Sunday, July 29, 2012

Building a Better Bane ("Dark Knight Rises" Spoilers)

On my alternate-history forum this morning, the board member whose handle is d32123 posted about how he finally saw The Dark Knight Rises.

He said if he were writing the film, he would make Bane a genuine revolutionary and "a believable anti-villain" rather than someone putting on a facade of leading a class revolt all while plotting to kill everybody anyway.

(d32123 is a Marxist.)

Although the climax of the film reveals a much better side to Bane (he protected the young Talia al-Ghul from other inmates in the prison and as a result, was left disfigured and in constant pain), the film would be more interesting if it turns out Bane really did believe in his revolutionary rhetoric and was only using the threat of the fusion bomb to prevent the military from invading Gotham and crushing his little commune.  Meanwhile, it's Talia al-Ghul who wants to destroy Gotham regardless, to finish the work her father Ras al-Ghul began in Batman Begins.  Bane isn't interested in this, being both a sincere revolutionary and having been cast out of the League of Shadows by Ras as a constant reminder of his failure to protect his wife, Talia's mother.

To leave some grayness for Talia (rather than making her an ingrate willing to kill the man who protected her in prison), perhaps she plans to save Bane, the League of Shadows loyalists, and the genuinely-revolutionary Gotham residents (presumably as a favor to Bane) rather than simply killing everybody and herself.  The only idea I've got to make this happen is perhaps letting it "slip" that the bomb no longer works, prompting the military forces outside Gotham to invade.  She then persuades Bane and friends that all is lost and they need to get out of there.  Then once they're a safe distance away, blow up Gotham, wiping out the soldiers and most of the city's residents.

At least that's the plan.  I imagine Batman would have something to say about that.  :D

Also, having the military invade Gotham would be better than having a bunch of police who've been trapped underground for five months Zerg-rushing Bane's goons without any tactical sense whatsoever.  If Talia, Bane, and their loyalists are fleeing via some secret tunnel, that might also explain how Batman was able to sneak back into Gotham unnoticed.

No, I Did Not Die In the Aurora, Colorado Shooting

The other night, I found some people had found my blog by doing Google searches for a "Matt Quinn" and the recent shooting in Aurora, Colorado.  I thought maybe my policy proposals to prevent gun crime without gun control had gone viral, so I decided to search myself.

It turns out that one of those killed in the Colorado shooting was named Matt McQuinn, but some media outlets reported his name as Matt Quinn.  Here's a link to a story about the funerals of several of the dead, including Mr. McQuinn.

He died shielding his girlfriend from gunfire, so let us all have a moment of silence in his honor.

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  John 15:13, NIV.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Reducing Gun Crime...Without Gun Control

Ever since the Colorado shooting happened, my alternate-history forum has been blowing up with arguments about gun control.  As you all may well know, I am a strong supporter of gun rights and I have a sneaking suspicion for many gun-control supporters it's more of a culture war issue than a public policy issue.

However, even though mass shootings like Colorado, Virginia Tech, and Columbine are massive statistical outliers and violent crime has actually been going down, tragedies like this are often preventable.  So here're some proposals to reduce gun crime in general (some of which would also address mass shootings as well) that do not involve infringing on the rights of law-abiding gun owners.

*Drastically increase the penalties for the use of a firearm in a crime.  Efforts like this bill in New York, for example.  It's true that criminals who actually go through with a crime don't expect to be caught, but this might provide additional deterrence that would dissuade the weaker and less-confident ones from using guns in whatever evil deed they set out to do.

*Drastically increase the penalties for "straw purchases," the buying of guns on behalf of those who cannot buy them legally.  The Columbine shooters got their weapons from older friends, who received little if any punishment for their complicity, while this article states the punishments for straw purchases are rarely severe.  In addition to stealing, this is how many criminals acquire guns.  Gun ownership is an inalienable right, but with rights come responsibilities.

*Increase funding and/or tweak the laws for the "keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill" mechanisms that should have stopped the Virginia Tech shooting, since Cho should not have been able to buy a gun in the first place.

*Legalize marijuana.  Selling drugs is a massive money-maker for criminal gangs who wage gun battles with one another, and marijuana is the most abused drug in the United States.  Furthermore, marijuana is a "gateway drug" because the same people selling weed are also selling other types of drugs.  If people who want to smoke weed can buy it at the Wal Mart along with cigarettes and beer, they're not going to meeting dealers in back alleys who might also offer them cocaine, LSD, etc. or cut the weed with other drugs in an attempt to get their customers hooked on something else.  This would reduce the drug-using population further.

(Other drugs could be legalized as well, but it would be best to start with marijuana first because it's less harmful than the others and its banning was for especially idiotic reasons.)

*Increase funding for mental-health treatment.  Historically private citizens had much greater access to firepower than they do today--one example being cannon on privately-owned ships, for defense against pirates and the like--but I've never read about someone going on a bender and shelling Boston Harbor.  What changed?  Probably how mental illness was dealt with.  I'm not suggesting bringing back scary-abusive insane asylums, people getting committed by family trying to steal their money or by those annoyed by their political views, etc., but the current regime needs work.  The Tuscon and Virginia Tech shooters were mentally ill, for example, while the Colorado shooter appears to be as well.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Early (Book) Review: "Blood and Silver" By James R. Tuck (No Spoilers)

Today's your lucky day, folks, because I'm reviewing a book that won't even be out for two more weeks.  It's Blood and Silver, the second novel in James R. Tuck's "Deacon Chalk: Occult Bounty Hunter" series.  Let the record state that I critiqued an early draft of this in my Kennesaw writing group (and am listed in the Acknowledgements section for that reason) and that James gave me a signed advance copy.

The Plot

A few months after the first Deacon Chalk novel Blood and Bullets,Deacon gets involved in the internal and very bloody politics of the lycanthropic community. 

The Good

*For starters, it's a very quick read.  It only took me a couple hours to finish, and that included taking the time to write much of this blog post and make dinner last night.

*Since this is a sequel, James needs to retell the back-story and reintroduce the characters for anyone who hasn't read the first book.  And he does this without being info-dumpy.  On the first page, Deacon reveals the death of his family using a metaphor involving pet rattlesnakes that I liked.

*Although the beginning isn't as immediately grabby as Blood and Bullets(which begins with Deacon pointing a gun in the face of a vampire in a parking lot), the mayhem starts pretty quickly when Deacon comes across a man beating a dog.

*Blood and Silver, like Blood and Bullets, has some very good descriptive language.  One particularly good passage is when Deacon has to sneak into a house that's quiet--too quiet.  The whole scene takes several pages and the diction is very ominous, including corpse metaphors.

*When I first read the story in my writing group last year, one of the things that most impressed me was the variety of lycanthropes James wrote about.  Most fiction dealing with lycanthropes focuses on werewolves.  Not this book.  A trio of the main lycanthropes are were-lions, there's a very heavily-armed community of were-rabbits, and some were-critters I'm not going to describe because actually meeting them is an awesome surprise.  Actual werewolves play only a very minor role.

*The narrative is really funny.  Deacon's responses to meeting particularly powerful and dangerous lycanthropes (two different scenes) are amusing, as is the verbal bomb he drops on an odious moralistic were-lion later in the story.  His threat to make a rug out of a traitorous were-creature was amusing.  And I laughed at Deacon's recounting of how an evil vampire wanted her to do his "doing" her.

The Bad

*There're several instances of repetition in here.  I recall at two different lengthy descriptions of Deacon's car and two fairly similar descriptions of firearms (the thing about them being the standard weapon for American soldiers for a certain length of time).  A character's past as a prostitute for vampires is described twice.

*One character is a were-predator who preaches against were-predators mistreating were-prey.  I would expect him to be more conflicted--he is basically going against his nature.  There's a reference to him using his "predator dominance" to coerce another character into having sex with him and he seems ashamed of that, but this could be elaborated more. 

*This may be a personal quirk of mine, but I like my flashbacks self-contained.  Deacon's flashback to when he first had to deal with lycanthropes begins in the middle of one chapter and ends pretty close to the end of another.  I enjoyed the fight scene, but it would have been better to contain it within one chapter.

*Not all of the dialogue works, especially Kat's "laugh and smile" comments re: Larson.

*Early in the story, we learn Deacon's associate Larson has been practicing ritual magic.  Deacon HATES ritual magic, to the point he pulls a gun on Larson when he starts reciting a spell.  However, given the reasons Deacon hates magic, I would have included references to that incident later in the book.  Given his severe dislike for magic, it seems like something that would make Deacon suspicious of Larson for awhile afterward.

*Lycanthropy is transmitted through bodily fluids and is compared to HIV, necessitating the cast wear biohazard gear to the final battle against some evil lycanthropes.  However, they don't bother with this for the first battle.  If there were some reference to how they'd ordered biohazard gear but they hadn't arrived yet and they didn't have time to wait, that would have been better.

*There're some editing problems, including a sentence broken up and indented halfway through on page 246 and words mashed together at least twice.

The Verdict

A worthy sequel to Blood and Bullets.  8 out of 10.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Just Threw Out My Old Rejection Letters

Just threw out my folder containing all my print rejection slips.  Given how so many are now coming in via e-mail and I deleted all of those, I didn't see the point in keeping the print ones.

I did read through them once for old time's sake.  Here're some tidbits y'all might be interested in...

*My first rejection slip from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and was dated September 11, 2001.  Pretty ominous.  It was for a short story called "Slave Raid," set in a world I devised after reading S.M. Stirling's Draka novels.  Basically vampires (and their half-human bastards, the "halflings") have taken over the Earth and enslaved humanity, with resistance continuing in orbit and on the Moon.  I hadn't yet read the novel Footfall, which shows just how dangerous any power with control of orbit can be to people on the ground.

(I should also have paid closer attention to the scene in The Stone Dogs where the Alliance for Democracy's last general, in control of the AfD's sleeper ship and asteroid bases, tells the Draka, who've won in the Earth-Moon system, "we're standing over your head, Snake.")

I might go over that world once more and rework it to make it more technically plausible and more sensible, but I've got a lot of other projects going on these days.

*Most of the ones from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction were signed by John Joseph Adams, who was then the editorial assistant.  The later ones had different names, while I started seeing JJA's name on various other projects, including anthologies he was soliciting content for and other magazines (like Nightmare Magazine and Lightspeed Magazine) that I submitted fiction to.  I didn't need to hit up his Wikipedia page to see he'd changed jobs.

*The rejection slip for my Norse horror story "Nicor," which I may make available for Kindle if I cannot find a publisher soon, was signed by Gordon Van Gelder.  The Gordon Van Gelder, the actual editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  I don't know if "Nicor" escaped the slush pile that day, but considering how "Nicor" is one of my better stories (I actually sold it to a print magazine Flashing Swords, which paid me but shut down before it could publish), I'd like to think so.

*An early version of my Lovecraftian-horror-in-the-Ottoman-Empire story "The Beast of the Bosporus" was rejected by JJA.  He said there was good writing there and recommended I submit it to Paradox, a now-defunct magazine of historical and alternate-historical fiction.  It's now under consideration by Alt Hist, a similar market, and this one will be Kindle fodder if AH doesn't want it.

*Some of my rejection slips came from Sci Fiction, a defunct webzine of science fiction run by the Sci Fi Channel and overseen by none other than Ellen Datlow

*I got personalized print rejection letters from Weird Tales that, among other things, pointed out problems with formatting as well as problems with the story itself.  They were signed by an editorial team that included George Scithers, whom I corresponded with via e-mail a great deal.  It was a bit of a shock to find out he had died.  The fact he was willing to talk to me and offer advice despite being so much higher on the food chain reflects well on him.

Maybe I should call this post "All The Famous People Who Signed My Rejection Slips," in homage to my earlier post entitled "All The Famous People I've Met" that covers all the people I've met as a newspaper reporter.  Or maybe "Who's Who In Speculative Fiction Today"?  :)

(If any of you all read this, I'm not griping about getting rejected.  I'm just feeling a touch nostalgic.)

Epic War Music Mix

I just found the following mix of epic war-themed music on YouTube:

Does anyone know what the individual songs are? I would like to listen to them individually and purchase them off iTunes for my iPod.  That might be a problem if the music comes from games, but it might not...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

On Obama's "You Didn't Build That" Speech

There's a lot of talk, Facebook picture-memes, and that sort of thing going on these days about Obama's speech.  In particular, the line telling business owners that they didn't build their own businesses is getting attention.

So let's see that line and, most importantly, its context.  Here is the link to Obama's actual speech, and I will post the relevant quotes here.

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back.  They know they didn’t -- look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.  You didn’t get there on your own.  I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.  There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own.  I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service.  That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

That "you didn't build that" line was a stupid, stupid thing to say.  He should have said "those roads and bridges" or perhaps something about how the businesspeople had help that might not be immediately obvious.  And now it looks like he's going to pay for that politically.

Why Obama's 'you didn't build that' line may bite back

Now, about the actual content of the speech, Obama had some good points.  And I say this as a conservative.

Imagine a world where:

*Anything you built or grew could be taken from you by violent men.

*Travel from place to place is much harder.

*It was much more difficult to get an education, with only the richest people able to get it.

*Said richest people would have to spend much more of their money to pay for their own security (and those of friends, family, workers), reducing their ability to invest in promising technology or patronize the arts.

Internal security and the rule of law, transportation infrastructure, and the school system are all government programs.  I will freely admit I would not be where I am today if I didn't grow up in a peaceful suburb with a damn fine school system and public library system.  An organized government maintains the internal peace conducive to having an economy in the first place (look at how trade collapsed and everyone got poorer when the Roman Empire fell in the West) and can provide for an educational system that stimulates people's minds and trains them to succeed.

As Obama said in his speech, the Internet did start out as a government program.  One of the precursors, ARPANET, was something the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency devised to maintain communications networks after a nuclear war.  Private parties built on that to make it what it is today, but the bones of it were built by the government.  I'm not suggesting taxing Internet entrepreneurs punitively out of envy and resentment, but recognizing the reality that said entrepreneurs built on something someone else built.

This is not an argument in favor of a so-called "progressive" tax rate, but it is an argument in favor of paying taxes as a means of "paying it forward" to future generations, just as prior generations "paid it forward" for you.  This isn't leftism here, this is anti-anarchism.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Stuff I'm Working On Now...

Since I imagine you got sick of seeing every blog post about writing entitled "Productivity Update," I decided on a different title this time.  So here goes...

-Escape from the Wastelands-Three complete, continuous chapters now.  The Lawrenceville group has seen the first two and I'll be sending the third chapter (and hopefully a couple more) their way when the deadline comes July 22.  This novel was originally the last half of a longer novel, but I broke it in half.  So basically a whole lot of the later half of this book is done, but there's not much at the beginning.  In the event I find a buyer for Battle for the Wastelands, I hope to be able to finish this one relatively quickly.

-Battle for the Wastelands-My Kennesaw writing group is going to go over the whole manuscript Aug. 1, around six weeks after I sent out the whole manuscript for their critique.  I've done some tinkering since then, including revamping the climactic airship battle based on learning more about how historical airships operated.  My goal is to start querying agents and publishers, with DragonCon being a big source of the latter.  Hopefully there won't be big revisions to make based on the Aug. 1 meeting.

-"Melon Heads"-Back when I was at student at the University of Georgia (this was in the fall of 2003, I think), I was surfing the Internet for urban legends and came across the tale of the Melon Heads.  I cannot find the original site at the moment, but the gist of it was that back in the 1950s, a doctor opened his home up to children with hydrocephalus.  He abused and experimented on the children, who one day rose up and ate him, then fled into the nearby woods.  They (or their descendants) are supposedly still living out in the woods, killing and eating animals and attacking people.

I wrote a short horror story about the "Melon Heads," thinking they had never been covered before.  Over the last few years, I've been trying to send it to different markets and it's gotten better each time.  The current version is a bit tongue in cheek, on top of the gruesome violence that some of my friends who've read earlier versions have seen.

(I actually brought it to a church writing group once and got some very shocked reactions, including a revelation by one group member that he actually had hydrocephalus and had it remedied surgically.  I was expecting group members to be shocked if not outraged, but I wasn't expecting anything medical to come up.)

Unfortunately, now I'm running out of places to send it.  It's getting to the point that I could either send it to some market that won't pay much if at all, or I self-publish it for the Kindle.  My friend Jeff Baker has done this with his short story "Slip Drive" and made more money than I'd get from the lowest-paying markets.  My friend James R. Tuck has also self-published some crime fiction on Amazon too.

I sent the story out again this morning after the newest version of it got rejected by a new and well-paying market.  If I get rejected again, it might be time to, as I often say on Facebook, "sacrifice it to the Kindle god."  James knows some artists who create e-book covers, so I'll take a look at their work and see what they've got.

"The Past Is Ashes"-This short story is the result of a trope-inversion exercise I came up with and is one of the first new short stories I've written in years.  Basically the hero's quest for revenge is not the result of the villain destroying his hometown (cliched), but the villain instead building a fort there.  This leads to his neighborhood being eminent-domained, his family having to move into the ghetto because house prices have gone up everywhere else, etc.  The actual Word document is called "Gentrification War."  I sent it out last week to a market with a history of getting back to me quickly.

-"Djinn"-In addition to sending this one out to various markets, I'd like to include it in a collection that I'll get into detail about in a bit.  Basically it follows a group of American soldiers into a cave complex in Afghanistan, hunting for al Qaeda.  They find their prey dead, clawed up or burned.  Then the mysterious killer comes after them.  I'll basically describe it as "Jeepers Creepers in Afghanistan."

(Don't laugh.  "Jeepers Creepers" is actually a really good movie.)

I sent a partial to a relative who is a two-time Afghan vet and he took issue with the accuracy of some of it, including some of the weaponry used.  I set it aside after that, but I've done some thinking and I don't think the problems can't be fixed.  I've tinkered with it a little bit, but haven't written much new material.

Now about the collection.  I've noticed a theme in most of my horror fiction that they'll all fit into the real world--the events are not widely known and don't have much impact on the wider world.  That reminded me of the quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet--"There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy."  I pondered an anthology with the title More Things In Heaven and on Earth, but I've found that I've only got three or four stories that are in good enough condition.  "Djinn" would make five.  At minimum, I think I'd need ten.  One collection I enjoy--Nameless Cults: The Cthulhu Mythos Fiction of Robert Howard--includes over twenty stories.

I'm told collections are hard to sell unless there are very famous authors involved, but my friend Nick said there are agents willing to represent them.  Given my writing priorities these days, I'm thinking this will have to wait until after the first Wastelands books are done.  Maybe after that, I'll be a very famous author.  :D

Thursday, July 5, 2012

How to Serenade a Cat While Drunk...

Here's a really funny video I found on Facebook courtesy of Cherie Priest, author of Boneshaker and Dreadnought.  It's so goofy it's absurd.

I hope you all enjoy it.  Here's the original link.

Marco Rubio Signs Books At Discover Mills


Lawrenceville, Ga.--U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) signed copies of his book An American Son at Discover Mills' Books-A-Million.

"I wrote this book American Son as a tribute to the American Dream," he said after he signed copies for the dozens of people who lined up almost to the door to see him July 5. He gave comments in both English and Spanish.

Although the book is ostensibly a memoir, it tells the tale of his parents and grandfather, Cuban immigrants to the United States.

When asked about the possibility he would Mitt Romney's running mate, Rubio said he resolved three months ago not to speculate out of respect for Romney. In response to questions about economic policy, he said the best policy would be to not re-elect U.S. President Barack Obama. Although many Americans are not interested in the presidential election at this point, Rubio said among those who are, Romney is leading Obama.

"Are you better today than you were four years ago when he became president?" he asked.

Although specific attendance figures were not available, the store sold all the copies of An American Son it had on hand as well as five cases of books purchased for the event.

Rick Milleman of Buford was among those who attended the signing. He left with three signed copies.

"I'm actually buying presidents for family members," he said. "My father, father-in-law and wife are all big fans."

It took awhile for the event to begin, but he talked with nice people in the line. It was nice to meet Rubio when the time came. He described himself as a conservative who likes the idea of Rubio being Romney's running mate. He said Rubio is someone who stands up for what he believes in, does things his own way rather than Washington's way and has lived up to his campaign promises.

Johns Creek resident Mollie Hager, 16, came as well.

"My grandmother is very involved with Marco Rubio's campaign," she said when asked how she learned about the event. "She said he was coming."

She said it was good for her to get involved in politics so early. When she turns 18, she will be able to make an informed vote. She recounted a trip she took took as a Chattahoochee High School student to Washington D.C. She met U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Roswell, as well as U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Galveston.

She said she hoped Rubio would accept if Romney asked him to be his running mate.