Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Female Doctor And Bringing Back Romana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 14, 2016

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

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

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

The Plot

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

The Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bad

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

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

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

The Verdict

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

Saturday, April 2, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now comes the clever parts...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

STAR WARS: REBELS Season Finale Features Vader vs. Ahsoka

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Bigfoot Crank Stomp

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

The Plot

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

The Good

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

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

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

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

The Bad

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

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

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

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

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

The Verdict

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

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Join My Mailing List!

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

I'm not sure why I titled this movie review "Blast from the Past" considering I only saw some snippets of Big Trouble In Little China when I was in elementary school, but it is for the podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood. Here's the podcast.

And now for the review...

The Plot

Trucker Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) and his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) find themselves mixed up in ancient magic dating all the way back to the infamous First Emperor of China. Mayhem ensues as they--along with the elderly Egg Shen (Victor Wong) who is more than he appears--have to rescue Wang's fiancee Miao Yin (Suzee Pai) and Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall) from a street gang who's kidnapped them and evil undead sorcerer Lo Pan who seeks to marry one and sacrifice the other...

The Good

*The filmmakers are clearly familiar with the dictum "show don't tell." Rather than explaining that trucker Burton is friends with the Chinese community in San Francisco, they start out the film with him pulling his truck into Chinatown and sitting down with Wang and a bunch of his friends for a traditional sort of gambling. It's depicted as though it's just another night for him.

*The film plays with genre conventions. The hunky lantern-jawed white male ostensible lead Burton is only intermittently competent, while Wang, who'd be the plucky ethnic sidekick in most films, is the real mover and shaker. During the podcast, Daniel said that the movie is a deconstruction of a lot of movie tropes and a lot of people don't understand that. He's right. According to TVTropes, the filmmakers intended the movie to be an even more blatant subversion of Mighty Whitey, but the studio executives prevented that. I asked on the podcast if Burton or Wang was the protagonist and although I didn't get the chance to mention this, the notion reminded me of someone on the Harry Potter fan-site FictionAlley forum who claimed Hermione was the real protagonist of the series and that Harry was the "frontkick."

*When Burton confronts a group of human traffickers at the San Francisco airport, things don't go well for him. Always watch your six, especially if you already know there's more than one enemy. This does a good job expositing that Burton, though brave and good-hearted, clearly acts first and thinks later.

*Wang's characterization (initially) avoids stereotypes--he's neither a wimpy geeky guy, nor is he a Bruce Lee karate master type either. At least at first...

*There's a Chinatown funeral parade in one scene. In Chinese culture, white is the color of mourning. The producers clearly did their homework.

*Shooting into water to kill underwater targets doesn't work in this film. Good. It generally doesn't work in real life either.

The Bad

*For an action film, it's fairly slow-moving much of the time. That's one of the single biggest flaws in the picture. There's a ritual scene where the three demigods do martial arts for an extended period and it seriously slows the movie down. There are some other dull spots too, but that one takes the cake.

*It's not clear what Gracie's actual job is. Is she a crusading attorney? Some kind of social activist? Her initial purpose seems to be preventing a Chinese immigrant from being kidnapped into prostitution by a gang, she's clearly familiar with the residents of Chinatown (to the point she can call Burton an outsider and none of the Chinese point out she's just as white as he is), and she knows one of the gangs will kill her on sight. There's some potentially interesting backstory there.

(The TVTropes page for the film actually suggests that many of the film's characters could be protagonists of interesting stories in their own right.)

*The Chinese gang kidnapping someone at the airport in front of dozens of people? They must be the Z-team of human traffickers. Think the crew from Taken who openly, flagrantly kidnap an American tourist in Paris rather than the safer route of tricking or outright kidnapping Romanians or other impoverished Eastern Europeans. It would have been more plausible if they'd staged an ambush away from the crowds or even kidnapped her in Chinatown itself. Given how Wang and Egg seem friendly with one of the rival gangs, them attacking Wang's restaurant or ambushing Wang and Miao on the street is pretty sensible. Burton can get his behind handed to him there just as easily.

*Sometimes the dialogue isn't very good. Kurt Russell doesn't deliver "son of a bitch must pay" very well after the traffickers nearly run him over in a car.

*The actions and especially the facial expressions of the three demigods (who I refer to as "Lord Raiden knockoffs" in the podcast even though this movie is nearly a decade older than Mortal Kombat) who break up the gang fight were unintentionally hilarious. A couple times they come off as looking constipated.

*When Miao is kidnapped, Wang seems more concerned about himself than her, never mind that at this point they think she's going to be sold into prostitution. He tells Burton that, "My destiny is in your hands," not "Miao's safety is in your hands." Wang has known Miao since she was a child; he claims to be in love with her. Wang doesn't seem to be a self-absorbed lout generally, so I'd chalk this up to bad writing.

*Burton at one point shoots padlocks to free some girls the gang has kidnapped. That doesn't work in real life. Heck, Mythbusters used the film to introduce the segment. It would've been better if he found a jailer and made him hand over the keys at gunpoint.

*Although Wang is introduced as being this normal guy, his martial-arts skills get more and more extreme as the story progresses to the point he's able to go full-blown Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with a demigod. If they'd had some back-story where maybe he and Burton became friends taking karate as kids, that might've explained why somebody who's not initially depicted as being a Bruce Lee type by the end of the movie is busting out Bruce Lee-esque (if not better) skills.

*A character is supposed to be fleshless (except in a particular form), but he seems pretty tangible in several scenes, including touching other characters and being touched himself.

The Verdict

It deserved better than to bomb as it did, but there are still legitimate flaws. See it once, especially if you can get it for cheap off Amazon Instant Video like I did. 6.5 out of 10.

Saturday, February 13, 2016


This really would have been better as an addendum to my last blog post on my writing and "the long tail," but it was late and I needed to go to bed. I looked over my sales figures for the last few years and saw that the principle of The Long Tail applies to my short-story collection Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire.

When I published Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire in July 2014, I sold 21 copies that month. Over the next five months, I sold eight copies at a rate of zero (August) to three (September) per month. That's over one-third of the premiere month's numbers in five months. In 2015, I sold 14 copies at a rate of zero (three separate months) to four (February) per month. No sales in 2016 so far, but when you combine the non-premiere months of 2014 with all of 2015, the "tail" has already exceeded the "head." And there's still most of 2016 left.

So if you've self-published anything and your numbers have crashed after the first month or two, don't worry. One or two sales per month over the course of years will add up in the long run.

Of course, if you plan on making a living--or at least more than, as Marko Kloos put it, "beer money"--doing this, you'll need to have a lot of product. One book earning $10 in royalties per month is $120 per year, but ten books earning $10 per month is $1,200 per year. And with that many books available, odds are you'll be earning more than $10 per month in royalties anyway. People who buy one book from an author are likely to buy other books, after all. My story "Ubermensch" is a superhero story, but people who bought it also bought Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire despite the complete lack of superhero stories in it. Moving outside of my own work, people who've bought my friend James R. Tuck's supernatural Robin Hood story Mark of the Black Arrow also bought his hollow-earth blaxploitation story Champion of Hollow Earth.

So as my friend Jeff Baker put it (and he learned the phrase from somebody at LibertyCon a couple years ago), if you want to make bank, "churn and burn."

Friday, February 12, 2016

"I am the Wendigo," "Melon Heads," and the Long Tail

I've got a substantial commute to my day job and one of the podcasts I listen to (usually on the way home because in the morning I'm concerned I'm too tired to listen carefully) is the Sell More Books Show. The podcast's two hosts Bryan Cohen and Jim Kukral have provided lots of useful advice on how independent authors can sell more books. Much of their advice has not been applicable to me--I've only got a few short stories and one collection thereof--but some is, and the time may come where I self-publish something more substantial.

In any event, I was listening to Episode 96 on the way home today and they discussed the concept of "the long tail." It's basically the idea that one's earnings are more lucrative in the long run than in the opening burst of sales, especially if one has an extensive backlist. Here's one article explaining how Amazon, e-publishing, etc made this possible. Here's another, the first in a series explaining the process. This article here points out that the theory may not be all it's cracked up to be, but it's something I've noticed in my own sales.

I published my rather gruesome horror tale "I am the Wendigo" in 2012 alongside the less gruesome (but funnier) "Melon Heads." Both stories serve as examples of "the long tail" in action. "Melon Heads" started with a bang--16 copies in the first month--and sold seven copies in 2013, six in 2014, and four copies in 2015. So far I've sold one copy in January and one in February. That's 19 sales so far, with three years, one month, and two weeks' earnings nearly equal to the opening explosion. Meanwhile, "Wendigo" has proven a bit more jagged--14 in 2012, 23 in 2013, 14 in 2014, 19 in 2015, and three so far in 2016. Although it's not the classic "long tail," it's still a case of later sales exceeding the premiere. And this can go on and on and on for years...

So long as Amazon stays running, of course. But I don't anticipate it going anywhere.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Kylo Ren: Irredeemable?

The other day I found this article online that suggested that rather than Ben Solo--also known as the Dark Sider Kylo Ren--murdering his father Han Solo in the science fiction film Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Han committed suicide with his son's lightsaber to make his son into a monster in the eyes of the young Rey, to inspire her to take up Luke's old lightsaber and become this generation's Jedi hero. The article also states that Ben was part of the plan--that he knew the only way to redeem himself was to be the monster needed to inspire resistance to the First Order.

Here are some relevant quotes:

Finally, Kylo Ren is irredeemable. He cannot live, he cannot walk away, he can’t go home to his mother. Ben Solo-Organa is irredeemable as a living person. He’s irredeemable according to the standards of The Force Awakens, as he opens the film by ordering a massacre of innocent villagers. He’s irredeemable according to the standards of Star Wars, as his crime of murdering the Jedi apprentices under Luke Skywalker perfectly mirrors the greatest crime of Anakin Skywalker, murdering the younglings of the Jedi Temple. But like the person Anakin became — Darth Vader — he may be useful as a symbol of evil to motivate the next Skywalker, and be able to earn redemption by sacrificing himself, just as Vader did.

In one option, Han gets through to Ben, who hands his father his cruel dark side lightsaber to be thrown away. They walk away from the stormtrooper ambush, and Ben… well, what can Ben possibly do to redeem his crimes as Kylo Ren?

Making Ben into some kind of traitor within the First Order, deliberately being evil to ultimately undermine evil, is an interesting idea. But Ben taking up his father's offer and leaving with him (perhaps tricking any watching stormtroopers into thinking he's taking his father prisoner, or simply killing them) could open up some interesting story possibilities. However much Ben deserves to die for betraying and murdering Luke's Jedi trainees, massacring the villagers, and doing who-knows-what-else as Snoke's apprentice, he might be more useful to the Resistance alive than dead.

*For starters, he'd be an intelligence gold mine. He'd know all sorts of useful information about the First Order and Snoke's plans and assets as well as the Knights of Ren. He'd be a one-man intelligence coup, analogous to how useful Vader might have been had he survived the events of Return of the Jedi.

*Secondly, the Resistance doesn't seem to have any Force-wielders (other than Leia herself, who doesn't seem to use her Force powers) and given how big a deal Luke being the last Jedi is, there might not be any Force-wielders on the side of Good against Evil. Ben would be a vastly useful military asset, once they'd gotten all the intelligence they need out of him and can afford to risk him in battle. Him serving as a one-man analogue to the new Jedi Order he helped destroy could be a form of penance.

*Depending on how important Ben is to Snoke's plans--according to the novelization Snoke had been watching him his whole life to try to corrupt him, which reminded me of how Palpatine had been watching Anakin "with great interest" since he was around nine years old--losing Ben to the Resistance would be a massive setback. Given my first point about intelligence value, Ben's defection would be even more destructive than his death.

*Ben seems to be the one most interested in finding where Luke Skywalker is hiding. His defection could scupper the First Order's plans to find and kill the last Jedi.

So yes, even if in moral terms the above wouldn't make up for the atrocities he committed, it could certainly go a long way.

Furthermore, it opens all sorts of interesting story possibilities for future sequels.

*Depending on how well-known Kylo Ren's real identity as Ben is/becomes, it could cause all sorts of drama within the Resistance. Kylo Ren is likely a thoroughly terrifying warrior in ground combat. Many Resistance soldiers might have lost friends to him, been wounded or crippled by him, etc. Finn's defection was prompted by his refusal to participate in Ben's mass murder of the villagers, while he used the Force to mind-rape Poe. Two of our three leads are going to HATE him. If Rey is one of Luke's surviving Jedi trainees or especially if she's Luke's daughter, once she more fully remembers just what happened that got her left on Jakku, she's not going to be a fan either.

(Plus he mind-raped her too, although if I remember right it wasn't as blatantly scary as what happened to Poe.)

*Ben's defection could inspire challenges within the Resistance to Leia's leadership or trouble from the Resistance's backers within the New Republic. People could think that her maternal interest in Ben is undermining her decision-making abilities and think the Resistance needs new leadership. Especially with the Republic decapitated by Starkiller Base's attack on Hosnian Prime, they might think times are too dangerous to allow the Resistance to be led by someone they view as compromised.

*Snoke is going to be ANGRY. I could easily imagine Han not surviving if Snoke senses through the Force what's happening and sends orders to Starkiller Base to make sure at the very least Han is killed. And if Han survives, killing him is going to be a major priority for Snoke. It might drive Ben back into the Dark Side and even if it doesn't, it's punishment for betrayal. Harrison Ford apparently wanted Han Solo killed off, so even if he doesn't die in this version of The Force Awakens, he could die in the second film.

*Finally, if the only way Ben can be redeemed for his crimes is to die like his grandfather, perhaps Snoke comes to kill him personally? In the Clone Wars animated series, Palpatine doesn't have Darth Maul and his brother Savage Oppress blasted from orbit when he learns they've set up a rival Sith pairing to himself and Dooku--he comes to deal with them by himself, hand-to-hand.

(And it is awesome--watch it on YouTube here.)

A not-yet-fully-trained Rey might try to fight Snoke herself despite her issues with Ben and get hammered. Snoke is going to kill her when Ben throws himself into the fray, fights Snoke himself, and gets smushed, or Ben just takes the blow for her instead.

It's all moot now, but Ben's attempted redemption could be an interesting story in its own right.