Sunday, May 21, 2017

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

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

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

Act One

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

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

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

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

Act Two

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

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

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

Act Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

An Early Draft of HELLRAISER: Script Review and Commentary

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

The Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bad

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

The Verdict

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

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Preserving the "Nicor" Cover for Posterity...

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

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


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

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Future of the Afrikanerverse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 21, 2017

My New Military SF Novella Is Here!

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE WALKING DEAD: What's Next?

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...

Rick-Ezekiel-Maggie

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.