Sunday, February 26, 2012

Why I Voted For Ron Paul But Hope Romney Is The Nominee...

Georgia's early/advance voting started yesterday.  Although I posted on Facebook saying I would probably vote for Mitt Romney due to him being the most electable of the four remaining Republican candidates, I'm not a Romney fan by any stretch of the imagination--I think he's ignorant on some issues (when commenting on an arms-control treaty, he made some comment that sounded like he thought ballistic missiles were fired from bombers) and prone to changing his views based on convenience.  It's certainly possible he changed his views on abortion, for example, as a result of genuine conviction, but given the timing (i.e. running for the nomination of the national GOP, which is much more anti-abortion than the Massachusetts electorate), I'm skeptical.

In 2008, I was a Ron Paul supporter, but Paul's opposition to the bin Laden raid, a comment he made about how the troops would come home faster if their air-conditioning was de-funded, and the possibility he was not being honest about his role in the bizarre newsletters that went out under his name in the 1990s made me rather leery of him.  Plus, even though I believe in smaller government, he takes it a bit too far and there will definitely be the perception of him as a radical.  However, the candidate I came to support--Jon Huntsman--fizzled.

However, Rick Santorum is too socially conservative to win the general election, while Newt Gingrich has the whole "marry-cheat-divorce-remarry repeat" thing going.  However, based on this poll, which is a composite of other polls, it's going to be one of them who wins Georgia when the primaries come on March 6.

If Romney was likely to win Georgia, there's a good chance I would have voted for him since the more states Gingrich or Santorum win, the more likely they are to get the nomination and get destroyed by Obama in November.  However, one of those two is going to win Georgia barring some kind of last-minute Romney surge or Gingrich/Santorum implosion and so it's time to think strategically.

At this point, I think Paul and his people know he can't win, but the goal is to get so many delegates that he can have an influence on the party platform.  That's something I can get behind--if some Paulite positions like not attacking Iran get made part of the platform, that will be both good for the country and will strengthen the nominee against Obama.  Since Georgia is not a winner-take-all state, my voting for Paul could help him get a delegate here and there.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Another Note On "Martin's Middle Earth"--Female Warriors

I've given some more thought to "Lord of the Rings if done by George R.R. Martin" scenario I posted here and I've come up with some more ideas.  Here there be spoilers, so watch out...

Despite the faux medieval setting, Martin has included several notable "warrior women" like Brienne of Tarth (who's as big and strong as most men), Asha Greyjoy, Maege and Dacey Mormont and the other women of Bear Island, and the pint-sized death machine Arya Stark.  Although the Norse had "shieldmaidens," women being active combatants in medieval times was fairly rare due to cultural norms and physical size issues.

It's been a long time since I've read Lord of the Rings or seen the movies, but the only female combatant I recall depicted in action is Eowyn.  Galadriel is described as having thrown down both during the War of the Ring and in the era depicted by The Silmarillon, but that could have been in a command role as easily as physically grappling with an enemy.  The movies depict Arwen as a better rider than Aragorn who evades the Nazgul to bring Frodo to Rivendell and even draws steel on them, but I don't think the rather old-fashioned Tolkien would have gone for that.

So, basically Martin's version of Lord of the Rings would have a far more active and violent female cast.  I'm drawing comparisons now to the Elves, who are different from the other peoples of the West due to being immortal and the oldest race, and the Dornish of A Song of Ice and Fire who practiced equal inheritance regardless of gender, allow their women much more sexual freedom, and were never conquered by the Targaryens.  The Elves could be a more gender-equitable society due to their smaller numbers and how long-lived the Elves are.

(Even if Elves have the same physical strength differentials than humans have, due to the Elves being so long-lived, Elven women would have more time to learn ways around that--think martial arts.  Even if they'd still be at a disadvantage against Elven men who would still be stronger and have the same thousands-of-years-of-free-time thing going, they'd be a very dangerous opponent for a man, a dwarf, or an Orc.)

Thus Martin's LOTR, if it included the flight to Rivendell from the Nazgul, would resemble the movie more than the book.  I'm thinking we might see Galadriel throwing down with the Forces of Darkness at the Battle Under The Trees and the destruction of Dol Guldur as well.  I'm thinking you'd see female Elf warriors as well, probably more in the vein of Asha Greyjoy (who is fairly normal in looks and size and seems to rely on non-grappling weapons like throwing-axes) than Brienne of Tarth (who is physically man-like to the point some fans have guessed she had a glandular problem).

As far as humans are concerned, Eowyn would still be there.  Making her, the one who slew the Witch-King of Angmar, into some Sansa Stark analogue who gets abused and forced into marriage for dynastic reasons, comes off as dubious and almost insulting even if there are some similar circumstances (a man who desires her, regardless of her opinions, and the dynastic thing) and the brutality is par for the course in Martin's work. 

However, if she's the one who kills Wormtongue, makes the decision about what to do with his rape baby (be it abortion or telling her infanticidal brother that she isn't going to allow a child to be killed because the father is a pervy traitor) if Martin's LOTR includes that plot element, and engages in hard-core warrior stuff like in canon, that might make up for it.

She could still kill the Witch-King of Angmar per canon or perhaps Saruman, especially since in the latter case there'd be a revenge element.  Even with the One Ring Sauron's physical body could be destroyed, so Eowyn could relieve Saruman of the hand with the Ring on it and then relieve him of his head.  If she manages to avoid thrown fireballs or other magical attacks or telekinetic wizard-staff-kung-fu like in the movie, it'd be a fight worthy of her canonical battle with the Witch-King.

(Of course, apparently one reason Bilbo could carry the Ring for so long without ill effect is because of his good heart and how he pitied Gollum and spared him when he could have killed him while invisible.  An embittered, angry Eowyn might be in serious danger of being corrupted by the Ring.  Unless of course she's wise enough to have it gotten away from her immediately, and she seems like she's got a brain based on what I remember from the books.) I'm tempted to write a fan-fic depicting the battle between Eowyn and Saruman, with the latter's taunts and mind-games expositing the whole sick back-story.

Not sure who else there'd be.  If we want an analogue to Bear Island, where the women became warriors because the Ironborn and wildings would attack them while the men were fishing, maybe the Gondorian provinces closest to Umbar and its corsairs or the Easterling borders have a military tradition among the women as well?

About female warriors and the Dwarves, that might be trickier due to the fact that I think Tolkien said only a third of Dwarves are female and many Dwarven men never marry and instead devote themselves to their work.  Such a culture would have even more surplus males to expend in war and would have even more reason to be protective of women, even though I can imagine female dwarves being very physically formidable.

Thoughts on "Lord of the Rings"...If Written By George R.R. Martin

On my message-board, someone asked what The Lord of the Rings would be like if it were written by George R.R. Martin, he of the complicated characterizations and moral grayness, rather than by J.R.R. Tolkien.  The user whose handle is Jello Biafra said in Martin's Middle-Earth, one of the protagonists who try to use the One Ring.  Granted, that happened at the end anyway, but I imagine much earlier and with more impact.

That's a nice intellectual exercise, so I think I'll give it a spin.  Here there be spoilers, so be ye warned...

*In A Game of Thrones, Ned Stark reveals to Queen Cersei Lannister that he knows she's been passing off the children of an incestuous affair with her brother as the heirs to King Robert Baratheon and tells her flee while she can.  She has her cousin assassinate the king and Ned ends up being executed.  In Martin's more cynical Middle Earth, I'm imagining the result of Aragorn's refusal to take the One Ring at Amon Hen (at least that happens in the movie) would be that Boromir successfully claims it or, more realistically, it is captured by the Uruk-Hai and taken to Saruman.

*As a result of possessing the One Ring, Saruman becomes MUCH more dangerous.  In addition to his whole "evil persuasive ability" being cranked up to eleven, I'm imagining him becoming an even more powerful physical combatant and being able to supernaturally accelerate the breeding and growth of the Uruk-Hai.  Rohan is forced into submission, with Eowyn made the puppet of her "advisor and consort" Grima Wormtongue.  The Rohirrim are then forced to fight alongside the Dunlendings, the Uruk-Hai, and other minions of Saruman against their former allies in Gondor, much like how the Lannisters forced the Riverlords to lay siege to their own allies in Riverrun after the Red Wedding.  Maybe Eomer survives Saruman's victory and wages a guerrilla war, hoping to rescue his sister and assassinate Wormtongue.  This would be like the Brotherhood Without Banners and (maybe) what the Blackfish is up to after the fall of Riverrun.

*If you want to get really dark, have Eowyn become pregnant as a result of Wormtongue's...attentions.  If Eomer is able to successfully rescue her and kill her "consort" (or, knowing her, she does it herself and escapes with her brother), she could try abortion and, given how crude the methods were back then, end up dead, infertile, or crippled.  If the child is born, there'd be the choice of killing someone who, though personally innocent, represents a dynastic threat to any of Eomer's children or Eowyn's children with a better husband, or keeping it alive on the chance Eomer is killed in battle before fathering an heir of his own and that said child could be used to command the support of the Dunlendings.

(Given how Wormtongue is shorter than the other Rohirrim and darker while they're blonde, I'm guessing he has Dunlending blood.  A half-Dunlending King of Rohan could be used to win them over if, say, Saruman suffers a major reverse or, if the Dunlenders get really hammered, he could be imposed on them as a vassal of Rohan.)

This would be analogous to how Tyrion Lannister marries Sansa Stark as a means of getting a claim on Winterfell, or how the vile Ramsay Bolton marries the (fake) Arya Stark for the same purpose.  I can imagine Wormtongue being far more like Ramsay than Tyrion, although given the fiction that Eowyn is queen and he's her prime minister (or something close enough), he couldn't be as openly nasty and abusive.

Poor Eodred Grimasson or whatever his name would be.  An tyrannical dad, a very unhappy mom, and an uncle who wants to kill him, use him for political shenanigans, or perhaps even both.

*Meanwhile, Gondor faces the possibility of being crushed between Saruman and Sauron.  To avoid this fate, they resort to breeding their own armies of Orcs (possibly using the wild men who helped the Rohirrim get to Gondor in the canonical books as breeding stock, since they'd escaped from the orc breeding-pits in the past) and scorched-earth campaigns to deny the enemy resources.  Since Gondor's armies are too small to challenge Sauron's in open battle, I'm imagining a brutal chevauchée across the Anduin into territory under Sauron's control to kill as many of his subjects as possible and bug out before Sauron can bring his armies to bear.  This would be analogous to Tywin Lannister using Gregor Clegane, Amory Lorch, etc. to ravage enemy territory and strip it of supplies.  And meanwhile, Denethor and Aragorn would plot against each other.  Hopefully Aragorn will have learned from not taking the Ring to be more ruthless and sneaky--if he's still alive at this point.

After all, in Tolkien's letters, he wrote that Sauron was so evil that all kinds of "extreme" methods were justified in fighting him, including the West "(breeding) or hiring its own legions of orcs" or deliberately ravaging the land to deny it to the enemy.

In order to compete with the more industrialized regimes of Mordor and Isengard, maybe Gondor could impose Stalinist industrialization policies that involve squeezing the surplus of the agrarian population to feed industrial cities (and thus causing mass starvation) and slave labor.

*The Ents would be as genocidally destructive of the orcs per canon, with this being graphically depicted.  Bonus points if the Ents have a druid-like cult of human followers that practice human sacrifice, much like how in A Dance With Dragons (I think) features flashbacks to human sacrifices being offered to the Old Gods in the weirwood groves.

*We'd have POVs in the areas where the armies are marching to show just how destructive the war is to the common folk.  In A Clash of Kings, even though it's been a long time since I've read it, I recall Arya and her friends traveling through the Riverlands and seeing all sorts of horrible things.  The Riverlands were being ravaged by war, with the soldiers of both sides preying on everyone.  Maybe Mordor's armies use Gondorian peasants as human shields when laying siege a la the Mongols, or whole regions are stripped of men (conscripted or killed) and food (to feed the armies), leaving the women and children with the choice of starvation or attaching themselves to the armies as camp followers (i.e. providing labor or sex for the soldiers, who might not even be human).

*However, we'd have villain POVs that humanize the villains far more than Tolkien's world did.  After all, I actually empathized with Tywin Lannister, who is a thoroughly despicable human being, after reading the following excerpt from A Feast for the Crows.

Tywin dreamed that his son would be a great knight, that his daughter would be a queen. He dreamed they would be so strong and brave and beautiful that no one would ever laugh at them (AFfC Harper ed. p. 835)

We might have the POV of the Orcs who hate Sauron and his Nazgul for brutalizing them but fight for the forces of darkness because they fear extermination at the hands of the humans (when Sam rescues Frodo in Mordor, I think he overhears a conversation between Orcs about this). 

Or Wormtongue.  Someone wrote a fan back-story for Wormtongue depicting him as the sickly son of one of Rohan's generals and his Dunlending wife who was rejected for military service and became a bureaucrat instead.  He becomes infatuated with Eowyn and seeks out Saruman for advice.  Saruman, who has at this point become evil, uses this to manipulate Wormtongue until he's too emeshed in scheming and treason to back out.  He's still the selfish, treacherous pervert he was in canon, but he has a more sympathetic back-story and a reason for being evil.  That would be a really interesting basis for a Wormtongue POV, especially if we add the ethnic issues into the mix--he could justify his abuse of Eowyn by citing the abuses of Dunlending women by Rohan's soldiers in the past.

Heck, given how the Silmarillon describes how Sauron may have legitimately repented after Morgoth fell but feared punishment by the Valar, hid in Middle-Earth, and fell back into evil as a result of his desire to repair it, you could have a Sauron POV.  There are Sauron-defenders out there who claim he's a defender of a multiracial industrial state against a bunch of racist reactionary feudalists--if from Sauron's POV he's doing this for the good of the peoples of Middle-Earth, it's a lot more morally gray than "I WANT TO BE GOD AND WILL KILL ANYONE WHO RESISTS."  The same with Saruman, who also has multiracial armies (Uruk-Hai and Dunlendings) and a nascent industrial complex.

And there'd definitely be a Gollum POV, especially since some people have compared Theon Greyjoy in ADWD to Gollum.

*Crank up the racial emnity between the Elves and Dwarves, as well as the jerkass behavior on both sides.

*Martin said there'd be a "bittersweet" ending to the whole series, at least according to the gossip I've seen on the A Song of Ice and Fire forums.  I imagine Martin's LOTR would end with the defeat of Saruman and Sauron as the canonical books did, but it would be much darker and more costly for the forces of good.

So, what do you all think?  I'm starting to think a "Martinized" LOTR would be really interesting, even if it'd be much less pleasant to read at times.  Anybody want to take a crack at it?  Martin doesn't like fan-fiction, but this would technically be LOTR fan-fic, which is tolerated.

EDIT: Added some more pondering about female warriors in Tolkien vs. Martin here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The First Draft of "Battle for the Wastelands" Is Done

I took last Friday off in order to have a three-day weekend for writing, as was once suggested by my immediate superior at the Griffin Daily News.  I figured I'd just get a chapter or two done, and then I got ambitious.  I decided I was going to complete the first whole draft Battle for the Wastelands.

(I say "whole draft" because between my own tinkering and cycling it through writing groups, a lot of chapters, particularly the early ones, have changed a lot.)

Two chapters on Friday, two chapters on Saturday, and two chapters on Sunday.  The novel is now done, coming in at just over 102,000 words.

These last couple of days, I've left it alone.  I've heard suggestions to let a newly-completed manuscript "cool" for weeks, months, or even a year.  However, one of my writing groups has seen all but the last six incomplete chapters, so that really isn't an option.  The maximum word count is 10,000 words and the current word count for those last six is around 12,000.  I'm going to try to cut as much as possible without sacrificing action or character and if I can get it 10,000 or below, I'll bring it before the Lawrenceville group in one big block.  If not, two smaller blocks of three chapters each.  The entire manuscript will have been critiqued by them in either mid or late March, since the meetings are two weeks apart.

Once that's done and I make revisions based on group members' comments, I've got a few friends who have agreed to take a look at the entire package.  After they review it and I make further revisions, I'll bring it before the Kennesaw group as a whole package.  At this rate, that will probably be sometime over the summer.

My plan so far is to submit it to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards when they open up again in early January.  If I'd rushed, I could have had it complete in time for this year's contest, but it would not be the best possible product.  Even if one is not the ultimate winner of the contest, one can still get a book deal out of it like my friend Alex Hughes, who was a semi-finalist, did.

However, DragonCon is a good place for networking and I did talk to a publisher last time that seemed interested in Battle.  "Placing" in ABNA is a good set of laurels to attach to a manuscript and worth waiting a few months for, but it's always good to have multiple options and the steampunk craze won't last forever.  Sometimes it's a good idea to strike while the iron is hot.

I'm told publishers prefer first-time writers' manuscripts be fewer than 100K words.  As far as people I know are concerned, James R. Tuck's Blood and Bullets is 81Kwords, while some unpublished novels from Matt Schafer are in the upper-80K to mid-90K range.

So that's my most recent productivity update.  I think my next projects will be to finish a new short story inverting TVTropes' "Doomed Home Town" trope for the next meeting of the Kennesaw group and work more on Escape from the Wastelands (the second book in the series).

Monday, February 20, 2012

Good To See Someone Else Agrees With Me On Israel-Iran...

This article got posted on my alternate-history forum today.

Iran Raid Seen as a Huge Task for Israeli Jets

I've said in the past that the Israelis do not have the numbers and the range to successfully cripple Iran's nuclear program.  Good to see people in the Pentagon agree with me. 

This is not the Osirak raid 20-odd years ago or the recent Israeli attack on that mysterious facility in Syria that might have been nuclear-related.  Iran is much farther away from Israel and its air defenses are much more formidable.  The reduction of Iraq's air defenses prior to the ground phase of Operation Desert Desert Storm lasted from Jan. 17 to Feb. 23, 1991, and that was with the combined military power of the Western World operating out of Saudi Arabia and several aircraft carriers nearby.  The Israelis are much weaker both militarily and economically and would be facing a much smarter opponent than Saddam Hussein.

The only way I can think of that the Israelis could successfully destroy the Iranian nuclear program by themselves is nuclear weapons--use ballistic missiles launched from Israel proper and from submarines against the nuclear sites and Iran's air defenses, then send their air force in to mop up.

Thing is, that would be an extraordinarily radical step to say the least, something that will anger the entire world and risk the ruination of Israel's economy due to economic sanctions and the like.  The Israelis would have to be very frightened or desperate to actually do that, and I would imagine the Israeli leadership is aware that the one holding the real power in Iran (the Supreme Leader, not the president) is not the one making nasty comments about Israel, holding Holocaust-denial seminars, etc.

Let's hope nothing comes to pass.  An Israeli attack on Iran would provoke a major Middle Eastern war and jack up oil prices, which would throttle the economic recovery and probably cause a worldwide return to recession.  And if nuclear weapons are used (and there's retaliation with chemicals or germs by surviving Iranian forces or their allies), the death toll would be huge.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Blast From The Past Movie Reviews...

With all the local Blockbusters closing down, I'm considering getting Netflix, especially since they've brought back their DVD-only service.

(I don't have the gadgets needed for streaming and I don't particularly care to spend money on them.)

I checked out Netflix's inventory and found they had some movies I had not seen in a long time--The Presence, which I saw when I was in the fourth grade on NBC with its original title Danger Island, as well as Shrieker, which I saw on the Sci-Fi Channel when I was in high school.

Should I get Netflix, I'll probably order those movies and see how they held up.  It's not the first time I've done this--when I was a freshman in college, I rented Dragonslayer, which I saw when I was in the second grade after finding the children's book based on the movie in the Mount Bethel Elementary School library.  Dragonslayer was still an awesome movie, despite having been made in the early 1980s before the computer-generated special-effects revolution.

More recently, when I was living in McDonough, I rented the animated film The Secret of the NIMH, which I saw in school when I was in kindergarten.  I remember the movie being downright disturbing, especially the scenes in which some of the rats fall down air shafts during the escape from NIMH and when Mrs. Brisby is captured by humans, has her cape taken from her, and escapes naked from the cage after bloodying herself on the metal.  Watching it as an adult, it's not disturbing or frightening, but it's really, really well-done.  Points again to Don Bluth.

Should I do this, chances are you'll see some of them reviewed here.  I'll probably tag them "Blast from the Past."

Life Lessons from the Katy Perry/Russell Brand Divorce...

Found the above article while looking for stuff about the upcoming John Carter movie.

It's sad that this happened, but it does provide a valuable lesson.  The two of them didn't date for very long and due to their schedules, didn't spend a lot of time together.  Based on this article, it seems like the whole situation was driven by infatuation.  And they entered married life unaware of the impending land mines the article described--both being stubborn and unwilling to back down in arguments, or Perry being into parties while Brand being a homebody.

(Given Brand's history of drug addiction, I can understand why he'd want to avoid the club scene.)

Marriage is one of the most important decisions one will make in one's entire life and it should not be rushed into.  Had the two of them dated longer or spent more time together while they were dating, these issues could have been dealt with earlier or their relationship could have ended earlier when it would have been less painful and problematic for all involved.

(And from a Christian perspective, there's the moral issues of divorce and remarriage afterward, which is another can of worms entirely.  Bringing that issue into play and it makes the stakes even higher and getting to know the other person better and deal with any issues beforehand even more important.)

Hitler's Secret French Love Child?

On my alternate-history forum the other day, someone posted an article from the Huffington Post citing the claim of a deceased Frenchman that he was Adolf Hitler's illegitimate son, from an affair with a French girl Hitler had while a soldier in WWI.

Although the evidence in the original article was somewhat scanty, MSNBC posted this article featuring some more solid stuff, including the German military giving the man's mother money during the occupation of France and the mother having signed paintings created by Hitler.  Not to mention the woman's account of the young Hitler seems rather plausible--he's artsy, but really strange.

(It was a bit surprising to see Hitler doing something resembling The Right Thing by his ex and kid.  I say "something resembling" because he never agreed to meet the boy and take fatherly responsibilities, but it's better than refusing to take responsibility entirely.)

What's the most amusing part of this story is that the deceased man's lawyer is making noises about trying to lay claim to the royalties for Mein Kampf on behalf of the man's kids.  Given the brutality of the German occupation of France, having French people as Hitler's legal heirs is downright amusing.  The only way the irony could be more perfect is if Hitler's heirs were Polish or Russian.

(The Nazis viewed Slavs as the lowest of the low and planned to kill tens of millions of them and enslave the rest had they won.  Even before that, they were the worst recipients of Nazi brutality--millions of Soviet prisoners of war died because the German army didn't bother to feed them, while I think in Belarus the Nazis took the food out of the area and then offered bounties for dead "insurgents"--in effect paying starving people to kill each other.  The French, on the other hand, were "Latins.")

Let's hope some vengeful anti-fascists don't come after the kids, or neo-Nazis don't seek them out to try to worship them.  Of course, if the latter takes place, maybe the kids can enlighten them about evil and idiocy of their belief system.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Dinosaur Playing Basketball...

For the five-year-old in us all...

I remember this commercial from awhile back, when the Toronto Raptors were new.  Very cool.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Thoughts On Writing And Length...

Last Tuesday I went to the Foxtale Book Shoppe in Woodstock for the release party of Blood and Bullets by James R. Tuck.

Once there, I made the acquaintance of one of James's friends, another writer named Janice Hardy, who did a reading of The Healing Wars Book One: The Shifter.

After the readings were done, I asked both of them how long their books were.  I think both of them were in the neighborhood of 81,000.  Blood and Bullets is 351 pages long, while The Shifter is 384.

At present, Battle for the Wastelands is around 97,000 words long and that's with several remaining chapters partially finished.  I was hoping to keep the first draft below 100,000 words, since I remember hearing somewhere that publishers don't want to risk a too-long book from a first-time author and 100,000 is a good ceiling to set.  However, with the addition of a new chapter of politicking to break up what a member of my Lawrenceville group called "battle fatigue," it seems I'm going to break the 100,000 word ceiling.

Although James and Janice didn't seem to think this would be a problem, Janice offered me a tip for cutting word count without cutting characters or scenes.  Instead, cut 10-20 words per page.  That's a couple of sentences.  In a 500 page book, this amounts to 5,000 words being cut at least.

She even gave me some words that are basically filler--"that, had, just, only."  I remember going through Battle cutting the use of "had" already, which I've gotten into the habit of using in a journalistic fashion--simple past tense to describe something that just happened and the past perfect tense (the one using "had") to describe things that had happened at some earlier point.  Some uses of the past-perfect survived, but others did not.  And I've been trying to keep use of "that" to a minimum for the last couple of years, ever since one of my editors at The Griffin Daily News pointed out how useless "that" is in most contexts.

We'll see how it goes.  The goal is to finish the first draft of Battle within the next couple of months.  If I push myself, I think I can finish three chapters in fairly quick succession for the Lawrenceville group, although my last "creative spurt" when almost entirely into a short story I'm writing to "invert" the trope of Doomed Home Town.  Writing 2,000 words in a single night is great, but those 2,000 words could have completed one or two chapters and gotten me closer to finishing Battle, which is a much bigger deal than even a successful short story.

Book Review: "Blood and Bullets" (NO SPOILERS)

James R. Tuck, a member of my Kennesaw writing group, premiered his first novel Blood and Bullets in early February.  He was so kind as to supply me with a signed advance copy at the last meeting of our writing group, which I finished fairly quickly.

Now for the review.  Given how new the book is, I'm going to try to keep it spoiler-free:

The Good

The book starts out with an epic grabber--protagonist Deacon Chalk is in the parking lot of the strip club he owns, pointing a handgun in the face of a teenage vampire who looks disturbingly like his dead teenage daughter.  Most writing guides say to begin en media res (in the middle of things) or "when the story begins" and he does the latter well.  Plus having the vampire resembling his dead daughter allows the reveal about Deacon's dead family without being info-dumpy.

The descriptive bits are really good.  James does a good job of using verbs to describe a scene so the descriptive passages aren't boring.  One passage that stands out is when Deacon is waiting for another vampire-hunter in an abandoned industrial park--he describes in detail overgrown bushes and a plastic bag drifting on the wind and it isn't slow.

The narrative is laugh-out-loud--a lot.  There's a scene where Deacon is discoursing on vampires and how they're all evil in which he takes a major shot at Twilight.

"And vampires never sparkle unless they just ate a stripper."

There's another comment where Deacon talks about staking vampires during the day and how bloody it gets.  When I read the line "I usually wear a raincoat," the way it was delivered was hilarious.

And here's one from Father Mulcahy--yes, he is a shout-out to MASH.

"No, Father, I am cursed.  I am unworthy to be anointed with the cross."
Father Mulcahy sighed loudly.
"Are you fighting evil tonight?"
(Name redacted for spoiler reasons) nodded slowly.
"Then you are doing the Lord's work.  Shut the fuck up."

Also, James clearly knows his way around Atlanta.  There's a scene where Deacon and another vampire hunter go to downtown Atlanta--to get take-out and then an anti-vampire mission and he knows the area of North Avenue and Georgia Tech rather well.

And one of the more interesting parts of the book is the origin of vampires.  James ties it in with the Crucifixion, although not in the same manner Dracula 2000 does.  Not going to give this one away because it's one of the more creative elements of the book.

Finally, although lycanthropes are touched on more in the upcoming novel Blood and Silver than in this one, James includes were-gorrillas and were-spiders.  That's a lot more creative than just werewolves.  And although I don't want to get into too much detail just now, there are a lot of kinds of were-critters in the Deaconverse.

The Bad

The ending is a bit anti-climactic.  Not going to go into a lot of detail to avoid even dropping hints.

Deacon references knowing another vampire hunter and how the two of them help each other out sometimes.  He encounters said hunter later, in a rather sticky situation (not going to go into detail to avoid spoilers) and having more of a reaction to it would have been good.

There's an editing glitch on page 126.  Instead of "a were-gorilla," it's "a WWere-gorilla."  Three times.  I know this is a glitch because on page 127, the critter in question is referred to as a were-gorrilla.

The Verdict

A fun little monster-hunting rampage.  8 out of 10.

Now to discuss some related matters.  James brought a prequel novella entitled That Thing At the Zoo to the writing group for us to critique.  This one features Deacon investigating diabolical doings at Zoo Atlanta.  The novella ended up being sold as an eBook and released before Blood and Bullets.  There'll be another e-novella called "Spider's Lullaby" that has not yet been released.  He had to write that one in two weeks (!), so it never went before the group.

That's pretty clever.  When I was in high school or college, I wrote a short story set in the "Wastelands" universe around 100 years before the story began.  I never finished it and the "Wastelands"-verse has changed so much since then that the story is pretty much obsolete.  And Stephen King has written a Dark Tower short story called "The Little Sisters of Eleuria."

However, I'd never thought about releasing them in advance of the main product as a buzz-builder.  That partial story cannot be salvaged (in fact, I might have deleted it), but I could always write a new one.  I'll need to think of a storyline first--if I followed James' pattern, it would be something that takes place just before the story begins.

Either way, I think this is a pretty clever idea.  And with Kindles, e-publishing, etc. it's even easier to implement, since there won't be printing costs.

BTW, anybody want to start a TVTropes page for the series?  Between Blood and Bullets, "That Thing At The Zoo," and the free fiction available on his web-site, there should be plenty of material.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Creepy Japanese Toilet Could Save Your Life

Found this on Facebook the other day courtesy of my friend Charlie.

Japanese Toilet Analyzes Your Stool

He didn't think highly of it, saying it was creepy.  Especially the part where you can set up a feed from a particular toilet.

However, I think there are some legitimate uses here.  The Japanese government thinks likewise, considering it's associated with Bowel Health Week.

One of the things the toilet will scan users' waste for is blood.  Blood in the stool, especially if it's on the inside and not on the surface (where it could have likely come from hemmoroids or anal fissures), is a major sign of colon cancer.  Doctors recommend a fecal occult blood test after age 50 that's fairly icky--one has to take samples from one's own feces and mail it to a lab or conduct the test at home.  This kind of technology could eliminate that entirely.

The device will also scan for fat in stool, which is also a sign of various diseases (or simply eating indigestable fats, which is obviously less of a concern).

Someone with a family history of colon cancer who can afford this kind of thing might do well to buy it.  Yes, getting bowel reports on your phone is a bit peculiar, but if fecal occult blood tests are expensive, this might pay for itself, plus it's a lot more convenient.

Also, one can have all the data for a particular toilet sent to one's phone.  If someone wants to do a study about bowel conditions or undiagnosed diseases in a particular part of the country, this tool might actually come in handy.  I'm sure the feeds from hundreds of such toilets could provide a wealth of information about a particular area's bowel health.