Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sad, Beautiful Songs...

It's odd, how some songs sound so beautiful, but when you listen to the actual words, they're incredibly sad.

Here's one: "Too Many Times" by Earl Thomas Conley and Anita Pointer.

The song is all about regret--a son who'd hurt his late father, a woman who abandoned her lover and misses him, etc.

And here's "Picture Postcards from LA" by Joshua Kadison.

Rachel the waitress dreams of going to Hollywood to be an actress or singer, but she always recoils at the last minute, even when she's got her bag packed and a bus ticket.  It's become so routine all her co-workers, even the protagonist of the song who seems to love her, joke about it.

"In the Living Years" by Mike and the Mechanics.

A man doesn't get along with his father due to their differing opinions on unnamed issues (the video makes it sound like something to do with war, given how the son looks at a picture of his father in a military uniform) and not being able to understand the other's opinion.  They never reconcile.  To the point he isn't there when his father dies, something he regrets.  Hell, of the three songs, this is the saddest one of all.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Problems With Cain, Perry, Romney

Here are some issues with the current Republican front-runner candidates that show why Jon Huntsman is a better choice for the 2012 GOP nomination.

Although I voted for Herman Cain when he ran against Johnny Isakson in the Republican primary in 2004, I am not inclined to support him now.  In addition to his earlier conspiracy-mongering about Islamic law in America, his "999" plan has a bit of a problem.

84% would pay more under Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan.  That's right.  84 percent of Americans would pay more taxes under this plan.  And it would burden the poorest Americans to a large degree.

Although many claimed the Bush tax cuts would burden the poor, that's a foolish argument.  Nobody's taxes were raised.  This, however, would be a tax increase.  I don't mind sales taxes in small quantities--I have written in support of Metro Atlanta's proposed regional sales tax to pay for transportation improvements and Fulton County's Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax to improve the schools--but a nine percent sales tax on top of state sales taxes would be fairly burdensome.

And as Rick Santorum said, many states lack sales taxes.  This scheme would impose a federal sales tax on those states and additionally burden their taxpayers.

Meanwhile, Rick Perry has started pandering toward the Birthers.  Thankfully he isn't overtly claiming that Obama wasn't born in the United States, but this interview shows that he's trying to appeal to them.  There are reasons to dislike Barack Obama--"Gunwalker" comes to mind--but the claim he was not born in the United States when there are birth announcements for him dating back to the 1960s is absurd.  Such people should be ignored, not pandered to.

And here are some reasons not to view Mitt Romney as an authentic conservative, listed in an open letter from Huntsman to New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu.  Assuming this is true--and it does ring true, considering Romney's more left-wing record in the past--Romney's a lot less conservative than I had thought.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bigger "Heart of the Swarm" Trailer

The other day, I found a new trailer for Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm.  Apparently it was revealed at BlizzCon.

Looks like the Dominion has shown itself untrustworthy, on a much larger scale that just sending in a bunch of Ghosts to kill Kerrigan like the earlier, smaller teaser trailer revealed.  Like, attack-by-capital-ships untrustworthy.  And Valerian and Warfield might not be coming out of that treachery alive....

(Sucks for Warfield, as it seemed he was on the level and even made Rayor commander of the entire Dominion force while he was having his arm fixed.  But if Valerian went into this intending treachery from the beginning, to hell with him.)

Some of the promotional material makes what's going to happen in HOTS sound really GrimDark.  Raynor has gone missing, while some artwork on the Blizzard web-site depicts Kerrigan with a reinfested arm. 

I hope they don't kill off Raynor and then have Kerrigan go totally insane and reinfest herself or, worse, have her think Raynor is dead, reinfest herself, and then have Raynor show up alive again and think Kerrigan is truly irredeemable even with the use of the Zerg-purging artifact.  Heck, with the dialogue snippet "the girl you knew is dead," this makes it sound like despite being forcibly de-Zerged, Kerrigan is still evil.

Wings of Liberty was a lot more optimistic than the first Starcraft and Brood War, with the Dominion public rioting upon learning of Mengsk's true evil nature and the Swarm decapitated and Kerrigan returned to human form.  That was pretty refreshing, considering how dark the first games really were. 

One can hope they took the darkest quotes and scenes from Heart of the Swarm out of context and strung them together to make the story sound a lot more GrimDark than it actually will be--some of the promotional material describes Kerrigan only remembering some of what she did as Queen of Blades and not liking it, which shows there's hope for her.  She does look pretty angsty when she's loading her rifle, while the Queen of Blades would have probably been joyfully homicidal.  Raynor is only missing, not confirmed dead.  And the new trailer depicts a lot of human-on-human warfare, including what looks like a military drop on a human planet. 

Ending the Second Great War with Kerrigan's Zerg and Raynor's Raiders holding Arcturus Mengsk to account for his many sins would be awesome, with the Dark Voice and his Protoss-Zerg hybrid army over the horizon.  However, some stuff I've read on indicates the hybrids will be entering the sector en masse and they'll put the hurt on the player, so punishing Mengsk might not in the cards for a bit...

BTW, the soundtrack in this trailer is just awesome.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Book Review: "Twelve" by Jasper Kent. Spoilers!

I came across Pyr, a science fiction and fantasy imprint of Prometheus Books, at DragonCon this year.  One of the books they had available for purchase was Twelveby Jasper Kent.  I remembered seeing Pyr's booth at DragonCon some years back, with Twelve being listed as coming soon, so my curiosity was already piqued.  It looked interesting, so I bought it. Here goes the review...

Twelve tells the tale of Captain Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov, a Russian officer during the Napoleonic Wars.  He and some other officers have been assigned to operate separately from the main Russian army to cause trouble for the invading French.  When one of them takes the liberty of calling some old comrades from the war against the Turks who are very good at killing the French, everything seems peachy.

Until Danilov gets a little too curious and discovers just what manner of monsters they've allied themselves with...

The Good

*I really liked the concept.  I haven't seen a lot of historical fiction or speculative fiction set in Russia, so this was doubly interesting.

*The book is well-paced and never boring.

*The author's attention to historical detail is good.  Distances are measured in the traditional Russian measurement of verst, while the events of the book are dated using the Julian calendar, which was used in Russia at the time, rather than the Gregorian calendar, which was used in Western Europe.  He even describes the difference between Russian and Western European horseshoes, the latter of which aren't adapted for the icy conditions of the Russian winter.

*The fact that the twelve who arrive to help fight the French are vampires is not immediately revealed.  One has the chance to learn along with Danilov just what the Oprichniki--Ivan the Terrible's secret police, which our heroes name the twelve--are.

(Unless you read the blurbs on the back too closely, but I'll get to that later.)

*The Oprichniki's chief introduces them to the Russian characters before returning to Romania.  The twelve of them are all named after the Twelve Apostles, with the one named for Judas having a rather interesting trait--I'll reveal that later in the review.

*There are some very vivid descriptive bits, like a scene where Danilov witnesses the Oprichniki throwing a body out of a barn.  He describes how the body has had a good bit of flesh gnawed off and then sees the look on the dead woman's face and realized the only reason the vampires had decided to stop eating was because the victim had died. He then sees the vampires torturing and feeding on the dead woman's husband in the barn.  One of the vampires bites off some pieces of him and spits something out.  When Danilov comes in during the day to kill the vampires, he finds what the vampire spat out--the man's wedding ring.  He then subdues one vampire and tortures him for information by opening the barn door to expose him to the sun and then closing the door again to allow him to regenerate.

"The vampire was a torturer's dream.  Continuous pain could be inflicted because the body would be continually refreshed."


There's another scene where Danilov stops to think and sits on a log.  When he gets up, he disturbs the snow and reveals a silver chain.  He digs for it and finds it's a bracelet and what he thinks is a branch is actually a human hand.

"I had not been sitting on a log, but on a frozen, rigid human corpse."

Now that's a good way to end a chapter.

There's another scene where another character takes a vampire prisoner and both of them are caught in a blizzard.  The vampire ends up frozen solid and buried in a snowdrift, but cannot die.  Danilov digs the vampire up and the sun starts melting the remaining snow and ice--and igniting the vampire.  The vampire's flesh ignites, which ignites his clothing, which burns away and reveals more flesh, which is in turn ignited by the sun.  Once the fires start going on his clothes and flesh, the vicious cycle accelerates into a continual chain of combustion.

*Danilov is a realistic human being with flaws.  In this case, away from his wife for a long period, he visits a prostitute named Dominikiaa and becomes quite attached to her.  That's a realistic problem for someone to get into in a wartime situation.

The Bad

*The book jacket describes how the behavior of the twelve new arrivals reminds Danilov of the legends of the voordalak.  Given how it isn't revealed until well into the novel that the Oprichniki are in fact vampires, using the less-familiar Russian word was a good idea.  The problem is, one of the first blurbs on the back of the book calls it "good vampire-hunting fun."  I would have enjoyed the book much more if I hadn't known going in that the Oprichniki were vampires and discovered it along with Danilov.

*When Danilov cannot bring himself to kill Dominikiaa after he believes she has allowed herself to be made a vampire by Iuda, he very quickly reaches the conclusion that he would be damned if he killed her and damned if he allowed her to escape, so he decides that if he's going to go to hell anyway, he should allow Dominikiaa to make him a vampire so they could go to hell together.  I can understand his moral dilemma--he can't bring himself to kill Dominikiaa but would have any deaths vampire-Dominkiaa inflicts on his conscience--but his solution is really quite bizarre considering his hatred of the vampires.  Furthermore, this decision is made entirely too easily, in the space of about a page.  And he's really detached about it too--he even thinks this would be a chance to look back and remember his own death.

*The revelation that the vampire Iuda wasn't actually a vampire, but was in fact a human who traveled with the vampires and had deceived them into thinking he was one of them was really lame.  If he had been with the vampires for an extended period of time, one would think these creatures--who prey on humans the way we feed on lower animals--would have noticed.  That does provide a reason for him to be named after Judas, but he doesn't actually betray the vampires.  Of course, if he was a Russian-born vampire who retained loyalty to his people and opposed the Oprichniki when they began feeding on Russians as well as French, that would make him a bit more interesting...

The Verdict

An entertaining read.  8 out of 10.  The sequel, Thirteen Years Later,has been released in the United States, as has the third book in what will be a quintet, The Third Section.  Kent will continue the story all the way to the Russian Revolution, so how things turn out will be very interesting.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An Idea for a Left-Wing Techno-Thriller

On my message-board this morning, a Turkish (I think) member posted the following link.

"China worried by U.S. Revolt."

Apparently the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, despite its rather small size, has gotten the attention of the Chinese government.  Although the Chinese government hasn't claimed it's an incipient sign of proletarian revolution or something like that--this isn't the 1960s anymore--they are actually endorsing the protesters.  They make the claim that if the problems the protesters are pointing out aren't dealt with, things would get worse.

However, someone on the board seized on some Iranian officer's comparison of "Occupy Wall Street" to the Arab Spring and suggested a scenario for a bad techno-thriller--the Chinese militarily intervene in the United States to stop the "American Spring," much like how the Soviets intervened in Hungary and Czechoslovakia to maintain Communist rule in Eastern Europe.

That gave me an idea for the rarest of all beasts--a left-wing technothriller.

Imagine a world where the United States, due to irresponsible spending, is extremely, EXTREMELY indebted to China, much more so than today.  The United States government has radically cut services and raised taxes severely, in order to pay off its foreign debt.

When protests break out and the U.S. is unable or unwilling to contain them, the Chinese intervene militarily...

(Let's say for the sake of the argument this is in the distant future where the Chinese are capable of a trans-Pacific invasion or it's more subtle, like importing Chinese police and soldiers to crush dissent in the same way the Iranian government has used foreign enforcers to crush the "Green Revolution.")

Ironically, this kind of thing has happened before, albeit typically a long time ago.  Various European powers occupied Mexico during the U.S. Civil War due to non-payment of debts, while the first U.S. military interventions in Latin America were designed to forestall such things.

More recently, due to massive Third World debt and consequent structural adjustment that leads to cutting education and the like in Third World countries, there have been calls by people like Bono of U2 for debt-forgiveness.

An overt Chinese military intervention to ensure debt payments continue is much more severe than anything done by the West in recent years, but it might take something more severe to make people think.  The "Republic of Gilead" depicted in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale was far more monstrous than any realistic overreach of the American Religious Right would be, but I think Atwood's goal was to make a point, not depict a realistic American theocracy.

I've got enough on my plate these days, so I'm not going to be writing this.  If anyone wants to take this idea and run with it, have at it.  Although the economics involved are rather left-wing, the fact it involves the invasion of the U.S. by a nominally Communist power with the stated aim of repressing its population for the invaders' economic benefit, a publisher of "right-wing gun porn" might actually be interested in it. 

Acknowledgement of where the idea came from would be nice...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Some Music You Might Enjoy...

Sorry for not posting in over a week, but I've been really busy with work and writing.

While I've been writing, I've been listening to music.  Mostly from my iTunes collection, but often from music videos on YouTube.  One music-video I listen to is entitled "Blood for the Blood God" and consists of clips from various Warhammer 40K video games strung together in such a way that it sounds like a rock anthem to the Chaos God Khorne.

(And darn it's awesome.)

And YouTube supplies suggested videos on the right side of the screen.  I've found some songs this way that I'd never considered before.

The first was the instrumental piece "Preliator" by the band Globus, which puts out stirring orchestral music.  It was used as the background for a slideshow of Warhammer 40K images, mostly pertaining to Khorne and the Chaos Space Marines that follow him like Kharn the Betrayer.  Here it is if you want to see it.

Then I discovered the Swedish metal band Sabaton.  The first song I viewed, "Masters of the World," was kind of a standard metal song with a lot of Nietzschean self-assertion going on.

Then came "40:1," which is about the Battle of Wizna in Poland during World War II.  That battle is known as Poland's Thermopylae--720 Polish soldiers held 40,000 Germans for three days.  They lost, but they inflicted many more casualties than they suffered.  This is appropriate because I was writing a portion of Battle for the Wastelands taking place in one of the refugee camps where the remnants of the Merrill army look after civilian refugees from Flesh-Eater cruelty and periodically raid enemy territory.  The Merrills are outnumbered by their Flesh-Eater enemies and even more so when facing the combined armies of the tyrant Grendel, ruler of the entire Northlands.  However, the ones who survived the conquest of their homeland are the hardest of the hard-cores and they won't go down without a fight.

The last song I've purchased as a result of listening to it on YouTube so far is "Ghost Division," which is about Rommel's division and its role in the German invasion of France during WWII.  Even though Sabaton is no friend of Nazism, one can honor martial prowess and sheer cojones and that's what the Germans showed during the Battle of France.

(Although they conquered France in six weeks, it was by no means a walkover like the France-bashers like to say.  They outmanuevered French armies that were larger and in some cases better-equipped.  Read about the Manstein Plan, the collapse of the Meuse Front, and the Channel Dash in the Wikipedia article for the cojones part.)

I might buy other songs based on the YouTube videos.  Although it may seem odd to buy songs when I could simply listen to the music online, there's not much incentive to produce content when you don't get compensated for it (intangibles like fame and the joy of exercising one's creativity are nice, but they don't pay the bills).  I view it as stealing, although not everyone agrees.  It's also a lot easier to save an iTunes file onto my iPod than extract the music from the video, save it to my computer and then transfer it.