.

For those of you not in the know, the Thing is an alien parasite that absorbs people and can take their appearance--its original form might be some kind of microorganism but as it infects people and absorbs their biomass it can create larger and larger creatures. The Ancient Enemy, meanwhile, is a gigantic amoeboid creature that might be thousands or even millions of years old. Every so often it emerges from underground and feeds, causing historical mass disappearances like Roanoke, ghost ships like the Marie Celeste, etc. In the novel one such creature consumes a mountain town in California and torments those who arrive to investigate, claiming to be Satan himself (a concept it had derived from the memories of people it had consumed). Both of them can spawn lesser creatures from a central biomass to use as weapons, scouts, etc., although the Ancient Enemy when it's all in one place is basically The Blob as well.

So me being me, I devised a crossover plotline for anybody out there who might want to write a fan-fic combining the two stories. Basically a follow-up expedition to the Antarctic base destroyed in The Thing finds the frozen remains of the alien and after taking appropriate precautions (based on journals at the American or Norwegian bases or the testimony of a surviving Childs or MacReady) they bring it back to a secure facility in America to study. If we want to include the characters from the Phantoms novel, perhaps it's in the mountain town where the book takes place at the time Dr. Jenny Paige and her younger sister Lisa are coming home.

Then the Ancient Enemy arrives and attacks the town. During the hubbub the Thing is set loose (perhaps it's been in a freezer for 15-20 years and gets defrosted when the facility is attacked) and the Ancient Enemy in its pride simply tries to eat it much like it does the humans and animals nearby or simply consumes a Thing-infected human not knowing it's any different.

Bad idea. The Thing is infectious at the microscopic level and it begins assimilating the Ancient Enemy from within. The Ancient Enemy detaches part of itself to avoid being completely consumed--in the novel the characters theorize that fire wouldn't be effective at killing it because it could simply break off the burning part--but this means the Thing has absorbed a significant part of the Ancient Enemy's biomass and probably much of its intelligence. It is now a vastly more dangerous foe. The Thing at the Antarctic base was a relatively small group of creatures of roughly human size whose power was in their deceptive ability--now we're talking something even bigger than the monster from the climax of the film and probably a great deal smarter. Meanwhile, the Ancient Enemy has absorbed the knowledge and memories of the scientists studying the Thing (and possibly some of the Thing's own intelligence as well) and knows that cold will force it into hibernation and fire will kill it.

So when the sisters, the surviving local law enforcement, etc. show up, the town is a war zone between an alien parasite that could potentially assimilate the entire planet in a matter of years versus a vindictive, massively egotistical giant amoeba whose insane pride drives it to avenge itself rather than return to hiding and simply wait out this strange new creature. The story could even feature an alliance between the Ancient Enemy and the humans, since the former needs the latter as a food source and only feeds every few centuries or millennia and the Thing is a voracious monster who will assimilate the whole planet if it can. In the film it showed no interest in trying to communicate or bargain with the human scientists in Antarctica, after all. The Ancient Enemy could initially appear to the humans as a survivor or survivors of the town and the humans eventually deduce it's not really human (this is where Dr. Flyte, the eccentric scientist who was able to deduce the Ancient Enemy's existence from studying historical disappearances, could come in) or it appears openly, either due to its pride or in an attempt to get the humans to trust it and not the other shape-shifting predator.

Anybody want to take this idea and run with it? I'm too busy with my own work and my day job to actually write something I can't make money on, but if someone does take a stab at this idea, I'll promote it.

(Also check out the Myopia podcast episode on The Thing. Maybe we'll do one on Phantoms later?)

Monday, July 29, 2019

Three of My Digital Fiction Publishing Short Stories Are Now "Wide"

Once upon a time, I independently published a bunch of short stories on Amazon.com for the Kindle. Digital Fiction Publishing took a liking to many of them and bought the rights to re-publish them as standalone stories and in collections for a generous royalty package. However, since the short stories are often available elsewhere as part of collections, they and the DFP collections are not part of Kindle Unlimited. This means they can be published anywhere.

After checking with the publisher to make sure he had no plans to publish the stories outside of Amazon (having "his version" and "my version" of the stories on Barnes and Noble, Kobo, etc would just be silly), I have published several of my DFP stories "wide" beyond Amazon's borders. They come with their original cover art courtesy of Alex Claw, using the mighty Draft2Digital.

"The Beast of the Bosporus"-This is cosmic horror in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft, but instead of being set in rural New England (as his stories typically were) or in rural Georgia (as my novel The Thing in the Woods is), this is set in the early modern Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans have rebuilt their navy after the defeat at the (Battle of Lepanto), but the empire's decline is already beginning. What is Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha to do? It might involve a creepy book bound in human skin. Non-Amazon links here.

"Beast" also had some tie-in short fiction on the blog to go with it. One piece is a faux historical journal article about Sokollu's death that also ties in some incidents in real-history that might be explained by what happens in the story itself. I also have journalistic interviews with Sokollu himself, as well as his rival don Joseph Nasi.

Picking Up Plans in Palma-This is an alternate history novelette set in my Afrikanerverse, in which an earlier Dutch settlement of the Cape of Good Hope leads to a world where the United States and the League of Democracies face off against the apartheid-like Afrikaner Confederation and its illiberal allies. You can see the mostly-completed timeline here. Connor Kelly, an American defense analyst of Irish Catholic background, has to infiltrate the Confederation to retrieve plans for an orbital battle-station. Problem: He has only the most minimal training in espionage fieldcraft and he's romantically involved with an Afrikaner emigre. This is going to be fun. Non-Amazon links here.

Illegal Alien-This is a story about a group of Mexicans trying to sneak into the United States in search of better lives, only to encounter actual extraterrestrials instead. What can I say? I really, really like bad puns. :) Non-Amazon links here.

This story also has some short tie-in fiction. One is a faux report on the aftermath of the incident from a government agency of some sort, while the other is an interview with Patrido Guzman, the story's protagonist. The latter gets into what's going on in Mexico that pushes Guzman to try to emigrate to the United States--NAFTA, the Mexican drug war, mistreatment of women in factories, etc.

Two of my remaining DFP short stories--"Lord of the Dolorous Tower" and "Lord Giovanni's Daughter"--aren't wide yet because they were first-rights purchases and don't have cover art. I'll need to commission some if I want to release them wide as well. The same applies to "Coil Gun," the first story DFP purchased for Digital Science Fiction #3: Pressure Suite, since it was never released as a standalone either. I'll let you know.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

My FALLEN EMPIRE Novellas Are Now Wide!

I'm a regular listener to The Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast and one of the regulars on the show is Lindsay Buroker, author of (among other things), the Fallen Empire series. When she announced that Amazon's now-defunct Kindle Worlds program had picked up her work, I wrote two novellas featuring original characters set before the main events of the story--"Ten Davids, Two Goliaths" and "Discovery and Flight" and helped contribute to the KW story bible. I even created a TVTropes page for the series and wrote a lengthy comparison of the fictional world to the Arab Spring. KW eventually shut down, but Buroker allowed all of us to re-publish the stories through Kindle Direct Publishing.

The first one, which introduces the original characters
Geun Choi and Tamara Watson and features some of my ideas

The second one, in which I include the canon characters
Alisa Marchenko (the main series protagonist) and Bradford

On an episode of the podcast, Buroker and the others discussed how a good time to go wide-release (i.e. to leave the Amazon-exclusive Kindle Unlimited program and sell on other online platforms) is once the KU "borrow" money stops coming in. Although I've made a couple novella sales this past month, I haven't gotten any KU borrows in quite a long time. Buroker has apparently already moved on; the Fallen Empire novels are no longer in KU on Amazon and are available for purchase in other online markets. Here's Kobo, for example, which has a massive presence in Canada, Europe, and Europe-linked countries like South Africa. Although I couldn't immediately wide-release my novellas (you can only opt out of KU every 90 days), I decided I would follow her into wide when I could.

Well, the KU period ended earlier this week, so here's the Universal Book Link for "Ten Davids, Two Goliaths" and "Discovery and Flight." They're available (or will soon be available if they're not up yet) via Kobo, Bibliotheca, Tolino, Overdrive (which means a lot of libraries), Apple, Baker and Taylor, Barnes and Noble, Playster, Scribd, Australian biggie Angus and Robertson, and 24 Symbols.


Monday, July 15, 2019

Another Alternate Draka Timeline for AH Enthusiasts

One of the founding texts of the modern alternate-history subgenre is S.M. Stirling's Draka series--three novels assembled into the omnibus The Domination, the distant sequel Drakon (which provides the frame story for The Domination), and the anthology Drakas! that tells stories from different points in the timeline. One of the more common criticisms of the world is how implausible the timeline is (the proto-Domination's white overlords expand rapidly in an area that was a lethal disease zone for Europeans, the British tolerate a dominion practicing slavery-in-bad-disguise after formal abolition, etc), which has led to a lot of alternate versions of the Draka timeline. Most of them feature the Draka not expanding as much or getting straight-up squashed, which they eminently deserve for combining the imperialism and murderous behavior of Nazi Germany with the cruelty of Atlantic slavery and much more brains than either.

(Here's one I created--there are some updates I didn't post on fanfiction.net and I'm not going to petition to be unbanned to copy them, so this is not likely to ever be fully finished.)

Now the premiere alternate history discussion forum online is hosting a new one, "Separated At Birth: America and Drakia." So far only a couple chapters in, but it's got some interesting features, including:

*The early death of George Washington and a different founding of the United States, which as a result is much more hostile toward slavery and also has much wider suffrage for (white) men from the beginning.

*A rebellion by free blacks and white allies against an attempt to disenfranchise black voters leads to a black-governed Georgia within the United States, which undermines much of the intellectual-cultural rationale for racism.

*A much uglier War of 1812 and surviving Republican France.

*In-universe writings that explain the rationale of the different political systems, including a very Draka take on the line of Cain in the Bible.

I'm definitely looking forward to more. The timeline's author has earned awards from the site's membership for his timelines, so hopefully this will keep going and stay interesting.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

What If The Paris Commune Had Survived, Expanded...?

A couple weeks ago one of my church friends clued me into the Revolutions podcast by Mike Duncan, which has been going on for awhile and has episodes on the various intricacies of the American, French, Haitian, and Mexican revolutions and a lot of discussion of the different strains of Marxism and anarchism as they build toward the Russian Revolution. I haven't had a chance to listen to all of them yet, but over the last few weeks a lot of driving (especially during my trip to Hypericon--driving from Atlanta to Murfreesboro and back plus a jaunt from Murfreesboro to Nashville to see about getting my books in the city library) meant I could listen to all of the episodes about the Paris Commune. For those of you not in the know, it was a brief Communist-anarchist takeover of Paris that got gruesomely suppressed and the lessons learned from it were quite influential on the Communist revolution in Russia.

One of my big interests is alternate history and although I had myself banned from the premiere AH discussion forum online, I do check in now and then. I decided to see what I could find on the Paris Commune and found a full alternate timeline called "The Spectre of Europe" written by the user whose handle is Reydan. It diverges from real history when conservative politician Adolphe Thiers has a stroke just before the revolt breaks out, preventing him from playing the instrumental role he did in crushing it. As a consequence, the revolutionary Louis Auguste Blanqui isn't preemptively jailed and able to make it to Paris and provides the necessary leadership for the Commune to avoid being crushed, although they do have to make a deal with the Prussian devil to do it.

Highlights of the timeline include...

*The division of France into a very left-wing republic (seriously, most conservative parties are outlawed, although given certain recent circumstances I wouldn't blame them for worrying about the Bonapartists) and a restored monarchy. When said monarchy is defeated in a later war it goes into exile in France's North African colonies, which the monarchy retained when France was partitioned.

*William Jennings Bryan becomes the president of the United States.

*Reform and partition in China.

*One of Kaiser Wilhelm's character flaws is that he was, in addition to being an erratic blowhard, is that he had some very Yellow Peril ideas about the rise of China. Since our world's WWI doesn't happen, we get to see these tendencies flourish and the results are not pretty.

*The rise of a sort of militant agrarianism (in Scandinavia of all places) as an analogue to our timeline's fascism.

The timeline is so popular that it even has a TVTropes page. I would definitely recommend checking it out. Also, don't forget to check out The Revolutions podcast or his History of Rome podcast, all of which are really interesting.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

On Halle Bailey's Ariel and the Egyptian 25th Dynasty

Disney recently announced that Halle Bailey, an African-American singer and actress from Atlanta (represent!), has been cast as Ariel in a live-action version of the Disney animated classic The Little Mermaid. Although I haven't seen any ugly commentary on social media about it myself, I have heard some people are getting upset and I can easily imagine this being true, either due to authenticity concerns about the source material, straight-up racism, or other issues.

Firstly, although The Little Mermaid is based on a Danish story (by author Hans Christian Anderson), the mermaid civilization is not connected to my knowledge to Danish society in any significant way. If it turns out they're descended from Vikings mutated by some kind of magic let me know, but it's my understanding that's not the case. The mermaids could easily be migrants from somewhere else who settled in the vicinity of Denmark, perhaps due to the Medieval Warm Period making their original homeland in the Mediterranean or even West Africa inhospitable. Therefore, even though the landlubbers nearby are white, the mermaids could be Semitic or even black. Although I'm generally not a fan of "if it's fantasy it doesn't have to be 'realistic'" attitude, the above explanation is a plausible one for a large Middle Eastern or black (mermaid) population in an otherwise European setting. After all, the Gypies (whose actual name for themselves is Roma or Romany) are originally from India and the Hungarians are a Turkic or Finnic people originally from Russia.

Secondly, even if the mermaid population generally is of European in appearance, ruling elites don't necessarily match up with the local population. Much of northern England was ruled by Vikings for awhile, the whole of England was ruled by different French dynasties from the Norman conquest of 1066 until the Welsh Henry Tudor took power in 1485, parts of or all of China were ruled by non-Chinese steppe peoples on many different occasions, etc. More appropos would be the 25th Dynasty of Egypt--although the Egyptians were a Semitic people, the 25th Dynasty was originally from Nubia, much farther south.

So here's where it gets Game of Thrones. Triton is originally from somewhere else and is the founder of a new dynasty, either elected by other members of the mermaid elite after the previous king dies without an heir or who seizes power in some kind of civil war. As king he exiles Ursula, ostensibly for practicing witchcraft and other sorts of bad behavior but really because she's a member of the previous dynasty. However, not only is Triton foreign, but Triton is a widower with no interest in remarrying and has only daughters, no sons. This makes his regime vulnerable and Ursula plays on Ariel's interest in human culture as part of some kind of scheme to seize power.

Yes, that's needlessly complicated for a kids movie, but they did elaborate on the original Aladdin to make the new live-action version more elaborate (Jasmine seeks to become the next ruler of Agrabah in the vein of Razia Sultan, the only female ruler of the Muslim Delhi Sultanate, Jafar is a "street rat" himself who rose to become the grand vizier). If this is too much and if Disney wants to keep Triton as a white Zeus-alike, they can always depict his late wife as being black and Ariel takes after her mother rather than her father in looks.