Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Au Revoir, Hit Counter...

Over the last few weeks, I've noticed the blog hit-counter I got long ago courtesy of Free Blog Hit Counter that has historically adorned the bottom of each post I've made has grown increasingly inaccurate.

If it was just off by a small number of hits, that would not be a problem. However, now it's claiming I've got only 41,000-ish hits when according to Blogger, I've got 44,300-ish as of today

That presents a slight problem. When the time comes for me to pitch my novels to publishers, I intend to use the success of my blog to show that there's a market for my fiction.  3,300 hits is close to 10 percent of my entire haul, and inaccuracy there could really hurt me.

So over the next few days, I'm going to remove the hit-counter from all 300+ of my blog posts. I really should have listened to Emma Loggins when she suggested I do this a year or more ago. It would have saved me a lot of time.

An Awesome Quote About Classical Liberalism

Courtesy of the alternate-history site I'm a member of, here is a good quote from Carlo Ludovico Cordasco about classical liberalism.

"Being a classical liberal means being a conservative when you need to preserve liberties you already have, a radical when you have to gain liberties you don't have yet, a reactionary when you need to regain liberties you've lost, and a revolutionary when you can't be free any other way. And always progressive, because without liberty, there can be no progress."

Given how some political terms get butchered--I find the propensity of left-wingers to use the term "progressive" irritating because it implies their ideas are truly progressive, when that is very much a matter of debate, while the use of "reactionary" as a slur implies that all social change is good--I think this quote encapsulates just how awesome classical liberalism is.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Afrikanerverse According to Korsgaard: Another Guest Post

First, let me thank Quinn for letting me give my view of his fantastic AH world, and his story "Coil Gun" (which appears in Pressure Suite: Digital Science Fiction #3) With that said, lets dive in to some of the changes I have made, or would have made, to the overall world:

-A lot of the changes made are just simple border changes, based on a mixture of both geopolitics and aesthetics. Examples include the northern border of the Turkistani Republic, which still avoids the dreaded Kazakh border cliché, the borders of nations like Tibet and Persia, as well as almost every nation in Africa.

-I also got rid of a few small nations that would undoubtedly be altered or just never exist due to butterflies. The Balkans have now coalesced into a number of loose nations based around Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania.

-There are a number of larger nations or super states, as I would think the idea of a powerful, expansionist and zealously Calvinist Afrikaner Empire spanning three continents would make a number of nations put racial identity behind self-preservation.

As for individual changes, I’ll go over by continent:

-In Europe, I remember you mentioned Sweden regained control of Finland in TTL Crimean War. This, along with control of Norway, would allow the nation to stay unified, as opposed to OTL where Sweden and Norway split ways in the 1910s, and conceivably, could have joined or absorbed Denmark, though I left it alone here. Aside from that, the big changes came to the Balkans, where Hungary retained control of the Hungarian portions of eastern Romania, and most of OTL Yugoslavia formed into TTL Serbia and Croatia.

-In North America, I gave Alaska back to the USA, likely taken from Russia in TTL WWII against the Soviets. I’d also advise you to consider the fate of Canada – without the Ontario core, the 1800s Canada will revolve around a French-Catholic Quebec and Acadia, resulting in a far different, if even united nation, if not still owned by Britain. The USA will very likely take a good chunk of the Prairie provinces just due to simple settlement patterns, or demanding it from Great Britain – if they can demand an independent Ireland and get it, why not some land back home?

-In Central America and the Caribbean, one of the ever re-occurring Central American federations succeeded in staying together, if only to keep a further wounded Mexico at bay. Aside from that, I just gave Haiti to the USA, and allowed the European powers to retain control of their island colonies – much like North Africa, with much of the OTL colonies under Afrikaner rule, Europe will cling to and settle what it still has.

-South America, I just has some of the wars of the 1800s result in a far more united Southern Cone. Looks better butterfly wise, since most of the OTL borders result from fairly recent changes, but it could go either way.

-Oceania, the only change I made was giving New Zealand to Australia. Given the need to strengthen the Aussies as a counterweight to the Afrikaners I see that as a smart move by the British.

-Aside from Africa, Asia saw the most change. Cambodia was divided between Thailand (which would likely still be named Siam here) and Vietnam. Given that China is divided for close to a century, I gave Mongolia, which in your TL, broke off from China anyway, the rest of Mongolian majority Outer Mongolia, and gave East Turkistan to the Turkistanis. Tibet has its OTL borders, and Japan still controls a rump Manchuria. Aside from that, just some border adjustments in the Middle-East.

-Africa has seen the biggest changes. Given that half the planet is cut off from colonization, you can bet France would spare no expense to see Algeria truly integrated into the nation, as Italy has with a portion of Libya and Tunisia. While it may seem odd, the British maintained control over West Africa, so I feel it isn’t too big of a stretch. Egypt and Ethiopia have both seen some border adjustments. West Africa has seen some solid changes, as I solidified the four nations of your map’s West Africa into two, one centered around the old Ghana/Mali/Songhai core, and one around the Kanem-Bornu areas of Lake Chad. Much like Morroco or Egypt, I could see the Europeans propping them up as a buffer against the Afrikaners, if one of the native rulers didn’t pull a Meji.

As a whole though, well done on crafting a world that captured my thoughts and ideas! I hope to see a few more stories from this universe, am curious to see if any of my ideas make it in, and in the event I ever get one of my own stories finished, please feel free to dissect it just as much – my Communist Confederacy idea seems to have struck a chord with you, so I’d love to hear some thoughts on that one someday! Until then, keep up the good work!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Much Better "Star Wars" Prequel Trilogy Idea

A member of my alternate-history forum whose username is Glen came up with a really spiffy idea for making the prequel trilogy better.

A Better Prequel Trilogy

Here are some highlights:

*Anakin is already an adult and a very skilled pilot when Obi-Wan finds him.  When I read the novelization of Return of the Jedi when I was in elementary school, I remembered Obi-Wan telling Luke how when he met Anakin, he was "a great pilot, and the Force was very strong in him."  Glen's account matches that far more than Anakin being a talented podracer does, although technically he IS a great pilot.

Anakin comes off very much as a Han Solo figure--cocksure, talented, and willing to pursue Padme despite their differences in social status, his status as a Padawan, etc.  Padme would be very similar to Leia, I suppose.  The whole "history repeating" thing could be very powerful thematically.  In the canon series, people have compared Leia to Padme--I remember the phrase "like her mother, she goes for the bad boy" or something like that.

*Anakin's fall and disfigurement take place at the climax of Episode II.  His "moral event horizon" is killing Jar Jar after slowly drifting into the Dark Side for awhile.  After what happens (not going to spoil it), Obi-Wan, Padme, etc. think him dead.  However, the film ends with Darth Sidious finding the mortally-wounded Anakin and offering him life through the Dark Side.

*Episode III features a mysterious Sith Jedi killer named "Darth Vader" that we only learn at the climax of the film is actually Anakin Skywalker.

*Padme actually survives long enough for Leia to remember her--in Return of the Jedi, Leia remembers her mother as being beautiful but very sad.  I'd hoped that in Revenge of the Sith, Leia would be born first and Padme would remain alive long enough for Leia to conceivably pick up on something about her through the Force, but Luke was born first, then Leia, and then Padme died.

I actually enjoyed the first two prequels when I saw them, but I was in middle school and high school when they came out.  When I saw Revenge of the Sith, I found it unintentionally hilarious.  Especially the whole "NOOOO!!" part.  I spent 15 minutes after the movie ended laughing, and that's supposed to be tragic.

A Former Soviet Solution To Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem throughout the world.  Overuse of antibiotics, especially pre-emptively soaking animals in them or people badgering doctors into prescribing them antibiotics for viral infections (which cannot be treated by antibiotics) or other issues, has led to many diseases becoming resistant to more and more antibiotics.  People taking them until they feel better and then stopping is also a major problem.

Here're some links showing just how dire the situation is.

Drug-resistant "white plague" lurks among the rich and poor

Health chief warns age of safe medicine is ending

In our globalized world, foolish antibiotic policies in India have led to antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis strains in Britain. An antibiotic-resistant bacteria that gets on an airplane could well trigger another pandemic.  Tuberculosis was the 19th Century's version of AIDS--compare the musical Rent and the opera La Boheme.  I remember reading about immigrant screening at Ellis Island and how people who had tuberculosis were turned away.  Thanks to human foolishness, an older killer has undergone a not-so-glorious resurrection.

A member of my alternate-history forum whose name is Jello Biafra said in the former Soviet bloc, bacteriophages were used for decades as an alternative to antibiotics.  Basically a bacteriophage is a virus that kills bacteria.

Here's an article about how there's research into bacteriophages capable of killing MRSA, which is a very dangerous disease.

British biotech boasts antibiotic breakthrough

The article on phage therapy describes many hurdles to use of bacteriophages.  The most aggravating of these, and the one most easily dealt with, is regulatory.  The FDA is apparently very reluctant to approve such things, and given how individualized the treatment is, it might be necessary under current law for the FDA to approve each and every individual treatment.  That would be bloody absurd.

The FDA should lower the regulatory barriers to bacteriophage research.  In fact, given the lack of interest in the private sector in researching bacteriophages for various reasons, it might be prudent for the FDA to fund the research.   I generally favor small-government solutions to problems, but if there's market failure going on and the stakes are this high, it's time to be pragmatic.  An antibiotic-resistant pandemic could kill tens of millions, while fear of such could throw a wrench into the globalized economy that has helped contribute to a generally-peaceful world.

(Per my comment about Ellis Island, imagine if it became necessary to screen travelers from India for super-tuberculosis.  Heck, imagine if it became neccesary to quarantine India entirely.  That would be a very bad situation.)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Game of Thrones Trailer: "Price for Our Sins" (SPOILERS)

Here's another trailer for the upcoming second season of HBO's Game of Thrones, this one based on the second novel in the series, A Clash of Kings.

I actually read the second book in the series, but that was a long time ago.  However, I've been hanging around the forums and the ASOIAF Wiki, so I've got a good idea of what's happening:

*Danaerys and her khalasar are passing through the red wastes and taking casualties.  I think the woman she's holding is one of her handmaidens, who doesn't survive the journey.

*Cersei looks like she's feeling a bit guilty over the death of Eddard Stark--at least that looks like Eddard-- just before she broods about how this is the price of their sins.  It's dark enough that it could be the captive Jaime Lannister, but with the dark hair, it looks more like Eddard.

*We've got Catelyn lecturing Robb about the cost of power.  In the longer version of that scene in the last trailer I posted, she's talking about how she wished he could follow his heart, so again, it looks like we'll be seeing Jeyne-gate.

*There's Melisandre the Red Woman, a witch who believes Stannis Baratheon is some kind of messiah and has the icons of the Seven burned wherever she goes.  And I guess that's Maester Cressen who is leery of her influence.

*It looks like Theon Greyjoy is still with Robb when he makes his "free and independent kingdom" speech.  It looks like someone else is getting dunked in the water, so I'm guessing that's when Theon returns to the Iron Islands and his religious-zealot uncle insists of reconsecrating them to the Ironborn's Drowned God.

*That woman offering herself sexually to some guy is actually Margaery Tyrell and that's Renly Baratheon there.  In one of the earlier trailers when you see it at a distance, I thought it was Robb Stark and Jeyne Westerling.  Given how them getting it on came about because she was comforting him over the apparent death of his brothers, I imagine them actually sleeping together would come on more slowly.

*And just when Varys makes the comment about "the shadow on the wall," we see Melisandre in the throes of what looks like childbirth.  Looks like we'll be seeing her birthing homicidal shadow-babies.

*The ships and the fire look like the Battle of the Blackwater, but I thought that came much later in the chronology.  Maybe it's Stannis's siege of Storm's End?  But in the middle of it, that's Sandor Clegane in the dog-faced helmet.  He wasn't at Storm's End if I remember right, but he was at the Battle of the Blackwater.

Just remember people--April 1st is when it premieres.

Want Some "Coil Gun" Merchandise?

I've got something those of you who are fans of my short story "Coil Gun" might like.

This is a map of the world "Coil Gun" is set it.  Nations without coloration are not much different than the ones in our world in terms of history, cultures, and borders.

Here's what happened: The world diverged from our history in the late 16th Century, when some additional Spanish victories in the Dutch war for independence lead to some Dutch organizing an exodus to the Cape of Good Hope.  Basically the Cape Colony is founded centuries earlier than in our history and there's no Dutch East India Company imposing restrictions on where the settlers can move and trade.  The Dutch presence in the Indian Ocean is stronger and when this world's analogue to Napoleon seizes the Netherlands, the Afrikaners inherit vast tracts of territory in the East Indies and India proper that reject the French-backed puppet regime.  India is divided between the British and the Afrikaners after the expulsion of the French until this world's WWI.

Meanwhile, this world's Cromwell deports large numbers of Irish to North America to make room for Protestant settlers.  In the long run, this leads to Dublin and other areas being included in this world's "Northern Ireland," but in the short run, this leads to more Catholics in the American colonies.  This world's United States is less phobic of Catholics than our own, which means the U.S. takes more territory in the war with Mexico and more Caribbean territory when it can get away with it.  There's less concern about large numbers of Catholic voters.

The butterflies flap their wings in this world in different ways.  The 1848 revolutions succeed, leading to a unified mega-Germany and an enlarged free Hungary whose own minorities throw off the Magyar yoke in WWI.  The Australians end up with all of New Guinea, while the Japanese are less thoroughly trounced in WWII and retain Korea and Taiwan.  The Sokoto Caliphate, which I remember from a college course on Islam in Africa, manages to remain independent in this world, while an analogue to Mohmamed Ali bloodies the Anglo-French and makes Egypt a middling power.

All this leads up to war depicted in "Coil Gun" in which the Afrikaners and their allies (the Persians, the Sikhs, the Thai, etc) challenge the League of Democracies (the United States, Europe, Russia, etc).

You can see the map on DeviantArt here: Apartheid Superpower Map 2.0

And that's where the "merchandise" part comes in.  You can buy magnets, prints of various sizes, and coffee mugs.  My friend Nicolas Hoffmann critiqued an early draft of "Coil Gun" and I bought him a coffee mug with this map on it.  You too can have an Afrikanerverse coffee mug too, if you order it online.  :)

The Story Is As The Story Does: A Guest Post By James R. Tuck

I am a big believer in writing a story till it's complete. Not every story is a novel, no matter how much you want to stretch that idea out. We all want to write novels. Most of this desire comes from the desire to see publication and our real book on a real book shelf. I get it. There is nothing in this world like holding the book you wrote in your grubby little hands.

Without the physical book it doesn't feel real. And the people you know who aren't writers absolutely don't think it's a real book without a. . . well, without a real book they can see with their eyes. Anything you write that is shorter than a novel will not be found on a bookstore's bookshelf though. It just won't. Not unless you find your way into a short story anthology.

But some of the best stories are too long for shorts and too short for full-length. These are called novellas. 10,000 to 40,000+ words of storytelling. I love novellas and secretly, even if they don't know it, so does everyone else. When you craft a novella you take a story idea and you boil it down to the essentials. You don't have time for anything but a good story with good characters. You have to trim the fat and the padding that often comes with trying to reach 80,000+ words to be a novel.

As a reader, you get a story told as it's essence. Novellas are quick reads, often dispensing with an overabundance of backstory and getting to the point. It's like someone took a delicious Big Mac and found a way to make it healthy for you. . . except, only in book form.

I have written two novellas for my Deacon Chalk series, which is out from Kensington Books and available everywhere. (end shameless plug) They were a joy to write. I was able to tell the story of a night each in the life of monster hunter Deacon Chalk. I could cut words with abandon and keep the story's speed at a lightning pace. Plus, because they didn't take me months on end to write, I can get by with selling them for less. That Thing At the Zoo, which is available now everywhere that fine ebooks are sold, is less than one measly dollar! Spider's Lullaby, slightly longer, is only $1.99.

The other thing that the advent of the novella has done, besides being a great tool for expanding and introducing a series to readers, it has made a market where a writer, using e-books, can build a considerable library of releases in a short amount of time. I am working on a series of short fiction, a flash fiction piece, a short story, and a novella revolving around the same character that I am going to be putting out this spring called "Hired Gun." It will be the first of many novella releases I will do.

So if you are a writer and you are stuck, go and try to write a novella. Something new or something that expands an existing property, either is fine. Have a short story that just isn't working? Go ahead and turn it into a novella. Novellas are cool. Novellas are hip. Novellas are here to stay. Embrace them and find the fun in writing again.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Productivity Update...

Here's an update on my writing progress...

Earlier this afternoon, the Lawrenceville group went over the last two chapters of Battle for the Wastelands.  The scene where a character gets his leg amputated was duly applauded, but the group suggested some changes to the ending.  The changes they suggest involve a certain character surviving the crash of his airship--which was brought down by another airship being shot down above it and crashing into the top of the gas-bag--and battling another character on the ground.  They said having another character simply finding him dead at someone else's hand cheapened his story.

The problem with that scenario is that personal confrontations between leaders get less and less likely the higher the technology level.  Hector killing Patroclus and then being killed by Achilles makes sense in the Bronze Age technology level of the Iliad, as do Richard III killing Henry VII's standard-bearer and going for Henry himself at the Battle of Bosworth Field or (I think) Spartacus attempting to personally engage Crassus and getting pretty close before being cut down.

Although the Civil War (the tech level for most of the Wastelands world) featured a Confederate general who was killed in battle (I don't remember his name, but he bled to death from a thigh wound) and another leading a patrol in person and being killed by friendly fire (Stonewall Jackson), it's not like Lee and McClellan ever crossed sabers themselves.

The response was, to quote TVTropes, "Rule of Cool."


Oh well.  Realism can be bent somewhat for entertainment purposes.  The goal is to produce something one wants to read, after all.

Another project I've just started is called "Son of Grendel."  I took a page from James R. Tuck, who wrote a prequel novella entitled "That Thing At the Zoo" that was released before his debut novel Blood and Bullets.  Novellas have historically been poor sellers, but e-readers like the Kindle have helped get around this problem.  No binding and distribution costs, after all.

In Battle for the Wastelands, villain Falki Grendelsson makes a reference to having participated in the suppression of a rebel group that had killed a prominent soldier in the Obsidian Guard, Grendel's personal army drawn from his homeland.  Before the battle, he'd thrown a spear onto the battlefield, which is a Norse tradition dedicating the enemy to Odin.  No prisoners.  To top it off, he'd inflicted the infamous blood eagle on one of the survivors.

"Son of Grendel" shows what Falki had told.  I've plotted out twelve or thirteen chapters.  The final product will probably be 20,000 to 30,000 words long.

I've also written some additional material for Escape from the Wastelands.  Not a whole lot.  Basically I introduce Andrew and his squad doing their part in the advance northward into the crumbling Flesh-Eater empire and exposit some of the stuff that happened in the last book.  I'm going to need to read some second books in a series, like perhaps A Clash of Kings (the second book in A Song of Ice and Fire, sequel to A Game of Thrones), to see how they reintroduce everyone and explain what went on before.  I remember reading ACOK before I read AGOT and wondering who was it who had a bunch of molten gold poured on his head, so perhaps the "reintroduction" is more subtle.

I'm going to need to expand the role of Catalina Merrill some in the series, since she's the only female POV character so far.  Due to her being the concubine of Grendel (and the most restricted of them, since she's not some groupie girl but a high-ranking enemy captive), she doesn't live a very exciting life.  I don't think I can work much into Escape, but in the planned third book Marching Toward The Wastelands, I think I can work in some harem-intrigue subplot.  I've already foreshadowed some of the politicking involved in the first book.

One project that has been lagging somewhat is the screenplay version of my short story "Coil Gun."  43 pages long, out of an ideal length of perhaps 90.  In order to get it the right length, I planned to expand on the role of the protagonist's best friend who is in orbit aboard a powerful American battle-station during the opening night of World War III.  Problem is, I don't have a whole lot of ideas on how to do it.

I intend to go to Los Angeles sometime this year.  I can make it a business trip if I've got a completed screenplay and I've made contact with some agents.  I was originally planning on going sometime this spring, although if I reschedule my trip for early fall, this gives me more time to finish.  I'll look on the bright side--43 completed pages means it's roughly half-done.  :)

For the record, "Coil Gun" appeared in the Kindle anthology Pressure Suite: Digital Science Fiction #3.  This anthology, and others, can be purchased hereDSF has been having some issues with money lately and how soon they can get back to publishing depends on how much money the anthologies make.  You can read all about it here.  DSF was one of the best markets I've ever worked with and I'd like to see them back in action as soon as possible.  I've got one completed story (also set in the Afrikanerverse) I could send them, as well as partially-completed new military-SF story.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Another "Game of Thrones" Season Two Trailer (Spoilers)

Here's another trailer for the second season of Game of Thrones on HBO.


*It seems either Robb is getting a bit irritated with the whole "marry a daughter of Lord Frey" thing or perhaps Jeyne-gate comes on less suddenly in the TV show than in the books, giving Catelyn time to warn Robb that this is a bad idea.  I was under the impression in the books the first information Catelyn has about Robb marrying Jeyne Westerling was seeing angry Frey soldiers ritualistically trampling Stark direwolf banners and then Robb shows up with Jeyne.

*Some foreshadowing of the lengths Tyrion will go to keep his consort/prostitute Shae safe, with the comments about he expects to have to kill for her.

*Danaerys Targaryen seems a bit miffed about something.  I don't remember what happened in the second book well enough to guess what.

*It looks like they're setting up Melisandre and the shadow-babies--Margarey Tyrell makes some comment about how "your enemy" (I'm assuming Stannis Baratheon) does not like Renly being a king and then we cut to Melisandre's face.

*On the Wall, Jon Snow also seems miffed about something.  I don't remember that storyline will enough to guess what either.

*It doesn't seem like there's anything about the Ironborn in this trailer.  Given how important the Ironborn backstab of the North is to the macro-plot and the ultimate fall of Robb Stark, I would think it would merit more attention.  Of course, I've heard they haven't cast Jojen and Meera Reed, so they might be holding off on that part of the story until Season Three.  Maybe Season Two includes the Ironborn raiding the coast, with Theon Greyjoy's attack on Winterfell being saved for S3?  The Reeds can show up in time for the attack and then we get their storyline with Bran.  After all, if they're detained by Theon for an extend period, they won't have time to do anything but experiment with Bran's psychic visions.

The problem with that theory is that the apparent deaths of Bran and Rickon Stark is what provokes Jeyne-gate.  Delaying the Ironborn conquest of Winterfell means there needs to be some other trigger for Robb to sleep with Jeyne.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Movie Review: "John Carter" (2012) (Spoilers)

Saw John Carterearlier this afternoon with a couple of friends.  Here's my review...

The Good

Most of the time, the film was entertaining.  That's the main purpose, after all, and it does that well most of the time.

I like how they made Dejah Thoris a scientist.  There need to be more heroic scientists in film these days and it adds depth to her character.

I liked how they intermixed Carter's last stand against a horde of Thark aliens with flashbacks to him returning from the Civil War to find his wife and daughter dead.  That was really well-done.

The scene where Carter defeats the white apes in the arena and then takes control of the Tharks was really well-done.  He basically echoes Tal Hajus's challenge to Tar Tarkas earlier in the film back at Tal Hajus and gets him to enter a fight he can't win.  The first scene foreshadows the second well.  And the music when he leads the Tharks soon after taking power against the city of Zodanga was good too.

There are a lot of humorous touches in the film, like when Carter leads the Tharks into Zodanga, only to find most of its army and its leader are at the city of Helium instead.  Tarkas proceeds to smack Carter in the back of the head.  The scene where Carter finds out firsthand Mars' gravity is different from that of Earth and how he initially has problems moving around is amusing.  The rather violent attempt of Colonel Powell to try to coerce Carter into joining his cavalry detachment was also funny--he's reading from a dossier about Carter and gets interrupted by repeated physical attacks, culminating in him finishing his reading in front of a jail cell with Carter in it.  The way the Tharks keep calling Carter "Virginia" is also amusing.

After Carter is transported back to Earth, his scheme to get his hands on an amulet that could take him back to Mars by pretending to have found one to attract the Therns' attention was really clever.

The Bad

Although Dejah has been praised in the reviews as being all spunky and strong and equal to John, earlier in the film she just came off as abrasive and demanding.

Also, when she's trying to persuade her father not to marry her off to Sab Than, the prince of Zodanga, she said if her father goes through with it, he loses Barsoom (Mars).  I'm not sure what exactly she meant.

The back-story of Sola and how she was (illegally) raised by her mother instead of her egg being put in a collective hatchery along with the other Tharks is hinted at and plays a role in why Tarkas treats her like he does, but in order to really get it, I had to check the Wikipedia entry.  That's a problem.

When Dejah, Carter, and Sola are set upon by Tharks soon after finding the Thern base, it's not entirely clear why they're attacking.  Earlier Hajus claims Tarkas has betrayed them when they find Dejah, Carter, and Sola had escaped, we see one of the Therns among the oncoming Tharks, and we later see Tarkas in a dungeon, so it would seem that Hajus had finally managed to seize control over Tharks with Thern aid.  However, it would be nice to have seen this on-screen.  It could be intercut with Dejah, Carter, and Sola's voyage to build suspense.

Sab Than putting himself into a position where Dejah can kill him didn't really make a lot of sense.  Their two cities have been at war for over a thousand years and he's basically bullied her father into forcing her to marry him.  One of the Therns tells him about the importance of a good, dramatic spectacle earlier, so it might tie into that, or maybe he's just a big drama queen.  And his speech where she has a sword at his throat could be better--the impression I had is that he was trying to woo her with the prospect of all they could accomplish with the combined resources of the two cities and no need for war anymore.  That could have been clearer.

Just what the Therns are doing isn't really explained.  When one of them takes Carter hostage, he explains that they don't destroy worlds, but "manage" the process of their destruction, it seems like they're parasites feeding off the dying of a planet.  However, this is never actually explained, nor do we see just how this would work.

There are some dull moments here and there.

The Verdict

A good movie to see once, but a lot of stuff really needed to be explained better.  I hope this does well in order to ensure more "pulp" stories (and so-called "planetary romances") are made into movies, since the failure of the 2011 Conan remake really wasn't helpful.  7 out of 10.

Think Like a Villain: An Apologia for Roose Bolton (ASOIAF SPOILERS)

In one of the writing books I've read, there's the maxim, "everyone is the hero of their own story."  That's a good thing to keep in mind, especially in our day and age of moral ambiguity being the "in thing."

So here's the side of the story of one Roose Bolton as a lesson in writing things from the villain's perspective.  Epic spoilers for the later books of A Song of Ice and Fire abound.  I've only read the first two books, but I have hung around the forums and the ASOIAF Wiki alot, so I know what generally happens.  All the errors are my own.

In ASOIAF, Roose Bolton is one of Robb Stark's nobles and the commander of his infantry forces in the War of the Five Kings.  However, despite Robb's early victories over the Lannisters, things start to go wrong.

*Robb sends his friend (and diplomatic hostage) Theon Greyjoy home to the Iron Islands to negotiate an alliance with the Ironborn to attack Lannisport and the Lannister capital of Casterly Rock.  The Ironmen instead invade the North, cutting the northern armies' supply lines.  This culminates in the occupation of the Northern capital of Winterfell by the Ironborn and the apparent death of the younger Stark sons Bran and Rickon.  Rather than "King of the North," Robb becomes known as "the king who lost the North."

*Robb breaks a promise to marry the daughter of Lord Walder Frey to marry Jeyne Westerling, who "comforted" him (with sex) after he learned of his younger brothers' apparent deaths resulting from his own folly.  Lord Frey, who is a tad bit PO'd about the whole situation, withdraws his 4,000 soldiers back to his own lands.

*The Lannisters form an alliance with the Tyrells, who had previously supported another claimant to the Iron Throne, and the combined Lannister-Tyrell armies break the armies of Stannis Baratheon when he invades the capital of King's Landing.  The combined Lannister-Tyrell host outnumbers the North-Riverlands host substantially.

*Lady Catelyn Stark unilaterally frees Jaime Lannister, Lord Tywin Lannister's son and the Northern host's biggest diplomatic hostage.  Lord Karstark, whose sons Jaime had killed in battle, proceeds to kill two Lannister POWs in revenge.  Robb forgives his mother, but cuts off the head of Lord Karstark with his own hands.  The Karstark army abandons Robb's.

Roose Bolton now finds himself in a pickle.  Retaking the North either involves forcing Ironborn-held Moat Cailin, which would be a bloodbath, or slogging back through the dangerous swamps of the Neck, which also will be problematic.  And if returning North isn't possible, the combined army will be trapped south of the Neck with the huge Lannister-Tyrell host heading their way.

Luckily Tywin Lannister has a philosophy of destroying those who will not kneel, but if a man does kneel, help him up.  After making a secret deal with the Lannisters, Bolton begins subtly sabotaging the war effort, deliberately expending the troops of nobles he knows will never support him while husbanding his own forces.  Meanwhile, his bastard son Ramsay and soldiers from his home castle attack Stark soldiers and the Ironborn both at Winterfell and sack the castle, with him successfully casting the blame on the Ironborn.  His treachery ultimately culminates in the atrocity known as The Red Wedding in which he personally kills Robb.

Afterward, Bolton is named Warden of the North, the honor formerly held by the Starks.  Ramsay Bolton approaches Moat Cailin from the less-defendable northern side and forces the Ironborn garrison (which he proceeds to flay alive en masse) to surrender, allowing the forces of the Boltons and some of the Northern nobles who have gone over to him (such as the Karstarks) to return home.  Bolton also has a false Arya Stark, whom he marries to Ramsay in order to secure his hold over Winterfell.

Based on what I've heard about events in A Dance With Dragons, it seems his hold over the North is rather shaky and a lot of people on the ASOIAF forums are convinced he's doomed.

However, based on events in the story, one can make a good case in Bolton's defense.

*Robb Stark went to war to rescue his father and sisters from the Lannisters, but Ned Stark was ultimately executed and he refused to trade Jaime Lannister for his sisters in an arrangement that could end the war immediately.  Instead, pushed  by his nobles, he attempted to create a new secessionist state that, due to the inclusion of the Riverlands, would be extremely hard to defend. 

Some people online have said he should not have dragged the commoners off to war to save a few members of his own family.  Although one could claim moral imperative for rescuing Ned, who has given the people of the North justice for many years, continuing the fighting when it could be ended quickly is not good for the ordinary people.  Furthermore, at the end of A Game of Thrones, the whole "King in the North" thing is driven by the Northern nobles' pride and xenophobia--they refuse to bow to the vicious boy-king who murdered Ned and said king's Lannister backers and declare the people of the south, ignorant of the North, should no longer rule them.

*Robb, though victorious in every battle, makes some very bad decisions that when combined with the Lannister-Tyrell alliance appear to doom the northern cause.  As far as the Northern common-folk are concerned, the worst of these is the Ironborn situation.  The Ironborn culture denigrates doing honest work and glorifies raiding and conquering/ruling others, and (I've heard) King Balon Greyjoy declares he's going to make all the commoners in the North thralls and saltwives (forced laborers and concubines).  Although some Ironborn commanders are less cruel than others (Asha Greyjoy being one of the better ones), something tells me their occupation isn't going to be a kind one.

*Thus, one can defend Roose's actions by saying he attempted to put an end to the war and the stupid "Kingdom of the North and the Trident" adventure as quickly and decisively as possible and bring the troops home to deal with more immediate problems (the Ironborn) rather than foreign adventures.  And although Roose is nasty when he needs to be, his maxim of "a quiet land, a quiet people" means that his rule is for the most part not abusive and cruel.

(I say "for the most part" because the reason Ramsay exists is that Roose claimed the right of First Night with his mother.  That, and he allows Ramsay to terrorize people.  However, Ramsay's cruelty is likely restricted to the area around the Dreadfort and most people in the North would have little reason to fear a Roose-Ramsay regime.  And then there's the theory Roose tolerates Ramsay only to use him as a deniable weapon and will dispose of him when his children with his new Frey wife are old enough or Ramsay has impregnated the fake Arya, which means the Westerosi version of Uday Hussein is not going to be a problem in the long run.)

Okay, now I'm done reciting the plot of ASOIAF.  My point is that if you want a complex story, the best villainous actions are ones that make sense and are even morally defensible, even if they're done for the wrong reasons.

(Roose is more concerned with saving his own skin and advancing his own position--I doubt he's seriously that concerned about Northern peasants being preyed on by the Ironborn.)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Dogsland Is Your City: A Guest Post By J.M. McDermott

Dogsland Is Your City

I'd like to thank Matthew Quinn for letting me stop by and borrow his blog for a day. It's very nice of him. As the creator, and mayor of Dogsland, I will be sure to find a place of honor for him among the rabble. The city has dogs in it, but it's not really about dogs. The word "Dogsland" is what the narrator uses to describe the city that she would prefer not to name directly. It is the wolves' name for the city of men, and their dogs. Dogs mark the ground, hold the territory, and the wolves do not understand why the dogs desire the crowded city streets with all those bellicose monkeys ruining everything.The narrator is a Walker of a goddess, wears the skin of the wolf when she is not tending to the souls of her goddess' faithful.

What place of honor shall Matthew hold? The nobility are corrupt. They throw parties indifferent to the suffering of the poor, gathering their wealth up from the drug warrens and smugglers and thieves. The guard are little more than the king's own street gang, breaking noses and pushing people around wherever they like, for no one has any rights. The working men toil in thankless jobs until the criminal underground decides their shop is in the way of progress and the worker is taken care of. Holy men and women separate themselves from the very people they pretend to serve. Everyone is bribed. Everyone is corrupted. One would think these miserable folks would be the subject of holy purgation, if anyone was. But, none of these folks are. There is no place of honor there. There is only money, and blood.

The narrator comes to Dogsland, with her husband, on the hunt for something far worse than all of these ruined men and women. There was a body in the woods, lying dead, polluting the ground where he fell with his very blood and bone. Jona, the Lord of Joni, is dead. He has demon blood in his veins, and the narrator is able, by the power of her goddess, to gather up the memories. She sees into his life with her wise, harsh wolf eyes and finds two other demon children. The first, Rachel Nolander, is deeply scarred by the demon stain and hides her disfigurement under the clothes of a foreign, folk religion. The other, Salvatore, is an immortal, who has lived far longer than his memory can sustain, and he is locked in a pattern of seduction, betrayal, and forgetfulness while he steals and steals and steals all night. The narrator, and her husband, must find these two demon children. The demon children must be killed.

There is another thing found in the memories of Jona. That is compassion.

This trilogy was deeply inspired by my time living in Central Texas, in a particularly religious area. I was amazed at how harsh people treated gay and lesbian individuals, sometimes. It wasn't everyone, naturally, that was homophobic, but it was definitely in the air. I wondered what it must be like, then, to live and work in a place where so many people considered you a blight on the ground that ought to be locked away for the crime of existing. In this, I also considered that the very people who required this message of compassion were the ones least likely to ever pick up a book featuring a homosexual character. As a fantasist, I am able to rely on alternative metaphors. In this case, I have made the demon children just as naturally toxic as the verbiage would have you believe from some of these pulpits and pundits. I have made them literally a blight upon the earth. But, this is not what makes them monsters. In fact, I don't consider my poor, doomed creations monsters.

The city is far, far worse.

But, then, there merits another important moral and ethical question. When the city creates a system of intolerance and desperation that makes these demon children behave as they do, what is to be done with them? Do they deserve what happens? Do they deserve mercy?

The narrator would tell me, forcefully, that they do not deserve mercy. Her hands would shake if she said it. She would be uncertain, deep below where her faith doesn't touch her.

In the first book of the trilogy, the demon children discover they are not alone in the city. In the second book, Rachel and Jona fall in love, and their flame burns to the end of its time. In the third, everything falls apart.

Of course, only the first and second books are available at this time. Purchasing the prior two titles is how to argue, forcefully, that there ought to be a third and final chapter.

I have thought about this, about the place of honor in the city for our host, Matthew Quinn. I think the most honorable place in the city is aboard a ship, in the harbor, waiting for the wind to come and carry his caravel into the long horizons of the wider world. It is better than being in Dogsland when all the unraveling occurs.

Those of you interested in the first two books of the "Dogsland" trilogy and other material from McDermott should visit here.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Guest Blogs A-Comin'

During the next couple of weeks, I anticipate having a couple of guest bloggers.  One of them will be James R. Tuck, he of Blood and Bullets, while the other will be J.M. McDermott, author of Never Knew Another and When We Were Executioners, the first two books in the "Dogsland Trilogy."

(I've read and reviewed Blood and Bullets here already.  I haven't read McDermott's books, although the subject matter--innocent half-demons being hunted by religious zealots--reminds me a lot of my stalled early novel Seventeen Sons some of my college friends and members of my Kennesaw writing group might remember.  Once I'm done with this mass of library books I've got out, maybe I'll give his books a look.)

Both of them will write about the writing craft.  Not sure what exactly--I've given them very loose guidelines in hopes I can get the most interesting comments possible.

So stay tuned...