Friday, May 28, 2010

Productivity Update and Thoughts on Screenwriting

Just submitted my espionage/SF short story "Picking Up Plans in Palma," which is set in my Afrikaner alternate-history universe, to Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show.  Made some revisions to it, including removing some passive voice where appropriate and toning down some of the language to meet IGMS's content standards.

Said content standards include no sexual content likely to garner more than a PG-13 rating and no language that would get an R.  There does not appear to be a content-standard for violence, which is probably where my story is the worst offender. 

(A character gets detained at gunpoint and tortured, shoots another character twice, gets in a running gun battle with some police, buries his thumb into an armed frogman's eye, and to top it off, is attacked by a bull shark.)

As far as sexual content was concerned, two characters being in a sexual relationship (but not married) was a major plot point but nothing is depicted (beyond them being in bed together), so there shouldn't be any problems there.  I replaced the F-bomb with some lesser profanities or no profanity at all to meet the language standards, which is probably where my story conflicted with the content standards the worst.

Response time: Three months.  The story had gotten rejected by several of the higher-end markets like Analog and Asimov's, but several of the rejection letters were personalized.  Getting better and better.   :)  It's the first time I've submitted a piece of short fiction anywhere since March.

Yesterday, I had the notion that Palma might make a good film.  It's got the best character development of all my short fiction, at least where the protagonist is concerned, plus it doesn't lob expository bombs at the reader to explain why this world is different from our own. 

The only problem I can think of is that it covers too short of a time period--around an hour of real time--to adapt directly into a film.  I'd probably need to write some additional material covering the relationship between intelligence-analyst Connor Kelly and his Afrikaner emigre lover Katje de Lange (which would take place before he goes in-country) and probably covering her unhappy familial situation back home (her brother has joined the ideologically-extremist group driving the Afrikaner Confederation toward the eventual World War III with the United States and her emigration has estranged her from other family members).  That'd elaborate on the other characters--one member of the Lawrenceville group said other than Connor, the characters were flat--and take up more running time.

Perhaps I should get hold of the film Fatherland.  It's an alternate-history film (based on a novel by Robert Harris, IIRC) that drops the viewer directly into a 1964 where the Nazis turned back D-Day and managed to turn the tables on the Russians and are now trying to make peace with the US.  That could help me figure out how to explain the world without boring the viewer to death with history lessons.

(Based on reviews on Amazon, it seems there's some kind of opening montage with a voice-over.  Perhaps I could do something like the opening map-sequence of Enemy at the Gates featuring the expansion of the Afrikaner Confederation as opposed to the expansion of Nazi Germany.)'s an outline.  The opening montage with the map and voice-over, then the agent Bernstein hiding the titular plans in a public bathroom in the city of Palma before being shot by Afrikaner security goons, Connor getting the assignment, Connor "visiting" Katje and momentarily discussing her familial situation, a scene showing her father arguing religion and politics with her brother back home, an Indiana Jones-style map sequence showing how Connor got into the Confederation, and then we pick up with him going into the bathroom (the beginning of the actual story).  No flashback sequences for expository purposes, unlike the short story.

Sound good?

Wrote some additional material for Escape from the Wastelands while waiting for a friend to pick me up for my church's retreat last weekend.  Most of it covers the beginning of Chapter Six, in which Andrew and some of his friends attempt to contest the Flesh-Eater entry into Carroll Town (at the cost of most of their lives).  There's some material I inserted into Chapter Five, which elaborates on the political situation in the empire of the antagonist Grendel and just how much of an SOB he is.

(Given how Grendel brought peace to an area torn by warlordism for decades if not centuries, I expect some readers will think him the hero and Andrew--who will eventually bring him down--as the villain, the way some people think the Rebels of Star Wars and the Varden of Eragon are jeopardizing the peace and well-being of the common folk and provoking atrocities by not submitting to the villain's rule.  Grendel pondering a plan to backstab one of his vassals and replace the man with his son with the captive sister of the former ruler of the area will be a nice "Kick the Dog" moment.)

I'm not going to inflict Chapter Five on my Kennesaw group a third time (we're discussing it on Saturday), but I'll probably send it to the Lawrenceville group, since they've only seen it once.  After tomorrow, I'll try to finish Chapter Six for the next Kennesaw meeting.

Fallen behind some on The Revenge of the Fallen Reboot, since Escape takes precedence over fan-fiction.  In terms of the story, I'm at the equivalent of the point in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen where Sam and Mikaela have their talk about how perhaps it's too dangerous for her to be involved with him.  This is even more blatant in this story than in the actual film, since Mikaela, her dad, and Agent Simmons were briefly abducted by Starscream, who hoped to use them as hostages.

(In the film, it was Sam on the receiving end of most of the Decepticon shenanigans, to the point of coming either close to death or being killed off for real and then being resurrected.  Mikaela got mussed some, but wasn't in the same kind of peril she was in my story.  Upping the danger to her makes it clearer Sam is unselfishly concerned for her well-being when he makes his remarks about her being with him being dangerous.)

Still haven't figured out how to get the the college-age cast (Sam, Mikaela, Leo) to North Africa for the final showdown.  I'm thinking that perhaps the attempt to defend the Fallen's tomb against the Decepticons goes worse than planned and so they have to rush the reinforcement of the site.  The kids could get bundled onto the airplane by mistake in all the hubbub and it wouldn't be implausible.

Hmm...Simmons, being primarily an intelligence type, shouldn't be there either, but I did want to keep the scene from the film where he calls in naval gunfire on Devastator.  Perhaps he sees the kids being dragged onto the plane and chases after them, only to get stuck on the plane himself?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"The New Daughter" Trailer

Saw the poster for this at the Blockbuster the other day while renting the first episodes of True Blood: The Complete Second Season .

On one hand, the fact that Kevin Costner is now headlining a direct-to-video horror movie does not appear to bode well for his career, despite having won Academy Awards and other honors in the past.

On the other hand, this direct-to-video film is based on the short story "The New Daughter," which appears  in Nocturnes, an anthology of horror fiction by the Irish writer John Connolly.  I read the book back when I lived in Marietta and there are some very good stories in it. 

One of them, "The Erlking," even inspired me to put some allusions to Angela Carter's short story of the same name in one of my lesser novel ideas (basically a space-opera potboiler that might not ever see the light of day).  That one was pretty darn good and descriptive in its own right.  Another story, one about clowns, creeped even me out, and that's saying something.

So I might watch this movie, to encourage more films to be made off short stories.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Jonah Hex" Trailer

Here's the trailer for Jonah Hex, which comes out in mid-June.

Jonah Hex is based one of the lesser-known DC comics characters.  It looks like they've changed his origin story a bit, based on how he gets the facial scarring.

I think the movie looks rather cool.  It's a fantasy Western with a protagonist with supernatural powers blowing things up and seeking revenge, all with steampunk-style uber-guns.  Definitely going to see this one.

Now I guess I can see if Megan Fox really can act or if she's just a pretty face.  I've only seen her in the Transformers movies, in which she played a high-school girl.  She apparently had a similar role in Jennifer's Body, which I did not see.

Playing a high-schooler when one is in one's early 20s doesn't seem too difficult.  She seemed to pull it off well enough in Transformers, although I've heard Jennifer's Body was rather bad.  Playing an 1880s heavily-armed hooker is an entirely different matter.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Introducing...The Dragon

In the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf ,the titular hero's third and final enemy is a dragon, which he defeats at the cost of his own life.

Since I'm trying to tie in "Beowulf" with the sage of Andrew Sutter, whose tale will begin in Escape from the Wastelands and continue through several books, I needed three opponents for our hero. 

The first was the warlord Grendel who took his nom de guerre from a partial copy of "Beowulf" he found in a ruin.  The second, standing in for Grendel's mother, was a coalition of Grendel's sons waging an insurgency in their father's old homeland.

However, I hadn't fully nailed down the third opponent.  I mentioned several possibilities in an earlier blog entry, but I reviewed my "idea file" and those were for later stories that would cover the descendants of Andrew (or his sister Sarah).  I didn't have a third enemy for Andrew to die killing.

So I came up with a new one.  Decades after Andrew put down the revolt of Grendel's sons, long-sealed passes into the mountains north of the empire Grendel founded and Andrew took from him are blown open and new armies emerge from them to put an end to the post-apocalyptic technological renaissance that two generations of peace had brought about.

These armies are commanded, not by a human enemy, but an ancient artificially-intelligent war machine that had been dug up and managed to take control of the entire region and organize it into its own dominion.  Now, using ancient, forbidden weapons (possibly nukes?), it has blasted open the long-closed roads south and is moving out to rule the world.

The notion of an AI using armies of living soldiers is not entirely alien to speculative fiction.  The novel When Heaven Fell depicts most of the galaxy under the control of a cybernetic "Master Race" of AIs that entered the Milky Way 100,000 years ago and recruited armies from conquered species, including our own, to expand its control and eventually fight a new enemy that is strongly implied to have defeated them and has now coming calling.

Plus, if it turns out "the dragon" is really something resembling SkyNet, it could provide another hint as to just how a world technologically adept enough to build blacktop roads, use what I've hinted are M1 tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles for war, and revive dinosaurs and create creatures that never existed (the "rippers" occasionally seen in the early chapters of Escape) using genetic technology could get knocked back to roughly (American) Civil War levels of technology.

(Imagine the Terminator universe if the Russian counterstrike on the US destroyed SkyNet's communications links outside its bunker.  Cut off from surviving human troops it can deceive or machine units under its direct control, it sits there waiting for centuries until somebody finds the bunker and, not knowing it's there, plugs it back in.)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

In Support of Abortion Alternatives...

In the town of Milner near where I work, Rock Springs Church has established Melba's Manor, a home for unwed mothers.

My co-worker did the first story on Melba's Manor:

Rock Springs Church to open maternity home

However, I reported on when Mike Huckabee, one of the more successful 2008 Republican presidential candidates, came to speak at a fund-raiser for the manor:

Huckabee delivers pro-life message

In his speech, Huckabee revealed that Pastor Bennie Tate was the son of an unwed mother who chose not to abort him.  As Huckabee pointed out, it is one thing to oppose abortion but another thing to provide an alternative.  Most women who have abortions would rather not have had them and through Melba's Manor, Rock Springs Church has provided an alternative, at least for the few women it is able to serve with its current resources.

I call on all of you my readers to support Melba's Manor or organizations like it.  This is something that both pro-life and pro-choice people can do. 

The pro-lifers should support it because abortion isn't going away anytime soon and providing options for unwed mothers is a good way to prevent it; the pro-choicers should support it because (I think) the majority of them don't like abortion even if they think outlawing it would be the greater evil.  Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said abortion should "safe, legal, and rare," after all.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rand Paul Victorious in Kentucky

Rand Paul, son of 2008 Republican candidate Ron Paul, has just won the Kentucky Republican primary for the U.S. Senate race in November.

It's not clear who he will be facing on the Democratic side, as I don't think the results of that election are in yet.

As my friends know, I supported Ron Paul in 2008, writing a great many letters to likely primary voters in several states on his behalf.  One of them even wrote back.  His letter started out with "are you nuts" and accused Ron Paul of being some Perot-like figure, even though he repeatedly said he would not run on a third-party ticket.

As we all know, Paul ultimately lost, and lost badly (he won very few delegates and no states), but although he failed, the network the father established may well have helped the son out significantly.  The younger Paul's political opponents tried to make a big deal about how he was heavily supported by people from out of state, but that didn't seem to work this time.

All that remains to be seen now is if he can win in November.  That would be rather cool, as he represents the side of the Republican Party that is fiscally conservative and sticks to it, unlike the GOP of the Bush years that helped run up an ungodly amount of debt.  He also is a big fan of restricting government surveillance powers and improving citizens' privacy, something the GOP appears to have forgotten with the Patriot Act and the statist attitude that no honest citizen has anything to hide.

I wonder how the winning Democrat will campaign against him.  Paul's Republican opponent had a site called "Rand Paul's Strange Ideas" which tried to make him sound like a lefty moonbat.  It would be highly entertaining if the Democrat ended up trying to out-conservative him.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Federal Bill That Can Make You Disappear

My friend Brian was so kind as to inform me via Facebook of a new bill that would pose a grave threat to the civil liberties of American citizens.

Here's the link to the full bill:

Of particular note is this section here:


9An individual, or its coalition partners in which the individual has engaged, or which the individual has purposely and materially supported, consistent with the law of war and including a citizen of the United States, determined to be an unprivileged enemy belligerent under section 3(c)(2) in a manner which satisfies Article 5 of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War may be detained without criminal charges and without trial for the duration of hostilities against the United States  any authorization for the use of military force provided by Congress pertaining to such hostilities.
This would basically authorize things like detention of Jose Padilla--an American citizen who was taken off a plane at an airport and held incommunicado as an "enemy combatant "with ever-changing justification for several years until the federal government, faced with a Supreme Court challenge it could no longer avoid, deigned to file charges in a civilian court.

The U.S. Constitution was devised in part to prevent abuses like this, with such things like the right to habeus corpus, a speedy trial, etc.  It does not say "with the exception of terrorism."

If an American citizen is determined to be a member of al Qaeda, there exists a procedure already--try them for treason, for making war against the U.S. or providing aid and comfort to its enemies.  That is the legal, constitutional way of dealing with such people, and has already been applied to Adam Gadahn.  And, if the penalty is justified (it more than likely is), hang them.

This is the United States, not some banana republic.  No U.S. President, nor member of Congress or any government official whatsoever, has no right to make anyone disappear.

Those interested in making their voices heard about this abomination should go to and use it to write the president, their senators, and their local representative to keep this thing from even coming close to becoming law.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

$1 Trillion Spent on War on Drugs, To Little Overall Benefit

Found this online Friday.  This is likely to grind some people's gears big-time, but here goes...

I used to be a strong supporter of the War on Drugs, primarily due to the rather scary effects of PCP and other, harder drugs.

Then, when I was a senior in high school, I reached the conclusion that punishing non-violent drug offenders was just as morally bankrupt as punishing non-violent gun offenders (something I already opposed).  If you light up a joint in your basement or if you keep an AK-47 in your basement and it doesn't affect anyone else, it is nobody's business but yours.

Furthermore research confirmed my position.  Particularly galling is the fact that the drug war has been used to enable police abuses--if an officer finds drugs on your property, even if someone else put them there (say, some pothead toking up on your property when you're not there), they can confiscate your property and due-process doesn't apply, since it's allegedly the property being punished and not the person.

Here are some articles about the abuses of asset-forfeiture laws, typically done as the result of the war on drugs:

Even worse is when the drug-war laws allow unethical government agencies to deliberately destroy people by framing them for involvement in the drug trade, something that's much easier than, say, framing them for illegally dumping toxic waste or for murder:,0,6051682.story

(Lest anyone think otherwise, the above portion is not an attack on law-enforcement officers who are ethical and do not abuse their positions--the majority of the profession.  They are the thin blue line protecting decent folk from the hooliganry and it is in the interest of the police profession as a whole to end the WoD, both to prevent abuses of it from tarring their good name and to enable them to focus on things that are a greater danger to the community.)

One thing in the article in particular stuck out at me:

"To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven't made any difference is ridiculous," (former drug czar John P.) Walters said. "It destroys everything we've done. It's saying all the people involved in law enforcment, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It's saying all these people's work is misguided."

Is the government's Herculean effort to eradicate illegal drug use in this country so weak that mere criticism can "destroy everything we've done"?  Given the vast amounts of effort spent on it, the vast leviathans of governmental and law-enforcement power brought to bear on the problem, that's pretty pathetic if it's true.

(It's not.)

Furthermore, criticizing the drug war is not the same as criticizing drug treatment and prevention.  I don't think anyone sane who opposes the drug war also opposes telling kids not to start doing drugs or treating people who are addicted. 

Drug use is a destructive, nasty thing that ruins lives and in many cases kills people.  In an earlier Facebook note, I suggested making schoolkids watch the films Requiem for a Dream and Alpha Dog to open their eyes to the brutal reality of drug addiction and dealing.  Especially Requiem--that movie is scary.

My concern is that the cure is worse than the disease, especially given the abuses that it has enabled and the mind-bogglingly vast financial cost. 

And thirdly, Walters' argument comes off as really politically-correct.  "Don't say that, it's offensive!"  Other than his opening sentence, he makes no attempt to defend the drug war on factual grounds--instead, he resorts to claims that this is insulting to everyone who has tried to fight drug abuse.

Since I don't like to criticize without offering a solution, here is an idea:

The way the government deals with alcohol (destructive if overused) and cigarettes (destructive in general, and more addictive than some illegal drugs) might be better--regulate and tax to reduce the harm and generate revenue and use some of that revenue fund prevention and treatment efforts.

This could serve as a means of replacing the revenues law-enforcement agencies might lose if the drug-war-spawned asset-forfeiture ends. 

After all, legalizing and taxing marijuana alone could generate $40 billion to $100 billion per year.

Imagine all the money currently flowing to the drug gangs instead flowing into the local, state, and federal governments.  That's a veritable river of cash that can be used to close the deficit, pay down debt, keep other taxes low, and invest in worthwhile projects.

Dumping on Mexico

I got a couple of comments on the farm subsidies article, which was posted on my friend Fred's blog "Seeking Liberty," and when I went to read them, I found that Wordpress automatically generates links that readers of blog articles might be interesting.

So I found this one here:

It elaborates on the point I made about "dumping" subsidized crops on Mexico, which undermine Mexican farmers that cannot compete with them because they can't get the same kind of subsidies our farmers can.

No comments in the article about illegal immigration--one logical consequence of Mexican (and I believe other Central American) farmers not being able to make a living anymore and understandably not wanting to starve to death--but some people in the comments section pointed this out.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Intertextuality and "Escape from the Wastelands"

Purchased Beowulf: A New Verse Translation (Bilingual Edition) from a local bookstore yesterday, probably the first new book I've purchased in years. 

(Thanks to's ZShops and, it's easy to find books I wanted used for much less.)

I intended to use it to add intertextuality to my novel Escape from the Wastelands, which will hopefully make it deeper and more financially successful.  Thus far, I've read read some of the introduction, but based on some passages quoted, I've already gotten some ideas for the early career of antagonist Grendel Black.

Grendel (the monster) is described as being a creautre from the moors.  Grendel Black's homeland is in the northwestern part of the world of Escape and I've given little thought to its geography other than making it somewhat similar to Scandinavia.  I think I'll add some moors there and make it so that he hid in the moors after his family was killed in a clan war.  In an Old World (pre-apocalyptic) ruin in the moors, he found a partial copy of Beowulf and, having read about the fell deeds of Grendel, took the name for himself.

(A member of the Lawrenceville writing group suggested this be a name he adopted for himself and this seemed like a sensible suggestion.)

The moors will also be Grendel's base for his early career as a mercenary and "regulator" (an Old West term for a hired gun cattle barons used to protect their herds), paralleling Grendel's raids on Heorot from the moors.

In the long run, the three-parted aspect of Beowulf can also provide a basis for the career of my protagonist, Andrew Sutter.  Andrew will first defeat Grendel himself (the planned first four books).  Then he will defeat an insurgency led by Grendel's sons in his old homeland (analogous to the Sunni Triangle in Iraq), with the land itself being an analogy for Grendel's mother.

The third foe, analogous to the dragon and like the dragon faced many years later, Andrew will beat but die in the process.  Not sure who that foe will be--I had pondered a cross-dimensional invasion (enemies more technologically advanced but significantly few in number--think the time-traveling South Africans of The Guns of the South, who aid the Confederacy but then betray it), one of Grendel's generals who had been turned into a vampire, or even a falling-out with the allies who helped make Andrew Emperor in Grendel's place.

(Considering how Beowulf ends on a rather ominious note--without Beowulf, the Geats have no king to protect them from their gathering enemies--the possibility of a renewed war and the fragile post-apocalyptic civilizational renaissance ending is nice and dark.)

I've been feeling a bit under the weather lately (had what might have been an attack of food poisoning early Wednesday morning), so I might sign off, lie down, and read more of Beowulf.  Then I'll have more of substance to add to this.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Productivity Update

I just added a new chapter to The Revenge of the Fallen Reboot, which I had allowed to sit unupdated for nearly a month.  The lead-up to the great battle in Morocco in which Megatron attempts to free the Fallen from his tomb (under Jbel Toubkal, a mountain near Marrakesh) and Starscream makes his bid for power has begun...

Unfortunately, I'm rapidly approaching an impasse.  In the film, Sam, Mikaela, and Leo end up in Egypt when Jetfire creates a "space bridge" (some kind of wormhole) and takes them there.  Since I replaced the "wake up Jetfire in a museum" plot with the plot I remember from the original Transformers animated series (Starscream digs Jetfire out of a glacier), this isn't going to happen.

At present, my plan to get the kids to Morocco (to have them there for the final battle, like in the movie) involves them accidentally getting swept onto an American military aircraft that's headed there.  Thing is, unless the soldiers boarding the aircraft are in a VERY big hurry, they'd get noticed and put off the plane.  I'm disinclined to have them stow away, lest Sam get "Flanderized"* into someone mindlessly self-sacrificing to the point of being a suicidal idiot.

(*A TVTropes term in which one character trait gets amplified to a ridiculous degree.  It comes from Flanders turning more and more into a religious zealot to the exclusion of other traits in The Simpsons.  It could also be applied to Quagmire's sexual perversity, which was less pronounced earlier in Family Guy.)

After all, I already had him attempt to trade himself to the Decepticons for a kidnapped Mikaela, Mr. Banes, and Simmons, in a move that other characters and readers recognized was idiotic to an extreme.

Any ideas?  I've only got six chapters left and hopefully I'll be able to finish it before July.

Also, I posted an author's note in The Wrath of the Half-Blood Prince that both provides a glimpse of what the Potterverse would look like 17 years after Voldemort's (permanent) defeat in that world's 1979 and linked back to this blog.  The note serves a dual purpose of expending my last ideas pertaining to that story and (hopefully) attracting more readers here, since this blog did not exist in 2008 when I wrote "Wrath."

My final piece of non-original work is another alternate version of the Draka timeline on my alternate-history forum.  In the novel Under the Yoke (second in the original trilogy), there's a scene where a Draka character states that if the Domination didn't have atomic weapons, the United States could have forced them out of Europe and Eastern China, which the Draka conquered in that timeline's version of WWII.

Thing is, the Draka's primary ability to threaten the North American mainland is via submarine and the Alliance for Democracy is dominated by the US, Britain, and Japan, all of whom have extensive naval-warfare experience.  The Alliance nuclear arsenal is also more powerful and more advanced than that of the Draka.

So, I figured in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Alliance could have launched a successful nuclear first-strike on the Domination, using their superiority in aircraft and ships to destroy the Draka sea-based nuclear deterrent before it could do significant damage.  It's improbable they could sell a "war to the death" to their electorates so soon after WWII, but driving the Draka back to their pre-war start lines with the aid of the still-not-entirely-enslaved populations of Eurasia would be an easier sell.

But after the war, with "frontline" Alliance states like Britain, India, and Japan taking worse nuclear damage than the US and the Domination truncated and with its ruling-class and slave-soldiery taking a severe beating, the Alliance might well weaken or even dissolve.  And the Draka, descended from history's losers, might well be inclined to revenge...

(Plus I'm thinking that post-Draka Europe might well be dominated by Communists and other extreme leftists and form a third power-bloc.  That'd be a real downer ending there--the rump Alliance and the resurgent Draka blast each other to bits and the world ends up going Red.)

Here's the link: Limited Alliance-Draka War.

I may update the timeline later tonight.  Right now, it's gotten 550+ hits on and considering how I've been posting blog posts there as well as on Facebook, I think I'm recruiting more and more of them as readers.

Now, as far as original fiction is concerned, I have submitted Chapter Five of Escape from the Wastelands to my Kennesaw writing group.  I have already tweaked it based on some comments received from two of my fellow writers.

Given my decision to get some serious intertextuality going with Beowulf, I think I might order a copy of the actual epic and see what I can glean from it.  Dan Simmons' Ilium and Olympos got a whole lot of critical acclaim through intertextuality with the Iliad and Shakespeare, so perhaps intertextuality with Beowulf will raise my planned post-apocalyptic-paperpack series to new levels of credibility (and hopefully, when the time comes, higher sales and movie deals).

I have also just gotten a rejection slip from Asimov's for my short story "Picking Up Plans in Palma," which takes place in my Afrikaner universe.  This rejection slip was rather different from older rejections I've gotten from that magazine.  It's still a form letter, but my name is handwritten into the salutation, editor Sheila Williams signed it herself, and the letter states that the story is "not quite right" but they'd like to see more fiction from me.

Considering how "Palma" is basically an alternate-history spy story with only vague science-fiction content (the "MacGuffin" of the story is plans for an orbiting battle-station and a character fears having an orbital projectile dropped on him), I think if I can get something as good as "Palma" that's more explicitly SF, I might have a good chance of selling it.


Another "Predator" Film--"Predators."

I read about this one in Entertainment Weekly at the gym (I think).  It's called Predators and is another film set in the Predator franchise.

(No surprise based on the titles, eh?)

Here's the trailer:

Adrien Brody as an action hero? That could be interesting. He did a fair bit of that in King Kong.

Also, this one is apparently a direct sequel to Predator, skipping over all the of the sequels.  I think Robert Rodriguez intends this one to be a reboot of the franchise.  Given the titular resemblance to Aliens, that would make sense.

I personally didn't mind the two Aliens vs. Predator films, considering how often the two faced off in comics and in written fiction, but it would have been better to set those in the future.  Most of the AvP stuff involved human settlers on other worlds and never actually came to Earth.

Comment and spoiler, even though this came from Wikipedia:

The notion of a human who'd been abducted and survived in hiding for years reminds me of a movie I saw on UPN many years ago when I was probably in middle school.  It was called Death Ring and was a hunting-humans thriller in the vein of "The Most Dangerous Game."  There was a character who managed that by luring an earlier group of hunters into a quicksand pit, lived in the jungle for several months, and helped the protagonist face off against a new group of hunters.

Not sure if Rodriguez borrowed the concept or came up with it on his own.  Given how Death Ring is a B-movie starring the relatives of famous action stars and probably didn't get seen by that many people, it was probably the former, but who knows what films Rodriguez appreciates.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Something Funny, Especially for My Female Readers

The following image got posted on my friend Katherine's Facebook wall.  I figure you all would get a laugh out of it, especially the readers who are female and read Cosmo-type magazines (or disdain them).

I posted this on my Internet forum and apparently it came from Cracked.  So that proper credit is given, here's the link:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

New Diet Very Helpful to Autistic Fellow

My co-worker Thomas wrote this article about a young man with autism who, after going on a drastically altered diet, became essentially (no offense) "normal."  He made his diet the center of his Eagle Scout project.

I'm not going to claim to be an expert on autism, but given the drastic nature of the results, going on a similar diet (no gluten, casein, egg, and soy) might be very beneficial for those with the disorder.  I do not know if it would work in all cases, but it seems to have worked very well with Mr. Cannon.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

DragonCon 2009 S.M. Stirling Interview

When I was at DragonCon 2009, I went to a seminar by noted author S.M. Stirling.  This blog did not exist at the time, so I posted my thoughts on meeting him at my alternate history forum (where Stirling was a member, prior to getting banned after a tiff with the administrator).  I realized this evening that my readers would appreciate celebrity interviews, so here I go...

His panel primarily focused on the first three "Emberverse" novels (Dies the Fire, The Protector's War, and A Meeting at Corvallis).

Here're some facts I learned about the Emberverse:

*For starters, the series could have been set in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia because its geography is similar to the Williamette, but he wanted to be as far away from Nantucket (site of the Island in the Sea of Time novels) as possible and he thought it was too close to the big cities that would become death zones when electricity and other modern technologies stopped functioning.

*There is an Emberverse story set in Russia in Warriors, an anthology by Tor books.  An review says the story is entitled "Ancient Ways" and features "a Cossack and a Kalmyk warrior join(ing) forces to rescue a princess from the city of Astrakhan."  I remember him saying (I think on that in Mongolia, they're cutting arrowheads out of old rail lines and thinking about how they really don't like Chinese or Russians, so there might be a new Mongol horde in the works.

*The publisher of the Emberverse books is interested in a shared-world DTF anthology, but not in August 2009.

*He also said he visited Nantucket Island for several weeks and all the skill-sets mentioned in the Nantucket books are there--this was in response to reader criticism that the Nantucketers had everything they needed to survive when their island is transported back to the Bronze Age (the plot of Island in the Sea of Time).

*He said Sony has inquired about a Dies the Fire miniseries, with each season being one year. His agent is discussing a DTF web-comic that would be turned into a graphic novel.  He warned, however, that writers below J.K. Rowling's level don't get creative control. Creative consulting is the best most writers get.

(A DTF miniseries would be so cool.)

*He said the lesbian assassin girl from DTF's name is pronounced "Ti-Phane," not "Tiffany."  It's spelled "Tiphaine."

*It is possible he will return to the Nantucketverse, but right now he is a little busy. He has three Emberverse books planned (The High King of Montival, Tears of the Sun, and The Given Sacrifice) and a new series whose first book is entitled A Taint in the Blood, which based on selections on his web-site is about vampires.

I did ask him some questions, during the panel and afterward.  Here goes:

1. The reason for the confusing titles of Protector's War and Meeting at Corvallis was he originally intended for the PW to start much earlier in the second book than it did.

2. Signe Havel's conversion to neo-paganism between A Meeting at Corvallis and The Scourge of God was the result of an "epiphany." He said she no longer fears an attempt by Rudi Mackenize (her late husband's illegitimate son) to take over the Bearkillers (the neo-feudal power her husband Mike Havel founded and over which she rules as regent for their son) and in any event, her faith is not the same sort of Juniper's.

(Making Signe Havel a Norse pagan seemed rather abrupt and strange.  I had figured, since Rudi is a Wiccan, she would stay a Christian and encourage the Bearkillers to adopt the faith in order to make it so Rudi would have problems usurping power from her son with Mike.)

3. The Walker clan are troublemakers in the Emberverse as well as the Nantucketverse. There is a "General Walker" who serves the Church Universal and Triumphant (an anti-technology cult commanded by the Unabomber, who escaped prison during the Change, took charge of the cult's in-case-of-the-apocalypse compound, and created a horse-archer army) as well as the villian William Walker in Island in the Sea of Time.

4. In Drakon, it's mentioned that the Draka and Samothracians (the descendants of the defeated Americans) sent colony fleets to one solar system and the two fleets fought it out, but it's never said what happened next. Stirling said the Samothracians won because they had a better ship.  Also, the Samothracian assault on the Draka-ruled solar system that is mentioned in the book changed little in the overall strategic balance of power.

I also learned some stuff about the man himself.  At one point in his life, he was a bouncer.  It's not like being in the film Road House. Mostly it's having drunks puke on you.  He ended up quitting after two days.  At one point, he also living in a shoddy apartment with a hole in the floor over a pair of transvestite hookers.  That couldn't have been fun.

He's also diabetic--if things go to pot (as depicted in many of his stories), he dies.

Monday, May 3, 2010

My Forays Into Podcasting and Web-Comics

In many ways, I have already entered the Internet Age.  I've got a blog, for starters, while my first experience writing for an audience larger than my relatives and my peer group was writing fan-fiction for the television show Prey, which I watched in middle school.

(Debra Messing played the female lead, then when the show failed, went on to star in Will and Grace.  Good for her.)

That, plus the fact that my first two finished novels--at least in terms of word count--were alternate-universe Harry Potter fan-fiction.

However, I'd never listened to a podcast before.  My friend Nick had a podcast entitled "Pizza, Pop Culture, and Prayer" based on a Catholic Sunday school class he taught, but I never got around to listening to it.  And now I've searched iTunes for it and it is no longer there, so I guess I'm SOL.

Friday, my friend Daryl came to visit and when he found I had not listened to his advice and downloaded the podcast "Writing Excuses," he took over my computer-chair and subscribed me himself, which got me an episode dealing with "breaking the fourth wall" (when a character addresses the audience, like in the end of Ferris Bueller's Day Off  or Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves).

That episode was not especially helpful, beyond an interesting tip about idiomatic expressions in certain cultures (the French and Korean equivalents of "speak of the devil and he shall appear" deal with wolves and tigers, respectively, but the sentiment is the same).

However, I took a look at older "Writing Excuses" podcasts and there's a whole lot of interesting stuff there.  I ended up downloading 16 of the older podcasts available on iTunes.  The web-site has ones even older than that, although I don't know if I'll be able to save them to iTunes and put them on my iPod.

I'll probably blog about the most interesting ones over the next few weeks.

I've also put some serious thought into webcomics.  Writing and publishing a book is hard; putting together a film is even more difficult.

However, hosting a web-comic is not all that intensive in terms of cost.  I'd need to buy a domain and hire an artist to put it together, but that wouldn't be all that expensive.

(Well, the domain name at least.  An artist, especially a good one, is going to be pricey.)

Which comic I create, should I seriously decide to create one, will depend on what caliber artist I can find.  Here are the options:

Abdul, Abdul, Abdul-It's a parody of Scooby Dooby Doo where a bunch of college students and a 30-something Arab doctor travel around the country in a van for whatever reason.  Since it's a comedy, I've got to come up with a lot of jokes, and thus far, I've only come up with three.

1. Poking fun at the stereotype of Arabs as terrorists or troublemakers by having Abdullah ("Abdul" is actually a prefix meaning "servant of" and nobody is actually named this--"Abdullah" means "servant of God" and is an actual Arab name) engaging in behavior that seems suspicious, only to be entirely innocuous.  For example, he's seen bundling strangers into the van and it turns out they're impoverished patients on whom he is operating for free.

2. The gang goes to Arizona.  Abdullah is suspected of being an illegal immigrant from Mexico and is nearly deported.  A bit of timely humor with Arizona's illegal-immigration bill, although the fact it's been amended to cut down on potential abuse ruins the humor a bit.

3. A promiscuous character has part of the back of the van curtained off and is constantly, ahem, entertaining guests there.  There is a scene where Abdullah has his prayer-rug spread in the back of the van so that he can pray toward Mecca while they're driving.  The, ahem, entertaining is getting so loud and obnoxious that he interrupts his prayers to swear at them and tell them to be quiet.

To make things even more funny or offensive, I'm imagining Abdullah looking like an older version of Gandhi from Clone High.

The Blasted Lands Cycle-I came up with the idea when I was in high school--I remember doodling a bunch of post-apocalyptic mercenaries in a Hummer facing off against a carnivorous dinosaur when we were watching The Neverending Story in Spanish class (in Spanish with English subtitles, IIRC) toward the end of the school year.

The premise is that there's a nuclear conflict between the US and a more militarized Europe on one side and a resurgent Russia and its anti-American allies in the other.  During the war, the Russians deploy an advanced weapon that they think will create an electromagnetic pulse over the United States.

Instead, it tears open a hole in space-time extending all the way back to the Age of the Dinosaurs.  As if the post-nuclear US doesn't have enough problems, now there are a whole bunch of dinosaurs roaming around.

The story follows a retired military type named Alex Wolf in service to a coalition of cities around the Gulf of Mexico that survived the conflict.  He loses his job as a result of some bureaucratic foolishness and is hired by a Cuban-American businessman to rescue his family from a gang of white supremacists, who have taken over an old prison in western Florida in alliance with a bunch of biker gangs and are holding his family for a ransom he cannot afford to pay.

So Alex, his Singaporean sidekick who was in the US when the war began and can't get home, and a bunch of other mercenary types leave Mobile and head into the Florida Panhandle, where they run into a group of survivors of the US military in the ruins of Pensacola trying to fend off waves of Haitian "boat people" settling the ravaged US (with the aid of a single Russian destroyer, far from home and up to no good) and various back-from-extinction unpleasantries.  And it turns out the white-supremacist warlord type murdered Alex's family some years prior, so there's going to be, in TVTropes terms, an "extreme melee revenge" in the final fight scene.

I went to Destin with my friend Nick and some of his friends from Ohio in the spring of 2006.  Given this was in the general area, I took a lot of notes.

Whether I go with this one depends on what caliber artist I can find.  If the art is cartoony-looking, that's no big deal for a comedy (look at, say, V.G. Cats), but hard to take seriously with a post-apocalyptic military epic.  An artist who can do the type of artwork I'm envisioning would be frightfully expensive to hire and might not be willing to go for a percentage of the money later.

So which one do you think sounds better?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

TSPLOST Awaits Governor's Signature

I refrained from blogging about this for awhile because I was writing an article for my paper on it and I'm not supposed to compete with my own company.  Now that article has run, I feel better blogging about it.

This thing has been going on since soon after I first started working for my newspaper.  I remember it failing by three votes at the last minute in 2008, which meant the amendment would not be up for a vote in 2010.  That was somewhat irritating, although it might well be a blessing in disguise.  In 2012, the economy will have turned around and the voters might be more willing to vote for a tax increase when times are good than when times are bad.  Plus, the way the tax is structured, getting the projects together for each region to vote on will take time.

For the record, since this is a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), it's not the same as a tax increase coming down from On High.  The people of the regions will vote directly to tax themselves (or not), on projects that are in their immediate area. 
One reason I support this is that it could provide a funding mechanism for passenger rail in Georgia.  Right now, there is an $87 million federal earmark to build and maintain passenger rail on the Southside for a few years.

(When the matter first came up, I think it was Atlanta-Lovejoy or Atlanta-Griffin for three years.  Now, since the current plan is Atlanta-Macon, it might not cover as long a period of time.)

Large-scale transit projects generally do not pay for themselves and thus require an outside source of funding.  This applies to roads, ports, and airports just as it does to large-scale passenger rail.  If I recall correctly, the only portion of the AMTRAK system that's self-sustaining is the northeastern line.

A regional SPLOST--although given the way the state is divided up, you'd need multiple regions involved--could be used to pay for the Atlanta-Macon line that's currently the first phase of Georgians for Passenger Rail's proposed network of passenger rail lines throughout the state.

Come 2012, it will be the task of rail advocates and those who support other necessary transportation improvements to convince the people of the regions to support the TSPLOST.  However, if gas prices return to their pre-Great Recession levels by then (they're trending upward now with the economy recovering), this will likely encourage people to support mass transit and other gas-saving solutions.  After all, hybrids and even full electric cars got a lot of attention when gas was $4 per gallon.

Though large-scale government projects seem antithetical to small-government conservatism, the state is facing a lot of transportation problems, particularly gridlock in the Metro Atlanta area.  If passenger rail was put in place, this would likely "thin out" traffic on the highways as people who do not need their car for work but live in the outlying areas will simply be able to take the train in and out of town.

(This could also make it easier for people to live in Atlanta itself and commute to jobs in outlying areas, although this would not be an option for me since I need my car for my job.)

Either way, that's less traffic on Atlanta roads, which will help with local air pollution and congestion.  Less demand for gasoline means lower gas prices as well.

Sometimes very big problems need very big solutions.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

An Unusual Addition to My Blog-Roll

All of the blogs on my blog listing up until this morning have belonged to people I know in real life, mostly friends from school or people I've come to know relatively recently.

"A Slightly Odd View of the the American Civil War" belongs to a member of my message board whose handle is 67th Tigers.  He takes a revisionist view of Union General George McClellan, defending him when most people criticize him.

(The orthodox view of McClellan is that he was overly cautious and erroneously believed the Confederates outnumbered him at critical points.  67th Tigers compares McClellan favorably to Grant, although I have not examined his arguments closely enough to deduce why.)

History is a science and therefore one should be ready to overturn old paradigms based on new data, but I tend to be leery of revisionist views in general due to the typical presence of a political axe to grind.

For example, the "revisionist" view of the Cold War became popular during and after the Vietnam War and was largely held by opponents of the war (and people opposed to US prosecution of the Cold War in general).  It seems to me that people took their conclusion (Vietnam War and anti-Communism, bad) and tried to fit the facts to the paradigm rather than basing their paradigm on facts.

However, 67th Tigers does have a whole lot interesting data on his blog concerning troop numbers, when particular units opened fire in particular battles, casualty ratios, etc.  Considering how my novel Escape from the Wastelands is roughly at a Civil War tech level (the exceptions being airships and the occasional pre-apocalyptic "Old World" weaponry), it would be prudent to have this resource available for research on the battle sequences.

Plus, maybe some of my blog-readers are Civil War enthusiasts.