Saturday, January 31, 2015

On The Ethics and Practicality of Hanging ISIS Prisoners...

Posted a news article I found earlier on Facebook and got quite a discussion. The gist of it is the Jordanians have threatened to kill ISIS prisoners if any harm should come to a Jordanian pilot captured alive by ISIS during the air campaign.

I posted that I supported this policy. After all, one of the reasons armies are (supposed to be) kind to enemy prisoners of war is reciprocity--they don't want any bad things happening to their own people who fall into enemy hands. ISIS, given its propensity for killing prisoners en masse (you see this mostly with Syrian Army soldiers), taking and beheading hostages, etc. clearly needs to be taught this lesson.

Some people took issue with my supporting this policy on the grounds of both morality and practicality...

The first to object was Zaid Jilani, who pointed out that the guilt or innocence of anybody tried and convicted by Jordan is questionable given the practice of judicial torture, especially in regards to terror suspects. In case you need a source other than Wikipedia, here's al-Jazeera and here's Human Rights Watch. He also said "civilized people" don't execute prisoners, which is not something I agree with but that's not relevant to the issue at hand. My friend Evan, a college professor, said if anything merited killing ISIS prisoners, it would be that they had committed capital crimes, not that ISIS had killed prisoners/hostages first.

These are some very good arguments. If the Jordanians captured a bunch of teenage conscripts forced to fight by family members held hostage (I don't know if ISIS actually does this, but knowing them I wouldn't be surprised) or people like this teen "volunteer" suicide bomber, that would be victimizing them twice. The same if the captured female suicide bomber is telling the truth about being an unwilling participant in the scheme. During WWII the Allied powers didn't retaliate for Nazi crimes by making indiscriminate massacres among POW camps, although organizations that routinely violated the rules of war could expect little mercy. All too often the argument "don't sink to their level" is basically an exercise in putting the scrupulous at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the unscrupulous (think honorable Ned Stark vs. the crafty Cersei or Littlefinger in Game of Thrones--if Ned had been more willing to be more ruthless or dishonest about his ultimate intentions he could have won even as late as the attempt to arrest Cersei in the throne room), but this is not one of those situations.

On the matter of practicality, Zaid pointed out that ISIS glorifies the deaths of its soldiers in battle, so they wouldn't be unduly upset if some of their prisoners were hanged. Furthermore, martyrs can make useful propaganda tools, so giving them more is not a good idea. And if those hanged were not guilty of major crimes, the PR problem is multiplied on top of the morality problem. To use a WWII analogy, this isn't like bombing Germany--there are many Germanies and some of them are U.S. allies (i.e. Jordan, Saudi Arabia), so PR, propaganda, etc. is much more important.

(I didn't come up with that analogy, but it's a good one.)

Furthermore, this article depicts an ISIS emir captured by the Kurds praising them for their mercy and claiming to have been deceived by ISIS "caliph" al-Baghdadi, so even a high-ranking (and presumably guilty of capital crimes given ISIS's propensity for killing prisoners, making Yezidi women into sex slaves, etc.) enemy commander could be worth more alive than dead. The captive emir, for example, could be used to make particularly effective anti-ISIS propaganda videos and encourage ISIS soldiers facing the Kurds to surrender rather than fight to the death. Showing mercy to a defeated enemy is not just an ethical issue, but can be a practical one as well.

That said, avoiding making martyrs is not the be-all, end-all. The Allied powers made millions of martyrs for fascism during WWII and yet the occupied Axis countries are not ungovernable hellholes. Furthermore, there are martyrs and there are martyrs. If the Jordanians hanged some teenage conscripts, ISIS and opponents of Jordan's government more generally could give them such hell over it that it might not be worth it. But if the Jordanians have got an ISIS technical specialist (like the chemical weapons guy just killed in an air strike) or commander, the threat of hanging them might deter ISIS from killing its remaining hostages (since these people, unlike foot soldiers, aren't a dime a dozen) and their deaths would damage ISIS's cause so much that the "martyr factor" wouldn't compensate.

Think the bombing of the Axis countries during WWII--whatever hay Goebbels (or his Italian or Japanese equivalent) might make it of, their physical ability to make war was damaged. Severing the spinal cord of a mad ax murderer might make him more angry or psychotic than usual, but if he's paralyzed he can't do anything. And as far as the "repentant ISIS fighters make good propaganda" angle is concerned, someone who is remorseful and willing to denounce his former comrades is useful--an unrepentant fanatical twit is not.

So however much hanging ISIS prisoners might appeal to one's instinct, this course of action should be trod very carefully. It would have been better if the Daily Mail article had included more detail about who these "ISIS commanders" the Jordanians have got are, so whether hanging them is moral and/or worth the trouble can be examined. However, it is not a course of action that should be closed off completely either. However vile and racist the Confederates could be in the Civil War (see the Fort Pillow Massacre or Confederate slave-raiding during the Gettysburg campaign), the threat to kill or enslave Confederate prisoners was enough to deter (most) Confederates from treating black prisoners as slave rebels.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thoughts on a Black James Bond...

One interesting bit of material from the Sony hack was that Sony executives had thought about casting a black actor--particularly Idris Elba--as the new James Bond. This, as anything involving race and entertainment generally does, produced a massive controversy.

The problem with casting someone with an obviously different back-story (you know, since he's a different race) is that Bond is a specific individual, not a code name. He was briefly married in On Her Majesty's Secret Serviceand mourns his wife's death for multiple films, played by different actors all the while. Skyfallgoes so far as to show the Bond ancestral home (complete with a priest-hole, indicating the family was Catholic) as well as graves of his parents, dead on the same day in the climbing accident Trevelyan alludes to in Goldeneye.Unless you can work in a Caribbean or African mother in there somewhere--and Bond's mother is supposed to be Swiss--having a black actor play Bond within the existing continuity does not work. Since I'm not a Bond canon expert by any means, take this fellow's word on it, not mine.

That said, there are two ways that this can work:

1. A full-blown reboot. Start over from the get-go. You can change everybody's race, gender, etc. It's a total blank slate and allows for the "modernization" of classic Bond stories unencumbered by previous canon. SMERSH, for example, could be the FSB of Putin's Russia rather than the Soviet Union's counterintelligence, while SPECTRE could be some kind of organized-crime or terrorist organization. You could also bring in the villains of the modern day like al-Qaeda, ISIS, North Korea, etc.

(Personally I'd prefer an Indian James Bond to highlight Britain's historical links to India, but there are actually more black Britons than Indian Britons. If you want to play the odds, a black Bond is more likely. In either case, as a nod to the original, he could have a Scottish ancestor as the source of his name.)

2. Introduce Idris Elba (or another black actor) as a successor to the Daniel Craig Bond. One problem with Bond films is that nobody seriously expects Bond to come to any significant harm, let alone die. Have Bond and Elba's character go on a mission together and have Bond mortally wounded. The dying Bond does a Take Up My Sword speech to Elba's character, who then for some reason or another has to be pretend to be the actual James Bond. Given how probably not all that many people know what James Bond actually looks like, this is something that might actually work for a time. At the end of the film, Elba's character for whatever reason decides to take up Bond's mantle.

You could call the movie 007 since unlike James Bond, 007 is a code name. Subsequent movies with the "black Bond" could be called 007 and then a subtitle to show that the series is now centered on the new character.

Another idea I had would be to introduce the "black Bond" as another 00 agent. There have been previous 00 agents other than Bond in the franchise, but if I recall correctly they've all been killed, turned traitor, or both. He could be a foil to Bond--faithfully married or even homosexual as opposed to a chronic womanizer, young and inexperienced as opposed to the old veteran Bond, subtle and risk-averse instead of flashy and destructive, etc. He and Bond can have an adventure together and then he can get his own spin-off series.

I thought perhaps he could be introduced in the upcoming SPECTRE film and then his own movie could be advertised as, "He fought alongside James Bond and now has his own adventure" or something to that effect.

Kickstarting an Audio "I am the Wendigo"?

The other day, my friend Nick suggested I use a crowd-funding mechanism like Kickstarter or Indiegogo to fund audio versions of some of my short stories. It would be (relatively) low cost and provide an additional source of funds and exposure. He also suggested I fit the stories into a singular universe, much like how the X-Files managed to fit mutants that ate people's livers, a living garbage avatar enforcing HOA rules, werewolves, a humanoid fluke creature, a shape-shifter who abused his powers for sex, and various other critters into an overarching plot involving a coming alien invasion.

This might not work for all of them, but since many of them are scattered throughout time (Nicortakes place during the Viking Age, while Melon Headstakes place probably around 2003-4), it's surprisingly doable. And there wouldn't even really need to be an overarching plot like the X-Files alien colonization thing--it's just that there's a lot more weird stuff going on the world than we're aware of. Stories that are part of a larger plot of their own like Illegal Alien would need to be left out, but it's not like I'm lacking for material.

My first thought was to do "Nicor," because it's one of my more thoughtful stories and because it has already been professionally published. However, then I did some research about recording audio fiction and came across ACX, which is basically the audio version of Amazon KDP that resulted from Amazon acquiring Audible. I created an account and did some poking around on the main page. ACX will get people in touch with voice-actors, after which one can negotiate a fee-for-service arrangement or royalty split. For the latter, having the sales to attract voice-actors is especially important.

That forced a revision of the plan, as "Nicor" has been a poor seller (probably due to still being available on the Heroic Fantasy Quarterly website and being part of Flashing Steel, Flashing Firecollection). Furthermore, creating an audio version would require either a large cast to play multiple roles or a smaller number of people doing many different voices.



However, I am the Wendigois my single best seller and requires only one voice actor, to play the wendigo itself. Hell, I could narrate it myself rather than hiring a professional voice actor. I could set a "stretch goal" to include a longer project like "Melon Heads" or The Beast of the Bosporus.

Possible incentives to give to people include a PDF of FSFF, print copies of FSFF, signed and personalized copies of FSFF, prints of the cover art, signed prints of the cover art, getting listed as a producer in the credits, etc.

So, my loyal readers, do you think crowdfunding an audio production of "I am the Wendigo" is a good idea? If it is, you'll probably see me digitally panhandling pretty soon...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

If You Like What You're Getting, Buy Amazon Products Through Me

The World According to Quinn has been active since early 2010. So far I have blogged on many topics including science, politics, books, movies, and my personal writing ambitions. I have gotten more than 150,000 hits and hosted guest blog posts by interesting people like James R. Tuck, Delilah S. Dawson, Christopher Nuttall, and Sean C.W. Korsgaard. Thank you all for your patronage over the years.

However, so far I haven't made any money on the blog. On paper I've made some money via Google AdSense, but I won't get paid until I hit $100 and at the current rate, it will be years before that happens. I'm not asking you to go clicking on ads if you're not interested in at least finding out more about the product that appears--that's called click fraud and that's a crime.

However, I am suggesting you take a look at my Amazon links. If you see any links to books, movies, etc. on my blog and there's an odd space after the end of each link, those links will take you to the product's Amazon page that has my Amazon Associates' ID in the URL. If you buy the product, I'll get a percentage. Not only that--and this is the important part--if you go from that page to other Amazon products and buy those, I'll still get paid a commission. Apparently I've sold three Finish Powerball Tabs Dishwasher Detergent Tablets, Fresh Scent, 60 Count and one third party copy of Adrift on the Sea of Rains despite never actually linking to either them in addition to the one copy of Lines of Departure that I definitely did. I won't actually get paid for those until I clear a $10 threshold, but clearing that is much easier than clearing $100 one.

Thanks to this awesome YouTube video, I've learned how to install Amazon-generated widgets on Blogger. I've installed a link to my short story collection Flashing Steel Flashing Fire as well as a carousel of products you can see on the upper right. I'll regularly swap out that one with carousels of other products, depending on what's hot right now and what I'm reading or watching. Since I've gotten plenty of clicks and some sales over the years due to links-in-text and a new Chrome gadget that makes creating these links easier, those aren't not going anywhere.

Thank you for your help and readership over the years.

Friday, January 9, 2015

December 2014 Writing Contest: The Results

The revival of my earlier writing bets with a couple friends is now in its second month, so it's time to update you on how the first month went.

In the first month, I wrote 3,838 words of fiction. This doesn't compare well with a previous December in which I wrote just under 12,000 words, but I can plead extenuating circumstances. I was editing a novel for a client, which will be available on Amazon sometime soon. Between that and the end of an editorial internship I had with a magazine company, I had significantly less writing time than in 2013, but I made more money. :)

Here is what I did accomplish:

*Although I only finished bulking up The Thing in the Woods in preparation for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award this morning, I got much of the work done over December. One of the better critiques I'd received from my writing group is that a character introduced at the end of the novel in the first draft should have been introduced earlier. The technical term for this is a Chekhov's Gun--if you see a gun in the first act, it had better be fired in the third, or don't include it. In this case, it was the reverse. I plugged the scene introducing him (part of which I wrote in November and part in December) around two-thirds into the book and had his earlier appearance play a role in driving events toward their climax. He's going to play a much bigger role in the sequel, The Atlanta Incursion, so this will help set him up for that.

*I finished and then after writing-group critique heavily revised a chapter in my new novel project. I'm keeping this one more quiet until it's finished so I won't go into a lot of detail but now I've got four complete chapters. I've plotted out a fair bit more and this project plays to my strengths (imaginative situations, world-building) rather than my weaknesses (characterization), so I have high hopes for it.

*Little People, Big Guns got the short end of the stick, I'm afraid. Just under 200 words written. This is something I thought I'd be able to finish quickly. I start class again Monday, but maybe I'll be able to do more this month.

*Added a link to the sequel Needs Must to the "back matter" of √úbermensch, my supervillain-protagonist short story. For independently-published authors, "back matter" is something quite useful to have. That's your chance to link people to related projects, encourage them to leave reviews, etc. Hopefully this will lead to more sales for "Needs Must," especially during periods where I give "Ubermensch" away for free.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Another Song of Ice and Fire Alternate History: The King Nobody Wanted

The denizens of the alternate-history forum I have been a member of since high school include a fair number of fans of A Song of Ice and Fire in their number. And a world with as rich a history as Martin's has a lot of possible roads not taken, so it's no surprise that a lot of ASOIAF alternate timelines have been written and many of them have escaped from the members-only Alien Space Bat forum to places like fanfiction.net, which anybody can read.

Here's the newest one, "The King Nobody Wanted." It starts out with Robert dying of his wounds on the Trident soon after he kills Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. Now the cause of House Baratheon and the rebellion against the mad King Aerys are in the hands of Robert's unappreciated little brother Stannis, currently trapped in Storm's End.

Interesting tidbits in the story include:

*Robert's Rebellion lasts longer due to the machinations of, among others, the Queen of Thorns. Randyll Tarly shows what he can do when he doesn't have the credit-stealing incompetent Mace Tyrell to deal with. It's still going on as of the last update.

*Lyanna Stark survives the fever that killed her in the "bed of blood" in canon and so Jon Snow has a mother. A mother who named him Rhaegar after his father...

*Point-of-view chapters from the perspective of Jon Arryn and Balon Greyjoy, as well as lesser-known characters like Garth Tyrell and Tytos Clegane (Gregor and Sandor's father--since this was written before A World of Ice and Fire, I'm not sure if that's his canon name) along with favorites like Ned Stark. We even get a sympathetic POV from the young Janos Slynt, who hasn't turned into the vile scumbag he was in canon.

*This hasn't been posted on fanfiction.net as of today, but Cersei Lannister's wedding night is a heck of a lot more pleasant for everybody involved. Cersei is a nasty piece of work, but given how much of a lout Robert is, I don't blame her for hating him.

*A surprisingly endearing portrait of the young Viserys Targaryen, before years in exile and poverty warp his already fragile (he is a Targaryen, after all) psyche.

So sit back and enjoy another "what might have been" in one of the bloodiest deconstructions of epic fantasy ever written...

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Review of My 2014 Kindle Sales

Looking back on my Kindle short-story project, here are the lessons I've learned in 2014. Hearken to my words, aspiring e-book authors, and let's see what you can gain my from my experiences...

*For starters, short-story collections sell better than individual short stories. I've sold nearly 30 copies of my collection Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire, which debuted in June. In contrast, my most successful short story has been I am the Wendigo, which had 14 sales or borrows this past year. My supervillain-protagonist tale √úbermensch had 12 sales or borrows, while The Beast of the Bosporushad 11. This is something "the rock star of the small press" William Meikle has experienced as well--he's consolidated his short stories into multiple collections like Flower of Scotland, which I own, rather than selling them individually.

*Needs Must, the sequel to "Ubermensch," wasn't a strong seller (six buys or borrows), but it exceeded Illegal Alien and equaled Melon Heads. I'd posted before about how I worried that my Patel stories weren't selling well, so this is a pleasant surprise. I've got a partial for a third Andrew Patel story written, so maybe it'll see the light of day.

*If your product is cheap enough, you'll actually get more royalties per borrow than per buy. My royalty for a borrowed short story is nearly six times per that of a purchased short story. However, if your royalties are relatively high (say 70% of a $10 book, like FSFF), then a borrow rather than a buy is a significant step down. This might explain why so many authors more successful than I have been complaining about Kindle Unlimited I didn't put FSFF in KU because Nicor, one of the stories in the collection, is available elsewhere online. Unless the borrow rate goes up significantly (which Chuck Wendig has suggested in his recent blog post), it's going to stay where it is.

*I have made zero sales with "Nicor," possibly due to it being available online elsewhere for free. I was gambling on the cover art and the portability of a downloaded e-book vs. a website (you'll be able to read it whether you have an Internet connection or not) as something one couldn't get just by swinging by a website, but it looks like that gamble didn't pay off. Still, I'm not taking "Nicor" down anytime soon. Things might change.

*If you really want to make money, do what my friend Jeff Baker suggested and generate sales through volume. Most of my income lately has been coming from setting a story or two free for a couple days, which encourages the occasional buy or borrow. This risks becoming a source of diminishing returns if I don't keep supplying new material. However, posting FSFF on Amazon spiked my revenues for months. "Nicor" fizzled, but there are extenuating circumstances. I've got a kind of bizarro story I'm working on now called "Little People, Big Guns" that might be my first independently-published novella (I don't anticipate it being very long), since it's more goofy and comedic rather than the thoroughly-twisted stuff a lot of the bizarro markets seem to want.

(That said, maybe I should consider Eraserhead Press first--their novels Shatnerquest and Shatnerquake seem goofy rather than grotesque stuff like The Bighead. "Little People" might be too short for their purposes, but I haven't written too much of it yet.)