Monday, June 26, 2017

Transformers: The Last Knight, Or Franchise Peak Stupidity

A few minutes ago, my friend Loren Collins shared this article on the new Michael Bay Transformers film Transformers: The Last Knight. I looked it over and quickly shared with my friend Nick, who is no fan of Michael Bay, and told him that it looked like the franchise had reached "peak stupidity."

Let the record state that I saw the first three Michael Bay Transformers adaptations. I enjoyed the first one, which I own on Blu-Ray. The second one Revenge of the Fallen had a good concept, but a rather mediocre execution. It bothered me so much that I wrote my own version of it on fanfiction.net.

The third movie Dark of the Moon I saw in theaters and didn't particularly like it. Part of it was because they not only ditched Megan Fox but also the character Mikaela Banes and replaced her with the much less interesting Carly, but also, well, for a whole bunch of reasons. Here's my review; beware spoilers.

I skipped the fourth movie Age of Extinction altogether and based on the film's poor Rotten Tomatoes score and the sheer ludicrosity of what the Io9 article and the film's Wikipedia page described, I'm probably going to skip this one two. Seriously, an ancient order consisting of various famous people descended from Merlin called "the Witwiccans"? As, the origin of the name "Witwicky"? That's ridiculous. And the Transformers having been on Earth for generations? Bumblebee fighting the Nazis I could understand (he was on Earth before the Autobots began arriving en masse in the first movie), but a "secret history" of Cybertronian involvement on Earth dating back to King Arthur? Overkill and a continuity problem.

I wish I were part of Michael Bay's writer mafia. The first one was generally good and could have been better (some of the humor was really infantile, like Bumblebee "urinating" on Simmons), while the second one could have explored the Cybertronians in more detail (I kept the backstory of Starscream and Jetfire from the animated series, for example) and could have had a more cohesive storyline as well as Michael Bay's glorious explosions.

And here's how a Matthew W. Quinn version of Dark of the Moon would have looked like. It'd draw heavily on the 1986 Transformers animated film (complete with Unicron, Galvatron, and a child-traumatizing massacre of most of the well-known Autobots) but would have the characters from the first two films and a bit of a "next generation" thing going with Daniel being the son of Sam and Mikaela, Simmons (and his apprentice Leo) and Lennox being high-up intelligence and military guys, etc. And no chucking Sam and Mikaela either--since it's 20 years later, just recast them if they're no longer interested in being in the franchise (Shia) or they do something that annoys the boss too much (like Megan Fox did).

(Not sure how I would have done #4 and #5. Perhaps stuff based on the animated series material that took place after the movie, like Starscream trying to get a new body, the Quintessons, etc.)

Instead we got a series of films so firmly enmeshed into what TVTropes calls Status Quo is God that the Io9 author makes a good case that Michael Bay has issues with "object permanence."

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Franco Stays Loyal, No Spanish Civil War?

A long time ago I found a timeline on the alternate-history discussion forum in which General Francisco Franco, who led the fascist-allied Nationalists who overthrew the left-leaning but democratically-elected Spanish Republic in the 1930s, remains loyal to the Spanish Republic. Apparently he dithered about whether to join the planned coup attempt, much to the other conspirators' annoyance, and at one point warned the government the military was disloyal, but ended up joining the uprising.

Here's the timeline, which was written by a Spanish board-member and has all sorts of details an outsider wouldn't know. Here are some highlights:

*Sometimes pushing to get your way gets you the exact opposite response, something Emilio Mola really should have thought about when trying to get Franco to join up.

*Spanish society was heavily divided in the lead-up to the Spanish Civil War. Even though the coup that kicked off our history's war is pre-empted and squashed, there's a lot of political violence from both sides. 1934 saw a left-wing uprising in Spain that Franco defeated with extreme brutality; in this timeline the Spanish hard right makes a go of it in 1936 after the coup is squashed.

*Anarchism (the left-wing socialist sort) becomes a parliamentary party in the Spanish Republic. Although an anarchist political party seems like a bit of an oxymoron, it's not that difficult to push for certain political goals within a governmental framework. Anarchism was very strong in Spain, in particular Catalonia.

*Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini during the early days of the war apparently planned to opportunistically seize the Balearic Islands, but found his Nationalist allies had seized them first. This time around the enmity between the Spanish Republic and the Italian fascist regime remains.

*Exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky comes to live in Spain, much to Stalin's rage.

The timeline is long and very detailed, but it's very interesting. Check it out!

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Dirty Dancing (1987)

Although Dirty Dancing is not the usual type of movie I watch, the good folks at Myopia: Defend Your Childhood chose it for their weekly examination of whether beloved childhood movies hold up. I figured I'd give it a spin, and I was not disappointed. Here's the link to the podcast. And now for my review.



The Plot

In the early 1960s, before the assassination of John F. Kennedy, young Frances "Baby" Houseman (Jennifer Grey), the daughter of wealthy doctor Jake (Jerry Orbach), is vacationing with her family at a resort in the Catskill Mountains. Although Neil (Lonny Price) the grandson of resort owner Max Kellerman (Jack Weston) seeks her attentions, she instead falls for the working-class dance teacher Jack Castle (Patrick Swayze). Complications ensue. Will young love triumph? We'll just have to see...

The Good

*Jennifer Grey does a really good job playing "Baby." Her facial expressions, in particular her eyes, are extremely expressive and she uses them quite well. For example, when the sheltered doctor's daughter stumbles onto the raunchy dance party the resort staff are holding, her expression speaks volumes. She's seriously Adorkable and does a great job in the part.

*The other actors do a good job. Patrick Swayze's Castle is cool, Orbach is appropriately paternal (and, as a doctor, outraged at the "butcher" who presides over a botched abortion), and Weston conveys Kellerman's snobbery (but surprising kindness toward his longtime band leader). Cynthia Rhodes, who plays Johnny's dance partner Penny, does a lot with a part that could have had more depth. Price and Max Cantor, who plays slimy waiter Robbie Gould, do a good job playing the sort of upper-class lowlifes who give fraternities a bad name. Seriously, I referred to both of them as "young Donald Trump" for their attitudes toward women and the resort staff.

*And on the matter of women and the resort staff, the movie deals with some very important social issues without being annoying and preachy. The upper-class waiters (who are doing this as a summer job while at schools like Yale and Harvard) are clearly disdainful of the working-class dance instructors and other resort staff, something the elder Kellerman encourages by telling the waiters they're there to "show the daughters a good time" but threatening to fire any staffer who get involved with a guest. Baby's older sister Lisa (Jane Brucker) clearly fits in with the shallow world of 1960s wealthy people who have few aspirations beyond socializing and marrying well, but it's clear Baby doesn't want that and doesn't really fit in. The class issue ties in with a plot involving an illegal abortion in which Gould tells Baby that some people count and some people don't, complete with showing her a copy of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead for good measure.

And although the abortion plot is something that could potentially derail the film into an issues movie (and aggravate viewers on either side of the issue), it's handled compassionately and respectfully. We see exactly why the character in question goes through with it, how badly it could have gone in the days when abortion was illegal (both the danger of death and, should the woman survive, sterility), and we see Dr. Houseman's outrage toward both the back-alley abortionist (whom he calls a "butcher") and the young man he initially thinks is responsible. The whole situation is just sad.

*The soundtrack's good. It mixes both music from the 1960s when the movie takes place with songs from the 1980s when the movie was made. One of the songs, "She's Like The Wind," was even sung by Swayze himself, who's a good singer.

The Bad

*The movie drags a little bit in parts. I spent a good bit of time on my phone. To be fair, that's because this is not the sort of movie I ordinarily enjoy watching. Someone else--and considering how beloved this film is, that'd probably be most people--wouldn't have that problem.

*The movie has an actual Training Montage when Baby learns to dance. I remarked that this was like seeing a cliche come to life, but the movie is also nearly 30 years old. Back then training montages might not have been so cliched, although Nick tells me that training montages occur in some of the earliest movies.

*Perhaps I wasn't paying close enough attention, but as I said earlier, the characters Robbie Gould and Neil Kellerman are so similar in look and action that I actually thought they were both the same character. Neil claims that he's planning on joining the Freedom Riders (and the TVTropes page for the film claims that actually shows he has hidden depths), but it came off to me that he was taken aback that Baby in interested in studying economics and joining the Peace Corps rather than studying English (aka an "MRS Degree," given the time and her social class) and was scrambling for some way to impress her. Both of them came off to me as "young Donald Trump," with Neil as snotty and pushy toward "the help" and Robbie as a vile cad.

*Where are Baby's parents? Castle is teaching Baby how to dance and the film implies this takes most of the summer, with the climax taking place at the end of the season. Certain events in the film early on strongly prejudice Dr. Houseman against Castle and I imagine he wouldn't want Baby involved with him AT ALL or, if he did allow her to take lessons, he'd keep a close eye on them. There's a deleted scene suggesting Mrs. Houseman knows a lot more about what's going on, but a deleted scene doesn't help much.

*It would have been nice if Baby's actual name is revealed earlier. It's not even in the credits!

*How much older is Castle than Baby? If the resort staff are all in their 20s and 30s and "the daughters" are all teens, Mr. Kellerman would have reasons beyond class snobbery to want to limit guest-staff romances to the wait staff, who are all college students and are consequently more appropriate age-wise. Patrick Swayze was in his 30s when the movie was made, for example, while Frances' character would have still been in high school if not just graduated and college-bound.

*It's my understanding that going to the Catskills for extended summer vacations was a primarily Jewish thing (hence the "Borscht Belt"), but religion or culture is never touched on. This article in Tablet Magazine suggests Dirty Dancing is "the most Jewish film ever," but if you're not already familiar with the cultural milieu, you wouldn't get it. Some indication that the characters are Jewish would have been nice, plus if Castle is a Christian (or at least simply isn't Jewish), that's another reason for Dad to be bothered.

The Verdict

It's not my type of movie, but it's very well-done. 8.5 out of 10.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Book Review: The Mind's Eye (2014)

A couple years ago, I promised to purchase and review Chris Nuttall's then-new novel The Mind's Eye, but life got in the way and that promise fell by the wayside. I don't abandon promises lightly, so at long last here's the promised review. Caveat: I agreed to the review as part of a swap for a review of one of my own works, but this will be an honest review...


The Plot

Marine Lieutenant Art Russell is on a mission in Afghanistan to capture or kill a major terrorist leader when he develops a severe headache and loses consciousness. When he wakes up, he discovers he has developed telepathy--the ability to read minds. He uses these abilities to foil a terrorist attack and is soon transferred to the CIA and promoted to captain, where he's tasked with preventing another, bigger attack in New York City.

However, more and more people are developing telepathic abilities and this is causing major problems for society. Many people are fearful of telepaths and want to control or kill them, and although most telepaths mean nobody any harm, some are willing to misuse their abilities. The stage is set for a violent showdown...

The Good

*The book starts in the middle of the action with a group of U.S. Marines on a mission in Afghanistan. No excessive info-dumping, no boring buildup. It doesn't start with a bang 100% only because the shooting hasn't started yet, but that doesn't really matter.

*The book is a quick and entertaining read. It's never boring and it's not too long. I finished it in two sessions on the elliptical.

*Each chapter begins with a news article providing the broader context for events in the narrative or describing something happening elsewhere in the world. Those could be a good source of spinoffs or areas to be explored in future sequels.

The Bad

*The book suffers from two many characters in too many places. It would have been better to follow Russell and a couple other characters throughout the early days of the new Telepathic Age rather than have so many diffuse POVs.

*A character starts out as a smarter-than-thou nerd and soon after developing telepathy and escaping from an anti-telepath terrorist attack starts blatantly espousing master-race theories, including ideas of superior bloodlines. This comes out of nowhere, although it's revealed later that he was under the influence of another character. That other character isn't named and mentioned until much later. It would have been better if there'd been more scenes from the perspective of the POV character for that subplot, watching him fall more and more under the influence of this bad influence and/or processing his trauma by reading lots of books with...dangerous ideas...at the home of the professor they're staying with. By the final quarter of the book, he turns in a full-blown Evil Nerd with a whole lot of internal hatred of women, something that wasn't really foreshadowed either.

*Pursuant to my above comments, it would have been better if the early plot featuring Russell's investigation of a planned Islamist terror attack in the United States is the main plot of the book. The climax could be a battle with the jihadi commander known only as the Emir...and it's revealed that he too is a telepath. That could be the shocking sequel hook...Russell is not a freak and there are more telepaths out there. The discovery of more and more telepaths, the popular reaction to the presence of telepaths (attempts to kill them, attempts to exploit them, etc) could be the plot of the second book, with Evil Nerd guy going rogue at the end. The third book could deal with the rogue-telepath plot. This way, Evil Nerd's fall from grace is spread out over a more realistic time-frame and we see it happen rather than him going from a know-it-all to a racist to a perverted murderous monster in what seems to be only a few months.

*The ending seems rather difficult in light of both the U.S. Constitution and the contributions the good telepaths made in the fight against both radical Islamist terrorists and evil telepaths. At the very least, the resulting court cases should play a role in any sequel.

*A character who has sex with a woman but doesn't know what role his telepathy played in her consent thinks the only way he'll know if it was consensual or if he was a "filthy rapist" will be when he dies, but never before expressed any belief in God, an afterlife, a Judgement Day, etc. It kind of came out of nowhere.

The Verdict

It's okay. There are good concepts that could have been developed further. 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Christian Themes in the Movie "Hellraiser"

In a couple previous posts I've made on the movie Hellraiser, I've discussed the character of Frank Cotton and the theme of godly versus worldly sorrow (see 2 Corinthinians 7:10). Seeking Biblical truth in a horror film centered on sadomasochism may seem quite strange--and many will see it as just as excuse to justify watching a movie with gross and immoral content--but there's actually a good bit of thought in there.

Below are some Christian themes I've noticed in the film:

Godly vs. Worldly Sorrow

2 Corinthians 7:10 states the following:  Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. The article above goes into more detail, but I'll summarize a bit for the TL; DR crowd or for those who might not be interesting in visiting a Christian website. "Godly sorrow" is sorrow for the immorality of one's actions--the disrespect shown to God and harm done to others. "Worldly sorrow" is regret for the personal costs of sin only.

And in Hellraiser (and the novella it's based on, "The Hellbound Heart") "worldly sorrow" is epitomized by Frank Cotton. Frank is an unrepentant hedonistic pleasure-seeker who in the book describes having smuggled heroin and in both the book and film seduced his own brother's fiancee. The book elaborates by describing how the only reason he doesn't "snatch her from under her would-be husband's nose" is that he would soon tire of her and have his vengeful brother after him. He grows bored with "dope and drink" and endless fornication and seeks out the Lament Configuration, which promises wonders and pleasures beyond human comprehension.

Well, the ones bringing said wonders and pleasures have some very different ideas of what constitutes fun. Frank is abducted by the Cenobites and subject to gross physical and sexual abuse, which he escapes purely by accident. He regrets his involvement with the Cenobites--this early draft of the "Hellraiser" script shows how deeply the Cenobites have traumatized him--but not the immoral lifestyle he has led. This same early draft of the script depicts him attempting to rape his own niece when he sees her for the first time in years, and in both the book and the film he treats Julia as a means to an end, disposing of her when she is no longer convenient. In "The Hellbound Heart," he seems interested in applying some of what he learned about pleasure and pain in Hell to Julia if only she would set him free, which implies he intends to go straight back to sleeping around if not worse once he's fully reconstituted.

And in the end, Frank's worldly sorrow leads to death. In his desperation to rebuild his mutilated body, he and Julia murder several people so he can feed on them. When Kirsty threatens to expose him, he murders his own brother, and when he and Julia attempt to kill Kirsty, he accidentally stabs her and then feeds off her remaining life-force rather than trying to help her. He attempts to kill Kirsty (his niece in the film, a friend of his brother in the book) and is ultimately reclaimed by the Cenobites, dismembered alive and returned to Hell. In Hellbound: Hellraiser 2, he ends up getting killed by the damned Julia, who uses the exact same words he told her before he tried to consume her.

Conscience and Universal Knowledge of Morality

The first two chapters of Paul's letter to the Romans are something I have always had problems believing. Romans 1:18-32, which states outright universal knowledge of the nature of God and universal human rejection of what they know to be true, is what Carl Sagan would call an extraordinary claim needing extraordinary proof. Furthermore, many conservative Christians, especially Calvinists, have taken it so far as to claim that everybody knows the Christian religion specifically is true and simply rejects it out of desire to sin. Seriously, we're talking about people who call ISIS "God-haters," never mind that they're fanatics of a different religion rather than irreligious. Romans 2:12-16 describes how the laws of God are written on the hearts of Gentiles and in particular suggests the human conscience is divinely ordained. The conscience in my opinion is more malleable than that.

Frank's life before he's taken by the Cenobites is not discussed much in the film at all (beyond the whole "seducing/semi-raping his brother's fiancee" part), but the book describes his imagination as "fertile" when it comes to "trickery and theft" and among other things he smuggles heroin. He apparently owes a lot of people money, which he probably spent on "dope and drink" and prostitutes. However, and this is the important part, he knows what he's doing is wrong. The prologue refers to him growing bored and dosing himself with whatever opiate "his immoralities had earned him." This is from his point of view, not the narrator's, so even if he had "suppressed the truth in unrighteousness" (i.e. convinced himself superficially his behavior was not immoral despite knowing better), on some subconscious level he knows that his lifestyle is evil.

In Which Frank Quotes the Bible

In the film, when Frank is speared repeatedly by the Cenobites, his last words are, "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). That's the shortest verse in the Bible, in which Jesus mourns for His dead friend Lazarus, whom he later resurrects. I'm not sure what Frank is referring to in that context--according to some Googling, the line was ad-libbed by the actor and Barker decided to keep it.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

How I Would Have Done FRIDAY THE 13TH VII: THE NEW BLOOD

Awhile back I saw Friday the 13th VII in order to prepare for a live podcast with some friends. Sufficient to say I didn't enjoy the movie that much, but one thing that stuck out to me was how they did nothing with a potentially intriguing implication villainous psychiatrist Dr. Crews knew more about Jason Voorhees than he was letting on. This reminded me a heck of a lot of Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 in which heroine Kirsty Cotton warns the director of the mental institution about the horrors of the Cenobites...who it turns out the director has been researching for some time.

So here's how I would have written Friday the 13th VII if I had to follow the same basic plot. Beware spoilers...

Act One

*No opening recap of the earlier films in the series. The camera starts on the lake floor and pans up around Jason's body before we meeting young Tina and her dysfunctional family. The death of Mr. Shepherd plays out like it does in the canonical film.

*Flash forward ten years later. Tina, her mother, and Dr. Crews arrive at the cabin and the events of the film proceed roughly the same. However, we start getting hints that Dr. Crews knows more about Crystal Lake's bloody history than is quite healthy. In the canonical film his binder of news articles about Jason Voorhees is discovered relatively late, but here we'll see him reading it and hurriedly putting it away when Tina or her mother catch him. He'll still continue his emotionally-abusive "training" to force Tina to manifest her powers, which will be important later.

*The teens having the party next door are still there, but there are a lot fewer of them and they're more developed. I'd keep Nick as the male lead and Tina's love interest, the rich snob Melissa, the nerdy writer guy, the Robin-Maddy-David triangle, and leave the rest out. This means the two black characters aren't there, but the fact the Teen Slasher Meat don't have any black friends at their party could be used to imply they're racist. They're not supposed to be sympathetic, right?

*Tina still frees Jason from the bottom of the lake like in the canonical film.

Act Two

*As Tina and Nick grow closer, Jason begins stalking the partying teens, killing the guest of honor and his girlfriend en route like in the actual film. Dr. Crews still hides the evidence Jason is present (I think it was a blade of some kind left embedded in the door), which combined with his earlier reading about the Crystal Lake murders from the previous films makes his actions a lot creepier.

*Jason's rampage continues, picking off another late-coming couple (if there absolutely must be a skinny-dipping scene, perhaps it can be here) before moving on the main house. Tina is aware of this due to her visions, which Dr. Crews uses as "proof" to her mother Tina needs either further "treatment" from him or she'll need to be returned to the mental hospital.

*Tina overhears this and runs away like in the film. Dr. Crews and Tina's mother pursue as Jason heads off through the woods toward the party house.

Act Three

*When Dr. Crews and Tina's mother find Tina's wrecked car, she finally has enough and browbeats Dr. Crews to explain his behavior or they're done. From what I know about mental-health law, Dr. Crews can't have Tina committed against her will on his word alone, so I imagine a lot of his threats are just bluff. He finally reveals that he wanted to use Tina to free Jason, which has already been done, and now he needs her to kill Jason. This will not only destroy Jason permanently (he'll know he's been "killed" before and thinks something supernatural is needed to get rid of him in the long term), but he thinks will finally giver her control over her powers. He points out that it took psychological stress to get them to manifest before--this is the ultimate make-or-break.

Well, Tina's mother isn't having this and tries to ditch Dr. Crews. Dr. Crews in turn uses Tina's mother as a human shield like in the canonical film, leading to her death at Jason's hands.

*The fleeing Dr. Crews runs into Tina and tells her that Jason Voorhees has killed her mother and only she can avenge her death. Tina sees through his bullshit immediately and her powers manifest, crippling him. She then realizes that Jason is making his way to the party house and abandons Dr. Crews. Jason arrives, Dr. Crews tries to bargain with him (claiming that he deserves credit for freeing him from the bottom of the lake), and Jason kills him anyway. Karmic Death?

*Jason beats Tina to the house, cuts the power like in the movie, and kills off most of the remaining teens. Tina then confronts him and apparently kills him with the power lines and the rain puddle like in the canonical film. I would emphasize how surprised and frightened Jason is--per TVTropes, this is an Oh Crap moment from him. With Jason apparently neutralized, Tina makes her way back to the house where Nick and Melissa are. I liked how Melissa lived longer than the others, so that stays.

*Jason arrives, kills Melissa, and the prolonged battle between Jason and Tina takes place. In the process the house is blown up. Jason is apparently killed again, only to attack Nick and Tina again.

*However, instead of Tina's dead father somehow coming to life again to save the day, Tina uses her powers to impale Jason on something big and heavy and toss him back into his watery (living) grave. Goodbye until Jason Takes Manhattan.

*There's an epilogue in which Nick and Tina ride off into the sunset. As they leave, the camera pans back to the lake for an ominous ending...

Monday, May 15, 2017

An Early Draft of HELLRAISER: Script Review and Commentary

The other day I found this early draft of the script for Clive Barker's horror film Hellraiser. I read it and liked what I found, so here's some commentary...

The Good

*The opening is much better than in the canonical film. It's very scary and vivid, while at the same time leaving a whole lot up to the imagination. It also avoids the canonical film's problem of having Frank getting the hook-chain treatment as soon as he solves the box but Kirsty able to wander about and actually talk to the Cenobites. We don't see just what exactly happens, although once we meet Frank and he tells Julia what happened, we know that it was him who solved the box and is the particular victim you can hear screaming over the others. The opening script also keeps the Cenobites mysterious--you don't really see them at first, unlike in the canonical film where you see the Female Cenobite and Pinhead full-on.

*The Cotton family drama, like the canonical film, is shown rather than told. Neither Larry nor Julia say their marriage is unhappy, nor do Kirsty or Julia say they dislike each other.

*Frank's tale of his suffering at the hands of the Cenobites is much more interesting than in the canonical film. He's showing Julia the box and reflected in its shiny surfaces we can see what Frank experienced in Hell. The thing that comes to mind is the Nightmare Fuel flashback to the destruction of Sandleford Warren in the animated Watership Down film, and some kind of animation might have been the only way to really get some of the trippier aspects of it done. Accomplishing this with the limited special-effects budget Barker had might not have been possible...hence Frank's "pain and pleasure, indivisible" spiel with the images of him spinning around covered in blood.

*Speaking of Frank, he's more developed as a character. His evil is amplified in the attempted rape of Kirsty (his own niece!), but at the same time he's so clearly traumatized by what the Cenobites did to him that he's actually sympathetic. Also, that Julia is nothing more than a means to an end to him is made clearer much earlier in the film, foreshadowing how in the climax when she's accidentally mortally wounded Frank feeds on her rather than making any attempt to help her.

*Steve, Kirsty's British boyfriend, is much more useful than in the movie. In the script he visits her in the hospital and is, unknown to him, taken hostage by the Cenobites who Kirsty can see but he cannot. When they sneak her out of the hospital however it was they did it (I think they used the portal Kirsty opened to transition her out of the hospital), he finds her gone and takes the puzzle box for himself. He then makes his way to Larry and Julia's house and, however ineffectively, helps her battle Frank.

*I liked Kirsty's "what took you so long" take-down of the Cenobites. She's been at their mercy for a time, but now that she's fulfilled her end of the bargain, she can (to an extent) give them the what-for. And the Cenobites actually explain their rationale.

*There's no Puzzle Guardian character, whom I thought didn't really add to the story and whose sudden transformation into a dragon at the end of the film ate up money that could have been better spent elsewhere.

The Bad

*Some of Larry's discussion with the workmen goes on for a little too long. He doesn't really need to explain everything about his family situation to them. The workmen are also blatantly rude to him. Maybe British movers are a rougher crowd than I'm used to, but mouthing off to the guy who signs your checks is not a good idea no matter where you live.

The Verdict

Had Barker went with this, Hellraiser would have been an even better film than it already was. 9.0 out 10.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Preserving the "Nicor" Cover for Posterity...

This past weekend I signed a contract to have my short Viking horror story "Nicor" included in anthology. Part of the contract was that it be exclusive to them for two years. That meant removing the Kindle edition from Amazon. Since the story is available for free online it wasn't really a great seller, so this was not something I had a problem with. I don't anticipate putting it back up.

That said, I would like to preserve the "Nicor" cover, created by Alex Claw, for posterity. So here you go...


By the way, if you want to get this story and a bunch of others, you can chip in on the Kickstarter. Not only can you get cool prizes, but you will also make sure the collection will be well-advertised and that there will be plenty of resources available for the third anthology.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Future of the Afrikanerverse

One upon a time, a young man (I'm assuming) on the Web's premiere alternate-history discussion forum whose handle was Reddie posted a challenge--write a scenario in which there's a cold war between the United States and "the apartheid juggernaut." Instead of S.M. Stirling's Draka, the Africa-centered white-supremacist regime would be of Afrikaner stock and instead of a Nietzsche-wannabe master-race ideology, their ideology would be Afrikaner Calvinism.

Well, I took that challenge. Instead of the Domination of the Draka facing off against the Alliance for Democracy, I created a world in which the traditionalist-reactionary Afrikaner Confederation and a motley crew of allies like the Sikh Empire in India, Tibet, and Thailand faced off against a League of Democracies encompassing the rest of the world. I wrote multiple versions of the timeline as I went along (here is the current version) and even sold some short fiction set in that world. My first story, "Coil Gun," I sold to Digital Fiction Publishing in 2011 for $0.05 a word, my first "pro" sale. The story appeared in their anthology Pressure Suite and in fact inspired the cover art. DFP eventually bought the reprint rights for another story set in that world, "Picking Up Plans in Palma." That one appeared in their collection Cosmic Hooey as well as the stand-alone.

(Both stories also feature in my independently-published short story collection Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire.)

I've been working on a lot of projects since then, including a military science fiction novella set in Lindsay Buroker's Fallen Empire universe, but my brain is an idea generating machine. I've pondered many possible ideas for stories to tell in this world in the future. Here are some of them:

*The "Armageddon Trilogy." The novelette (it's not long enough to be a novella) "Palma" is at its heart a family saga. Journalist Katje de Lange emigrates to the United States with the reluctant blessing of her father David, against the strong opposition of her Theonomic zealot brother Thomas, as a result of the Confederation growing more authoritarian and more hostile toward women having careers. In America, where she's actually rather conservative despite being a flaming liberal by Afrikaner standards, she ends up romantically involved with Irish Catholic intelligence analyst Connor Kelly. Kelly ends up being sent into the Confederation in a harebrained scheme to retrieve some vital data, which is the main plot of "Palma." The proposed trilogy of novels picks up a few years later as World War III looms and follows the extended Kelly-de Lange family through it.

(This is a long-shot project considering how the acceptance for publication of my teen horror novel The Thing in the Woods means my next finished novel will likely be its sequel and how, owing to Ms. Buroker's huge fan-base, writing Kindle Worlds stories for her will likely make me lots of short-term cash. However, it never hurts to have many irons in the fire.)

When combined with some other ideas for stories featuring various de Lange ancestors as the Confederation is built and Kelly's own forebears in different versions of the American Revolution, the Mexican War, and the Civil War, this could be something like James Michener's generations-long stories. Think Michener's Covenant (South Africa) or Poland (guess) or James Clavell's Tai-Pan and Noble House, which both center around wealthy European-descended trading families in the Far East. Considering how the Draka series is a family saga of the von Shrakenbergs (and a spinoff branch fathered by one raping an enslaved Frenchwoman, who gives birth to twins after escaping to America), that's appropriate.

*Screenplays for "Coil Gun" and "Palma." I've actually written 85 pages or so for a "Coil Gun" spec script. This isn't the 1980s anymore, so villainous South Africans aren't in, plus it offends the zeitgeist in other ways like depicting a nuclear war as survivable with sufficient anti-missile weapons and good civil defense. I'd pondered pitching it as an animated film to reduce production costs. "Palma" might be easier to handle, as it's basically a run-and-gun you could film in Florida or somewhere else similarly warm to mimic East Africa.

*Another short story entitled "Killing The Rijnsburg." I promise I came up with the title before Bill O'Reilly started writing his historical books. I started writing this long ago, but abandoned it after failing to find a first-rights buyer for "Palma." The Rijnsburg is the Afrikaners' major orbital battle-station and taking it out is a major part of the WWIII battles in space. This battle is mentioned in "Coil Gun" and the plans for it are the McGuffin in "Palma," so it's thematically appropriate the third story be about the battle-station's destruction. Maybe when Digital Science Fiction starts accepting new stories again...

*There are various other individual story ideas I haven't really developed. One follows the neglected son of "Palma" antagonist Eugene Visser (seriously, Visser never even mentions him in the story, although be fair he has no real reason to) as he tries to do his dead old man proud by committing terrorist attacks against American occupation fores after the Confederation falls. Another features a dug-in Afrikaner regiment dying to a man to the tune of "In Christ Alone" to allow some women and children to escape an oncoming army.

Per that last point, although the Afrikaner Confederation is objectively an authoritarian, semi-theocratic (especially later) racist evil empire, there is much to admire about their culture. Things like faith, duty, honor, and bravery, all of which are held in far less esteem these days. My Afrikaners are less blatantly gross than the Draka, so it's easier to write them as protagonists. Given how the Afrikaners' evil especially offends the zeitgeist (they're racists and religious bigots), I could imagine that would grind a few folks' gears, even if I make characters like David de Lange (and not his zealous son or the sadistic Visser) the protagonists.

Friday, April 21, 2017

My New Military SF Novella Is Here!

This past Wednesday evening, my first original Kindle project in years (if you don't count the audio version of my horror story "I am the Wendigo," since that was a different edition of an older work) went live. Behold my science fiction novella Ten Davids, Two Goliaths, set in Lindsay Buroker's FALLEN EMPIRE universe.



Here's my Amazon blurb, which I wrote myself...

The Tri-Sun Alliance has been nibbling at the edges of the Sarellian Empire, attacking isolated patrols, supply convoys, and even civilian supporters of the regime. But now Alliance intelligence has learned of something worth gambling their limited combat power--a pair of Imperial escort cruisers on a training mission near an isolated world.

Helping command the attack is Lt. Geun Choi, a former Imperial fighter pilot disgraced by an act of mercy. Serving under him is Tamara Watson, another ex-Imperial with demons of her own. But whatever their pasts, the two must improvise or die when it turns out the intelligence that sent them on the mission wasn't complete and the carefully-planned ambush develops complications.

Taking place before pilot Alisa Marchenko met her future engineer Mica Coppervein and well before the Empire fell, this tale set in Lindsay Buroker's FALLEN EMPIRE universe explores the early days of the Great Rebellion. Fans of STAR WARS, FIREFLY, WING COMMANDER, and the tales of Honor Harrington will enjoy this adventure.

If you're into military sci-fi or space opera, or just want to see Billy Mitchell's theories on air-power vs. ships tested out IIIN SPAAACE, then you might like this. It's around 10,000 words long, so it won't take very long for you to read and enjoy. There's one small problem in that Kindle Worlds is for some reason limited to American (USA) readers only, but there is a way around that. Visit this link here for more.

This story (and some consulting work I did for Ms. Buroker) would not have happened if I weren't a regular listener to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast. So if you're looking for some advice on how to sell and market your work, check it out.