Friday, March 26, 2010

Some Background Material, For Your Enjoyment

I wanted to provide more information about the Draka universe in my earlier post, but I didn't think it'd actually fit in with what I was trying to say, which was that my dabblings in the Drakaverse had inspired another writer to write what could possibly be a novel set in there.

So here're some links and background:

The Domination Wikipedia entry on the Draka.

Marching Through Georgia-The first of the Draka novels, featuring their entry into WWII and a whole lot of worldbuilding.

Under the Yoke-The second Draka novel, featuring the establishment of their rule over conquered Europe after WWII.

The Stone Dogs-The third Draka novel, featuring the Protracted Struggle and the Final War.

The Domination-The combined three Draka novels in one larger book, minus the appendices.  These used to be posted on Geocities, but that site is down and I cannot find them elsewhere.  Contains some framing material set in the aftermath of the book below...

Drakon-Set 400 years after the Draka victory, a drakensis ends up in our world (or a reasonable fascimile thereof) and a cyborg Samothracian (the Samothracians are the descendants of Alliance refugees who escaped to Alpha Centauri aboard a generation ship) is sent to stop her.

Drakas!-An anthology of short stories set at various points in the Draka timeline, written by authors like Harry Turtledove.

Snakepit: A Stargate-Draka Crossover-A fan-fiction crossover of the Stargate television show with the Draka.  This is the version with commentary from yours truly and others.

Snakepit: A Stargate-Draka Crossover-This is the same story, only posted on without reader comments and suggestions.  Basically, it's consolidated and an easier read.

Ian's Draka TL-Ian Montgomerie is the moderator of the alternate-history forum and this is his more plausible Draka timeline.  Some of the ideas I used in "The Dragon and the Bear" came from here.

Source of Creativity in Others...

I'm awfully proud of myself today. I inspired someone else to start writing a story.

Here's the rather lengthy background:

I'm a member of an alternate-history Internet forum, which is what helped me come up with the ideas for my two Afrikaner stories ("Coil Gun" and "Picking Up Plans in Palma").

A board member whose handle is Avalon1 came up with a timeline based on S.M. Stirling's Draka novels. For those of you who don't know about those, they're an alternate history series from the late 1980s and early 1990s. In this world, the Dutch enter the Revolutionary War two years earlier than in ours and the British seize control of the Cape of Good Hope from them.

The British then settle thousands of loyalists, mostly from the South, on what Stirling called "the stolen goods of colonial empire"--the colony of Drakia, named for Sir Francis Drake. These loyalists, using an early breechloading rifle that actually existed in our world but wasn't adopted for some reason, proceeded to conquer and enslave the neighboring tribes, essentially transplanting the plantation system of the American South to Africa.

Swollen by exiled Haitian slaveholders, French aristocrats, Confederates, and the other losers of history, the Drakians--whose Dominion of Drakia becomes the Domination of the Draka--conquer and industrialize Africa. During WWI, they conquer the Ottoman Empire. 

During WWII, they extend their dominion across Europe and Asia.  In the late 20th Centurty, they ultimately end up defeating the United States and its allies (the Alliance for Democracy) and replacing humankind with Homo drakensis (a genetically-engineered immortal master race, meant to succeed them) and Homo servus (a slave race that's unaggressive and vulnerable to pheremonal manipulation, meant to succeed everyone else).

One of the big criticisms people had of the Draka timeline is how nobody takes notice of this monstrous slave empire and takes action to stop it before it gets too big. After all, in our world, people took notice of Hitler's shenanigans within six years of his taking power. This is known among Draka fans as "the stupid virus."

So Avalon1 wrote a spinoff of the Draka timeline where a Russian general named Lavr Kornilov, who in our world was involved in a rather dubious episode with the elected Russian government after the fall of the Czar that unintentionally helped pave the way for the Bolshevik takeover, succeeded in occupying St. Petersburg and wiping out the Communists. Come WWII, the Russian Republic manages to check the Draka advance and ultimately, the enlarged Alliance for Democracy brings down the Domination of the Draka.

Here's the timeline:

Avalon1's timeline was good, but he had some things I did not agree with. The opening of the timeline described how the Russians defeated the Draka, but all they did in WWII was get a status-quo ante peace (not so bad considering the Draka's unrealistic winning streak, but still) when I was expecting the Eagles of Muscovy on the Persian Gulf.  He also described the Draka, prevented from conquering all of Eurasia, annexing Antarctica for the heck of it.  When the Draka fell, he had the victorious Alliance essentially build inescapable prisons for the surviving drakensis (how these prisons were inescapable was essentially handwaved) and then, when people complained, had them all frozen in stasis on an asteroid.

However, anyone can complain. To do something constructive is better.

So I decided to write my own alternate timeline entitled "The Dragon and the Bear: The Domination vs Russia." It was Avalon1's concept as I imagined it, with a lot more military detail.  Avalon1 was entirely cool with it and in fact became one of my regular readers.

Here's the link:

The user-name whose handle is Snarf was also one of my regular readers.  He decided to write a story set in the 2040 of my timeline, 40 years after the Alliance for Democracy destroyed the Domination of the Draka and established the Terran Federation (in my opinion, the ideal form of world government, as it is essentially the United States of Earth).

The protagonist is a drakensis who was adopted by American parents in the aftermath of the Final War and raised in the United States (that was what was done with the youngest drakensis--those older than six were restricted to southern Africa, implanted with microchips and tracked via satellite).  He becomes a police officer, using his various unique abilities to fight crime. In the beginning chapter, he uses pheremonal manipulation to calm a frightened molestation victim and get a description of the perv in question, tracks the perpetrator's footprints in the dark using infrared vision, and proceeds to take the man down in two seconds using his superior strength and speed.

We've only discussed parts of the macro plotline, but I think it involves another drakensis, who fell into the hands of a crime family and was raised to be their ultimate enforcer.

Here's the link. Unfortunately, you need to be a member of the forum in order to read it. Those interested in discussing alternate history--and other topics, in the Chat forums--will be greatly interested in the site.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Thoughts on The Recent Health-Care Legislation

I have decided to throw my hat into the ring and blog about the recent health-care legislation.  Here goes...

Though this may seem rather heretical to my conservative kindred, the bill was not all bad.  I personally had no problem with the ban on insurance companies dropping longtime participants when they get sick, which goes against the entire purpose of insurance companies--you pay in, just in case, and when problems arise, they pay you.

This episode here is particularly skanky:

That being said, now it's time for criticism:

I am very skeptical of the mandate to purchase individual health insurance, on constitutional grounds.  The 10th Amendment to the Constitution states that all powers not specifically granted to the federal government are assumed to belong to the states and people.  Forcing individuals to purchase health insurance--or anything else for that matter--is unconstitutional.

(I would imagine Romney's insurance mandate in Massachusetts isn't unconstitutional, since it's done at the state level.)

This is the reason why attorney generals from many states have joiend together in a lawsuit against the imposition of these mandates.

Also, I cannot find anything about increased reimbursements for Medicare or Medicaid patients, which is a major problem these days.  Many doctors will not see these patients because the reimbursement has not kept up with rising medical costs.;selector-perfector

Also, I believe the reforms include a mandate for businesses to supply health insurance for their employees.  Many small businesses will not be able to afford this.  I heard on the radio this morning (it was a morning talk show on 92.9 Dave FM I believe, not some political thing, to head off the obvious retort) a comment from a small business owner whose is afraid many companies will not be able to afford this and go out of business, something that will ultimately cost jobs.

Finally, I don't think a blanket ban on not insuring people with pre-existing conditions is such a great idea.  The reason insurance companies bar people with pre-existing conditions is that it drives up the cost of the total pool.  This means the insurance costs for everyone will go up.

It would have been better to subsidize the states' existing high-risk pools--Georgia has one, although it has not funded it--than to do that.  The same effect will be accomplished, without inconveniencing every health-insurance policy-holder.

If the individual insurance mandates are declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, there is a way to get uninsured people covered that will not involve amending the Constitution or similarly radical measures that I imagine some people will propose.

(After all, there are members of one of my Internet forums who want to abolish the Senate, largely due to the ability of the minority party to prevent things from getting done.  Funny, they never suggested that under Bush when the Democrats were in the minority.)

Simply expand Medicaid.  This is particularly doable if the statistics I have heard are correct and that the number of people who want health insurance but cannot get it, as opposed to those who could get it but don't, are not especially numerous--15 million of the total 47 million uninsured.

There.  Those are my comments.  Let the games begin.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Productivity Update

Here's the latest news on the creative front...

"Picking Up Plans in Palma" got rejected from Analog, although it was a personalized rejection letter signed by the editor.  I tinkered with it a bit more (mostly breaking up longer sentences into shorter, punchier ones) and then submitted it to Asimov's.  I don't think I'll hear from them for three months or so.

"Coil Gun" got rejected by Lightspeed, so I sent it to Clarkesworld.  I should hear back from them relatively soon.  Last time I checked, it was 37th in the queue.

"Melon Heads" got rejected by the Extreme Creatures anthology, so I sent it to GUD.  Not sure when I'll hear back from them.  Their way of paying their writers is weird, although it certainly gives the writers an incentive to promote the magazine (the writers get a cut of sales of the individual story, for example).

I've realized that I don't have any "ready to send" stories anymore.  All of mine are either sent somewhere or part of an anthology I'm working on with Daverana Enterprises, the parent company of the magazine that bought three of my stories (paying me for two) before it was shut down.

Time to crack my knuckles and work on some new short fiction (in addition to Escape from the Wastelands and my last fan-fiction, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Reboot").

I've got one completed first draft for my short story "Breeding Pair" (which takes place in the same universe as my story "Illegal Alien") and a bunch of old Critters critiques for it.  That's going to be an interesting one to bring to my writing groups, given that it has some risque content (one alien race abducts humans for a breeding program) and it depicts Jesus as having appeared to another alien race sometime after He appeared to our own.

(I got that concept from C.S. Lewis's essay "Religion and Rocketry," which I read in the book The World's Last Night: And Other Essays.  Lewis quotes "Christ in the Universe" by Alice Meynell, which is probably the only poem I like besides Yeats' "The Second Coming" and, if you want to call it a poem, "Beowulf.")

I've also got another WWIII story set in my Afrikaner universe, for which I've written perhaps three sentences.  It takes place the same night as "Coil Gun"--the opening nuclear exchange between the United States and the Afrikaner Confederation--and follows a squadron of spaceplanes engaging the Afrikaners' primary orbital battle-station.

I brought the second chapter of Escape from the Wastelands--which draft it is I cannot remember at this point--before my Lawrenceville writing group last Sunday.  They had some good comments, which I have not yet incorporated because I've had to finish the first draft of a new third chapter for the Kennesaw writing group.  That group meets this Saturday.

This could be an interesting meeting, considering how the third chapter exists solely because they did not think there was adequate characterization in the earlier chapters to make the first version of Chapter Three--in which several characters die--really affect the reader.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Comic Book Commentary

I was hanging around the East Cobb Borders this morning, killing time until I met up with a friend for lunch, and a comic book on the rack caught my eye.

It was Brave and the Bold #31, in which lesser-known DC hero Atom is paired off with the Joker.  It turns out that the Arkham Asylum medical staff needed help treating the Joker for a brain disease and Atom, against his better judgement, decided to help them.  Given his ability to shrink to microscopic size, he ended up literally getting inside the Joker's head.

It was there that he ended up viewing and being affected by the Joker's memories.  This gives us (drumroll) another Joker origin.


In this one, the Joker clearly had issues from the beginning.  As a child, he pontificates to another child about how he's going to make the world as weird as he is.  Then he goes berserk on a bully to the point the bully needed stitches (and a meeting between his mother and the school principal makes it clear that excessive violence is a problem the kid has had before).  The next memory is him as a teenager, preparing his house to burn while his parents discuss how they know he's been torturing and killing dogs and cats (BIG sign of psychopathy).  The pre-Joker jams the doors shut and the next panel shows him walking away from the burning house.

We later see him and some hooligan types robbing a convenience and, just when they're about to leave, he shoots the shopkeeper for kicks.  Another gang member tells him that they had agreed not to actually kill anyone so the whole group wouldn't be charged with murder--the pre-Joker responds by telling him it's fun to kill and then shoots him for challenging him.  We later see a montage of Joker-related mayhem clearly based on The Dark Knight, including him robbing the bank and challenging Batman to hit him with his bike.

I'm not really a big DC comics aficionado (beyond having seen the films and being really good at mimicking the Heath Ledger Joker, much to friends' and siblings' aggravation).  I did like the artwork for this one, especially the creepy way the pre-Joker was drawn.  His green eyes in particular stood out.

However, I liked the Joker origin story in Batman: The Killing Joke better.


In this one, the pre-Joker is an engineer at a chemical plant who quit his job to become a comedian.  He wasn't very successful and his wife was pregnant, so he let some gangsters talk him to sneaking them through his old factory so they could rob the place next door.  His wife and unborn child are killed in an accident and he tries to back out, only for the gangsters to outright bully him into going along.

They get into the factory (the pre-Joker wearing a costume to make it look like the gangsters are the accomplices of a supervillain) and Batman and the police intervene.  The pre-Joker ends up falling into a vat of chemicals and when he sees his disfigured face, he loses his mind.

This origin would explain his obsession with making people laugh (there's a scene where the pre-Joker complains to his wife about how nobody laughs when he tells jokes) and his technical skills, as well as him trying to prove the world is as bad as he is (the graphic novel revolves around him trying to prove "one bad day" would affect Commissioner Gordon as severely as it affected him).  It would also make him more human (and thus a more complex character), as opposed to the born-evil "bad seed" of The Brave and the Bold.

Of course, even in the primary Batman canon, the Joker's origin isn't entirely clear.  The Wikipedia has a quote from TKJ in which the Joker comments on how, as far as his past is concerned, he'd like it to be multiple choice.  It also has other scenarios besides TKJ and The Brave and Bold (which I added earlier today).

Any comments?

Two Green-Technology News Articles

Here are a couple of articles I found on Wired at various points this week pertaining to Green technology.

The first one is about electric cars. Ford's first EV isn't going to be a car (which would require an infrastructure of recharge stations that don't yet exist), but fleet trucks. In theory, those would require fewer recharge points. Cost of additional power vs. cost of gas could be an issue though.

Here's an article about using compressed air in old mine shafts to generate power.

Clever. Very clever. I would have never thought of that myself. The fact it requires power to make power (compressing the air prior to release it) seems a bit difficult, but if the compressing is done during off-peak times and the release is done during peak times, there'd be a net profit.

(Peak power is pricier. Try saying that five times fast.)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Another Productivity Update

Brought Chapter Three of Escape from the Wastelands before my Kennesaw writing group today.

This got interesting, as most of the discussion ended up being centered around the larger story and not the specific chapter (much to my initial irritation).  Most relevant was the lack of emotional connection most of the group members felt to the side characters, who die by the barrel in this chapter, as well as to the protagonist himself.

That's a problem.  That's a big problem, particularly since characterization is one of my big weaknesses.

Ergo, it's back to the drawing board.  My plan thus far is to introduce a new chapter between Chapter Two and Chapter Three, in which Carroll Town (the protagonist's hometown) prepares for war with the Flesh-Eating Legion.  This way, I can give the audience more time to get attached to the cannon-fodder before I kill them off and to the protagonist himself, who I intend to keep around for awhile.  I can bring that before the Kennesaw group on 3/20 and the Lawrenceville group on 3/28.

(The next Lawrenceville meeting is 3/14, but the third draft of Chapter Two is slated for that meeting.  I'll finish the revisions on that one and post to to the group's web-site tomorrow.)

I might also expand Chapter One to have someone else hunting alongside Andrew, perhaps his friend Sam Cotton who we meet in Chapter Three, after the Flesh-Eaters destroy the Carroll Town militia.

In the event "new Chapter Three" is not ready by 3/13 (deadline to submit for 3/20), I'll submit "Coil Gun" again.  John Joseph Adams told me he'd like to see more of my writing and Interzone hasn't responded even though I sent it to them in November.  It might be prudent to tinker with "Coil Gun" one last time.

("Picking Up Plans In Palma" is still under consideration by Analog.  That's one of my best stories--the best in terms of characterization--and if it gets picked up by Analog or Asimov's, where I intend to send it if Analog rejects it, that would be so awesome.)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Productivity Update

So here's the latest productivity update...

The writing group I'm a member of in Lawrenceville met last Sunday and we discussed the second chapter of "Escape from the Wastelands."

I've made some revisions to it based on their suggestions, mostly to make it clearer that our hero Andrew Sutter, though an inexperienced youth at this point, still has the inner backbone that foreshadows how he will eventually become something resembling Stephen King's Gunslinger (this analogy is from my Kennesaw writing group).

My Kennesaw writing group will also meet this coming Saturday. I have already received some critiques from them via e-mail and made revisions to make the overall situation (the defeat of the village militia by the Flesh-Eating Legion of N'Mur) more threatening to the hero. 

This required rewriting a scene where he and another young man flee up an arroyo to escape an enemy flanking manuever.  Now the other young man is wounded, Andrew loses part of an ear to gunfire, and an enemy catches up with them, necessitating another fight scene.  Hopefully it will meet the approval of the other board members, two of whom have served in the military and thus know what they're talking about.

Further revisions to both chapters will be made in the coming days. I've got a bunch of chores to get too first, though.  If only clothes could iron themselves...

Also, I have completed all the remaining chapters of my last Harry Potter fan-fiction story "Lord of the Werewolves" and e-mailed them to my co-writer Kyli Ann Rasco, who lives in California. I posted the most recent chapter last night.  Hopefully we'll have the entire story posted by early next week.

Here's the actual story:

Lord of the Werewolves

As part of my earlier HP project "The Wrath of the Half-Blood Prince," I joined the HP site FictionAlley to get ideas and discuss with like-minded people.

One thing I discovered is that a lot of HP fans really did not like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  One of their better arguments was the underuse of Lupin and Tonks.  All they did in the book was get married, have a baby, and die.  Die offscreen, no less.

There was a lot more potential to both characters than this.  Lupin was a werewolf but, unlike most of his fellows who swore allegiance to the werewolf terrorist Fenrir Greyback in revenge for poor treatment by wizarding society, still remained on the side of Good.  Tonks was an Auror (a fighter of evil wizards), a shape-shifter, and was kin to some of the ruling families on the side of Evil (her mother was the sister of Voldemort's lieutenant Bellatrix Lestrange and had been cast out of the family for marrying a wizard born to ordinary parents).

Plus the book made Lupin look like a complete weakling.  He bails on Tonks when she's pregnant, thinking their child would be better off without him, then goes back to her after being chewed out by Harry.  When you're 38 years old and your dead best friend's surly teenage son lectures you about morality and is right, you've got a problem.

So Kyli and I put our heads together and devised a story that would get more use out of the characters and avoid the excesses of canon (in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Tonks gets overcome with emotion after seeing a character refusing to abandon her fiancee after Greyback disfgures him and publically proclaims her love for Lupin, embarassing him, while I've already discussed DH).

When that is done, I'll finish up the "Revenge of the Fallen Reboot" and then no more fan-fiction.  All creative efforts will be devoted to "Escape from the Wastelands" and other original projects.