Friday, April 21, 2017

My New Military SF Novella Is Here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 14, 2017

A Fan-Fic Idea That Made Me Tear Up...

I have very little interest in watching the show Life After People because it's my understanding that the early episode(s) devote a great deal of time to the grim fate of pets left trapped in houses after all humans mysteriously disappear. Like, "Let's look at a hungry dog trying to tear through plastic into a loaf of bread" or "let's watch this cat try to open a door" level of detail. Seriously people, it's supposed to be educational, not a freaking tear-jerker.

However, I came across the LAP Wiki and found this article about U.S. Marine Corps German Shepherds. Basically they'd leave Camp Pendleton and form a dog pack called "The Last Marines" and survive for years, out-competing the local coyotes.

I'm a member (and technically an admin of) the S.M. Stirling Appreciation Society Facebook group, which is dedicated to the works of S.M. Stirling. Stirling himself is a regular participant, offering his fans behind-the-scenes details of his works. His most successful series is known as the Emberverse and begins with the novel Dies the Fire. Basically one day in 1998 all technology fails--no electricity, no internal combustion, no firearms. Within a year, 90% of the human race is dead. Most of California ends up a Death Zone where nobody lives except bands of cannibal savages.

This inspired me to write up the following proposal for a fan-fic, since many members of the group write semi-canonical fan-fic in this world. I don't have time to write it myself and I don't have the technical knowledge, but if anybody wants it they can have it.

Me: The story follows a pack of military K-9s (with or without their human handler) who survive the collapse of civilization and live in the wild. Heck, tell the story from their POV (xeno-fiction) and call it "The Last Marines." Heck, if you want a heartwarming ending, I'm imagining years later a descendant of one of those dogs raised in military K-9 ways by previous generations of dogs encountering surviving (human) descendants of US Marines from elsewhere (say a training detachment in an isolated area hooks up with/protects a group of survivors) and recognizes them as kin.

Another person, who is familiar with German Shepherd dogs, wrote the following:

This is cool. I have had GSDs for a few years. They would probably go looking for humans - they like the companionship. It would be interesting if a few were intact - then they could breed with coyotes. My GSD has a prey drive - he has, and would, eat a prey he can hunt. So far, rabbit was the largest one he caught and ate. But if they team up - the sky is the limit.

My response:

If they're naturally inclined to look for humans, perhaps "The Last Marines" wander California during the die-off, helping, say, catch runaway livestock or wild animals for a starving group of refugees under a bridge, ambushing and massacring a group of Eaters about to attack a "clean" survivor band, etc.

They could become the subject of legend among the survivors, as a sort of group of canine knights-errant. Perhaps that's how they come into contact, years later, with a group of human Marines (or their children raised in that culture)--the human Marines recognize obvious Marine stuff (do K-9s have "dog vests" or a particular habit or quirk they're trained into?) and seek them out.

For a heartwarming moment, set the contact with the human Marines in a years-later epilogue in which the oldest dog in the pack, the last of the original K-9s, lives just long enough to encounter the human Marines before going off to a long-deserved rest.

I'm not crying, you're crying.

Yes, that story brought tears to my eyes. I don't want to own a pet because I recognize the awesome (in the awe-inspiring sense, not the "AWESOME!" Ninja Turtles sense) responsibility it involves, but I do rather like dogs.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


A little bit ago I blogged about the Walking Dead season finale. We've got a few months to keep ourselves occupied until Season Eight begins, so I'll get us started with what to do next if I were in charge of either Rick's alliance or Negan and the Saviors. The Walking Dead comic covers what happens in the "All-Out War" story arc, but the show has already deviated from the comic and furthermore, the comic doesn't have the Scavengers and Oceanside is rather different.

So here goes...


The Good Guys have just inflicted a defeat on Negan and his allies, the treacherous Scavengers, but as far as they know, the enemy leadership is intact. Furthermore, the Saviors have massive numbers and thanks to Morgan, the Kingdom has lost its most capable military leader.

First things first, bite off the low-hanging fruit. They know where the Scavengers are, they know the Scavengers aren't very numerous (120 tops and they took losses in the attempt on Alexandria), and the Scavengers are significantly weaker than the Saviors. March on the junkyard, leaving a screening force between the Sanctuary and any known Savior outposts to interfere with any relief or attacks on Alexandria, Hilltop, etc. while the army is gone, and wipe the Scavengers out completely. Put the head of Jadis (the leader of the group) on a spike and claim the junkyard's resources for the war. Punishing the Scavengers for their backstabbing also shows Negan cannot protect his subordinates and allies, a lesson the leaders of other communities under the Saviors' thumb would do well to learn.

(Speaking of subordinates and allies, now Alexandria has more guns from the Saviors killed in the battle in the finale, they should send a delegation to Oceanside to give them a few, with their old arsenal to be replaced in its entirety once Negan falls. Rick and friends took EVERY SINGLE ONE of Oceanside's guns, which was very Neganian of them and, in the immortal words of Negan himself, "not cool." Returning too many wouldn't be a good idea, since they'll probably need every gun possible for the coming war, but maybe two or three. Another "repayment on the gun loan" can be made once the Scavengers are dealt with. Not only would this be the right thing to do, but by showing Oceanside the Saviors can be defeated, it might be possible to recruit some of them.)

Destroying the Saviors' outposts in detail, hitting each one with overwhelming numbers before they can gather up into an overpoweringly large force, is a good idea, but Rick and friends don't know where all of them are. The Kingdom might know where the one they were paying tribute is, so that's a start.

One strategy to counter the Saviors' numbers would be to use the dead as a weapon like the Wolves did. Find ways to lure swarms of the undead onto Savior outposts or the Sanctuary itself. Rick and friends are probably too moral to use the dead to destroy surviving centers of civilization, but the outposts aren't large population centers like the Sanctuary and the zombies don't have to overrun them completely, just keep the Saviors busy and reduce their manpower. Considering how Rick and friends have stolen explosives from the Sanctuary's explosive anti-zombie defense, this wouldn't be that hard to implement. Even if the Sanctuary can repel a zombie swarm a few guys with bullhorns can funnel through the gap in their defenses, it'll definitely interfere with Negan's mobilization.

A high-risk high-reward strategy would be to do to Negan what Caesar did to Vercingetorix at Alesia and lay siege to the Sanctuary while laying an outer line of defense to keep reinforcements from the outposts away. A murderous donut, if you will. A strategy this aggressive would put Negan on the back foot and allow for re-establishment of contact with the traitorous Dwight or the weak Eugene, who'll probably flip back to the good guys if it can be done safely. Dwight mentioned joining forces with the workers at the Sanctuary, so it might be possible there are more allies to be found.

(One problem with trying to get help from Eugene is the fact that they tried to blow him up in the season finale and Negan knows this.)

However, Alesia was a pretty near-run thing (it took Caesar himself leading the last of the Roman reserves to prevent a breakthrough at one point) and Negan has shown himself able to think two steps ahead of Rick and friends. This is on full display when he used his superior numbers to progressively block the routes to Hilltop in "Last Day on Earth" before trapping Rick and his crew outright and again in the season finale when he had the Scavengers turn traitor at the worst possible time. A strategy that aggressive might be too risky.

Negan and the Saviors.

Negan knows that Hilltop, Alexandria, and the Kingdom are in open rebellion against him. He also has the Scavengers as allies.

If I were in Negan's position, I would start by keeping a very close eye on Eugene. Negan is clearly suspicious of him, based on the conversation they have at the end of the episode. He might need Eugene's technical skills and so isn't going to throw him into the oven or take Lucille to him yet, but he's clearly not trustworthy. I would have someone who is definitely loyal, like Simon, keep an eye on him.

(Negan would be insane to trust Dwight, given how he raped Dwight's wife Sherry and, as far as he knows, she ran away and got eaten by zombies. If I were Negan I wouldn't know Dwight was a traitor but I'd be a bit more careful with him on principle.)

I would also emphasize to Eugene that Rick tried to blow him up when the latter tried to negotiate Alexandria's surrender and save lives. Eugene is weak and cowardly, so using this as a lever to set him against his friends is doable.

Secondly, I would provide military support to the Scavengers. You don't win wars by letting your allies hang and the Scavengers are vulnerable, given the losses they took in the failed attack on Alexandria and the fact Rick and friends know where they are. It might also be the perfect chance to ambush a significant part of the allies' army, if they go for the Scavengers first and don't guard their flanks.

As far as the first target for an offensive, I'd go for Hilltop. The Hilltop community doesn't seem to be particularly large (unlike the Kingdom) and it's not the primary base of operations for the rebellion's leader Rick (unlike Alexandria), so it'd be a relatively easy first target. Furthermore, Negan knows that Maggie is still alive and that Rick had gone to great lengths to conceal her from him (the whole fake grave thing). If the Hilltop in general and Maggie in particular were under threat, that might be a way to draw out the rebels for the type of battle that favors Negan's superior numbers.

(Plus if Maggie were taken alive, she could be useful as a hostage or bait given how important she obviously is to Rick and friends. A postcard or radio broadcast of Negan's typical gross sexual comments about Maggie and Rick might do something stupid. Negan doesn't even have to abandon his policy against--forcible--rape to do this. In the comics, he made comments about some of his goons "running train" on Carl only to return him to Rick unharmed, so it's in-character.)

Alternatively, going for Alexandria again in order to cut the head off the snake (kill Rick) and this time make sure of it, is a viable strategy. The longer the war goes on, the more likely other communities under Negan's thumb or the workers in the Sanctuary might get restless, so this would be a chance to end the rebellion early. With Rick dead, Hilltop might surrender (Gregory can be restored to power for status quo ante--just blame Maggie and her entourage for the whole situation) and the Kingdom can be negotiated back into line. Throw on the blame on Rick, claim he and his troublemakers deceived Ezekiel to let the King save face, and try to get status quo ante there too.

As far as broader policy is concerned, I would lighten up on "half your shit." It's my understanding that Negan regularly taking half of Hilltop's supplies was driving them toward extinction and pushed them to ally with Rick in the first place. A tax rate that extreme is killing the goose that laid the golden egg. The communities under Negan's thumb could have lived with a much lower tax rate, or a tax payable in something less precious than supplies. A group of workers from a community for a day or two corvĂ©e labor restoring old roads, clearing out zombies from strategic sites, etc. instead of the supplies they need to survive would be much more in Negan's interest than taxing communities to the point it's rebellion or death. It could also provide evidence for Negan's claim that he's "bringing civilization back to this world" as opposed to just extorting everybody.

Finally, I would take pains to deter treachery by vassal communities. One article said it made no sense for Negan to leave existing leaders in place, or at least not have garrisons in towns under his rule. Negan can spare a few soldiers to keep whatever other equivalents of Gregory he has out there in line while maintaining a solid defense of the Sanctuary and a mobile force to deal with Hilltop-Kingdom-Alexandria.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Movie Review: Friday the 13th VII: New Blood (1988)

The podcast We Hate Movies is going to do a live show this Thursday in Atlanta covering the film Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood and I'm planning to attend with some of the Myopia crew. Since I have not seen this one (I've only seen most of Friday the 13th Part IV,, Jason Takes Manhattan,, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, and Freddy vs. Jason), I figured it's time to hit up Amazon Instant Video.

Here goes...

The Plot

As my friend Daniel (or maybe it was Nick, but I think it was Daniel) put it when telling me they were going to the live show, this is the one where Jason meets Carrie. Serial killer Jason Voorhees has been chained at the bottom of Crystal Lake and the camp is back to normal, until he's accidentally unleashed by telekinetic teen Tina Shepard (Lar Park Lincoln). Can she use her powers to send him back to whence he came before he wipes out love interest Nick (Kevin Spirtas) and his friends next door and before her odious psychiatrist Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser) has her forcibly sent back to the mental institution? We'll see...

The Good

*I will give this one props for originality. Instead of just "Jason butchers sex-crazed camp counselors vol. 10," they have him face off against a more powerful opponent, a teen girl with psychic powers. And with the original Carrie coming out in 1976 and both the delayed sequel and the remake coming out much later, it's clear the 1988 movie was not a blatant cash-grab on a more successful film.

*Many slasher films from the 1980s were criticized for the prolonged, often sexualized killings of female characters, while the male characters were killed quickly. Jason's opening killing reverses that--the woman is ambushed and killed immediately, while her boyfriend is chased down, impaled on a thrown knife, and then lifted off the ground by the knife embedded in his back. This movie was made at the end of the decade, so possibly the people behind it had been listening to the criticism.

*The details of Jason's costume are quite well-done. Jason has been killed, buried, decayed, resurrected by lightning, and trapped at the bottom of a lake for a prolonged period. You can see his skeleton through his rotten flesh in various places at at one point, his teeth through a hole in his cheek where the mask doesn't cover it. The makeup department was certainly detail-oriented. TVTropes states that the specific wounds from the earlier films were taken into account.

*One of the scenes where Jason stalks a victim manages some suspense.

*For a rotting undead corpse with a machete, Jason displays some strategic sense, including at one point cutting off power to the house before commencing his attack.

The Bad

*The opening consists of a montage of clips from previous Friday the 13th films to introduce just where Jason is now. I understand the need to introduce the film to a new audience, but it was a bit info-dumpy. Maybe just depict Tommy Jarvis sinking Jason into the lake and be done with it? A "cold open" consisting solely of that would be at least tolerable.

Let's be realistic. Who starts with the seventh film in a series? Realistically whoever is seeing this one has seen the previous ones, or at least knows who Jason Voorhees is.

*Another alternative would be to scrap the entire "meet Jason" beginning and start with the image of Jason chaind at the bottom of the lake while the camera pans up to the scene introducing young Tina. That way the threat of Jason is introduced, but the focus is on the new character Tina and her psychic powers.

*It's hard to tell most of the supporting cast (a group of young people staying at a cabin near Tina's) apart and rather than develop them, they just keep adding new characters. They're just a bunch of what I call "teen slasher meat." Although they have a fig leaf for why the group keeps getting larger (they're all gathering for a friend's surprise party), the guy's friend group could be smaller and more time spent on building them up. It risks turning into Twenty Minutes With The Jerks considering how many of them treat Tina, but if it was also trimmed down a bit as well, it wouldn't eat up too much screentime.

*Does NOBODY ever hear Jason coming? He's a big burly guy walking through the woods with lots of twigs and the like to crunch on, but he's always able to sneak up on people. Most of the movie's kills consist of him taking people by surprise and killing them immediately without any real creativity. And he can just show up wherever he's needed for a fight scene, even though there's no way for him to get there.

*Tina seems to have New Powers at the Plot Demands--when it's convenient for the story she has clairvoyance, but the primary focus is telekinesis.

*Apparently there's a much bloodier cut than the one available on Amazon. It looks like it was edited to minimize the blood, and in some cases the cuts are very abrupt. Jason's killing one character cuts away in the middle of the death, just when the blood shows up but before we can see a lot of it.

*There's a missed opportunity for comedy involving a couple stoned characters and a flashlight.

*There's another missed opportunity with Dr. Crews. He's clearly manipulating Tina and her mother for his own ends and based on some articles he has stashed away he knows about Jason, but it's never fully developed. He could have been like Dr. Channard from Hellbound: Hellraiser II who has a hidden agenda related to the supernatural foe, but this never goes anywhere.

*I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about the absolute end, but it doesn't make sense on multiple levels.

The Verdict

They tried to shake up the formula by having Jason face off against a teen psychic, but it wasn't very good. It's not scary, it's not funny (Freddy vs. Jason worked just as well as a comedy), it's just lame. Formulaic and it was like they weren't even trying. At least it's not very long.

5.0 out of 10.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Guest Post: An Alternative, Happier Take on PASSENGERS

I'm Facebook friends with Van Allen Plexico, who I met through James R. Tuck at DragonCon awhile back. He's friends with Jayme Lynn Blaschke, who wrote the following post about the science-fiction semi rom-com Passengers on Facebook and graciously allowed me to borrow it.

So take it away Mr. Blaschke. Beware spoilers if you haven't seen it...

Okay, PASSENGERS. The Wife and I saw it last week. You all know about the controversy surrounding the Chris Pratt character's actions. I'm not going to talk about that. I'm going to talk about something that has been overlooked amidst the hubbub: This movie just isn't very good. At it's heart, it's a rom-com, with all the requisite story beats that go with the type (once Jennifer Lawrence arrives on the scene, that is). 

Trouble is, there's no comedy. There are a few jokes, sure, but the story type depends on humor to carry the narrative. That's missing. Instead, the script compensates by replacing the comedy elements with Serious Bleak Interpersonal Trauma, which doesn't work with the established structure. It *could* have worked, had the film been intended as a "ship in a bottle" type story about mortality, gender issues, consent and free will... but it isn't. Those issues are pulled in to the story for cheap emotional resonance, with no intention of examining them in any depth. Instead, all that is chucked out the nearest airlock for an absurd, action-packed 'splodey finale. Lawrence's character is instantly back in love with Pratt, her bitter hatred and feelings of betrayal completely forgotten. They live happily ever after.

There are four separate movies fighting for supremacy here, and none of them triumph. It's a mess. Jon Spaihts is the screenwriter, and it's hard to judge his ability as few of his scripts have made it to production, despite buzz as to how great he is and almost the entirety of his output coming in the SF genre. Still, I get the impression that this is a guy who learned everything he knows about science fiction by watching Armageddon, Event Horizon, and the like. Bester, Clarke, Dickson and Simak are absent from his reading list, I suspect.

Case in point: HUGE SPOILER WARNING! The denouement comes when Pratt (who should've been vaporized 20 minutes earlier, and killed a dozen times over afterward, except rom-com, remember?) figures out that the "Autodoc" robotic healing chamber aboard the ship can induce a suspended animation-like state in subjects. But there's only one Autodoc on board the ship with more than 5,000 passengers and crew. So Pratt can put Lawrence under, so she can complete her trip, undoing the grave injustice he inflicted upon her earlier. He would die alone, however. Being the Love Of Her Life, she refuses, and they (presumably) grow old and die together during the 88 years of the voyage remaining. Isn't that romantic?

Which is fucking stupid, pardon my French. They didn't have to die. According to all the information given to the viewer, there was nothing to prevent the two from *alternating* their use of the Autodoc. Leapfrog, as it were. Assuming Chris Pratt's character is 30-ish (he's 37 in real life) and Jennifer Lawrence's character is 26 (her real age) or slightly older, and that human life expectancy is somewhat longer in this high-tech future (reaching 100 is reasonably common, I'd expect), then they potentially have decades left they could live on the colony world. Follow: Pratt puts Lawrence under for six months. She wakes up, they spend a month together making mushy sweet love, then *she* puts *him* under for six months. Repeat. 

By the time they arrived at Homestead II, they'd be in their 70s, roughly. Barring any injury or illness the Autodoc couldn't fix, they should be healthy and fit, and due TREMENDOUS compensation from the parent company for saving the gazillion-dollar colony ship and all the liability it going BOOM! would've created. And Lawrence should be independently wealthy in her own right, transmitting breathless, harrowing non-fiction accounts back to Earth to be consumed by rapt audiences (presumably, she still has an agent to handle that--The film's complete amnesia regarding her entire career at the end was another big annoyance for me). Point is, they'd have 30, maybe 40 good years ahead of them, and they'd set foot on the colony world as the richest, most influential people there. They'd arrive as celebrities. Pratt could build Lawrence a MILLION houses and be romantic as hell. Instead, the screenwriter had that final vision of the little wooden house under the tree, and didn't think beyond that.

Human beings want to survive. Want to live. The course this film took was defeatist and doomed. This film could've been so much better. It wasn't. The end.

I admit I hadn't seen the movie due to concerns from friends of more feminist inclinations about how creep-tastic the "I'm lonely to the point of suicide so I'm going to wake this hottie up to keep me company" part was. However, having read more about the movie, it's my understanding they do acknowledge how bad and selfish Chris Pratt's call was, even though he does have some very extenuating circumstances.

About the references to money, it apparently is possible to communicate with Earth--it just takes 13 years to get anything back. So with some creativity, the financial arrangements might be doable.

THE WALKING DEAD Review: "The First Day of the Rest of Your Life"

Just got back from watching the Season Seven finale of The Walking Dead. Here are some preliminary thoughts. The following comments are going to be spoileriffic as all get-out, so be ye warned...

The Good

*I did not see the back-stabbing from the Junkyard Gang (the Walking Dead wiki calls them "Scavengers") coming at all. Yes they're really weird and not very good people, but that was a legitimate surprise. The Scavenger leader is named Jadis and that's really appropriate--it's the actual name of the White Witch from C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia.

(And given how the Scavengers' deal with Negan seems to involve twelve--later ten--Alexandrians as slave labor or who knows what, her comment about having sex with Rick after the battle just got a lot more sinister.)

*The arrival of the Kingdom and Hilltop to save the day just as Negan is about to kill Carl was awesome. Negan is about to swing down and suddenly Shiva the tiger just jumps into the fray and kills one of his goons. Mayhem ensues, with the bad man getting away after another near-miss from Shiva. In TVTropes terms, this was a Crowning Moment of Awesome for Maggie, King Ezekiel, and both their respective factions. Good job.

*Negan's theatrical brutality is on full display once again with the whole "Sasha in the coffin" stunt. I knew what Sasha was going to do, but I didn't anticipate the coffin. That would allow for maximum surprise.

*Negan's impromptu freestyle poetry ("a stupid little prick named Rick") was amusing, as was the later portion of his demands.

The Bad

*Way too many shots of Sasha inside the coffin and flashbacks to the last day Abraham was alive throughout the episode, with Sasha's story being told out of order. I understand what they were trying to go for, but they overdid it.

*Jadis shoots Rick and throws him off the top of the gateway, but later we see her marching him through the streets at gunpoint. Unless she immediately jumped down afterward, that's quite a bit of time in the midst of a battle between the Alexandrians and the Saviors for Rick to get away, get a gun of his own, etc.

*Given Negan's bizarre soft spot for Carl, I figured he was going to try to kill Rick when he had everybody at his mercy. Rick had already been wounded by Jadis and Rick has been plotting against Negan the whole time. Although Negan has a thing for punishing the loved ones of people who disobey him or try to kill him rather than the guilty ones themselves (Glenn for Daryl, Olivia for Rosta), I figured Carl was a special case. I guess if they follow the comic plot with Negan and Carl, Carl will have very good reason to rebuff Negan's "I thought we were friends." Negan's affection for Carl was one of the more interesting aspects of his character and to have him throw that away by trying to kill him weakens that.

*The whole of the last half of Season Seven suffered from "let's prolong the buildup to war as much as possible" and this episode had that.

What's Next?

*Negan is rallying his people to war, but he has the traitorous Dwight in his inner circle, as well as Eugene, whom he probably suspects helped Sasha die. Ezekiel, Maggie, and Rick are united against the Saviors, but the Scavengers were able to escape. As allies of Negan, they're going to need to be dealt with.

The Verdict

*Despite the flaws, a fun episode overall. I'm looking forward to Season Eight.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Book Review: FIELDS OF FIRE (2017)

Marko Kloos' saga of young infantryman--now an officer--Andrew Grayson and his pilot wife Diana Halley unleashed another installment at the end of February with Fields of Fire, the fifth book in his awesome FRONTLINES series. I've read it twice so far (it's a very fast, engaging read) and now it's time for the review...

The Plot

Having defeated an assault by the alien Lankies on Earth (and apparently a couple more probes since then), the time has come for the nations of Earth to attack Lanky-held Mars and take it back from the aliens. Grayson returns to his role as a "pod-head," launched from a spaceship to call in orbital or nuclear bombardment on the ground, while Halley, having recovered from injuries incurred in the previous novel Chains of Command, will help fly in other forces once the beachheads are established.

But the Lankies have had a year and more to fortify Mars, and it won't be easy...

The Good

*Like the other books in the series, it's a very fast and engaging read. The first time I read it, it took only a couple days, in multi-chapter chunks. The second time around it was mostly gym reading, with a few bits done outside of my local LA Fitness. No more than four to six hours either time, with the second time probably less. Time flies when you're having fun, and I was having fun indeed.

*Per the above, once Grayson leaves Earth, this start rolling really fast and never let up. We have the Crowning Moment of Awesome battle in orbit, then the landings begin. Things go well, but then they go into the crapper real fast. And I kept reading to see what happened to Grayson and Halley.

*In one of my earlier reviews I pointed out that the Lankies in one of the books weren't described physically very well, but that's not a problem here. The descriptions are a lot more vivid and that's great.

*Some of the nasty surprises the Lankies unleash on Mars are foreshadowed early on.

*Kloos expands the world by introducing the reader to the EuroCorps, the German-dominated European federal military. The EuroCorps focuses on advanced, elegant technology, much like the efficient German engineering of today. The united Europe is also strongly anti-nuclear, a cultural continuity from Germany today that was no doubt amplified by the limited nuclear conflict that occurred around 100 years before the story began. It was very interesting to read about them, especially since Kloos was born in what used to be West Germany and served in its military during the Cold War.

*There are so many cool little details that one doesn't get them all on the first read. I didn't notice an interesting new characteristic of Lanky seed ships until the second read.

*The book explicitly ties itself in with the Frontlines Requiem comic series that tells what was going on in the Earth system during the events of Lines of Departure and Angles of Attack, including the Lanky conquest of Mars and the desertion of the North American Commonwealth's political elite with the most advanced military equipment.

*There are some amusing inside jokes, like the Battle of 47 Northing. 47 North is Amazon's science fiction imprint that picked up the FRONTLINES series after Kloos experienced remarkable success self-publishing it, and "northing" and "easting" is a way of marking coordinates on a map. During the Gulf War, there was the Battle of 73 Easting, for example.

*We finally learn why Halley is alienated from her family, to the point she hates her own first name.

The Bad

*There are repeated references to aircraft losses, some of them quite substantial, but the Lankies groundside don't have any sort of ranged attacks, let alone antiaircraft capability. The only time "on-screen" we see Lankies taking out aircraft is if they're close enough to grab them, although in the first book Terms of Enlistment an aircraft that made an attack run on a Lanky terraforming tower is taken out by something.

The Verdict

Chains of Command I didn't like enough to review it (it wasn't bad, it was just okay), but this is an excellent return to form. 9.0 out of 10.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Blast from the Past Movie Review: The Guyver (1991)

When I was a little kid, I remember watching The Guyver on the Sci-Fi Channel and even renting it from the video store. The whole purpose of the film podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood is to see if beloved childhood films still hold up and although I remember enjoying the movie when I was a kid, I was also in elementary school, a lot of movies I've watched for Myopia haven't stood the test of time.

So how did it hold up? Here's the podcast. And now for my review..

The Plot

The sinister Chronos Corporation headed by Fulton Balcus (David Gale) is experimenting with turning people into Zoanoids, shape-shifting warriors of alien origin who had apparently lived among humans for centuries and spawned the myths of werewolves, vampires, etc. Dr. Tetsu Segawa (Greg Paik) attempts to flee Chronos with the Guyver Unit, a set of alien powered armor, to give to CIA agent Max Reed (Mark Hamill), but treachery leads to his death. College student Sean Baker (Jack Armstrong), who is friends with if not romantically involved with Dr. Segawa's daughter Mizki (Vivian Wu), stumbles across the Guyver and bonds with the unit, doing battle with a gang of Zoanoids who want it back.

And Balcus is much, much more than he seems...

(Or, if you want a more irreverent summary, "In which a mediocre martial-arts student bonds with alien powered armor and fights mutant monster gang-bangers in Los Angeles.")

The Good

*Although my cohorts on the podcast made fun of the film's fight choreography, the fact the fighting comes off as rather incompetent might actually have a good story reason. Sean is, early on, depicted as a mediocre martial-arts student, while most of the Zoanoids are street criminals Chronos has transformed into alien warriors. None of them, with the exception of chief thug Lisker (Michael Berryman), really have any idea of what they're doing with their enhanced abilities, and Sean doesn't know the full extent of his armor's capabilities or how to actually use them. See the trope How Do I Shot Web for more details.

*To that end, in a scene where some gang members try to mug Sean, they avoid the Mook Chivalry trope. Instead of engaging Sean, who has at least some hand-to-hand combat ability, individually, they just mob him and bring him down in seconds.

*Sean finding the Guyver and bonding with it came off as pretty natural and realistic. It didn't seem forced at all.

*The film has some genuinely funny moments, including a scene where rapper-Zoanoid M.C. Striker (Jimmie Walker) stumbles into a film shoot and is mistaken for a man in a monster suit. Striker himself is pretty funny, although I can understand how others might interpret him as being grating or even a racist stereotype. There's also a scene where a Zoanoid that looks like an obese midget dinosaur pursues two characters through a lab that could be something out of Benny Hill. All it needed was the Yakety-Sax.

*Jimmie Walker's most well-known role is on the show Good Times, which spun off Maude, which spun off All In The Family. Some of Striker's lines are a homage to that role, which film enthusiasts might appreciate.

The Bad

*There's an opening text-crawl like Star Wars--except it has a voice-over. There are several things wrong with this picture--for starters, it would be much more interesting if they started out with Dr. Segawa running from some thugs and then people just started turning into monsters. That would grab the viewers' attention. Secondly, there was no need for the voice-over when the information is provided by the text. Star Wars never had a voice-over in its openings. Finally, the actual text comes off like a badly-translated anime with the "Zoanoids" and especially the "Zoalord." Yes, the movie is based on a manga, but translation problems are still translation problems.

*The acting is, for the most part, not very good. Armstrong does a decent job when he's just playing an ordinary college student, but whenever he has to stretch himself or deliver powerful or moving lines, he's just plain awful. No wonder they replaced him in the sequel. Although the fact some of these lines are ridiculous isn't his fault, his delivery is poor. Armstrong's mediocre acting also tied in with how the movie was marketed--the posters strongly imply Mark Hamill plays the Guyver, not Armstrong.

(Hamill does an okay job and in one scene conveys genuine agony far better than he did in The Empire Strikes Back when Luke learns that Darth Vader is his father after losing his hand. But if he's the best actor, you know the movie has problems.)

Gale as Balcus has this weird staccato delivery, especially at the beginning when he's enraged at Lisker. Berryman comes off as kind of brain-damaged most of the time--although the actor has an actual medical condition, that doesn't affect him mentally. His delivery is more natural when he leads the Zoanoids into battle, but it's really stilted elsewhere. Wu's role as Mizki is poorly written--she spends most of the time as a passive hostage of the Zoanoids and is only active when the plot requires it--but her accent is bad. I don't remember her speaking like that in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3, so either her English improved or she was trying to speak English like someone whose native language was Japanese and didn't pull it off.

*Striker speaks pretty much entirely in rap and I can definitely understand why people might view him as a racial stereotype. Given how he's the most inept of the Zoanoids and the scene where he invades the movie set and tries to calm down a woman he thinks is terrified of him, he could have been developed as someone who isn't really evil at heart (as opposed to the thuggish Lisker or the domineering, kind of perverted Balcus) and is trying to impress his superiors. The filmmakers give Lisker some development by depicting him in a relationship with a female Zoanoid, so it's not like they couldn't have developed Striker more.

*In one scene, it's clearly morning and Sean offers to get him and Mizki some food. It's nighttime when he returns. Is Los Angeles traffic that bad? And then when the Zoanoids pursue Sean, Mizki, and Max onto the film set, it's night but it's clearly supposed to be daytime, since the director is talking about lunch.

(If overnight shoots provide a mid-shoot meal and call it "lunch" that might actually be clever, but those who aren't familiar with film industry practices won't know that.)

*There's a missed opportunity for Balcus to guilt-trip our heroes over a character's death. It'd show him as more devious and having obviously debriefed Lisker about how a previous fight went. It'd also be a good example of psychological warfare, in the vein of STAR WARS' Dun Moch battle technique.

*A character's death comes off as really silly--they get blasted through a door into another room, come to a stop, and then EXPLODE.

The Verdict

Might be worth watching once. Maybe. 5 out of 10. It had a good concept, but an inept execution. Michael Bay really should give it a $100 million reboot.

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: Achamaenid 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.