Sunday, March 26, 2017

My WALKING DEAD Theory: Negan Is Sterile

One of the shows I watch when I have time is The Walking Dead. It's not my favorite show (I like Game of Thrones better), but it's a good chance to hang out with my church friends after services and dinner. And lately I've developed an interest in the character Negan, the current Big Bad who introduces himself by killing Abraham and Glenn and, for a time at least, forcing Rick and his crew under his thumb.

One thing that stuck out about Negan from the comics (I've only read a little of them) is the weird paternal thing he has going with Carl. In the comics and in the show, Carl attempts to assassinate Negan, but rather than kill him, Negan takes him on a tour of the Sanctuary and when forcing him to reveal his empty eye socket makes him cry, Negan actually feels guilty and apologizes. And in the television show, rather than merely returning him to Rick, Negan comes to Rick's house, teaches Carl how to shave, makes him and baby Judith dinner, and sits there with both kids waiting for Rick to return.

The prequel comic "Here's Negan" revealed that before the zombie apocalypse Negan was a high school gym coach, so Carl is about the right age to have been one of his students. However, the teaching him to shave, making dinner, dandling and kissing baby Judith, etc. goes beyond being a teacher into being outright paternal.

Furthermore, in "Here's Negan," Negan and his wife don't seem to have any children. And in polygamous societies, the dominant men with many wives tend to have lots of kids. Murad III, one of the more lusty Ottoman sultans, had over 100 children from many concubines. I remember an illustrated kid version of the Guinness Book of World Records depicting a tired-looking Moroccan sultan who had over 500 children. It turns out there might have been much more than that. However, even with his much smaller harem, Negan has no children at all. It could be that Negan is dousing them all with birth control to avoid the complications of children (especially since many of them, like Sherry, are other men's wives or partners he's keeping as hostages), but no children whatsoever seems significant.

(Lori and Maggie managed to get pregnant after all, despite much more trying circumstances.)

So here's my theory. Negan is sterile. He can't have any children. The harem thing, the prominence of a baseball bat (phallic symbol) as his signature weapon, his attempts to usurp Rick as Carl and Judith's father, the very tight pants a female friend pointed out, his obsession with sex (he's even turned on when Olivia slaps him for making fun of her weight), they're all attempts to compensate psychologically for his shooting blanks.

(I'd theorized his attempt to claim Maggie after Glenn's death was an attempt to usurp Glenn as little Herschel's father, but friends more familiar with the show have told me he has no way to know she's pregnant. I watched the clip on YouTube and his comments about wanting to see Maggie seem totally driven by sex, without any reference to her being pregnant.)

Of course, there might be other reasons he does these things. The harem thing is intended to control and degrade possible rival males (in the comics, Negan admits his treatment of Sherry was intended to neutralize Dwight), his waiting for Rick with Carl and Judith was clearly an attempt to screw with Rick, and Maggie would have been another hostage to control Alexandria. However, someone can have more than one reason for doing something, especially a more complex character like Negan.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Book Review: Red Right Hand (2016)

For a long time I've been interested in the writing of H.P. Lovecraft, creator of such entities as Cthulhu, the Deep Ones, etc. In high school I read collections of his work at the library and even purchased the film Dagon, an adaptation of his story "The Shadow Over Innsmouth." In college I wrote "The Beast of the Bosporus," a Lovecraft tale set in the Ottoman Empire that is now in the capable hands of Digital Fiction Publishing.

So when my friend James R. Tuck brought a Lovecraftian tale of his own to our writing group, I was quite interested. It came out last year (under a pseudonym) and although real life has kept me busy, I finished it earlier this week. Now it's time for the review...

The Plot

Charlotte "Charlie" Moore is on the way back from visiting her friend and possible love interest Daniel Langford--a visit that took an unpleasant turn when some old traumas surfaced--when she's set upon by a trio of skinless, homicidal hounds. She in turn is rescued by none other than the sinister Nylarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos, an evil god-like being who seeks to recruit her for his war against his kindred gods. He claims that he's protecting humankind from an eventual invasion of our world and to ensure Charlie cooperates, he enthralls Daniel too.

So in a supernatural version of the film Collateral (in which hit man Tom Cruise forces Jamie Foxx to accompany him on jobs), Charlie assists Nylarlathotep in his mission, but soon finds out that he's even more malign than he seems.

The Good

*The book grabs the reader from the very beginning and doesn't let go. Charlie meets the skinhounds within a few pages. It's very, VERY good at getting the reader's attention and keeping it.

*The book has some incredibly vivid descriptions. An elder goddess appears as a crack whore in a rather disgusting scene, while another deity manifests through the cancers of dozens of hospital patients. Of particular awesomeness is how the descriptions of Nylarlathotep capture the Uncanny Valley effect. In his human form he's obviously, well, human but there's a hole lot about him that's just off--his teeth, his tongue, his facial structure. It's very well-done.

That is easily one of the best things about the book and reason enough to get it. Seriously, I had full-blown sleep-paralysis nightmares one night after reading a few chapters in the book. That hasn't happened to me in years.

*On the matter of Nylarlathotep himself, he's always been one of the most...human...of the Eldritch Abominations and it shows here. Rarely do Horrors From Beyond get really witty lines. As James said in an interview, the Man in Black was fun to write.

*The book moves along very quickly. It took me a long time to read it after I bought it because of real-life obligations, but once I buckled down to finish it, it took me only a few nights. If it were an e-book I could read on my phone or on a tablet at the gym, I would have probably finished it even faster.

*The book tells a complete story (Charlie's arc from a victim to a victor and dealing with the past trauma), but sets up a sequel and in fact a whole universe in which many stories can be told. Nothing is left hanging, but it's clear we have more adventures coming. I look forward to reading them.

*The novel meshes Lovecraft's philosophy of a naturalistic universe indifferent to the fates of both men and gods and a Judeo-Christian worldview in a potentially quite interesting way. Nylarlathotep, in a lengthy discussion about how he admires humanity, describes how at one point mankind was reduced to eight people in an ark of wood built by a drunk who had never seen the ocean. For those of us less than knowledgeable about the Bible, that's the story of Noah.

Part of Lovecraft's overall philosophy was that the universe was fundamentally indifferent to humanity, and the horrors beyond could wipe us out without affecting overall reality one whit. Even in the times where human triumphed over the eldritch abominations, it was because the universe was just as indifferent to the Great Old Ones as it is to mankind. The Judeo-Christian worldview holds that the universe has a Creator who cares about what happens and that justice will ultimately prevail. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said the arc of history bent toward justice, something that isn't possible in a purely naturalistic, indifferent universe. It could be explored further, but this is, after all, the first book in a series.

*The cover art is really well-done. Seriously. Charlie is well-captured, while Nylarlathotep is represented stylistically to avoid spoiling just how cool he's depicted. James describes how the cover art came together here.

*Charlie's back-story involves rape and the novel touches on issues dealing with rape, the difficulties prosecuting it, etc., but the book never gets preachy, becomes "a very special episode," etc. It's another part of Charlie's character, and a very big part, but it doesn't engulf the entire storyline.

The Bad

This next part deals with the topic of rape and might upset people. If that's something that will cause you stress, you might want to skip the next couple paragraphs.

*The wicked men who raped Charlie never got justice for it, something that is, unfortunately, quite common. I cannot fault the book for highlighting a grave problem with our society. However, one reason most rapes go unreported, let alone un-prosecuted, is that most rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, not strangers lurking in alleys. And most rapes don't result in injuries to the victim (beyond, well, the obvious), which discourages prosecution. After all, a huge percentage of them involve the victim impaired by alcohol, not threatened into submission or physically battered. Our legal system is supposed to prevent innocent people from being prosecuted (see this quote from Benjamin Franklin about better a hundred guilty men go free rather than one innocent be condemned), but that has unfortunate side effects.

Charlie's attack put her in the hospital with internal and external injuries, including a broken jaw. It apparently did go to trial (something that doesn't always happen), but the perpetrators were found not guilty based on their lawyers' highlighting how Charlie had drunk alcohol (not much), worn a skirt (a long one), and didn't say "no" (even though she did say "stop"). See this article here (it's long) about how unpleasant defense attorneys for accused rapists can get. However, between the extreme violence of the attack and no indication of any factor like Charlie having dated one of them in the past or her even knowing them, the perpetrators getting away with it as easily as skeevy frat boys who get naive freshmen drunk at parties doesn't seem believable. Ariel Castro, Phillip Garrido, Brian David Mitchell, the Carr brothers, and this band of scumbags from Knoxville got nailed to the wall, and this article here states that it's easier to prosecute a stranger attack (like those I just listed) than a date rape.

If I were writing it I would have toned down the violence (making it purely a case of Charlie being incapacitated by drugs or alcohol) so a good lawyer could spin it as a drunken hookup and not an assault, or something that was initially consensual and quickly went awry (like this case here, in which no charges were filed despite an account so damning that the players dropped their defense of their teammates upon reading it). Or, if making the attack as violent as it was was necessary for the story (someone isn't going to spend years taking martial-arts classes to avoid being roofied), I would have made it so Charlie was bullied into not pressing charges by powerful friends of the perpetrators (football coaches, school officials, the town sheriff) like how Kobe Bryant's accuser refused to testify after being harassed by his fans. Or, to keep the fact that it did go to trial in the plot, make it take place in some football-loving small town where the chance of beloved athletes getting convicted is essentially nil.

*Related to the above issue, when the perpetrators have a very final and well-deserved meeting with Nylarlathotep, none other than the FBI (which would probably have not gotten involved with a local criminal matter in the first place) contacts Charlie the next day, assuming she had something to do with it. Given how the perpetrators had all gone their separate ways (with one living in another city and another being so marginalized to the point nobody would notice him), they'd have to be reported missing, someone would need to make the connection between them, etc. It would probably be days if not weeks before the police investigated Charlie, not the next day.

Something That Has Potential

*Black's incorporation of Judeo-Christian religious themes could have been explored further. Is the God of Abraham a Lovecraftian being of some sort? He could be one that genuinely cares about humanity or, like the Ally in F. Paul Wilson's Adversary Cycle (which "collects" worlds rather than consuming them) or August Derleth's Elder Gods (who simply oppose the Outer Gods and Great Old Ones), an entity that isn't a friend of humanity per se but is still beneficial. Exploring how one might mesh a personal god with the notion of a universe indifferent to the ultimate fates of men, other sentient beings like the Mi-Go or Deep Ones, and even gods themselves could be interesting. Since this is the first book in a series and not a stand-alone, there's plenty of room to go deeper later.

*Per my concern about the FBI coming into Charlie's life so quickly, could there be some kind of anti-occult agency in the Bureau? The Deacon Chalk series that James wrote under his real name depicts an FBI agent involved in investigating supernatural episodes, after all. If Nylarlathotep seeks someone related by blood to H.P. Lovecraft for his shenanigans, perhaps ALL of his relatives are being watched just in case.

The Verdict

Go read it, especially if you like Lovecraft. 9.0 out of 10.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What If: Achmaenid Persia Conquers Greece?

Here's another timeline from the alternate-history forum, even though I remain self-banned in order to avoid distraction from my day job and from my other writing pursuits. This one diverges from our history with a Greek defeat at the Battle of Salamis to become The World of Achaemenid Hellas.

(For those of a less historical bent, the Achaemenids are the ruling dynasty of Persia during this period, while "Hellas" refers to Greece. The Greeks actually called themselves "Hellenes"--"Greece" and "Greeks" is based on the Latin-Roman term for them.)

Some highlights of the timeline include:

*The Messinians, who had been servile helots under Spartan rule, cannot agree on whether to establish a democracy or a monarchy after getting liberated by the Persians, so they basically invent the concept of a constitutional monarchy as a political compromise.

*Xerxes lives so long he gains the epithet "Xerxes the Old" and at one point waxes philosophical about the nature of kingship, petty cruelties, etc. I'm vaguely reminded of the Book of Ecclesiastes.

*The Greek population of Italy, swollen by refugees fleeing Persian conquest, forms an alliance uniting all the Greek cities of the region (which was referred to as Magna Graecia--"Greater Greece"--owing to its settler population) and permanently disabuses the Carthaginians of their desire to conquer Sicily. The Carthaginians, beaten but not annihilated, find more productive places to expend their energies and go onto brighter things.

*A Persian satrap--regional governor--of a united Greece rebels against the Persian Great King and establishes a sort of Diadochi-in-reverse.

*There's some kind of synthesis of Buddhism, the Hellenic faiths, and Zoroastrianism that has generally Buddhist ethics, the Hellenic pantheon, and a Zoroastrian belief in the struggle of Good against Evil.

I'm very busy these days and so I haven't finished it, but so far so good. If I ever return to posting on the forum, I should probably ask whatever happened to Artemisia, Xerxes' female naval commander who even the extremely sexist Greeks admired.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Hellboy (2004)

Although Hellboy is not as well-known as, say, Batman or Spider-Man (no great surprise since he's from Dark Horse, as opposed to the Marvel-DC duopoly), he still got a comic-book movie made about him. Two in fact. I watched the first film for Myopia Defend Your Childhood. Here's the podcast. And now my review...

The Plot

In 1944, a group of Nazis led by the Russian sorcerer Rasputin have occupied an island off the coast of Scotland in order to summon the Lovecraftian Ogdru Jahad to help them win WWII. They're interrupted by a platoon of American soldiers, but not before they summon a demonic ape-like baby. The American soldiers feed him Baby Ruth candy bars and adopt him as their mascot "Hellboy." Fast-forward to the modern era and Hellboy (Ron Perlman) has grown up to fight paranormal threats for the FBI while pining after the pyrokinetic Liz Sherman (Selma Blair). New FBI agent John Myers (Rupert Evans) is assigned to the team just in time for Rasputin to rise again and try to summon the Ogdru Jahad, with Hellboy playing a surprising role...

The Good

*An impressive amount of research into mythology, folklore, and the occult went into the film. Hellboy's anti-demon bullets are filled with holy water, silver, shavings of white oak, etc., which he refers to as "the works." All of those are reputed to have supernatural properties--holy water for exorcising demons and repelling vampires, silver to kill werewolves, etc. The Nazis attempt their ceremony in Scotland, despite the fact it's on the territory of one of their enemies and they're losing the war, because two ley lines intersect there.

*Although a movie with an outright demon as the lead doesn't seem like a major candidate for a Christian film, this is actually a pretty strongly Christian movie. Many characters are depicted as being faithful (Catholic specifically), Christian icons are depicted as having supernatural power against Evil, etc.

*There's a whole lot of Rule of Cool going on here, including a clockwork cyborg Nazi assassin, Rasputin using Magitek to summon demons, etc. It's a lot of fun.

*That Dr. Broom (John Hurt), Hellboy's adoptive father, is terminally ill is shown, not told. And this leads to a rather surprising end for the character.

*There are some really impressive visuals, like the temple in the mountains of Moldova where human blood is put to religious use.

*I liked the Lovecraftian influences in the film. The Ogdru Jahad are extra-dimensional tentacle monsters served by black magicians much like Cthulhu, while the opening of the film cites De Vermis Mysteriis, an occult book that's part of the Cthulhu Mythos. Lovecraft was unappreciated in his own time and is a pretty niche topic today, so that's pretty cool.

*The movie has got a fair number of amusing one-liners, including various sex jokes associated with the hellhound Samael. Sex jokes associated with a tentacled demon-dog--I promise you, they're a lot more clever than they sound. Toward the end of the film, there's a resurrected half corpse of a Russian that gets a lot of really good lines, all in subtitles.

*Hellboy has a character arc. He starts out rather immature despite being over sixty years old (the movie explains this in "reverse dog years") and acts like a somewhat stalkerish high schooler where Liz and romantic rival Myers are concerned. However, this is something he grows out of by the end of the film. The bureaucratic and prejudiced FBI agent Thomas Manning has an arc too--at the beginning of the movie he refers to the paranormal team as a bunch of freaks, but by later on he's teaching Hellboy how best to light a cigar.

The Bad

*The film's single biggest flaw is how slow it is. It's over two hours long and there were many times I was looking at my watch. The special-effects failures (I'll get to that later) were pretty minor in comparison to just how un-entertaining this movie was in many places. I'd suggested on the podcast that some of the Samael fight-scenes could have been cut (just ditch the whole "if you die two will take your place" bit) to speed the movie along, even if it meant "killing your darling" and eliminating the scene where Hellboy stops a fight to save some kittens.

*The special effects have not held up very well. Maybe it's because I was watching an ordinary DVD on a Blu-Ray player on a high-definition TV, but there was a lot of stuff that was obviously computer-generated imagery. When I saw this on the big screen in college it might not have been this obvious, but it certainly is now. Many of the close-ups of Samael look real because they clearly used a model or a puppet and Hellboy himself is an excellent prosthetic/makeup work, but there are far too many scenes that are "invasion of the video game."

(Still not as bad as Spawn though.)

*A character dies because Hellboy left his home go to stalk Liz and Myers on their possible-date. I would expect that to be a much bigger deal for both Hellboy and Liz. Hellboy's maturation and willingness to back off where Liz is concerned could have been driven by the quite-justifiable guilt he would feel over the situation, but other than seeing him holding the character's rosary at the funeral, it's never touched on. Given how both Liz and Hellboy are depicted as Catholics, they could even explore stereotypical Catholic guilt some.

*At this character's rainy funeral, they've got a "sea of umbrellas" shot. That seems to be a bit of a cliche in film--according to this link here, Hellboy is actually paying homage to the film Foreign Correspondent, but I've seen it so many times that my first thought was "cliche." This isn't totally fair--I've complained about how the John Carter stories were ripped off so many times that by the time the movie came out ideas the Carter mythos originated had become cliched--but I still felt it.

*The Nazi soldiers in the prologue are so focused on the occult ritual they're protecting they are completely oblivious to the American soldiers creeping up on them. Given how the Nazis are losing the war at this point and they've snuck onto the territory of an Allied power, I figured they'd be a lot more alert. Prolonging the battle between the Americans and the Germans could be a means of building suspense--the longer the fight goes on, the more likely something gnarly is going to come through that portal.

The Verdict

See it once if you can get it off Netflix or something. It's not really worth buying. 6.0 out of 10.

Monday, February 13, 2017

What If Eisenhower (First) Fights the Japanese in the Pacific?

Awhile back I wrote a blog post about the alternate-history timeline "The Battle At Dawn," in which Pearl Harbor is better defended and the bloodied U.S. Pacific Fleet sails forth to duel the Japanese Combined near Midway Island. The user whose handle is Galveston Bay is writing a second story set in this same world entitled "The Shoestring Warriors of Luzon."

The point of divergence from our timeline is that Douglas MacArthur dies in a car accident when visiting the United States in 1937. MacArthur when he was good was very good (he was recommended for the Medal of Honor during the 1914 occupation of Veracruz, earned a lot of awards during World War I, and oversaw the Inch'on landings and subsequent campaign that would have destroyed North Korea were it not for China intervening), but when he was bad he was very, very bad.

The most relevant badness to this story is his failure to properly prepare the Philippines to face the Japanese during the lead-up to the Pacific War and his psychological paralysis that led to most of the U.S. aircraft in the Far East getting destroyed on the ground eight hours after Pearl Harbor when they had the opportunity to return the favor and attack Japanese airbases on Taiwan when weather had their aircraft grounded.

(Holy crap, how could someone who'd demonstrated that much talent on other occasions drop the bomb this absolutely badly? He should have gotten the Medal for some of the stuff he did when he was a lot younger--the Filipino farble should have ended his career, or at the very least not been rewarded.)

So with MacArthur out of the way, Eisenhower, who'd served under MacArthur, takes his position in the Philippines. His plans for the Filipino military are much less grandiose than MacArthur's, but they're implemented a lot more competently. Consequently, although the Filipino forces are smaller than those that faced the Japanese in our history, they're much better-trained, better-equipped, and better-organized. The Japanese, especially since they've taken worse lumps fighting a major naval battle soon after Pearl Harbor, are going to face a much tougher fight.

Right now we're almost to the Japanese attack on the Philippines, with the Japanese having already attacked Pearl Harbor. Galveston Bay has promised this is the first of three parts and there will be other stories detailing the various campaigns of this alternate Pacific War. I still intend to remain self-banned from the site to focus on other obligations, but I will definitely keep you all posted about his projects.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Audio "I am the Wendigo" Is Here...

Like horror? Like audio-books? In that case, you should check out the audio version of my short horror story "I am the Wendigo" on Amazon, Audible, and on iTunes.

Awhile back, I posted about how I might Kickstart an audio-book, specifically "Wendigo" since it was my best-selling story at the time. Not a lot came of it for awhile, until I decided to just shell out the cash myself and put together an audio version. After all, according to science-fiction legend John Scalzi, a significant chunk of his income comes from audio books and according to some of the writing podcasts I listen to, not having audio versions of one's books is "leaving money on the table." In addition to being my top seller it's fairly short, so it'd make a good test project for audio books.

My friend Loren narrated, while Dudeletter Podcasting handled the production over Christmas. After some tinkering so it matches Amazon's quality standards, it's available today.

If this is a success, I'm considering an audio version of my short Viking horror story "Nicor," which you can read online for free here. I've got the audio rights to "Nicor" and "Melon Heads," since the former was published three years ago and "Melon Heads" exists solely in independent Kindle form. My other short stories I'll be able to put in audio format when their exclusivity period with (Digital Fiction) ends.

So watch this space. I'll keep you all posted about future audio projects here.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Three-Day Battle At Pearl Harbor? Check Out "The Battle at Dawn"

I'm still self-banned from the alternate-history forum, but logged out I can still view the public sections. In the Post-1900 forum there's a new thread entitled "The Battle At Dawn: The First Battle Between The United States and Japan Dec. 7-10, 1941."

The divergence from our history is that Admiral James O. Richardson, who vocally opposed moving the U.S. Pacific Fleet from San Francisco to Pearl Harbor and was relieved of his position as commander in chief of the U.S. fleet as a result, is summoned to Washington by Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, who persuades Richardson to keep his mouth shut. Knox, Richardson, and Roosevelt meet and agree that although the Pacific Fleet must remain at Pearl Harbor, the base's defenses will be strengthened.

(Richardson thought the fleet too vulnerable to air-sea attack where it was, a position that was ultimately vindicated.)

Richardson is given a partial demotion that ends up being better for everybody--he's placed in direct command of the Pacific Fleet in preparation to face the Japanese threat. Admiral Husband Kimmel, who was relieved of command of the Pacific Fleet in actual history due to Pearl Harbor, is sent to command the Atlantic Fleet in the undeclared naval war against Germany.

As a result of Richardson--who helped create War Plan Orange to deal with a possible war with Japan--commanding the defense of Hawaii, the U.S. is much more prepared for the Japanese attack when it comes. This might not be an unmitigated blessing, however--if the U.S. fleet left Pearl Harbor to face the Japanese in deep water, every sunk ship would have been lost for good (many ships sunk at Pearl were raised afterward) and many more lives would have been lost. The situation could have gotten so bad that Admiral Chester Nimitz said the fleet not sortieing was "God's blessing."

At this point in the timeline the bloodied but angry Pacific Fleet is about to face the Japanese Combined Fleet near Midway Island (the Battle of Midway is coming early this time, but there's no guarantee who'll win), so we'll have to see how that goes...

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Movie Review: Rogue One (2016)

The other night I saw the new Star Wars movie Rogue One, the first of the "Anthology" films set in the Star Wars universe now that it's owned by Disney.

How was it? Here goes...

The Plot

The opening crawl of Star Wars: A New Hope describes how the Rebel Alliance has won its first victory over the evil Empire and how the plans for the new Imperial weapon--the Death Star--have been stolen.

How did that happen, you ask? Well, the movie begins with the sinister Imperial weapons developer Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) coming to take into custody runaway scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), in the process killing wife Lyra Erso. Their young daughter Jyn (played by Felicity Jones as an adult) flees the scene and when we next see her, she's an adult in an Imperial prison. A group of Rebels spring her--without much enthusiasm on her part--and Rebel leader Mon Mothma assigns her and Rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to retrieve information on the Death Star sent by her father, who sufficient to say is not pleased with what the Imperials are making him do.

Although we all know that the Rebels will get their hands on the Death Star plans, just how that happens is where the fun is...

The Good

*I really like the concept of anthology films in general. The Star Wars universe is so gigantic that you can tell lots of different stories that don't ever touch on the main characters like the Skywalkers, Han and Chewbacca, etc. In the case of Rogue One, only Darth Vader, Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, and a couple others are established characters. The rest are new.

*This is basically a war movie in a science fiction universe. The last third or so of it is a gigantic battle sequence that's very well done and makes it far clearer just what this movie is about than, well, "Star Wars."

*Vader only appears in two scenes, but in the second of the two, well, hot damn. It's more like Star Wars Rebels than the original trilogy in terms of Vader's combat ability. Heck, some reviewers describe that scene as being more like a horror movie.

*The movie gets more into the moral ambiguity that fighting a galaxy-wide war will necessitate. We have Rebel groups excommunicated by the Alliance for excessive violence, we have assassinations, etc. Waging war against a ruthless opponent is pretty much impossible to do with clean hands and this is made clear.

*I'm not overly familiar with the cartoons like Clone Wars and Rebels, especially the former, but I know that Saw Gerrera, the rebel too extreme for the Rebellion, was originally from Clone Wars. And I'm told the Ghost, the ship from Rebels, appears during the fleet-action scene. It's good to see Disney integrating all the different Star Wars properties.

*Speaking of the fleet-action scene, my favorite scene from Return of the Jedi was the Battle of Endor. The Battle of Scarif that serves as the climax of the film is a lot smaller-scale, but it's still well-done.

*The ground-combat portion of the Battle of Scarif is well-done as well. We see combined-arms and a much more effective demonstration of the importance of air support than the hovership-looking things used to trip up AT-ATs in The Empire Strikes Back.

*The reprogrammed Imperial enforcer robot K2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk, is pretty fun. He gets some good lines.

*The movie is really dark. That might not be to everybody's taste, but given how the Emperor is building a superweapon and is on the verge of dissolving the Senate and cementing himself firmly as uber-dictator, these were not good days. Obi-Wan calls them "the dark times" for a reason.

The Bad

*The movie is extremely long and the first parts of it are rather slow. That was my single biggest problem with the movie.

*Owing to the importance of the Death Star, they needed Grand Moff Tarkin, but Peter Cushing (who played him in the original) is dead. They briefly had him at the end of Revenge of the Sith, seen from a distance, but that wouldn't work this time. However, rather than recasting him with a new actor made up to look like Tarkin, they used CGI to paste Cushing's face onto actor Guy Henry's body. It kind of looks funny and I wish they hadn't done that.

*No title crawl. This is petty, but it might provide some good context.

The Verdict

Better than The Force Awakens by far. Hopefully the first of many to come. 9.0 out of 10.

Monday, November 28, 2016

LITTLE PEOPLE, BIG GUNS, My Third Original Novel, Is Done

This is a little late, but here's some good news. My third original novel Little People, Big Guns is now finished.

It's actually been finished for a couple weeks now, but I wanted to run the last three chapters through the writing group, go through a backlog of older critiques I'd set aside due to real-life obligations, review the comments from a friend who'd read the whole thing in a couple days (it's around 28,000 words, which technically makes it a novella), and then finally give the whole thing a once-over before I sent it out. I've got a contact at a small bizarro press whom I'd pitched an earlier version of the story to at the World Horror Conference 2015, so I sent it his way and hoped for the best.

Okay, maybe I should actually describe the plot. A few years ago I read a news story claiming TV chef Gordon Ramsay's dwarf porn star double was found dead in a badger den. It turns out the story might not actually be true, but at that point the earliest version of the story, entitled "Badgers vs. Midgets," was born. Basically a little person (a whole lot people with the condition actually consider "midget" a slur) is killed by a predatory badger, the local law enforcement declines to investigate, and so the local little persons take matters into their own hands.

Unfortunately, as I learned from the gentleman at the pitch session, that would only work as the first act. What happens next? Fortunately I was quick-thinking and spun out a plot involving militant animal-rights activists and a bear-sized super-badger. As my writing-group cohort Katherine Mankiller would put it, "peak silliness" has been achieved. I spent the last year and a half banging it out and now it's in someone else's hands.

And although the story seems tasteless and exploitative, it's actually much more thoughtful. LPBG touches on issues like the abortion of fetuses with dwarfism, mobility issues little people face, people rubbing little persons' heads for good luck (Tyrion Lannister has something to say about that), etc.

And that might make it an awkward fit. It's too farcical for a book seriously exploring the issues people with this condition face, but it might be too thoughtful for straight-up exploitation. I might well have to independently publish it like I did with a bunch of my short stories. There aren't very many publishers of bizarro fiction (which is the literary equivalent of a cult movie--think Bigfoot Crank Stomp or Shatnerquest), so I might exhaust those fairly quickly. I'm going to pitch it Thursday through #Pitmad, but that hasn't gotten me a lot of luck with more mainstream fare.

And if it does get published, either from a small press or as an Amazon original, it'll probably be under a pseudonym. I want the "Matthew W. Quinn brand" associated with more highbrow content like The Thing in the Woods (a teen horror novel that ultimately becomes a tale of interstellar war--think Down The Bright Way with monsters), Bloody Talons (an oral history of an alien invasion a la World War Z), and Battle for the Wastelands (post-apocalyptic steampunk Western--think Dark Tower meets Game of Thrones). A lowbrow exploitation farce, even one with a heart, doesn't really fit.

(A lot of writers have different pseudonyms for different brands. Delilah S. Dawson's fantasy-western Shadow novels Wake of Vultures and Conspiracy of Ravens go out under Lila Bowen, while James R. Tuck's Lovecraftian Red Right Hand is published under Levi Black and Bryan Cohen's Cinderella Dreams of Fire is published under Casey Lane.)

And the planned sequel, should this one take off, gets even more farcical. It involves a hidden community of little people called the Shire under threat from a master criminal code-named Santa Claus who kidnaps members of the community to force them to work in a mine. And his muscle is a blue-eyed white-furred Bigfoot. Nope, not classy at all.

I'll keep you all posted once I get more information.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

FREE Supervillain-Protagonist Story on Thanksgiving and Black Friday

For Thanksgiving and Black Friday 2016, I've made my short story "Ubermensch" FREE. Those of you interested in superheroes, supervillains, villain-protagonist stories, and diversity in speculative fiction (lead character Andrew Patel is Indian-American) should take a look.

(Alex Claw has illustrated many of my Amazon stories, which can be found here. I think "Ubermensch" is the best cover. Here's his DeviantArt account if you're looking for an artist.)

And now for some background you might find interesting. I first started writing "Ubermensch" sometime in 2011. I published it independently on Amazon in early August 2013, with the sequel "Needs Must" appearing just under two weeks later. I've got a lot of potential stories to tell with this character, as the fact I've made it a series on Amazon indicates.

If you read the story, please leave an honest review, good or bad. I've got a cover made and a fourth (but not a third) story written for a four-story Andrew Patel collection. If and when it goes up, it will tie Andrew Patel and his world in with my Lovecraftian novel The Thing in the Woods. But I'd like to know if there's sufficient interest first.

Here's the cover for the planned collection for those who'd like to know more:

Alex did this one too.