Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Book Review: "Earth Unaware: The First Formic War" (NO SPOILERS)

Just got done reading Earth Unaware: The First Formic War,the prequel to Ender's Gameby Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston. Here goes...

Overall, it's a pretty good book. It begins with a bang--the Formic starship is discovered in the first chapter. No slow buildup there. The initial battles between the asteroid miners and the Formics are entertaining. In particular a daring mission to the Formic ship realistically has things go wrong. No battle plan survives contact with the enemy after all.

The opening of the book also shows some of the limitations on personal freedom that would exist in a deep-space mining environment. In my opinion this wouldn't be enough to justify imposing legal limits on who can colonize space or claiming space colonization is fraught with ethical issues--I kid you not, some members of my alternate-history message board believe this--but it contrasts nicely with overly-idealistic frontier depictions.

I did like the character of Lem Jukes, son and heir of one of the solar system's richest men and the commander of a corporate expedition testing out a prototype "glaser" (gravity laser). He seems decent enough deep down--and there are several, in TVTropes terms, "pet the dog" moments that show this--but his desire to prove himself to his father leads him to do some downright nasty things. And much of his inner monologue seems to devoted to finding ways to blame other people for what happened.

I liked how they made the mining ship El Cavador and its crew Venezuelan. That's pretty creative. I've never read anything centered around a group of Venezuelans in deep space, facing an alien invasion.

Finally, after a character goes to all kinds of trouble to get from the Kuiper Belt to the lunar colonies with information on the coming alien invasion, he promptly gets arrested for his highly-illegal method of arrival. The way it's handled is actually kind of amusing.

However, there are some problems. When Lem has to manipulate one of his employees into doing some underhanded but necessary (for him) task, he and another character hash out just how they're going to get him to do the job, then they call him in and it pretty much goes exactly according to plan. Exactly. It would have been better to have something throw Lem and friends for a loop, or skip Lem hashing out the plan. The text could have Lem saying something like, "I've got an idea..." and then we cut to the idea actually being implemented.

Also, when we first meet Lem, how they're going to interfere with the crew of El Cavador is pretty obviously foreshadowed. That's better than it not being foreshadowed at all, but was rather predictable.

Finally, we briefly meet Mazer Rackham, who will play a major role in Ender's Game. However, the focus is taken off him to follow a character who will probably play a major role in shaping Rackham into the man he will be later. It would have been better for Rackham to play a much larger role in the story than he does. There's setting up stuff for the sequel, and then there's pushing forward something that would be really interesting now into the sequel.

Still, it's an entertaining book and it sets up the trilogy depicting the first war very nicely. 8 out of 10. Here's to a trilogy covering the First Formic War and the Second Formic War.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Melon Heads Character Interview: Sarah Haley

Former member of my Lawrenceville writing group Malissa Thomas came up with the idea for interviewing characters in one's writing, which in her case is her serialized novel Finding Monsters. I've decided to borrow the idea, so today on the World According to Quinn, we'll be interviewing Ohio University sophomore Sarah Haley.

Author: So tell us, Sarah, where were you born?

Sarah: I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, but my family moved to Chardon when I was three. They wanted a place quieter than the big city. I graduated from Chardon High School in 2010.

Author: What was it like growing up in Chardon?

Sarah (toys with her dark hair): Well, it is a small town where people know each other a lot more. That can be boring sometimes, although Cleveland's not too far away. On the other hand, it's easier to be a big fish in a small pond.

Author: What do you mean?

Sarah: Well, it was a lot easier to get on the track and softball teams when I did.

Author: Two sports? That's impressive.

Sarah: Not at the same time! Track and field and softball are during the same parts of the year. I always wanted to do both, but eventually chose softball.

Author: Why?

Sarah: Well, I'd played softball when I was little, but got into youth track in middle school. I kind of missed softball. Also, playing softball still gave me the chance to run, but doing track would never give me the chance to throw, if you understand what I'm saying.

Author: Did you play in college?

Sarah (shaking her head): I'm sure you've heard of the expression "jack of all trades, master of none." I wasn't bad at either sport, but wasn't good enough to earn a scholarship in either. Besides, when I was in high school, sports took up all of my time. I never even dated anyone. I wanted to join a sorority and socialize more. I still do intramurals though.

Author: How did that go?

Sarah: Well, I joined Chi Omega. They're a wonderful group of girls and do a lot of community service. We also do mixers with the fraternities and some of the schools on campus.

Author: How do those go?

Sarah: You meet a lot of interesting guys that way. Some are real stinkers, but others are cool. My Big Sister just got engaged to a man she met at a mixer with the law school.

Author: Are you dating anyone now?

Sarah: Yep. A nice boy named Ian Barnes, who grew up in the Huntsburg Township. It's not that far away from Chardon, actually. It's easier to hang out when school's out. I met him when he was doing a story on Chi Omega for the school paper and when I took an elective focusing on folklore, guess who was in the class?

Author: That's pretty funny. What are you majoring in?

Sarah: Secondary education and teaching. I'd like to be a high school teacher and coach either track or softball.

Author: Those are worthy goals to have.

Sarah: Thanks!

What will happen when one of the "stinkers" Sarah refers to decides to take revenge on her and her new boyfriend? Find out in my short horror/dark comedy story "Melon Heads," available on Amazon.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

"Melon Heads" Available Now

I have just dipped my toe into the waters of self-publishing.  I have made my short story "Melon Heads" available on for the Kindle.

"Melon Heads" is based on an urban legend I read about in college.  The gist of it is that back in the 1950s, a doctor in Ohio offered to treat some hydrocephalic children in his rural home.  Unfortunately for the kids, he was an abusive sadist who experimented on them.  One day they rose up against him, killed him and ate him, and fled into the surrounding woods.  They've been living there ever since, killing animals and (according to legend) attacking people.

I figured nobody had actually done a horror story based on the legend and started writing.  It's gone through many drafts and although still a horror story, now has some touches of black comedy.  I'm writing a screenplay based on it now.

I've set it to be free for the Kindle today and tomorrow, sacrificing two of my five Amazon Prime free promotional days.  If you could read and review (definitely review, even if you don't like it), that would be awesome.

This probably won't be the last one either.  I sold a short story in college called "I am the Wendigo" to a webzine that paid me $20 and then went under a few months later.  Now the original market is gone, I can do with it what I'd like, but the market for horror reprints isn't that strong. provides a perfect solution.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Movie Review: "Starship Troopers: Invasion" (2012)

The other day, I drove up to North Fulton's last Blockbuster Video store and rented the new animated film Starship Troopers: Invasion.  Going to return it soon, but figured I'd review it first...

The Plot

The (surviving) major characters of the live-action film--Johnny Rico (now a general), Carmen Ibanez (a ship captain in her own right), and Carl Jenkins (an intelligence and ESP bigwig)--are brought back together when Carl requisitions Carmen's ship for a classified purpose he claims will win them the war.  When the Federation loses contact with the ship, Carmen and some Mobile Infantry have to get it back.

The Good

*It was a straight-up entertaining animated bug-blasting festival and was pretty fun to watch. Not necessarily all that thoughtful (see my comment on the politics), but it was still entertaining.  When I was a lot younger, I watched the animated series Starship Troopers: Roughnecks and this was a good reminder of that.

*It's an animated movie intended for adults. In the United States, animation is generally considered stuff for kids, with many attempts at using it for more mature audiences failing miserably (the awesome Titan A.E.) comes to mind.  However, outside of the U.S., animation can be used to tell more adult-oriented stories.  The movie was actually made in Japan, which is very well-known for that sort of thing.  In this case, there's much more violence (with blood), more realistic military cursing, nudity, and sex.

*It stayed out of politics entirely. The book depicted a society where one had to serve in the military (or some other dangerous sort of public service, although this is less clear) in order to vote, with the idea that if one had to sacrifice for something, one would appreciate it more and use it more wisely.  Paul Verhoeven, who was in charge of the first film, did not agree and depicted the Terran Federation as being some kind of fascist-ish regime that regulated how many children one could have, televised executions, may have tried to pass off a natural asteroid impact as an alien attack for its own purposes, and then bungled the military "response."  I don't agree with limiting the franchise in this manner ("no taxation without representation" should be reason enough), but that isn't fascistic.

Verhoeven could have made his point about fascism, war, propaganda, etc. by making an original movie and not trashing one of the best science fiction writers of the 20th Century by depicting his ideas as faux Nazism.  Thank God (I mean that) they're remaking it, and they get the bloody point.

*The movie is largely centered on Carmen, who was secondary to Johnny in the original film and is only referenced in the direct-to-video live-action sequels.  Johnny is there and he plays a pivotal role later on, but it's mostly her show.  I really wasn't expecting that.  Sci-fi action movies are generally a boys' club, but this is rather different.

*The sniper girl Trig is apparently a human from a non-Earth human colony, since she lost her family and hometown to a Bug assault. The first film depicts an asteroid strike on Buenoes Aires but otherwise it doesn't seem the Bugs have actually attacked Earth. Although in the book the Terran Federation included multiple planets, the film barely touches on human colonization of other worlds (a Mormon attempt to colonize a Bug world goes predictably badly) and although the animated TV series depicts other worlds, I don't recall any human settlements.

*Powered armor.  That was one thing they left out of the first movie (so they could depict people wearing SWAT gear getting massacred to make an antiwar point I suppose), but finally managed to bring in for the third.  In this one, like in the animated series, most of the soldiers wear roughly human-sized power suits, with the book-style uber-powered armor of the third film appearing in the climax.  On the DVD commentary, one of the people involved said by making it animated, they could depict stuff like the powered armor that would be too expensive to do live-action.

*The movie in general has some really good visuals like mangled bodies floating in zero-gravity, ship-to-ship combat, etc.  See my last comment about how you can do some stuff with animation you can't do live-action.

The Bad

*The completely gratuitous Carmen shower scene was ridiculous.  They start at her feet, pan up to her behind and come around for her breasts, all while this soft sexy music is playing.  Then she starts banging on the wall of the shower and cursing Carl for stealing her ship.  The latter is a character moment--it shows how fixated she is on the ship she commanded and getting it back--but in context, the whole scene is just aggravatingly dumb.

*Carl wasn't that much of a jerk in the first movie.  The only remotely jerky action I can recall is him telepathically prompting his ferret to bug his mother, which isn't especially jerky. In fact, even though he did dress like some escaped Nazi, it's strongly implied he used his telepathy to help Johnny rescue Carmen when her shuttle crashed in Bug territory, which is actually rather nice. One could argue that power corrupts, but Carmen flat-out tells him "you always were an asshole."  Granted, it's been years since I saw the original, but I don't remember any friction between the two of them back when they were in high school.

*During a briefing, Johnny asks Carmen out on a date, which she responds to by walking out of the briefing room.  Depicting Johnny pining after Carmen ten to twenty years after she Dear John'd him is kind of pathetic, plus since he's a general now and giving her orders, that would be really inappropriate.  It does play an important role later in the film and in context I suspect it was intended to be funny, but still.

*One of the characters has extra-sensory powers but didn't have them in the strength needed for the ESP program so he ended up a grunt.  One of the female characters gets all hot and bothered and says that this must be why he always knows when she's in the shower.

(They retain the coed showers present in the first film.)

The character's (weak) telepathy is a Chekhov's gun that should have been fired.  Given how the Bugs seem to run on the same frequencies as human telepaths (we see this to a degree in the first movie and it's a big plot point here), I would have loved to have seen this actually used somewhere. Perhaps in some key fight scene he manages to set the Bugs against each other?

*When Johnny orders the soldiers to investigate Carmen's missing ship, the soldiers agree to do it only if they let an officer who was jailed by Carl (for reasons I won't get into due to spoilers) lead them. Johnny agrees, but said this will not be prejudicial to his court-martial. The attempt to impose conditions, especially the way they did it, comes off as borderline insubordination.  It would have been better if one of the soldiers had asked more respectfully, citing said officer's record, and Johnny considered it and agreed.  THEN he can make the "this will be in no way prejudicial to his trial" comment.

*Since Casper Van Dien, who played Johnny in the original, executive-produced the film, it wouldn't have been that difficult to have him do Johnny's voice-acting.  Consider it something in the same vein as Peter Cullen always being the voice of Optimus Prime. I didn't mind the main characters being voiced by different actors than the ones who played them in the film (with the exception of Carl, who came off as really prissy at the beginning), but still.

*It was difficult to tell some of the lesser characters apart.

The Verdict

A fun romp that could have been a bit better, but I liked it better than the first movie.  7.5 out of 10.