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.

Enjoy!

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.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

My 2019 Hypericon Schedule

Ever since my debut Lovecraftian horror novel The Thing in the Woods premiered in 2017, I've been selling books (both Thing and the collection The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2, in which I have a short story) at conventions in the Atlanta area. I feared I've been reaching the point of diminishing returns and so I started looking for conventions or events outside of Atlanta I could sell at until I've got more books available. Thanks to the Southern Fandom Resource Guide's calendar I found Hypericon, which is usually in Nashville but this year is in Murfreesboro. I've never done any authorial business in Tennessee, so this will hopefully be lucrative.

Here's my schedule for the convention, which will be July 5-7 this year. All events are in Central Time and will take place at the Clarion Inn in Murfreesboro.

Friday, 7 PM, Oakland Panel Room: "In The Cauldron Boil and Bake." This is a panel dedicated to mixing genres. Think The X-Files, in which we had a wider science fiction plot involving alien colonization mixed in with "monster of the week" horror plots, more conventional crimes, and fantasy plots like the episode involving voodoo to raise the dead and another one featuring the ghost of a charismatic preacher who set out to forgive the man who murdered him. On my end, although The Thing in the Woods is straight-up monster horror, I drop some hints about the creature's otherworldly origins in a scene from the creature's point of view. The sequel I've sent to the publisher (and will self-publish if he doesn't want it) gets into the Grey/UFO/MJ-12 mythology and the third novel I've just started writing is more "small town creature horror," only with an old-school nuclear-test monster instead of something from another world. We'll get back to the alien-invasion stuff in the planned fourth book.

Friday, 8 PM, Oakland Panel Room: "My History With Horror." This is an autobiographical one-man show in which I discuss my own history with the scary stuff. It goes waaay back, beginning with watching Earth vs. the Spider on TV in pre-school, not being allowed to see Gremlins 2 and Arachnophobia in theaters (probably a good idea on my parents' part), seeing Jurassic Park when it first came out, and those elementary school staples, the Crestwood Monsters books and Calvin and Hobbes. I'll also discuss my first attempts at publication in high school, my first sale (the short but gruesome "I am the Wendigo"), and ultimately Thing itself.

Saturday, 1 PM, Oakland Panel Room: "Building a Better Beast: Monsters and Other Things That Go Bump in the Night." Something I've realized recently with the rise of "torture porn" is that I don't necessarily like horror movies per se, but monster movies. "Monster" being defined broadly to include things like dinosaurs, aliens, etc. After all, serial killers and depraved pervert torture types are real and should be feared, but giant bugs, alien energy beings building bodies out of human technology, vampires, formerly human S&M monsters, etc. aren't. I've written a lot of monster stories, so I think I'll fit in nicely here.

Saturday, 5 PM, Oakland Panel Room: "World-Building." This is an area of writing where I'm very good, if I do say so myself. And members of the different writing groups I'v participated in have said the same thing. :)

Saturday, 7 PM, Oakland Panel Room: "Marketing and Social Media For Authors." This is where I can discuss things like blogging, Twitter, newsletters, etc. This is an area where I need to improve, so hopefully I'll be able to learn from this panel as well.

I'm also going to be allocated slots at the author table to sell my books. Those haven't been finalized yet, but when they are, I'll update this post with the times. I'll also bring some books with me to each panel for anybody who's interested.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Movie Review: Fire and Ice (1983)

One of my favorite fantasy artists is Frank Frazetta, who was known for painting a lot of the Conan book covers. I even own one of his art books Icon, which I snagged at a library book sale for $1 when it would have cost much more on Amazon. In Icon, they discuss the film Fire and Ice, whose animation Frazetta was heavily involved with but unfortunately didn't do too well at the box office. Although I'm a fan of traditional animation (Don Bluth stuff like The Secret of NIMH, The Land Before Time, and even Titan A.E. are particular favorites), I never actually got around to watching the movie.

Well, T.S. Dann (author of Nightmarescape and a regular convention table partner) mentioned that he had seen it recently and that made me curious. Many years after hearing about it, I decided to give it a spin. Here goes...


The Plot

At the end of the Ice Age, the evil sorceress-queen Juliana (Eileen O'Neill) and her son Nekron (Sean Hannon) attempt to conquer the world, driving southward in a fortress atop a mighty glacier that Nekron can move using magic. Human refugees flee their armies of Neanderthal-esque savages toward the equator, where King Jarol (Leo Gordon) rules a volcanic realm from Fire Keep. Juliana and Nekron's agents kidnap Jarol's daughter Teegra (Cynthia Leake), but they fail to reckon with Larn (Randy Norton), a survivor of a tribe thought exterminated, and the mysterious warrior Darkwolf (Steve Sandor).

The Good

*Western animation is generally seen as the preserve of children, so there's little realistic violence and heroes don't kill or seriously hurt villains (often winning through contrived circumstances), but Fire and Ice clearly doesn't have that problem. There's plenty of bloodshed going on around here. It's good to see an animated movie intended for more mature audiences in the same way Titan A.E. was. All the action means the film is never boring, which is a big plus.

*There are some impressive set-pieces, like a diplomatic delegation entering Nekron's fortress with his hooting and howling Neanderthal minions watching from the cliffs overhead. There's also an air raid using "dragon hawks" (pteranodons) that's pretty cool. Generally speaking I liked the concept and ideas behind it.

*Although the animation comes off as a bit dated (it reminds me a lot of late-1960s Hanna-Barbera cartoons like Mightor or even Herculoids as well as the Disney movie The Black Cauldron released two years later) and the colors dull, it's good to see old-school cell-drawn animation. I'm less interested in the Pixar-type stuff that has dominated the field since The Princess and the Frog. And I'm a big fan of Frazetta's overall style. The landscapes, the monsters, the ominous ancient ruins, etc. are all a lot of fun. A pity this movie bombed because I would have loved to see more films like it.

*I liked some of the characterization. Teegra is pretty clever and puts her brain to use at critical times, including one scene early on where she uses her looks to manipulate a bunch of Nekron and Juliana's Neanderthal minions. She's also not a passive damsel-in-distress type at all--although she gets captured a lot, watch out if she can get hold of a knife. And Nekron and Juliana's dynamic suggests a strong-willed son rebelling against an overbearing mother and Nekron's petulance shows that on some level he knows her wisdom is superior (i.e. she wants him to marry Teegra to father a dynasty and cement an alliance with Fire Keep) and just doesn't want to admit it. And although Darkwolf is underused, he's pretty cool when he does show up.

The Bad

*Larn is supposed to be the male lead of the movie, but he doesn't seem to have much personality to speak of. I found Darkwolf to be much more interesting, but he's only in a few scenes despite his prominent appearance in the poster.

*Has the concept of armor ever occurred to anybody in this world? All this world's cultures have metallurgy (swords, axes, etc), but nobody wears armor. Even animal skins would be an improvement over going into battle wearing only a loincloth. Yes, I know Frank Frazetta liked to show off his anatomical skills at every opportunity, but how pretty much everybody's standard outfit was a loincloth if not a straight-up thong was just ridiculous. Even in the Neolithic Era where this supposedly takes place people probably knew they needed protection from the sun and elements. This is especially blatant in the last third or so of the film that takes place in Nekron's glacial fortress where people are running around semi-nude even though it's got to be incredibly cold.

*Per my remarks about clothing, everybody is wearing what looks like animal skins and yet Teegra is wearing essentially modern lingerie? Hell her bottom is so sheer in the back she might as well not be wearing it. At least the "sexy cave-girl" outfits in One Million Years B.C. and When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth were made of the right materials and more useful as clothing.

*The animation for the facial expressions, especially Teegra's, could stand some improvement. Her kidnapping early in the film is not well-drawn, especially her supposedly-terrified screaming.

*The character naming conventions are just bizarre. You have all this garbled fantasy names like Teegra and Larn, you have English animal names like Darkwolf, and then you have Jarol (which I initially thought was "Gerald") and Juliana. It's kind of grating, even though it's so common there's even a TVTrope for it.

*I'm not sure if it's Leake's voice or the script, but Teegra's dialogue is often rather annoying.

*Nekron and Juliana's minions are all darker-skinned and the one female of the group has what looks like an Afro. They're explicitly referred to as "the sub-humans" despite their having metallurgy and spoken language. Meanwhile, the heroic characters are all white. Seriously, either provide the minions with more development beyond them being childlike and violent goons who speak in gibberish (Lord of the Rings had Sam wondering if one of the Haradrim was truly evil or had been deceived or outright coerced into fighting for Sauron and the Haradrim language is very impressive to listen to) or diversify their appearances. And nix "sub-human" for people whose main difference between the heroic character is their skin color, teeth, and apparent intelligence. As-is the villains come off as a mother-son Goth duo sending out dull-witted and sadistic black cavemen to kill or abduct white people and given how this was a movie kids would have likely seen (due to it being animated), that's not cool.

*The world's technology level is rather inconsistent--both Nekron's and Jarol's coalitions seem to be at roughly Bronze Age levels, but there's one city that looks like ancient Rome or Arabia during the Islamic golden age. If it turns out the battle between Nekron and Jarol is a tribal sideshow that wealthier and stronger civilizations view in the same way as Americans view a conflict in the Third World that's one thing, but the opening narration of the film makes it seems like this is the Apocalypse.

*So many shirtless men but nobody seems to have nipples. That's weird.

The Verdict

If the description "the world's most violent Hanna-Barbera cartoon" appeals to you or if you're a Frazetta fan you should definitely check it out. It's not as campy and ridiculous as I expected from watching the trailer, but it's still pretty up there. Worth a rental at best. 6.0 out of 10.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Problems For Danaerys Even If She Did Become Queen...

One of the more tragic elements of Game of Thrones Season Eight is that Danaerys Targaryen, who starts out as a young teen pimped to a barbarian warlord by her dirtbag brother but grew to become the commander of a powerful army and the liberator of hundreds of thousands if not millions of slaves, helps save humanity, and wins the war for the Iron Throne, ends up loses the peace. Or more specifically, at the moment of her victory, due to a conga line of personal tragedies all happening at once, she loses it, torches a city full of civilians, descends into unrepentant vicious megalomania, and ends up getting put down by her own family (Jon Snow is her nephew as well as her boyfriend) and her prime minister who by his own admission is in love with her.

(Here she is just after making the "we're going to liberate THE WORLD Eternal War Lenin" speech.)

I personally found her descent into madness rather ridiculous--it's like the show was written to set her up to fail in an immensely unsubtle way, probably for the benefit of a less talented and less interesting male character. I thought it would be Jon Snow, but it turns out it was Bran. And although the show established that Danaerys could be vicious to people who betrayed her and/or refused to obey, so were the male characters and nobody claimed that made them tyrants. Seriously, Jon Snow hanged a ten-year-old and nobody claimed he was inevitably going to turn into a madman even though he has the same Targaryen crazy genes. And I don't recall her engaging in atrocities toward non-combatant civilians at all, especially since she explicitly ordered the Unsullied to not harm children when she took Astapor.

One explanation for the situation I'd heard was that the show was supposed to be ten seasons of ten episodes and the creators rushed to finish up the planned storyline in eight seasons, one of which was a lot shorter. If Danaerys had a full season or two to fall into despotism, it would be a lot more convincing.

So here are some ideas I had on obstacles Danaerys would face even if she hadn't burned King's Landing and lived to take the Iron Throne:

*During her time in Essos, she sacked the city of Astapor, a city heavily dependent on slavery, and set up a council of educated former slaves to run it in place of the obliterated master class. Said council was soon overthrown by a demagogue who misgoverned the city and it ended up getting destroyed by armies from the other Free Cities eager to re-establish slavery. She forced the city of Yunkai to free their slaves and they re-enslaved them as soon as she was far enough away. She tried to govern Meereen herself to avoid those disasters, only to face an insurgency of former slave-holders and issues with slaves who didn't know how to live as free citizens, to the point at least one former slave (a teacher for a rich family) even asked to be re-enslaved.

In her defense she does come up with a way around this (former slaves could work for their masters on a contractual basis), but my point is that she has a reformist agenda that won't sit well with the local elites. A former Targaryen queen forced the nobility to abandon the right of First Night, but she was in a much stronger position with a dragon of her own and the ear of her husband, the king of all Westeros who commanded more. Danaerys has only one surviving dragon, her most loyal troops are foreigners (Unsullied and Dothraki), and she has minimal experience as a (successful) ruler. She might get a lot more pushback on any attempts to "break the wheel" she undertakes, especially in areas where the pre-war political structure hasn't been utterly destroyed. I'm reminded of Simon de Montfort, who led the English barons against the king in the name of protecting their rights against an overbearing king, but lost the support of the barons because he defended the rights of the commoners and low nobility against overbearing barons using the same logic. He was also heavily reliant on foreigners--in this case the Welsh--which didn't help.

*The murder of Ned Stark by the Lannister regime and Robb's military victories reignited Northern separatism and even though "the Kingdom of the North and the Trident" was ultimately defeated, this separatism continues under Ned's daughter Sansa. Although a lot of the Danaerys/Sansa friction came off to me as a bunch of "I don't like my brother's girlfriend" high-school catfighting (remember in-story the surviving Starks and Danaerys herself are in their late teens or very early 20s), there're very real political concerns there even if they weren't expressed as coherently or intelligently as they could've been.

*Based on Danaerys' speech to Jon on Dragonstone she isn't religious and even seems disdainful of the idea the gods or a God (i.e. R'hllor) had any role in her success. If she doesn't tone down the hubris and at least pretend some piety, that's going to alienate the Faith of the Seven (i.e. the religion of most people). And if she does adopt a religion for political ends, it's probably going to be the Faith like her Valyrian ancestors did, not the Old Gods. Even though neither faith is exclusive of the other (oaths are sworn "by the old gods and the new"), this could be an issue with Danaerys' Northern subjects, who are already skeptical of outsiders to begin with. They could see the woman whose most successful Westerosi supporters practice one religion adopt the faith practiced by her least successful supporters (Tyrells, Martells) and outright enemies (the Lannisters, Tarlys). Politically that would be the wise thing to do, but that doesn't mean people won't be annoyed, especially if they're looking for reasons to be annoyed.

*Cersei wooed Randyll Tarly to her side by appealing to his xenophobia. If she engaged in a wider attempt to undermine Danaerys by telling everybody she's a dangerous foreigner who'd let her Dothraki warriors rape women and would turn all the men and boys into Unsullied, much of the population would be inclined to resist her rule even if she's the most well-meaning person in the world. Just because something is wrong doesn't mean people won't believe it. It's my understanding many Russians viewed Napoleon as the Antichrist, even though Napoleon's government ended a lot of feudal repression in Western Europe.

*Danaerys granted the Ironborn independence under Yara Greyjoy. Yara is later part of the council that makes Bran king so that might not have lasted very long (the Iron Islands probably lost most of their fighting-age population in Balon and Euron's various schemes), but if the Ironborn remain independent or even autonomous, well, the Ironborn have a very bad history in Westeros and more recently Balon raided the North and his brother Euron was one of Cersei's powerful allies. People might not like like a people who have a history of being Westeros's predatory mad dogs getting a longer leash, let alone getting off the leash entirely. They might speculate Danaerys gave the Ironborn independence so they could serve as a threat to keep the rest of Westeros under her control or even engage in ribald theories about Danaerys and Yara.

*Jon has a better legal claim than Danaerys and is more popular among the Westerosi, something the post-victory celebrations at Winterfell make clear. Tyrion was already planning a dynastic union between the two back when everyone assumed Jon was simply Ned Stark's only surviving (non-disabled) son and in his conversation with Varys after learning of Jon's true parentage seemed to think this would still be a good idea, but upon learning Danaerys is his aunt, Jon is unwilling to sleep with her. Even if Jon decides to take one for the team and marry her to secure the realm (given how Westeros is based to a large degree on medieval Europe and was historically ruled by a dynasty that engaged in even more incestuous practices, this probably wouldn't be unusual), this isn't going to be a happy situation for him and Danaerys--whom to her credit legitimately loves Jon--is probably not going to be happy about his being unhappy. And if Danaerys' mental stability starts to slip, she might come to view him as a threat by virtue of his not enthusiastically putting out enough.

*Gendry, the late King Robert's illegitimate son, is raised to the lordship of Storm's End by Danaerys, making him one of the highest-ranking nobles in the realm. However, he's uneducated--he might not even be literate--and might face a lot of resistance by the remaining nobility of the Stormlands even if he is Robert's son. In the books Davos feared Stannis's lords would never obey him because of his common origins and lack of education and I did come across an "after the war" fan-fic where some distant born-noble relative of King Robert rebels against Gendry. Between nobles who resent having him around, period, and nobles who only support him because they think they can manipulate him, the Stormlands might not be a pleasant place even after Danaerys wins.

So putting all these different factors together, here's how Danaerys could more believably overreach and need (or "need") to be put down in a hypothetical Season Nine (or Ten, if the war with Cersei is dragged out)...

As the new queen, Danaerys might be able to rule the Crownlands-Reach-Stormlands core in the way she'd like by installing her own people that she's better able to control simply because the local nobility have likely all been obliterated (and Gendry in the Stormlands and Davos in the Crownlands, having risen from poverty themselves, might be sincere allies in "break[ing] the wheel"). However, the North, Westerlands, and the Vale are comparatively intact and their nobility likely retain significant power. If Danaerys meddles in their local government--and especially if she uses non-Westerosi like Grey Worm, "upjumped" commoners like Gendry and Davos, or people who transgress societal norms like Brienne of Tarth to do it--that's going to spawn resentment.

Given how, at least according to Roose Bolton, the First Night is still illegally practiced by at least some Northern nobles, I could imagine Danaerys taking issue with that both due to its illegality and her own history as a victim of sexual abuse by her brother, by her rough husband (at least at first), and by the "Dothraki dudebros" who would have raped her if she hadn't set them on fire. Her investigating that could be (or is seen as by others as) as a pretext to meddle in the affairs of a region already chafing against the Iron Throne, even if a Northerner is Danaerys' consort. An offended Sansa, who already dislikes Danaerys, uses this as a pretext to declare independence and other regions, whose leadership is fearful of losing their own prerogatives, join in. Gendry will likely support Danaerys, but would face unrest at home. Between her family's own history of mental problems and with her marriage souring, Danaerys is not in a good mood and she deals with the situation overly aggressively with her army of foreigners, Southerners (possibly including emancipated serfs who bear particular grudges against nobles), and Ironborn. That aggravates the situation, especially if her supporters engage in war crimes. If Sansa is the leader of the revolt (and Danaerys in her twitchiness blames Sansa and Northern sensibilities in general for her own difficulties with Jon), Danaerys might bypass the Vale and go for the North. Drogon burns Moat Cailin and Danaerys threatens to do the same to Winterfell itself. At this point Jon has had enough and to save his sisters and childhood home, he kills Danaerys.

(Even though marital problems with Jon are a contributing factor to this whole mess, she might not see this coming--she didn't seem to see this coming in the series finale, even though she knows he's rejected her romantically and that he's objected to her torching King's Landing and ordering her soldiers to kill prisoners.)

This would also set the stage for the elective monarchy at the end--the Targaryen dynasty fails due to madness, the Baratheon dynasty fails due to incompetence, and then the restored Targaryen dynasty fails due to madness (or what is perceived as madness--a totally sane but less competent monarch could still end up in this pickle). If Jon is killed in the process of taking out Danaerys or soon after (Drogon should've done it rather than torch the Iron Throne), the nobles might choose a new dynasty completely--and if they're afraid that a too-absolutist government might threaten their privileges, they might deliberately pick a weak new ruler. In that case you could still have King Bran, or if his magical abilities are viewed as too weird or threatening, a well-meaning non-entity like Edmure Tully. Tyrion, assuming he doesn't get killed earlier (Danaerys killing him could prove--or depending on what he does "prove"--that she's gone too far) could be the architect of this plan, just like in the show.

So what do you all think? I'm not planning on writing a fan-fic, although I've sent some of my ideas to the author of the Danaerys-rules story "Break The Wheel."

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Some GAME OF THRONES Fan-Fiction For Those Still Vexed About S8

As my regular readers probably know by now, I was among those people who didn't like the ending of Game of Thrones. I was so disappointed in the characterization of Danaerys Targaryen and some of the decisions she made in the next-to-last episode that I didn't even watch the series finale--and from what I read about it, the season finale trashed her character even more before engaging in even more silly storytelling decisions.

Well for those who think they can do better than the people who made the creative decisions, there's always the option of fan-fiction. In addition to Alice Shipwise's Season 8 spec scripts (written before the season premiered, so they're not fan complaints), here are some other projects that either play the what-if game or explore the canonical outcome in ways the showrunners may not have anticipated.

Break the Wheel-Danaerys orders Drogon to torch King's Landing in a fit of anger at all the catastrophes (the death of Ser Jorah, the death of Rhaegal, the death of Missandei, Varys' treachery, and Jon's rejection of her romantic/sexual overtures) she's suffered in the last few days. Drogon, however, has other ideas, much to her surprise. She decides to just roll with it, sparing King's Landing and focusing her attention only on the Red Keep.

Things are going pretty well so far, although I do have my criticisms (mostly wording issues I describe in the reviews--I don't know if English is the author's first language). However, if Danaerys still has the radically reformist (although hopefully less warmongering, imperialist, and megalomaniacal than her speech to the Dothraki and Unsullied before Jon kills her) agenda, that could lead to all sorts of drama with Westeros's remaining nobility. I messaged the writer suggesting she look into Simon de Montfort to see what this might look like in a medieval social context and the possible problems Danaerys might run into. Meanwhile, Varys has been spreading word about Jon's parentage, Sansa and Arya aren't exactly fans of the Dragon Queen, and the xenophobia indicated by Randyll and Dickon Tarly's refusal to bend the knee after the defeat at the Gold Road might have gotten beyond two cranky noblemen. Given how the story tagline suggests Danaerys will have "a reign of fire and blood," Westeros might be in for a bumpy ride.

The Raven King-This article suggests that Bran's actions in S8 make a lot more sense if he's evil. This story goes into reasons why. It's canon-compliant and it's dark.

The Last War-This is another alternate universe story, but it diverges from canon at the beginning of S7, not at any point in S8. Drawing on characters and situations from the books that weren't included in the television show (for starters, Tywin's sister Genna, who was married to a member of House Frey, looks like she's going to play a large role and she has Edmure Tully under her control to boot), it goes deeper into the politics of both Danaerys' and Cersei's political coalitions. And the House of Black and White hasn't forgotten about Arya. It looks like it might end up in the same place the TV show did, but much in a much more justified and better thought-out fashion.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Guest Post: The Heist in the Mulberry Garden By Luis F. Salcedo

The production of silk was one of the closely-guarded secrets of ancient China, as it was a major export item and source of wealth, but a group of Byzantine monks managed to steal the secret by smuggling silkworm cocoons out hidden in their beards. What if the story were told...as a comedy? What if it starred...Seth Rogen?

What follows is the pitch for this movie from Luis "Lou" Salcedo...

The Heist in the Mulberry Garden

It’s The Interview meets the sword and sandal in the Far East. I took some historical liberties with the dates and character but it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Xander (James Franco) and Stavros (Seth Rogen) are two Christian monks leading a mission by the Patriarch of Constantinople to evangelize to the Chinese Emperor and his royal court. Stavros tries to convince the elderly Emperor Wu to convert. Xander meanwhile is busy seducing the Emperor’s granddaughter Liu Jingyan. Xander is caught by the girl’s father Liu Yan. Both Xander and Stavros are imprisoned and sentenced to be executed but luckily escape in the chaos generated by the Eastern general Hou Jing seizing power. The other missionaries under Xander and Stavros’ leadership are not so lucky.

It takes them several years to return to Constantinople in one piece.

The Patriarch of Constantinople is none too pleased. He wants to have them sentenced to do missionary work in Northern Europe (a death sentence!) but the Emperor Justinian (Jesse Eisenberg) gets him to back off when hearing about Xander’s misadventures with the Chinese princess in the mulberry garden. He wants them to go back to China and steal some of the Emperor’s silkworms. Justinian’s marriage to his wife Theodora (Jennifer Lawrence) is on the rocks and there are rumors that she is having an affair and might leave him. The silkworms would come in handy in showing that he is worthy of her love or something like that.

They agree only because the alternative is risking a chance experiencing the blood eagle. The two plan to outwit Justinian and immediately escape to India when the opportunity arises. The Roman emperor, suspicious as he is, puts them under the supervision of his commander Flavius Belisarius (Rupert Friend). They set out from Constantinople, leading an expedition of one thousand, including several hundred Hun mercenaries. They plan on going to China via the steppes.

The Roman expedition is betrayed by the Hunnic commander Dengizich mid-journey. The expedition is additionally almost wiped out by a band of angry Tibetans but Xander, Stavros, Belisarius and part of the expedition reach the border. They are greeted by the general Wu Mingche and his subordinates Pei Ji and Huang Faqu.

The current Chinese ruler, Emperor Xuan of Chen is unimpressed by the Roman expedition and believes them to be spies sent by the Northern Zhou and Qi. Then well…I got nothing else at the moment but you know where this may go.

The final scene would be something along the lines of Seth Rogen and James Franco’s characters sitting alone on a Chinese junk sailing down the Yellow River. Maybe the whole junk is filled to the brim with silkworms.

TENTATIVE CAST

James Franco as Xander
Seth Rogen as Stavros
Jesse Eisenberg as Emperor Justinian
Jennifer Lawrence as Empress Theodora
Ian McKellen as Patriarch Menas
Rupert Friend as General Flavius Belisarius
Daniel Henney as Dengizich
Hasan Minhaj as Ramagupta
Kevin Hart as Rosco

James Hong as Emperor Wu
Henry Golding as Emperor Xuan
Li Bingbing as Lady Qian
Fan Bingbing as Lady Liu Jingyan
Chen Jianbin as Liu Yan
Andy Lau as Wu Mingche
B.D. Wong as Pei Ji
Daniel Wu as Huang Faqu
Liu Xiaoqing as Zhang Yao'er
Jackie Chan as Hou Jing
Ian Chen as Chen Shubao
Chen Shubao

The idea for this movie would be either a giant $100 million dollar money sink that gets torpedoed due to public pressure mounted by a combination of woke social media activists and nationalist elements in the Chinese government who would see the film as insensitive. Expect some whining about cultural sensitivity coming from state media. Or it becomes a moderately successful, acclaimed movie that no one likes to acknowledge except for the rare movie contrarian on Reddit.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Alice Shipwise's GAME OF THRONES Season Eight Spec Scripts

Once upon a time, I was a lot more interested in working in film and television than I am now and learned about something called "spec scripts." Basically if you want to get into television writing, you write scripts for shows similar to the show you'd like to write and pitch them.

Well, a television writer named Alice Shipwise wrote a bunch of spec scripts for Game of Thrones Season Eight not long after Season Seven ended. She doesn't seem to have even seen Season Eight (she explicitly asks people to avoid spoilers when discussing her episodes), so they weren't written as a critique of the canonical season. However, in light of all the criticism the season has gotten from fans (the Night King getting deal with too easily, Jaime's failed redemption, Danaerys' madness, King Bran), there seems to be a lot of interest in them.

For the record, I think if the canonical series was based on these scripts instead, it would be a much better show. Some highlights:

*Although I didn't really think anything was particularly wrong with Danaerys torching Randyll and Dickon Tarly when they wouldn't kneel to her--Ned, Robb, and Jon have all killed men for disobeying them and Jon hanged a child--killing defeated nobles instead of ransoming them, holding them hostage, or sending them to the Night's Watch (as Tyrion advised) is something that would cause political problems in a chivalric society (killing is for commoners, dontcha know), especially given how her insane and tyrannical father was particularly known for burning people. In this version it's clearer that Sam is mourning his brother Dickon more than his abusive father Randyll and the ethics of Danaerys' "Tarlyque" (I wish I'd come up with that) get discussed between Jon and Sam and Jon and Danaerys.

*Speaking of Jon, his reunion with Arya--the fellow outcast of the family--is a bit more bittersweet once he learns what kind of murder machine his tomboy kid sister has become.

*Tyrion is the delightful smart-ass he always was. His revelation to Danaerys that he knows her and Jon have become lovers (much to her discomfort) is pretty funny and I could see Peter Dinklage delivering those lines.

*Danaerys and others learning that Jon is really the son of Prince Rhaegar and Lyanna Stark--and thus has the superior legal claim--is handled much better by everybody involved.

*The Faith of the Seven isn't forgotten after the destruction of the Great Sept. Medieval Catholicism wouldn't vanish if some Roman nobles or even the Holy Roman Emperor blew up the Vatican and the Pope. Despite her iron-fisted rule over King's Landing, Cersei has some religious problems to deal with. And religion is a potent political weapon for aspiring queens too. :)

*We see Danaerys "pressing flesh" with her new Northern subjects, starting with Arya Stark and eventually including the commoners, rather than holding herself aloof. And it's actually kind of adorable. It's more in the vein of Danaerys in the earlier seasons where she mingled with the freed slaves (up to and including crowd-surfing, which for the record I thought was ridiculous) and in the books where she cares for plague victims herself despite her advisers' pleas. If Danaerys had been a bit friendlier with the Northern public, perhaps it would've helped with the girl-drama between herself and Sansa and Arya. Speaking of Arya, the scene where Jon introduces them and Arya asks if she can ride Drogon (much to Jon's embarrassment) is pretty funny. :)

*The defense of Winterfell against the White Walkers is handled much better from a tactical perspective. Seriously, as has been discussed in a thousand think-pieces, the military strategies depicted on-screen were abysmal. What Ms. Shipwise came up with instead was pretty clever. And the Night King remains a long-term threat. :)

*There's a new character named Hodorro, a Dothraki horseman who's built up as a battle buddy for Jorah Mormont. One of the "woke" criticisms of Season Eight was that the Dothraki, in addition to their getting deployed absolutely horribly at Winterfell, was that there weren't any developed Dothraki characters. Hodorro is used to show rather than tell the evacuation of the Northern villagers from the path of the Night King and shows the limitations on the Dothraki--in the open plains they're lethal but they're not good for fighting in forests. And they have no conception of snow. :)

Although this is a vast improvement over the actual Season Eight we got, not everything in here is perfect. There's more "your dad isn't who think you think" drama beyond Jon's parentage that's kind of randomly dropped in there. And the character Tristifer Botley, who in the books come off as a bit of a clingy Nice Guy (TM) but is still loyal to Asha/Yara unto oblivion (and kind of acts as her one-man brain trust), is depicted in a much darker fashion. Oh well. Nothing's perfect.

Between the fact that a lot of the actors are outraged over the fans complaining about Season Eight and the lack of available funds (personally if I were HBO I'd permit the creation of "alternate S8" if the whiny fans were willing to put their money where their mouths were and crowd-fund it), seeing this on-screen isn't going to happen. However, it's entertaining as fan-fiction and were I a TV producer, I'd definitely be giving Ms. Shipwise a call.