Sunday, February 18, 2018

A Red-White Civil War in Post-WWI Germany?

In our history, although there were Communist uprisings in various parts of Europe after the First World War, when people think of Reds and Whites they think of the Russian Civil War in what became the Soviet Union.

However, there was a Communist uprising in Germany (and even a short-lived Communist regime in Bavaria) that got scotched pretty quickly.

But what if they hadn't? That's the plot of the alternate timeline "Rosa's Reich," in which Communist leader Rosa Luxemburg's people manage to seize power in parts of Germany after the fall of the Kaiser and the end of the war. Luxemburg, to her credit, strongly opposed Lenin's authoritarianism and gangster tactics and seemed to really believe in workers' democracy, so if her Reds manage to defeat the German Whites, such a regime would be much more humane than the Russian one.

And it would be a useful way to remove a young Adolf Hitler from history. Some historians think he briefly served the Communist regime in Bavaria, while other material I found suggested he remained part of the regular German military, joining the embryonic Nazi party to spy on them and drinking the Kool-Aid. Either way, a German civil war would allow for plenty of opportunity to kill him, disable him (which would likely prevent his historical political career), or send him down a different life path altogether. Even if the Communists ultimately lose, a German equivalent of Admiral Horthy in Hungary would be much better than what ended up happening.

Highlights:

*Although Rosa and friends don't go so far as to allow the embryonic Strasserists into their coalition and ultimately don't allow the Social Democrats (SPD) either, there are all sorts of interesting characters who are part of it. Christian Communists, anarchists, etc. Germany's Overton Window hasn't shifted as far to the left as Russia's and leaving out democratic parties like the SPD isn't cool, but this could lead to a very interesting Red regime.

*The battle sequences are quite interesting and well-crafted. So far they're pretty small-scale owing to Germany's military collapse, but they can always get bigger.

*The successful Communist revolutions (and even the less-successful ones) were confined to Eastern Europe in our history (Hungary had a brief Communist dictatorship, there was a Red-White war in Finland, the Freikops helped prevent the Bolsheviks from taking over the Baltic states). However, with the Communists gaining strength in Germany and a strong reluctance of the Allies' tired soldiers to intervene, it's possible the revolution could spread into Scandinavia and possibly even France. Europe could look very different this time around.

*Luxemburg was partly Jewish and partly Polish, so her ruling Germany is particularly ironic given it's actual history. I'm not aware of any non-monarchical female world leaders until after WWII at least, so this is even more interesting.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Predator (1987)

I've been interested in the Predator film franchise for a long time. The original movie was rated R, so I either had to wait until I was older to see it or saw it edited on television. I definitely remember seeing Predator 2, which I might have seen first, on television. I played an earlier version of the Alien vs. Predator video game at the arcade and read Alien vs Predator: Prey and possibly others. I saw both Alien vs. Predator movies and although they weren't as cool as they could have been (Nick and I concluded later they should have been set in the far future like the Alien films to avoid the continuity problems of the Xenomorphs encountering people in the 1990s), I didn't think they sucked like most people.

So when Myopia: Defend Your Childhood chose the first Predator film to discuss, I immediately snagged it on Amazon and watched it for the first time in probably eight to ten years. Although attending a friend's wedding in another state kept me from participating in the podcast, here's the podcast anyway.

And now for the review...

The Plot

Soldier Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and a group of his comrades-in-arms arrive in an unnamed Latin American country, having been summoned by Dutch's old friend Dillon (Carl Weathers), once a soldier and now a CIA agent. They're told that a couple officials of a US-allied government have been in a helicopter crash "on the wrong side of the border" and are now prisoners of a group of Communist guerrillas.

Dutch's team sneaks into the country and while following the guerrillas from the helicopter crash site, discovers the skinned bodies of a bunch of Green Berets. They attack the guerrilla camp, killing most of them and capturing female guerrilla Anna (Elpidia Carrillo), only to find themselves being stalked by something otherworldly...

The Good

*The movie gets off to a quick start--eleven minutes in and we're in the jungle.

*Dutch's duel with the Predator displays both his cleverness and pure bravery and balls. Here's how it starts:



*The film's sound engineering is really good. The film goes SILENT except for the most important sounds in several key scenes. This mimics what happens in the natural world when a predator or something else that doesn't belong shows up--all the animals go quiet to avoid being lunch.

*Although the Predator is humanoid, it's not a Star Trek "rubber forehead" creature like a Vulcan or Klingon. It has glowing green blood, it sees primarily in the infrared spectrum, it's significantly bigger than an ordinary human, it has a completely different cranial structure, and given the times it comes to Earth, it hails from a much hotter world. It's not as alien as the creature from The Thing, but they still put work into making it something inhuman. And its physical differences--in particular how it sees--are very important to the story, much like how the Thing's biology played a major role in The Thing.

*Although the movie never names countries (and apparently takes place in a fictional "Val Verde"), the historical context of the film is the Nicaraguan Revolution (U.S. support for anti-Communist rebels against a leftist regime allied to the Soviets and Cubans) and the Salvadoran Civil War (U.S. support for an anti-Communist, often rather cruel and authoritarian, regime against left-wing rebels). The stated reason for Arnold and friends to go into the jungle is to rescue a government official (probably supposed to be a Honduran) who has been captured on "the wrong side of the border" (i.e. rebel-controlled parts of El Salvador) by "guerrillas" (probably the FMLN). You don't really need to know this and the film does a good job providing what you do need to know along with some scenery details, like the American soldiers operating around poor peasant villages and the like, a government official needed to be kept alive to ensure the CIA can operate in the regionthe guerrilla fighters including both men and women, etc.

*I like the parallel combats early in the film. Dutch and his men, through various tricks and superior firepower, reduce the guerrillas to a panicked mess firing in all directions at attackers they can't see before moving in for the kill, even though the guerrillas greatly outnumber them. This isn't long after Billy reports to Dutch that the Green Berets they found dead had been firing in all directions--only it wasn't against a human opponent. The Predator is to the best U.S. Special Forces types what they are to 3rd World guerrillas.

*The fact that dead men and severed limbs will spasm is put to gruesome use.

*Dutch's crew quickly finds their superior firepower isn't particularly useful against something that's (mostly) invisible and has superior weaponry. So they fight the Predator using strategy.

The Bad

*Although the movie is generally fast-moving, the opening contains a rather draggy opening sequence involving Dutch and his crew arriving and driving through the surf in jeeps from the landing zone to the base headquarters. Wouldn't it be smarter to put the HQ nearer the landing zones? Yes it's probably fun to drive a jeep through the surf, but good writing requires you to "kill your darlings."

*The relationship between Blaine and Mac needs to be built up more to explain the characters' behavior later on. It's there in broad strokes (they were the only two survivors of a unit that got wrecked in Vietnam), but more detail and personal interactions would be great.

*Are Arnold and his people U.S. soldiers or some kind of mercenary detachment? They have a particular specialty (hostage rescuing) and seem to have some latitude in determining where they serve that actual soldiers wouldn't, but at the same time they are "under orders," Blaine and Mac served in Vietnam together, and Dutch and Dillon have some kind of previous military history together as well. They could be some kind of proto-Blackwater of contractors with prior military service I suppose (this Aliens-vs-Predator Wiki entry states that's the case), but it's not clear in the film. They could just have made them regular soldiers.

*Although the military tactics are generally sound--"sentry removal" and the like before the big attack--Dutch and his crew are supposed to rescue two hostages. One hostage is killed as they scout the guerrilla camp, requiring them to attack immediately, but given the sheer shock and awe they unleash, they could have very easily killed the remaining hostage by accident. They don't seem to put any effort into finding where he is before, say, Dutch sends a pickup truck rigged with a bomb into the guerrilla leaders' tent, when soldiers in the trees fire grenades into the camp from above, or when they shoot up a helicopter that could be being used to transport the remaining hostage elsewhere.

*When the Predator first attacks, the soldiers' fire discipline completely collapses. They're alone in hostile territory and yet they're using up truly massive amounts of ammunition. Perhaps the goal was to show that they were panicking like the Green Berets or guerrillas had (see my parallel construction bit above), but it would have been better to show them start out using controlled bursts and proper techniques, then slowly breaking down over the course of time as they lose men and as they get more terrified. These men are the best of the best, but an alien big-game hunter is a major outside context problem.

*Given how the soldiers had to leave the base quickly due to nearby guerrillas and the repeated references to how the area is too dangerous for the choppers to get them due to guerrilla activity, perhaps later encounters between the soldiers and the pursuing guerrillas would have been cool. The two groups could even join forces once they realize they're both being hunted. Anna could serve as useful go-between.

*It would have been better if it was Cuban or Nicaraguan advisers supporting the guerrillas, not Soviets. Soviets (i.e. European or Central Asian men) would have stuck out too much, plus there were a lot more Cubans in Nicaragua than Russians. Also, a guerrilla force supported by Russian soldiers would have been a lot more formidable than the guerrilla band Dutch and friends rout early on. During the invasion of Grenada the Cubans were the ones who'd blooded U.S. troops the most, and Soviet special forces would have been far tougher customers than Cuban soldier-engineers. Seriously, the Spetsnaz guys would be the equals of Dutch's people, not a bunch of Third World country bumpkins.

*One character gets a lot of buildup for a Horatius at the Bridge moment against the Predator, but we never actually see the fight. Lame. The later film Predators gave us the scene I'm embedding below, and it would have been cool to see a similar scene in this one:



*The video credits are weird. Here they are below if you want to see them. TVTropes suggested it was to lighten the mood after such a bleak film, but still:



The Verdict

Good, but not as exciting as Total Recall, which we (also did for Myopia). 8.0 out of 10. That said, I've seen the film at least twice before. If you haven't seen the film already, you'll probably like it a lot more.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Book Review: The Sentinels: When Strikes The Warlord (2006)

I met Van Allen Plexico a few years ago at DragonCon through my friend James R. Tuck. I've since kept up with him through Facebook. I've tried my hand at superhero (or more specifically supervillain) fiction with "Ubermensch" and "Needs Must," but Plexico has written a series of superhero novels, the Sentinels series. What follows is part of a deal for his help promoting the audio version of "I am the Wendigo," let the record state, but it's an honest one.

So here's my review of the first one, When Strikes The Warlord...


The Plot

Earth is under threat from the villainous Warlord, a world-conquering supervillain. Standing in his way are a combination of superheroes, some seasoned veterans and others newbies still exploring their powers. But the Warlord has allies and minions of his own.

Who will triumph? Well, you'll have to read the book. :)

The Good

*Although the book does not seem to be primarily a comedic work, there are some lines and situations that are straight-up hilarious. The appearance of minor super-villain known as "The Wombat" made me laugh out loud, something that rarely happens in a book. There's other humor as well that's more subtle, including a villain(ess) who lampshades the trope about improbably skimpy female comic-character costumes.

*The character Francisco, though initially a sycophantic Igor figure for the villainous Warlord, has a lot more initiative and is in control of a lot more than he initially seems. Giving a villain a servile minion is kind of a cliche, but Plexico elaborates on his character quite a bit. That's one of the more creative elements in the book and I approve.

*The story flows well and has some good description.

The Bad

*There are some aspects of the story that could have been developed better if they'd been introduced earlier. For example, the villainous Warlord has got several lesser superhumans--most of them villains, but at least one a hero he's misled--working for him, but they aren't really developed as characters. The most interesting one--the misled hero, as opposed to the goons--is only in one scene. He seems like he could have an interesting back-story, but we don't see a whole lot. Perhaps he can get his own Sentinels story? Mr. Plexico himself said the story gets more complex as the series goes along, so this might be a positive, not a negative, for some readers.

*The humor doesn't really kick in until the later part of the story. And the humor, when it comes, is really funny--see my above comment about the Wombat. If the humor had started from the get-go, it would have been a much stronger book.

*One character is amnesiac and remembers little about his pre-superhero past--think Wolverine from X-Men. However, that's not introduced until well into the book. I think it might be the first scene from the character's point of view, in which case the later introduction makes sense, but it might then have been better to have his POV earlier or have it referenced in another character's POV so it's not so jarring.

The Verdict

A good, quick read for when one is exercising with one's Kindle, but could be better developed. Check it out on Kindle Unlimited if you're not up for buying it. Definitely going to read the second book. 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Total Recall (1990)

A few weeks ago for Myopia: Defend Your Childhood, we watched the 1990 science fiction/action film Total Recall starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. I had never seen the movie before, although I'd seen stills of people's eyes popping out of their heads and had heard of the legendary woman with three breasts.

Well, here's the link to the podcast. Now onto the review...


The Plot

In the late 21st Century, humankind has explored and settled much of the solar system, including Mars. The Red Planet is used as a resource base for waging a war on Earth, with the colonists there exploited like a company town on steroids--they even have to pay for their air. Bored construction worker Doug Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has been having dreams of Mars and a mysterious dark-haired woman and would like to visit, but his attractive wife Lori (Sharon Stone) tries to dissuade him. Instead he purchases memories of a trip to Mars, including a secret-agent fantasy, to be installed in his brain.

Then things go wrong, very wrong. Hunted by secret agents led by the villainous Richter (Michael Ironside) and guided by a videotape of...himself, he ultimately travels to Mars to see just what's going on.

The Good

*The movie is action-packed and never dull. Although in many films I find myself going for my phone out of boredom, in this one I only looked at my phone once or twice during the entire film and that was because I was keeping tabs on some discussions I was involved in on social media, NOT because I was bored. Seriously, it was a lot of fun.

*Although Arnold's often over-the-top reactions and mannerisms are often mocked (go down to the Memetic Mutation entry on this TVTropes page to find a few of them), I didn't really have a problem with them here. In many cases (pulling something out of his nose, having his mind messed with), they were quite appropriate.

*I liked the supporting cast. Sharon Stone does a good job handling both aspects of her character, one of which is clearly a mask for the other. And Michael Ironside puts his intensity to good use. I liked how they developed Richter and Lori as more than just a couple thugs working for Cohaagen. Finally, I really liked Mel Johnson Jr. as the mouthy cab-driver Benny.

*There are plenty of memorable minor characters. I liked Benny quite a lot as a character--he was really funny. There's also a midget prostitute nicknamed Thumbelina (Debbie Lee Carrington) that's rather memorable.

*I liked a lot of the visuals, particularly the exterior shots of Mars.

The Bad

*In economics terms, air for most of a space colony would be a nonexcludable good. The air supply to an individual household (if homes are individually sealed) or an individual section of a town (since it's a big plot point that sections can be sealed) could be cut off for nonpayment, but in most places (like a job site, a public street, etc), payers and non-payers would be mingled and it would be impractical to exclude non-payers. It would make more sense if the Martian colonial government charged high taxes on the general public for air, ostensibly to maintain the colony's life-support but in reality simply enriching the administration. Although the aesthetic they were going for was a company town in the vein of coal-mining Appalachia, Cohaagen seems to be a political leader rather than a company boss and the settlement is described as the "Martian Federal Colony," not a big oil rig owned by a major corporation.

*Mars does not have a vacuum that would suck people's eyes out or cause them to suffer other decompression injuries. Mars has a thin atmosphere that's impossible for humans to breathe and is too cold for humans to survive on most of the planet. Someone sucked out of the dome due to, say, a gunshot smashing a panel, would suffocate, but they wouldn't suffer as ridiculously. Speaking of domes shattering, WWII bombers often returned to bases with lots of bullet holes, but that didn't decompress the plane in the vein of the A-Team episode about the skyjackers. Even if that were the case (handwave the settlement as being in a region or altitude where the atmosphere is thinner), one would think a future Martian colony would be more durably constructed. The fact it's not could be a plot point--the construction was done by a private corporation eager to exploit Mars' minerals at the lowest possible cost or the government wanted it built as quickly as possible to start mining for the war effort--but that never comes up.

(I'm imagining a more aware goon getting sucked out through a hole in the dome yelling, "DAMN LOWEST BIDDER!")

*There's a completely random scene where a large woman coming to visit Mars turns out to be more than she seems. It was amusing to watch, but I wasn't sure what exactly was going on.

*Mars' gravity is also 38% Earth's gravity. There's some missed opportunities in terms of physics--you could have a real little guy pick up and throw Arnold Schwarzenegger because he'd weigh a lot less, you could have Arnold punch a guy and he flies hundreds of feet, etc. It could look like an early version of The Matrix. :) It'd make the film rather comedic, but given the genre, a little of that wouldn't be a problem.

*I'm not going to go into a lot of detail here for reasons of spoilers, but the process that takes place at the climax of the film would realistically take months or years, not a few minutes. And unless other issues are taken care of, I don't think it would be sustainable.

The Verdict

A fun movie despite the silly accents and the flawed science. 9.0 out of 10.

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Victorious Comunero Alternate Timeline

Once upon a time as an undergraduate at the University of Georgia, I took a class entitled "Spain of Cervantes," which was about Spanish history and culture in the early modern period. One thing that stuck out to me was the revolt of the comuneros, in which a bunch of cities rebelled against the increasingly overbearing Spanish monarchy and like "every other early modern revolt" got crushed. However, during the lead up to the decisive battle, the Comuneros made poor decisions and the battle itself could have gone differently.

So what might have happened if the Comuneros defeated the royalists? Here's one possibility, "La Republica Comunera de Castilla." I'm not totally sure where the divergence from actual history is, but the end result is the kingdom of Castile becomes an alliance of self-governing cities, some of which have issues with each other--some communities are tolerant of Lutherans and Erasmians, for example, while others are stringently not. There's also a sort of folk democracy emerging in the rural areas, especially those whose nobility were killed or chased out during the revolt. Finally, the old notions of dishonor del trabajo (the idea that working with one's hands is degrading) fade and the more liberal (in the classical sense) ideas of several Spanish philosophers and economists that were ignored or suppressed in real history get implemented.

Spain's European wars go rather differently--for starters, the new Castilian (not Spanish) republic is allied with the old enemy France against Aragon and the Imperial possessions in Italy and Germany who want Spain back. And most of Spain and Spain's empire in the Americas (at this point just the Caribbean and greater Mexico) lost, the Hapsburgs are going to pay more attention to and be more respectful (at least in matters of economics and at least for awhile) to what would become the Netherlands, forestalling our history's Dutch Revolt. England ends up getting incorporated into the Hapsburg domains through marriages and the convenient deaths of male heirs. Meanwhile, the conquest of the Inca goes rather differently and more piecemeal, since the republic cannot support or control the conquistadors to the degree the Spanish kingdom did.

At the current point in the timeline there's a shift back toward monarchism in Spain with this one politician becoming a Caesar-figure, although it's not clear if he's going to end up an unofficial monarch like the Medici in Italy, formally claim kingship, or overreach and get killed like Caesar. We'll see how it goes. I would like to see a sustained republican system in Spain, but the culture in this time period was very monarchical. And the history of England, the Americas, Portugal (repeatedly beaten by the Castilian republic), etc. is going to be very different regardless.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Casting THE THING IN THE WOODS

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about what The Thing in the Woods would look like as a television series. I was recording a podcast with Jarod Cerf--expect the podcast to become available in February--about Thing and we discussed actually casting a Thing in the Woods television series or movie. There are spoilers below.

James-The protagonist of the story, an Atlanta teen unwillingly transplanted to small-town Georgia. Jarod suggested Tom Holland, but in Captain America Civil War and Spider-Man Homecoming, Holland is entirely too cheerful and happy-go-lucky. There's a darker, more serious aspect to James--heck, he blows 20-30 cultists to hell with a Claymore mine--that I have trouble imagining Holland pulling off. Also, although Tom has the right hair and facial structure in this picture, he's lacking in freckles. Michael Cena also came up, but I took one look at him and was all, "No." Jarod suggested mining teen shows like the ones on The CW for candidates, and that might be a good idea. After all, Tom Holland would probably command a very high salary to star in what would realistically be a low-budget indie horror show.

Amber-The female lead and James' love interest, an Edington native and a fellow high-school senior. Amber is based on a girl I knew a long time ago back when I was a newspaper reporter who looked a lot like Taylor Swift. I have no idea if Taylor Swift can act, but between her being much older than the character (Amber is 17-18, Taylor is 28) and the fact it would only be worth her time if she were paid a truly mammoth amount of money, that's not going to work. Whoever plays Amber has to be tall and slender and realistically able to fight with a gun and bash in an adult man's head with a brass lamp. I thought about Jennifer Lawrence--in this picture she looks perfect and in Hunger Games she showed she could be tough as well as pretty--but like Taylor Swift she's much older than the character and would require a heft salary. Yes, Dawson's Creek-style casting is a reality in Hollywood to the point there's even a TVTrope for it, but it's something I'd like to avoid.

Phil-The leader of the cult worshiping the titular Thing. The film Ravenous came up in the discussion, along with actor Richard Carlyle. I did a Google Image Search and this image came up. If Carlyle looked this this and could play a patriarch (i.e. loved and feared), he would be perfect to play Phil. Phil was a captain in Vietnam, so he'd be in his later 60s or 70s and he's specifically described as a grandfather. Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Negan from The Walking Dead was another possible option for Phil, but he's too associated with Negan--people wouldn't see Phil, they'd see "Negan sacrificing people to a tentacle monster."

Sam-I'd initially thought Jeffrey Dean Morgan could play Sam, a Gulf War veteran and Phil's henchman. He'd need to shave the beard and play him as more of a sad-sack good-guy type. In terms of appearance, the way he looks in P.S. I Love You--you can see some of those here--would be great. As Jarod pointed out, this is a man who is introduced going to a Best Buy to get a copy of Borat for his new Blu-Ray player. Problem is, I re-read parts of the book for a flashback and Sam is actually a tall, wiry redhead with a goatee. Danny Bonaduce might work as far as looks, although he's a little too beefy. Matthew Jaeger might work better.

James Daly Sr.-James' father, an Atlanta attorney. The perfect actor in terms of looks would be Chris Noth, who plays Peter Florrick in The Good Wife. I've never seen him act before--I never watched the show, I think this was something Jarod suggested--so I don't know if he could pull him off.

Andrea Daly-James' mother, who worked in bank public-relations, left the workforce to raise the kids, and works part-time at a used bookstore to help support the family. I can't really remember what she looks like, although I think she's blonde. A bunch of possibilities can be found here, including some who wouldn't break the bank in terms of their salaries.

Jeffrey Reed-He's the cult's enforcer and Phil's personal attack dog. He needs to be someone who's big and strong enough to manhandle whoever plays Sam. Although Norman Reedus--Daryl from The Walking Dead--is rednecky enough to be Reed, he's not going to be realistically throwing around Sam played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. In the Walking Dead episodes where Daryl is a captive of the Saviors, it's clear Negan is taller than he is. Some of the thuggier Saviors from Walking Dead might work too, although again, if Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays Sam, we run into the issue of "why are they beating up Negan instead of the other way around." Tom Hardy might work, except he's British.

Maad-Most of the male Indian actors in Hollywood are too old to play a high-schooler. Here's an IMDB list. Karan Brar seems like the best one, since he was born in 1999 and is a Disney Channel actor. Danny Pudi might work, but he's about 10-15 years older than Maad. Aba Sinha from The Social Network and Kunal Sharma are younger, but still in the same boat.

Friday, December 22, 2017

AH Scenario: The U.S. Nukes Dresden...And Others

I'm still self-banned from the alternate-history forum I've been a member of since high school in order to focus on my day job and more important projects (like finishing my planned sequel to The Thing in the Woods), but I still visit the public sections fairly regularly. There's a relatively new scenario that might be of interest to World War II enthusiasts.

Behold "The Atomic Bombing of Germany, 1945." According to The Good War, an oral history of WWII that I read for AP U.S. History in high school, the atomic bomb was always intended for Germany, although the European war ended before it was ready. In this alternate timeline, the Trinity atomic bomb test takes place in 1944--how the bomb is ready a year earlier isn't discussed in detail, but a memoir by a Manhattan Project scientist on how it could have gone faster is cited--allowing for Germany to be targeted soon after the Battle of the Bulge.

Germany hasn't gotten nuked yet, but the B-29s are gathering in Britain and a lot of faux historical articles in the timeline indicate when the hammer is about to fall. Dresden is going to suffer its historical fate (albeit somewhat worse, if it suffers Hiroshima level casualties as opposed to the real-life ones), and a couple other German cities are on the target list.

I'm not going to apply for readmission to the site just to post on this (and probably get sucked into endless discussions about Star Wars, Donald Trump, etc. in other sections of the forum), so I hope it gets updated soon.

Music Inspired By Other Faiths I Enjoy

As most of you know, I am a Christian. I'm a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA), although given the theological liberalism of much of the PC-USA, ECO is looking more and more interesting. However, that doesn't mean I don't enjoy listening to music inspired by other faiths. Here are some examples:



Given how this is based on Miriam's "Song of the Sea" from the Book of Exodus and Christianity has no validity except as the successor of Judaism, this isn't really "another faith" per se. It's still in Hebrew--"mi chomocha" means "who is like you, Lord?" according to a Jewish friend. The artist is Debbie Friedman, who seems like the Jewish equivalent of a contemporary Christian artist.



This one invokes the Horned God of Wicca, the lord of the hunt, and this one is actually a bit raunchy. The notion of the gods coming down and having their way with mortals is alien to the Abrahamic tradition (before anyone starts, the conception of Jesus was a non-sexual supernatural act--we don't worship Zeus here), but many polytheistic cultures have plenty of demigods. One wonders what it's like to be part of a religious tradition where getting knocked up by a god is a distinct possibility. This song is by S.J. Tucker, who has liked some of my comments on Twitter.



The Norse story of Ragnarok has always been interesting to me, especially since I read the story of Thor and his Mutual Kill with the serpent Jormundgand in James Byron Huggins' novel Leviathan. A pity iTunes doesn't have this, because I'd love to buy it. For the record, this is a Sabaton cover of a song by Amon Amarth, but since Sabaton actually enunciates, it sounds a lot better. There are Christian songs celebrating Jesus's return like Nicole Sponberg's "Hallelujah" or the various versions of "Days of Elijah," so a song celebrating Thor's self-sacrifice in destroying a monstrous world-devouring snake would work too.



This is about ritual magic I think, and given the reference to "so mote it be," perhaps it refers to Wicca. In S.M. Stirling's The Protector's War (I think), a Wiccan priestess thinks to herself "I will have him. So mote be it" or something to that effect upon meeting the man who will eventually become her husband. This is also by S.J. Tucker. Let the record state that the Bible condemns all forms of occultism, not just "black magic," so listen to the song if you wish but don't go doing what's described.

(Also let the record state that the magic in Harry Potter isn't the type of magic the Bible condemns with the exception of divination, which is generally depicted as fraudulent.)



This one is by Manowar. If I were an Asatruar (a practitioner of the Norse religion), I'd be interested in licensing "Loki God of Fire" for religious purposes. It gets the character of Loki right--in most of the Norse myths, he was a trickster but was still a friend of the gods. I suspect the influence of Christianity made him into a more overtly demonic entity, although I'm not sure. Evidence for the worship of Loki in ancient times is scant but it's not nonexistent, but there are some modern Asatruar who worship him. Given my propensity for shocking people, I could imagine going for Loki-ism as a means of seeking attention. :)



Sometimes it's hard to understand what exactly they're saying, but they're invoking the names of various mythological goddesses like Astarte (Semitic), Inanna (Mesopotamian), Kali (Hinduism), Isis (Egyptian), Hecate (Greek), Demeter (Greek), and Diana (Roman). It's my understanding that Wiccans believe that all the gods are aspects of the Horned God and all goddesses are aspects of the Goddess (in one of S.M. Stirling's books the Hebrew God is referred to as the "jealous" aspect), which would allow for deities to be invoked willy-nilly despite being members of different pantheons.

Although I've got a friend who really loves Muslim nasheeds (which might have contributed to his conversion to Sufism), I haven't got any here. I've never listened to them. Perhaps I'll check them out.

Many of these songs are produced by actual musicians. If these are songs you're interested in listening to, I would recommend you purchase them on iTunes. Even though I found most of these on YouTube, I ultimately purchased them so the artist could be paid for their work.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

My Reylo Plot Bunny, Or Why I'm Going To Hell (LAST JEDI Spoilers)

One of my real-life friends is a major Star Wars fan and, in particular, is a Reylo shipper. Yes, she wants Kylo Ren, also known as Ben Solo, the son of Han and Leia who fell to the dark side, to have a romantic relationship with Rey. Based on what happened in The Force Awakens I didn't think that would be particularly healthy. Seriously, he tries to mind-rape her (only to get mind-raped himself), kills her new friend/father-figure (and his own actual father) in front of her, sadistically injures one of her friends, tries to forcibly recruit her to the Dark Side ("YOU NEED A TEACHER!") while shoving a lightsaber in her face, and then she proceeds to beat the crap out of him. Had she submitted to his recruitment/wooing at any point before she turned the tables and taken a chunk of his face and shoulder, it would have certainly been unequal and abusive.

However, the events of The Last Jedi have made me far more interested in the idea. Here there be spoilers, so if you haven't seen the movie, don't keep reading:

Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver spend much of the film having telepathic Force chats and clearly have a great deal of chemistry. She clearly desires him physically to at least some degree, based on her reaction to seeing him with his shirt off. When Kylo reveals that Luke had tried to kill him as a teen, she takes his side immediately ("DID YOU CREATE KYLO REN?") and sets off to redeem him much like Luke had tried to save his father Darth Vader in the original trilogy. When his master Snoke has her at his mercy, he kills him to save her and then the two of them gloriously battle Snoke's bodyguard and wreck the hell out of them together. Kylo then asks her to join him...but she's not buying it because she wants him to call off the pursuit of the fleeing Resistance and he wants to finish them in order to "let the past die." They briefly battle over Anakin's old lightsaber, Kylo is knocked out, and Rey flees the ship. Someone pointed out online that her feelings are for Ben Solo, not Kylo Ren, and he's just "doubled down" rather than renounced evil.

Of course, beyond the fact that Rey isn't willing to betray her morals and let her Resistance friends get killed to get her hands on the beefy Darth Emo, there're additional problems. Kylo's attempt to woo her even after he's killed Snoke is manipulative and emotionally abusive. "You're nothing...but not to me." He's trying to break her down and make her emotionally dependent on him, which I believe is called "negging." That's probably the same kind of crap Snoke pulled with him. "Mom and Dad and Uncle Luke don't care about you, but I do." If Rey had gone along, it'd be continuing the cycle of abuse. Someone I've communicated with on Twitter suggests his intentions toward Rey are more benign than Snoke's were toward him and given how Rey is clearly more powerful he probably knows better than to overstep, but still. I pointed out on Twitter that it's Kylo's responsibility to repent of his wickedness, not Rey's responsibility to fix him. Seriously the "good girl saves bad boy" cultural meme has harmed vastly more good girls than it's saved bad boys.

However, there is a way forward that doesn't involve Rey sacrificing her morals and independence, even for Adam Driver. After Snoke's death the First Order General Hux nearly shoots the unconscious Kylo and when he attempts to stand up to his presumptuous power-grab, Kylo violently puts him his place. Kylo knocks Hux around sometime later...and then proceeds to look like a flailing maniac in front of the First Order's army when Luke does his astral projection thing. Not only does Kylo not remember Machiavelli's adage "never do your enemy a small injury," but he's just lost the respect of a lot of his troops. Hux is now in a good position to take revenge.

So I'm thinking Hux will finally find his balls and stage a coup against Kylo, probably once he gets a safe distance away. Kylo will survive and go on the run and end up hitting rock bottom, which might have been Luke's intention by showing him up so publicly in the first place. The Dark Side, seeking power over others, etc. has cost him his family, the power he'd briefly achieved, the woman he's got at least a Villainous Crush on, etc. After all, I believe everybody is redeemable, but you have to WANT to repent, and as of the end of The Last Jedi, Kylo doesn't. Getting overthrown and forced into hiding might change that. The image I had was him crying into blue milk in the Mos Eisley cantina. Meanwhile, Rey has recruited some young Force sensitives to be her new Jedi padawans (I'm thinking the stable-boy from the end of the film and for the purposes of this story an older girl who looks and acts a lot like Wednesday Addams). Upon hearing of a powerful Force user, she arrives on Tatooine and finds...him. They initially get into a confrontation only for the First Order troops to arrive and they have to fight them off together.

Then they give into all the unresolved sexual tension and hook up. I'm imagining that Force-sensitive stable-boy, now a little bit older, finding them in the Millennium Falcon bunk and the following exchange:

Stable Boy: "Master Rey, what are you doing with him?"

Rey (hastily covering herself): "We're having some...philosophical exchange."

Wednesday Addams: "Looks like something else was getting exchanged."

Yes, I'm going to hell.

On a more serious note this could be a retelling of the Expanded Universe story of Luke Skywalker's recruitment of Kam Solusar, a fallen Jedi who'd been forcibly converted to the Dark Side by Darth Vader, only with a romantic plot. It'd probably be more conflicted too--part of what makes Kylo interesting as a character is his emotional complexity, the tension between the Dark and the Light. Even though Kylo would know full well the bad end the road goes, the Dark Side might still have its attractions, and the power it can provide would be really helpful when the First Order is reconquering the galaxy, the Republic has been decapitated, and the Resistance is gutted. Meanwhile, Rey is clearly not going to approve of anything that could herald Ben Solo reverting to Kylo Ren and, voila, drama.

On the other hand, if we ended up with a synthesis of Rey's and Kylo's ideas re: the Force...Grey Jedi? Seriously Disney, if this is generally where you're going with it (obviously they're not going to have sex jokes in a Star Wars movie), don't just abandon the idea to avoid possible liability issues.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Thoughts on a THING IN THE WOODS Television Series

Once upon a time at DragonCon 2011, I heard from author S.M. Stirling that short stories make good movies and books make good miniseries or television shows. Although many movies have been made from books (think Shawshank Redemption or Jurassic Park), many short stories like "Who Goes There," which became the film The Thing, provide plenty of material to work with. However, many books would need to be cut down to fit a 1.5 to 2 hour film (in Jurassic Park, for example, the staff briefly regain control of the park before everything collapses into even more dino-violence, while Congo lost multiple sequences, including an entire rival expedition). Making a book into a miniseries like The Stand or Roots or a full-blown television show like The Expanse, The Man in the High Castle, and Game of Thrones allows for much deeper exploration of characters, settings, etc.

More recently, I listened to an episode of The Creative Penn podcast that references the increasing demand for intellectual property by entities like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc. For example, The Man in the High Castle is an Amazon Prime streaming show, and Amazon Studios has a whole lot of movies listed here. Amazon's submissions system is pretty interesting--it's like a crowd-judged contest.

With that in mind, I've put some thought into how my teen horror novel The Thing in the Woods would look as a television series. Spoilers below.

Episode #1: The episode would open with belligerent homeless Panama veteran Leroy Tolliver getting arrested by a couple of renegade sheriff's deputies in the small town of Edington, GA. Instead of being taken to the local jail, he's taken to place of sacrifice, where he's offered up to a tentacle monster worshiped by a local cult. Cut to protagonist James Daly working at the Edington Best Buy, where he meets Sam Dixon, a local man who is also a film enthusiast. Having purchased a movie, Sam goes to a nearby barbecue restaurant, where it's revealed he's a member of the cult and Phil Davidson, the owner, is the high priest. Sam argues with Phil over the death of Tolliver, who's a fellow veteran. Phil puts Sam in his place and it's revealed Sam's wife is Phil's cousin's stepdaughter and she has recently miscarried. James returns home and we meet his family--James Sr., an Atlanta attorney whom the Great Recession has left underemployed, his mother Andrea, and his younger sister Karen. We'll also meet Karen's friend Amber, a local theater enthusiast who has a crush on James. James "doesn't like liking" her back, thinking he can do better once he goes to college.

Episode #2: James and several fellow ex-Atlantans (Edington is rapidly becoming a bedroom community) have dinner at a local Zaxbys and get into a confrontation with some redneck kids. They're challenged to an ATV race. The following Saturday they meet up at a half-finished neighborhood and have their race...perilously close to the tree farm owned by the cult where Tolliver was sacrificed. The episode will end with James' rival Bill injuring himself, James' attempt to help him, and the tentacle monster attacking them both.

Episode #3: It begins with the appearance of the monster, the death of Bill, and James' escape on an ATV during which he gets slashed across the face. The other kids rush him to the hospital, where Deputy Bowie, a cult member, attempts to bully him into claiming Bill had knifed him and James had shoved him into the pond in self-defense. James' father intervenes, citing several holes in Bowie's story, and takes James home, where he's grounded. Meanwhile the cult gathers in the woods, where Phil is challenged by a relative of Bill's. Phil orders Sam, Bowie, belligerent racist cultist Jeffrey Reed, and another cultist off on a mission to kidnap Maad, an Indian friend of James who is an interracial relationship with a white girl, and his family to be sacrificed.

Episode #4: The cultists arrive at Maad's house and Bowie attempts to use his authority as a policeman to get Maad's family to come outside to be arrested. Reed reveals himself and his gun too early and all of them end up in a gunfight with Maad's father. Edington police arrive--Phil had forgotten the area had been annexed by the city government, whose police force is less infiltrated--and the cultists are forced to flee. Phil spins the failure as their god's judgement on the cult for various failings and persuades them to sacrifice Bill's angry relative instead. He begins plotting to kill the Atlanta teens...starting with James.

Episode #5: James is at work at the Best Buy when Amber comes to see him, ostensibly about some speakers for her television. Instead she interrogates him about what happened at the ATV race, hinting that she knows something. James agrees to meet her for ice cream to discuss it. Amber has to defend this decision to her prejudiced friends, who are convinced James murdered Bill. Soon afterward Sam arrives and reveals his role in the attempted abduction of Maad's family. He tells James to go to the library and check out a book about mysteries from the Civil War. James does so and learns about a Union detachment wiped out near Edington, with the sole survivor raving about "the thing in the woods." He encounters Karen, who is greatly amused that he's meeting up with Amber, but blackmails him into doing her chores.

Episode #6: James learns from Maad at school about what happened at his home. Later that day, he and Amber have their date and Amber reveals that her uncle had been killed by the cult in the 1960s for helping a civil rights activist escape being murdered. Furthermore, she's distantly related to both Sam and Phil. She advises James and his family to get out of town immediately. James and Amber are spotted by James' mother, who calls him and orders further punishment for violating his grounding. Meanwhile, Sam argues with Phil again at the restaurant and soon after a mysterious man in a suit with dark glasses arrives and hints that he knows what happened. Phil orders the cult to go into action against James and his family immediately and orders Reed to attack Sam to keep him from interfering.

Episode #7: James is chewed out by his parents for violating his grounding while Reed attacks Sam and his wife. He's about to kill Sam (against Phil's orders) when Amber arrives and beats him into unconsciousness with a brass lamp. Sam's wife hogties him while Sam and Amber rush to James' house. The cultists have already invaded, chasing away James' mother and sister and kidnapping James' father. Sam discovers James hiding in a closet and, pretending to be a loyal cultist, takes him to his car. James briefly overpowers Sam, only to be restrained by Amber, who reveals they're going to rescue James' father and end the cult's reign of terror. They return to Sam's house where they collect various guns and some Claymore mines Sam stole from the local National Guard armory. Sam renounces the cult and dramatically re-embraces Christianity and they're off.

Episode #8: Sam drives his truck into the tree farm with James and Amber hidden in the back. James and Amber agree to go on a date and get a bit affectionate, interrupted by an amused Sam. James and Sam set up a Claymore mine, ordering the cultists assembled for the sacrifice of James' father to disperse, but one of the cultists draws a gun on them and James sets off the mine, killing most of the cultists. James rushes to free his father, only to be set upon by the surviving Phil. Sam distracts Phil, who shoots and wounds him but is in turn shot and killed by James. They untie James' father, but the nearby pond is roiling. The Thing in the Woods is coming.

Episode #9: The final confrontation with the Thing. It seizes Sam, who is wounded when James sets off the second Claymore mine. The monster is hurt, but it's able to kill and eat Sam before continuing after James, who's joined by Amber. The two retreat to the car with James' father, doing battle with surviving cultists who had been guarding the gate, while the monster pursues. James plants the third and last Claymore mine and finally kills the Thing, only for the Edington police and the mysterious man from the restaurant to arrive and arrest everybody. In the hospital (he received minor injuries that will become very important in the planned second book), James is forced to sign off on a statement that his father had been kidnapped by meth dealers who had a pet Kodiak bear and is promised a brand-new car (confiscated from drug dealers) to ensure his silence. The episode ends with James coming to collect said car from the police department before meeting up with Amber. As he drives toward her house, he grimly wonders what else strange might be out there in the world.

Thing could be a miniseries if I squeeze the above story into two or three longer episodes (as plotted out the above episodes wouldn't be very long), or perhaps one of those British TV series where it's a single, often rather short, season to tell a complete story and then it's done. Some material could be expanded to fill out a full season (or at least make ten episodes)--the novel strongly implies the civil-rights activists had been murdered and Amber's uncle captured and sacrificed by a much-younger Phil, which can be depicted in flashback. However, it doesn't have to end with just one season, I am working on a sequel, The Atlanta Incursion, that could serve as the basis for a the second season. I do have a third novel planned--there's a time-skip and it mostly takes place in Afghanistan--that could serve as a third season.

So moving back to that bit about Amazon crowd-judging television scripts. Maybe I should write one and send it over to one of my television-writer friends to take a look?