Friday, April 29, 2011

My Harry Potter Fan-Fiction: Practice for Character Growth

In addition to getting my name out to hundreds if not thousands of potential readers, my fan-fiction has had another benefit--it has helped me practice character growth.

That's character growth, as opposed to character development.  The development is done by the original creators, but I, like many other fan-fiction writers, took the characters in different directions than they went in the actual books.  Character growth is important for writing--I've been taught that dynamic characters (characters that change) are better than static characters (who don't).  I imagine they're more interesting, at the very least.

Here're some examples from my non-original work:

The Wrath of the Half-Blood Prince

Severus Snape-The tale begins with Severus Snape at around 16, a nerdy, insecure Goth boy attracted to the Dark Side and somewhat clingy toward his female best friend, whom he has more than friendly feelings for.  He is also somewhat selfish--the only thing he cares about more than personal advancement is Lily Evans, the friend in question.  The events of the first chapter, in which he throws away the Death Eaters as a means of advancement to avenge an attack on Lily, show these priorities just as his submission to Dumbledore in order to protect Lily (and after some prodding, her husband and son) in the actual books did.

Although he never abandons his interest in the Dark Arts and retains some of his ends-justify-the-means Slytherin attitude (something that will prove useful in the coming war), his desire to avoid becoming his controlling, emotionally-abusive father and treating Lily as his father did his mother lead to him mastering his insecurities (the cause of his clinginess), while a new circle of friends and a new rivalry with his former friends Avery and Mulciber and Lucius Malfoy helps him "detox" from the racist and selfish attitudes fostered by the Death-Eater-dominated Slytherin House at the time.

He retains his introversion and intellectualism, but he overcomes his pettiness and propensity for vindictiveness to the point he protects his old rival James Potter from another member of the Order of the Phoenix whom he had taught the Dark Arts and who had gone insane after the death of his fiancee.  I figured shared service in the war against the Dark Lord would help heal the breach between him and the Marauders--from what I've read, fighting together can forge nigh-unbreakable bonds between people.

The Marauders-I went into this story primarily pondering Snape, but one of my readers on FictionAlley (a Harry Potter fan-fiction message-board) said that they really liked my Marauders (James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew).  They said they grew from "bullies into men of character" and I did this very well.

I figured this growth followed the canonical timeline--James Potter apparently developed from the Gryffindor equivalent of Draco Malfoy into a man who thrice defied the Dark Lord and won the heart of a woman who once scorned him as an arrogant thug, even though his canonical death left something to be desired.  Although *how* this took place in the books isn't described, I figured he would seek out the Order of the Phoenix due to his anti-Bloodist and anti-racist views (one of the young James' few virtues) and aggressive Gryffindor tendencies.  Service in the war would then force maturation upon him, as it often does.

Lily Evans-The young Lily is not well-developed in canon beyond the fact she was kindhearted and open-minded enough to befriend the impoverished and strange young Snape and later had the moral backbone cut ties with him (her first wizarding friend) when he had gone over to the Dark Side.  There is a line in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows suggesting she believes Dark Magic to be intrinsically evil.

However, when your enemy is willing to use lethal Dark Magic and you're not, that puts you at a military disadvantage.  Those who remember Lily recall her intelligence, so I figured she would conclude it is better to be willing to violate previously-held taboos in order to defeat an enemy that seeks the degradation or extermination of all her kind rather than be a Doomed Moral Victor (see TVTropes) and allow a wizarding terrorist with aspirations to immortality to win.  And she is basically moral enough for this violation of her conscience to take its toll--there is an entire chapter in which Snape tries to cheer her up after she uses Sectumsempra to kill a Death Eater menacing a wounded Snape and falls into guilt and sadness.  While Snape abandons his excessively-pragmatic Slytherin thought processes to a great extent, Lily stops being counter-productively rigid and moralistic.

Lord of the Werewolves

Remus Lupin-At the beginning of "Lord of the Werewolves," Lupin is his canonical self.  He's someone who is basically decent and physically brave, but a lifetime of social rejection has led him to appreciate his few friends overmuch and lack the moral courage to stand up to them or disappoint them.  This we see in his teens, when he refuses to stop his friends from bullying Snape despite him being the prefect, and as an adult when he does not tell Dumbledore that Sirius Black, whom everyone has reason to believe is a Death Eater, is an Animagus because it would show Dumbledore that he and the others had abused his trust to commit a crime (Animagi are supposed to be registered with the government).

However, Lupin has a dark side that can be roused when those close to him are wronged, something we see in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when he and Sirius have the treacherous Peter Pettigrew at their mercy.  Sirius rages, but Lupin coldly informs Peter they're going to kill him.  In "Lord," when Tonks is injured, denied medical treatment because her husband is a werewolf, and ultimately miscarries, there is no Harry to stop Lupin from unleashing "the wolf" and the prejudiced Healers die like Pettigrew would have.

Forced to take refuge with werewolf terrorist Fenrir Greyback, the one who infected him with lycanthropy in the first place, Lupin falls under his influence.  Though Lupin has enough basic morality to not adopt Greyback's vengeful attitude and werewolf-supremacist belief system no matter what atrocities Greyback forces him to commit, living in the werewolf colony cannot help but be an influence on his character.  He tones down the self-loathing and becomes more aggressive and decisive, something that manifests itself when he persuades Greyback to lycanthroprize rather than execute a captured Order member and then, during a Valentine's Day sexual encounter, wears out Tonks rather than the other way around.

This new attitude ultimately enables him to stand up to his friends in the Order of the Phoenix when he executes a Valkyrie-style coup in the werewolf colony, unleashes the werewolves on the Death Eaters, and seizes control of the wizarding government while the final battle against the Dark Lord rages at Hogwarts.

I don't think Nymphadora Tonks really has any character growth.  She went from her canonical spunky self into some very dark places due to her losing her baby, but eventually fully recovered.  I don't think she permanently changed, although the story does explore what goes on in her head during her "emo phase" (in which her hair is brown rather than pink and she mopes).

Hopefully I will be able to put these lessons to work in my original novel Battle for the Wastelands.  I have already depicted protagonist Andrew Sutter as a greenhorn hesitant to kill and grown him out of that--one has to in a wartime situation or else one will not survive.  The section I'm currently working on depicts the beginnings of him growing out of his childhood racism against "the trading folk," a nomadic Gypsy-like mercantile culture whose members he typically refers to as "pikeys" (a real-life slur against the Irish Travellers).

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Two More Alternate History Scenarios...

Here are a couple more alternate-history scenario from my message-board that some of you might find entertaining...

The first one is entitled Up With the Star, by the board member whose handle is Snake Featherston (an allusion to the Confederate Hitler-analogue Jake Featherston from Harry Turtledove's "Great War" novels--the first one is American Front, although Featherston does not achieve Hitlerian power until much later in the series).

The tale begins with Lincoln choosing General Benjamin Butler to be his Vice-President and Andrew Johnson to be his Secretary of State instead.  This means a different commander of the Army of the James and an earlier end to the Civil War that, among other things, sees black Union troops capturing General Lee and some other top Confederate commanders.  This leads to a different Reconstruction in which the Southerners grudgingly acknowledge pre-war free blacks and black soldiers from the Civil War as deserving of the rights of citizenship but pre-war slaves are not, a different World War I in which Hitler abandons much of his anti-Semitism due to the influence of a Jewish colonel who shares in his soldiers' suffering, and ultimately, a World War II where the instigator is a fascistic (but explicitly non-anti-Semitic) Russia under the command of General Lavr Kornilov, who rules through a puppet Czarina Olga (daughter of Nicholas II).

It's a really good, very detailed timeline and Snake is able to update it fairly often.  Plus I'll give Snake credit--he's one of the few people who has ever defeated me outright in an argument.

(It's about the democratic credentials, or lack thereof, of the Confederacy.  It wasn't just blacks being oppressed, who would have been oppressed anyway if the South hadn't seceded.  He knew a whole lot about Unionists and other Confederate citizens getting persecuted, white paramilitaries occupying legitimately-elected state legislatures, and other abuses.  Given how much cheating and shenanigans went on with the Confederate government, one could make the argument that the secession did not have democratic legitimacy even if there is a constitutional right to secede.)

The other scenario is The Caesariad by the user whose handle is EdT.  It's more of a short story with maps than a narrative timeline and it's really interesting.  Basically, although Julius Caesar's daughter Julia dies in childbirth per our history, her son with Pompey Magnus survives.  This keeps the Caesar-Pompey alliance together and "butterflies away" the civil war.  The main story begins with Caesar's grandson having just massacred a Germanic tribe to tighten Roman control of the region suddenly sensing that Julius is dead.  We then bounce to Mesopotamia where Caesar has just died of a stroke after defeating the Parthian king and pouring molten gold down his throat, in the same manner the king had killed Crassus, and securing Mesopotamia for Rome.

His commanders all squabble about who exactly Caesar's successor will be.  One of these commanders happens to be Caesar's grand-nephew Octavian, our history's Augustus...

Right now, it's in the pre-1900s forum and non-members can see it.  I'm going to suggest he do that if he intends to publish the story as a novel because in the general-access forum, it will count as "published" in many publisher's eyes.  If this was just a timeline, I wouldn't bother, but since this looks like it will become a novel, that's a different matter.  I've got to look out for my fellow writers, after all.

This means you all might have only a few hours to read it before you have to join the site.

In a post from several days ago, I linked you all to Europe of the Three Empires.  I think that the situation described in The Caesariad could, assuming Rome isn't permanently fragmented by various real or claimed children of Caesar fighting for dominance, lead to something resembling this scenario--Rome controls Germania and Mesopotamia and isn't likely to simply abandon it, given how it was conquered under the authority of the deified Julius Caesar.  Roman control of Germania eliminates one source of the barbarians who attacked in our history and provides a better border to defend against the rest; Roman control of Mesopotamia greatly weakens Persia, Rome's other great enemy.  Rome is not likely to be seriously challenged, but on the other hand, there could still be internal problems...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bad Anti-Christian Argument: Paul Didn't Believe in an Earthly Jesus

On my alternate-history forum, there was a discussion about what might have happened if Jesus had died in infancy.  From a historical perspective, this means no Christianity, period, which in turn spawns a multitude of other changes.

However, this derailed into a discussion about whether Jesus actually existed in the first place.  Although the Jesus Myth Theory is no longer as prominent as it was in the 19th Century, there are still some people who believe in it.

One of the arguments used by the JMT crowd is that the Apostle Paul did not believe in an actual Jesus who walked the Earth and instead believed in a Jesus whose sacrifice and resurrection took place in the spiritual realm.  Scholar Robert Price, according to the Wikipedia article, said the letters of Paul do not provide evidence of a historical Jesus, while George Albert Wells suggests Paul's Jesus was primarily a heavenly being.

Here's another link describing the "heavenly Jesus" theory in more detail:

Christ As "Man": Does Paul Speak of Jesus as a Historical Person?

Here's another:

Did Jesus Actually Exist?

However, this argument fails because Paul makes references to the earthly Jesus in several different contexts.

Jesus as a descendant of Abraham: Galatians 3:15-16 (ESV)

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, "And to your offspring," who is Christ.

Jesus as a physical descendant of King David: Romans 1:3 (ESV)

concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh.

Jesus born of a woman and subject to the Law of Moses: Galatians 4:4 (ESV)

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law. 

Jesus' institution of the Last Supper: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (ESV)

 23For  I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that  the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 25In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Jesus, like the Old Testament prophets, had been persecuted and killed: 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16

14For you, brothers,became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last

Jesus appeared to mortals after His resurrection: 1 Corinthians 15:1-6 (ESV)

3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.

Jesus had mortal brothers, who were married and whose wives traveled with them: 1 Corinthians 9:5 (NIV)

Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas?

And the Wikipedia article on the JMT contains other Pauline references to Jesus's earthly life that I did not include because they *could* be construed, however weakly, as not taking place on this earth.  I think those I did choose are enough to destroy the notion that Paul did not believe in a human Jesus.

Also, the Acts of the Apostles, which was written by Luke, describes how Paul was present when Stephen, the first martyr, was killed.  This takes place in Acts 6, which does not appear to be all that long after Jesus's ascension into heaven and Pentecost.  Even though Paul was not a Christian at this point, he would have likely at least had some familiarity with Jesus' earthly ministry.

This article here also finds parallels between Jesus' teachings and those of Paul, which should also nix those claims that Paul was using Jesus to advance his own ideas and that he was not familiar with the teachings of the earthly Jesus, a claim that is sometimes tied with the "heavenly Jesus" idea:

Pauline Theology: Jesus and Paul

Even if Christianity is not "the true religion" (and I would be dishonest if I did not say there are some things that have caused me to doubt in recent years), there are still a whole lot of really bad arguments against it.  If we're going to debate something with eternal implications (such as the veracity of Christianity), we should at least get rid of the foolish arguments on both sides.

(There are bad Christian arguments too, but those are not the focus of this blog post.)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Book Review: "The Greyfriar" (Spoilers)

I went to the local Barnes and Noble a couple of weeks ago with a Christmas gift-card burning a hole in my pocket.  I was primarily interested in purchasing a Blu-Ray disc of some kind, since I had recently gotten a Blu-Ray player.  I ultimately purchased The Phantom of the Opera but I also found a book that looked interesting entitled The Greyfriar (Vampire Empire, Book 1), by the husband-wife team of Clay and Susan Griffith.

The story tells the tale of a world in which in the late 19th Century, there was a gigantic assault of vampires on the centers of the industrialized nations.  The vampires took control of northern Eurasia and North America, driving these countries to relocate to tropical areas inhospitable for vampires--the British to Egypt, the Americans to Panama, and the Japanese to Southeast Asia.  I thought it looked interesting--steampunk, alternate history, and vampires.  And I haven't gotten a library membership in my new county yet, so I figured I might as well buy it.

So here comes the review...

The Good

The Griffiths do a good job describing the physical appearance of characters and machinery without boring the reader.  This is done via the use of action verbs-- think "the sailors scrambled up the gray sides of the airship, curving swords banging against their sunburned legs" rather than "the airship was gray and there were handholds on its sides.  The sailors wore white shorts and carried curving swords."

I've noticed Dean Koontz use that technique in his novel Watchers and the TVTropes entry for Dean Koontz describes how he writes lush scenery descriptions without boring the reader.  I think this is the secret.

I like the idea of vampires being humanity's predator and how they'd always existed in dark corners prior to some Great Man (well, Great Vampire) uniting all the "vampire clans" in order to literally take over the world.  I actually had an idea of my own when I was in high school involving a roughly-similar plot, only in the present-day.  The timeline was, to a large degree, a ripoff of S.M. Stirling's Draka novels (the vampires take Africa, use it as a base for further expansion, and enslave ordinary humans), but the timeline did feature a vampire Genghis Khan uniting disunited vampires in order to build an empire.

The book is never slow reading.  On a basic level, it is entertaining.

The Bad

I think there are parts of the background of the story needed a bit more elaboration.  Protagonist Princess Adele, though she has a younger brother, is repeatedly described as the heir to the throne of the remnant British Empire, whose capital is in Alexandria.  Given how irregular this would be, I think it should be described.  Since her political marriage to a prominent American is a major plot point, the possibility of a dynastic union between the "Equatorial Empire" and the United States might be a reason to put aside an inconvenient male heir, especially if he is very young.

Also, I think The Peshawar Lancers did the whole "surviving British Empire in its colonies" thing better.  For starters, even though the center of the British Empire has been relocated to India after a comet devastates the Northern Hemisphere, they still call it the British Empire.  However, owing to the Britons' assimilation into Indian culture, it's the Angrezi Raj.  In Greyfriar, the British Empire is simply called "the Equatorial Empire," which however sensible this is geographically, is a symbolic abandonment of their British identity.

Although the assimilation of the British is hinted at by Adele's mother being a Persian princess, I don't think it's gotten to the point the British would no longer view themselves as being British.  In fact, given how Adele's marriage to a prominent American politician is supposed to herald a reconquest of northern Europe from the vampires, the British in their tropical refuge never gave up on their homeland despite having been living in exile for decades.

Given where the Empire's new seat is, I would made the British Empire "the British Empire," only in Arabic or Persian, whichever sounds more elegant.

I cannot remember clearly if the revelation that the human guerrilla known as "the Greyfriar" was really a dissident vampire was a surprise or not.  However, although Prince Gareth (the vampire in question) repeatedly denounces vampire mistreatment of humans and rules benevolently over the humans who live around his center of power in Edinburgh (never feeding on the same person more than once per year and only taking a little blood), it's not clear when he adopted this view, especially since a female vampire officer who is hinted to be attracted to him remembers him as a very powerful warrior during "the Great Killing" in which the vampires took over.

The character of Senator Clark, Adele's intended, is a bit flat even though some chapters feature his POV.  He's a loud, aggressive glory-hound and although he's willing to share his soldiers' risks, there doesn't seem to be more than that.  We don't learn anything about his background, which is odd given we get inside his head.

Heck, the characters in general aren't very interesting.  Some are better developed than others, but all of them need work.

I think there could be more exposition about the vampires' takeover, given how long Adele in the book spends with Gareth (not knowing he's a vampire).  We learn a bit their biology--they produce sexually like humans do, with no "vampires turn humans into vampires" going on--but nothing about how the vampires were united or where they came from.

On the matter of biology, for a book that adopted a non-supernatural explanation for the vampires, giving them the ability to fly by reducing their density was kind of lame.  Yes, it led to cool scenes like vampires assaulting human airships and airborne duels between vampires, but it was still kind of goofy.

The Verdict

Good concept, but it could have been executed so much better.  An entertaining read, but not worth buying.  If you want to read it, I'd suggest the library.  5 out of 10.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

An Alternate History Scenario I Liked (And Contributed To)

The members of my alternate-history forum whose handle is Eurofed likes larger and larger states, I believe on the grounds that internal stability over larger areas promotes economic development and human welfare.  To that end, he has devised various alternate timelines featuring this, some featuring this unification done by the good ("The United States of the Americas and Oceania"--the U.S. includes Canada from the get-go and grows from there) and the very bad ("The Long Night Falls," a victorious Third Reich uniting Europe and the Middle East).

This one, however, is my favorite

Europe of the Three Empires

Basically, the Roman Empire expands even more than in our history, incorporating Mesopotamia and reducing Persia proper to vassalage and expanding deeper into Europe, giving them a more defensible border (the Oder is shorter than the Rhine and can tie into the Danube as a barrier).  Eventually the enlarged Roman Empire splits apart due to religious and cultural-linguistic (Latin/Greek) differences and a third empire emerged in Russia and Scandinavia based on the Norse, the Goths, and various steppe influences.

There was a lot of discussion about just how big the Roman Empire could get and stay functional.  Geography is one problem, as is the slow speed of communications.  Eurofed is not a believer in geographic determinism--he said India remained disunited even though it doesn't have a lot of division-encouraging geographical features.

My handle on the board is MerryPrankster and I posted a lot of suggestions, including how the Norse and Western Romans would divide up territory (I favored the Norse taking Britain), how the East-West political split might happen, and the East-West religious split might develop.  In particular, if we're going with a Christian East that develops our history's religious-authoritarian Byzantine political culture and a pagan West that is comparatively freer, I figured there'd at least be some Christians who would believe a state church to be an abomination and oppose brutality and tyranny being done in the name of Jesus.

Our history, after all, saw one person of note in the early church (for some reason I'm thinking it was Arius of Alexandria, founder of the Arian heresy) who claimed Constantine did not scourge the back but tickled the belly and "damned the soul with gold."  Not to mention the Biblical justification for imposing Christianity and "Christian" political positions by force on society as a whole is somewhat lacking--when Paul told believers to pray for kings, it was so that they would become Christians and thusly not persecute Christians anymore, not to impose Christianity on everyone with the sword.

Maybe I'll try to write fiction set in something similar to this world, but that would require having an actual plot (for the fiction) and an actual timeline, starting with a divergence from our history.  I suggested some of the conquests be made during the Republican period, since the Republic was actually more aggressive than the Empire (the Emperors wanted to avoid war when possible to avoid having victorious generals threaten them) and more inclined to keep conquered territory.

Perhaps Caesar doesn't get assassinated and sets off for his war against Parthia?  He can get assassinated later, maybe if he goes on a power trip after beating the Parthians and makes himself king (or people think he will try to make himself king), and we can still have our world's Augustus.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

David Lynch Directing "Return of the Jedi" -- Alternate "Star Wars" Ideas

A member of my alternate-history forum said that, according to Wikipedia, George Lucas asked David Lynch to direct The Return of the Jedi but Lynch refused, stating that Lucas should follow his own vision rather than use Lynch's take on it.

This spawned the following discussion.

Some people seemed to think with Lynch at the helm, the story would be more complex and morally gray.  That got me thinking, so here are some alternate ROTJ scenarios that you fan-fiction aficionados might appreciate:

An Alternate Throne Room Battle:

We've already seen Luke tempted by the Dark Side and in the beginning of ROTJ, he uses what later SW works have described as a "Dark Side" Force power--when he Force-chokes one of Jabba's guards.  However, he is also intent on redeeming his father Darth Vader, something that Obi-Wan and Yoda think is impossible.

If he can hold onto that focus more strongly, he won't go totally berserk on Vader when the Dark Lord penetrates Luke's mind, learns that Leia is his sister, and suggests if Luke will not join the Dark Side, perhaps Leia will.  He'll still be angry enough to beat Vader into submission, but if he disarms Vader in a less brutal manner than severing his sword hand, he won't realize just how far he's gone.

So he beats Vader and Palpatine starts his "take your father's place at my side" speech.  Luke, still verging on the Dark Side, attacks Palpatine.  They duel and Luke, facing a more powerful and skilled opponent, draws on the Dark Side and surprises Palpatine with Force Lightning.  Palpatine is older (to the point of walking with a cane) and overconfident, so Luke might be able to overpower him.

Vader has at this point recovered and starts his speech about how now that Luke has beaten Palpatine, they can rule together--all he needs to do is finish the Emperor.  Meanwhile, Palpatine seeks to regain control of the situation and reveals to Luke the coming Yuuzhan Vong, an extragalactic warlike race whose scouts have already reached Imperial territory, and states that the Rebellion is jeopardizing the united galaxy needed to stop them.

(For those of you less familiar with the SW universe, the Vong invaded many years after the Empire's fall.  There is some canonical material suggesting Palpatine knew they were coming and that was one of his motivations for taking over and militarizing the galaxy.)

Luke, who had thrown himself to what he thought was his death rather than submit to Vader's tutelage in the Dark Side in The Empire Strikes Back, would likely get a similar "system shock" from Vader's offer that he got in the canonical film when he severed his father's hand.  Think the TVTrope "Your Approval Fills Me With Shame," on top of the realization that he's on the verge of seriously going evil.  He announces that a Jedi does not murder a defeated opponent and turns his back on Palpatine.

Bad idea.  Palpatine, angry that he has been knocked around by a teenager as well as angry at being spurned, lashes out with the Force Lightning.  He's even more overtly sadistic about it than in the canonical film, which "reawakens" Anakin Skywalker.  Vader then throws Palpatine to his doom and that part of the story ends more or less the same way as canon.

The end result of this scenario is that Luke is somewhat "grayer," having gone much close to falling to the Dark Side than he did in the actual film, and the Empire is shown to have a good reason for doing some of what it does.  And the "Good is Dumb" aspect of Luke is cranked up if he actually turns his back on a living Palpatine, albeit one whom he has defeated, in the name of not unnecessarily killing.

Making a Deal With the Devil

One board member suggested a reptilian race, which are traditionally depicted as evil, on the side of the good guys.  In keeping with Lynch's grayness, they would still be unpleasant--he suggested lizard-equivalents of Ewoks eating Imperial soldiers alive.

That reminded me of the novel The Truce at Bakura, in which it is revealed that Palpatine allowed an alien race called the Ssi-Ruuk to attack isolated Imperial worlds in exchange for their technology.  After Palpatine died in canon, the Ssi-Ruuk went all open-season on the Empire, leading to an alliance between the Rebels and at least one Imperial garrison to deal with them.

I'm thinking that allowing aliens to ravage human-inhabited worlds would not be popular with Imperial military commanders if it got out.  Palpatine, to forestall a possible military challenge to his rule (according to non-movie sources, there was at least one in the canonical timeline), decides to backstab the Ssi-Ruuk.

The Ssi-Ruuk--who believe that if they die away from a consecrated homeworld, their soul will be lost forever and thus will be especially angry if any of them die in Palpatine's betrayal--approach the Rebels.  They will assist the Rebel fleet against the Empire if they get Imperial POWs to "entech"--basically use their souls to power their automated war machines they use for most combat.

The Rebels are horrified by this and reject the Ssi-Ruuk offer.  However, when they attack the second Death Star, they find that it's operational and protected by a heavy-duty energy shield.  The phrase "it's a trap!" comes to mind.  So when things get bad, Akbar calls the Ssi-Ruuk and accepts their offer.  The Ssi-Ruuvi fleet arrives and helps defeat the Imperial fleet over Endor, but then the Ssi-Ruuk demand their pound of flesh (the Imperial garrison of Endor and anyone rescued from destroyed Imperial ships)...

Another member of the message-board suggested another unsavory reptilian ally for the Rebellion could be the Trandoshans, a race of slavers who particularly like picking on Wookiees.  They were allied to the Empire and procured Wookiee slaves for them, but given the Empire's anti-nonhuman racism, I imagine there was friction.

If the Trandoshans decide to ally with the Rebels against Palpatine, that'd caused a lot of friction within the Rebellion, especially with the Wookiees like Chewbacca who'd suffered at their hands.  Bonus points if they commit atrocities against Imperial soldiers and worlds and sell Imperial POWs into slavery.  This would make the Rebellion a lot more morally "gray" too.

Heck, here's something for anyone who wants to rewrite ROTJ to be dark and grim (or at least less black and white morally)--use both of my suggestions.  I'd recommend picking either the Ssi-Ruuk or the Trandoshans for the second one, since using both of them would be a lizard overload.

If you use the ideas, please link back to this blog.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Very Moving "Calvin and Hobbes" Fan-Fic

I found Reminiscence, a one-shot "Calvin and Hobbes" fan-fiction today courtesy of TVTropes.  I wasn't aware there even was "Calvin and Hobbes" fan-fiction until today but I've been a lifelong fan of the comic (my parents read it to me before I could read myself), so I figured I'd give it a whirl.

It's really well-done.  The author clearly knows the comic strip--he or she refers to "Uncle Max" (a minor character Bill Watterson ultimately got rid of) and gets the name of Calvin's babysitter's boyfriend correct.

The story is equal parts funny and moving.  After all, it's about Calvin growing up and what ultimately happens to everyone.  I won't go into detail, but although I hate sad things, this is both sad and beautiful.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Fifteen Minute Preview of HBO's "A Game of Thrones"

I found this today online and figured I'd post it for my loyal readers.  It's the first fifteen minutes of the first episode of HBO's adaptation of A Game of Thrones (Song of Ice and Fire) that I first found on the E! web-site and later got the embed HTML off YouTube.  For the record, this doesn't belong to me--it belongs to HBO and/or George R.R. Martin.

Although I've read the second book, I haven't actually read the first.  I believe the first book starts out with Lord Eddard Stark executing the deserter from the Night's Watch.  The scene depicting why he deserts is entirely new, although from what I know about the greater world, the evil powers beyond the Wall are stirring.

The costuming looks great and the Wall looks awesome.  It also establishes character pretty early on--thus far, we've got Catelyn Stark's resentment of her husband's bastard son Jon Snow, Arya Stark's tomboy ways (showing up her brother in archery practice), Sansa Stark's girly-girl tendencies, and Eddard Stark's honor.  We haven't yet met Tyrion "The Imp" Lannister (a nobleman with dwarfism whose virtues include compassion for the hurting and broken and military strategy and whose weaknesses include booze and prostitutes), but I fully expect him to be an absolute hoot.

I actually considering getting HBO to watch this, although I figured $10 per month to watch a few shows (it'd be this show, True Blood, and Boardwalk Empire) wouldn't be a good bargain.  The endless movies to watch on HBO would also be a distraction from my personal writing projects.

So I'll wait for the DVD and likely buy it.  I believe the show's already been green-lighted for a second season.  Hopefully it'll do well and pave the way for more adult-oriented fantasy--the series has been described as "The Sopranos in Middle East" and accurately depicts how a medieval-style kingdom would actually work.

(Massacring rival lords' peasants as a legitimate warfare tactic, girls who in our world would be in middle school being married off to middle-aged men for political reasons, and other assorted nastiness.  Lest we forget, the pre-modern era sucked.)

Jeepers Creepers 3 Trailer and Commentary

Many moons ago, I rented two movies at once.  One of them was a piece of garbage that I returned almost immediately after finishing it, but the other was an under-appreciated gem--Jeepers Creepers.  I bought it soon afterward, although I don't think I've actually watched it in years.

My first weekend home from the University of Georgia I saw the sequel in theaters.  I figured that would be the end of it, since the Creeper's ultimate fate hanging on the wall of the farmer whose son he'd killed seemed to parallel the fate of his victims, arranged into "a Sistine Chapel of bodies" in the Creeper's lair.  That and the rumors indicated the third film would be a prequel, rather than a sequel.  One would think the only stories left to tell would be in the past if the Creeper were dead.

It turns out I was wrong.  Here's the trailer for the third movie, Jeepers Creepers 3: Cathedral.

Good to see they've gotten Gina Phillips to reprise her role as Trish from the first film.  One of my film pet peeves is recasting characters.  The trailer's a bit too hallucinatory for my taste, but it seems to get the point across--despite being brutalized by a vengeful farmer and displayed as a trophy, the Creeper is back and now intent on getting hold of Trish's son, named after Trish's brother Darry who the Creeper killed in the first movie.

Apparently the characters from the other film--the now-elderly farmer, his grown sons, and the cheerleader who was having psychic visions of the Creeper--will be back too.  The Creeper's origin will also be revealed.

Let the games begin...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Proposal to Keep Cobb's Libraries Safe...

Recently, I got quite a scare.  Cobb County, where I grew up, was considering closing most of its library system in order to fill a $31.5 million budget gap.

Proposed Cobb budget plan would close most libraries, slightly increase taxes

(Luckily, the Cobb government found a way to keep the libraries open, although cutting public-safety was not the ideal way to do it.)

Given I spent many hours haunting the now-closed Merchant's Walk Library (replaced by a new library nearby) and the Mountain View library that would have survived even if the cuts were implemented, this was not something I liked at all.

And cutting libraries is a bad idea for more than just personal reasons.  Given how job applications are increasingly becoming online-only, libraries provide the major opportunity for people who don't have computers (or who have dumped their Internet connections to cut costs) to apply for jobs.  The unemployed finding jobs means tax revenue and consumer spending, which means more tax revenue.  If the county government made it more difficult for those without home computers to find jobs, it would be shooting itself in the foot.

Furthermore, libraries provide a ready source for books for students in the local schools, who will need to use them for required-reading assignments and research for their papers.  This is especially applicable to poorer students who may not have lots of books at home or Internet access and who might not have ready access to a car to get them to a farther-away library.

And finally, libraries provide major opportunities for those who seek to learn outside of school.  I learned a colossal amount of things I would never have learned otherwise if I did not have access to the library system.  Over the years, I probably read thousands of books.  And this wasn't just for pure entertainment or the joy of learning--many of those books had to do with improving my personal writing.  The document "General Writing Tips" on my computer is full of bits of useful advice I'd gotten from books I would not have even known existed if I hadn't gone wandering the shelves--it's a file I really should read more regularly.

Without the library system, I would have never reached my full potential.  And I had parents who cared a great deal about my education and put a whole lot of effort into it--when I was very young, my mother read to me an hour per day.  Someone not similarly blessed would be in need of the library system even more.

Now, libraries are government programs and require tax monies to sustain them.  As a conservative/Libertarian, I'm not a fan of high taxes and generally believe low taxes promote economic growth.

(And lest anyone start, Reagan and Bush 2.0 both spent colossal sums, the former on the military expansion that pressed the Soviets so and Social Security and the latter on the Iraq War, which was truly a massive drain.  The fact both ran up deficits does not disprove supply-side economics, since both were big spenders.  If a tightwad president still ran deficits under a low-tax regime, THEN the anti-supply-siders would have a much stronger point.)

I will admit, there comes a point when taxes are too low to gather the necessary revenue--the far left end of the Laffer Curve.  Although I lived in Cobb County most of my life, I'm not familiar with the tax rates so I cannot comment intelligently on whether or not they're too high or too low.

However, there's a way to increase Cobb County's income without raising taxes per se.

House gives final approval to Sunday alcohol sales bill

According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, allowing Sunday alcohol sales could raise $3.4 million to $4.8 million for the state of Georgia.  The AJC quoted the group's vice-president, Ben Jenkins, as saying this was "state tax revenues."  This means there are additional monies to be had for local governments too, on top of the money going to Atlanta.

If Cobb County were to legalize Sunday alcohol sales, it would raise additional funds.  I don't know how much, since I am not familiar with how alcohol is taxed, but in these economic times, every little bit of extra money helps.  Legalizing Sunday alcohol sales would provide additional revenue for the county to provide needed services--not just libraries, but others as well.

I no longer live in Cobb County, so my voice would carry less weight than those living there still.  Those of who do live in Cobb County, if you could contact the county commissioners with this suggestion, it would be very helpful for the long-term future of your community.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Housing Bubble -- In the Third Reich!

A member of my alternate-history forum whose handle is varyar wrote a short story describing a housing/building bubble in a victorious Nazi Germany that has colonized much of Eastern Europe--or at least tried to.  It's based on a documentary about the housing bubble in China, only with names changed and some different details added.

Ghost Cities of the Reich

Interesting idea about the possible consequences of a command economy putting ideology and mindless devotion to higher GDPs ahead of economic reality.

There're also some moments of Fridge Horror (TVTropes) once you think about it--the original inhabitants of Warthegau (guess what it used to be called) are never discussed and if the Nazis actually won the war, the cities of the conquered Slavic nations the Germans didn't bother rebuilding in their image could be literal ghost cities.

It's an interesting little read.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Mitch Daniels: A Good Republican Choice for 2012

I've been pondering the possible Republican nominees for 2012 and here are some thoughts:

Firstly, a candidate who is too socially-conservative is not going to be a contender nationally.  Although I admit a bias against social-conservatism-as-government-policy, it's not just my personal distaste coming into play here.  American demographic trends are against social-conservatism.

And those are just magazine articles.  The Emerging Democratic Majority and Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South also corroborate this position.

Huckabee, Palin, etc. will probably win the South and Midwest, but they will probably lose urban areas and due to increasing urbanization in the United States, they will be doomed.  Look at Clinton's 1996 victory-map--Dole won the "heartland" and still lost.  Bush nearly did so in 2000 and McCain did lose in 2008.

Now, this does not mean I am suggesting the nominee not be socially-conservative personally.  A president who lives their values as opposed to paying lip service to them while violating them in private (Gingrich and Vitter come to mind) would be much better for the cause of social-conservatism than trying to use the government to impose these values on a society that increasingly rejects them and provoking a backlash.

Secondly, Republicans should nominate a candidate who can be taken seriously.  It is very hard for me to take Sarah Palin and Donald Trump seriously as politicians due to them being reality-TV stars, despite other accomplishments they may have had.

(I'm thinking more about Trump when I say that, although I'm not going to hate on Palin as being a "quitter" like some leftists will.  She quit because defending herself against her political enemies' lawsuits cost the state money--the same people calling her "quitter" are the ones whose behavior led to her resignation in the first place.  My beef with Palin has to do with her misreading part of the health-care bill and getting the "death panels" meme started.  If that comes out in a debate, she's dog meat.)

Furthermore, Trump is a Birther or is at least pandering to them with his "I'm sending investigators to Hawaii" routine.  I don't think conspiracy-theorists are going to do well in the general election--look at how people look down at the John Birch Society, for example.

Also, the candidate should not be too inexperienced.  I rather like Bobby Jindal, but I don't think he's experienced enough quite yet.

Right now, I'm thinking Mitch Daniels would be the best candidate.  As governor, he turned around the financial situation of the state of Indiana and his call for a truce on social issues should help make him more electable at the national level.  I notice some similarities with Ron Paul, although Daniels seems to support the drug war (he cites his own arrest for smoking weed as a college student as a good thing, or at least he did in 1989).

Getting him through the Republican primaries, however, could be rather problematic.  The "truce on social issues" thing has already gotten a lot of people upset.